At Home in the Founder’s House

Alumni everywhere recognize Shady Shore as one of the most beautiful, historic buildings on campus.

When Oswego founder Edward Austin Sheldon built Shady Shore in 1857, he meant it to be a family home. For President Deborah F. Stanley and her family, it has been just that for the past 13 years.

In fact, when the family was moving from the comfortable home they had built on the west side of Oswego, the president and her husband, attorney Michael Stanley, were concerned about how long it would take their daughters Paige and Jacquelyn, then 12 and 10, to adjust to life in the historic homestead.

“It took about three days,” President Stanley said with a laugh.

The girls soon found that their friends from the old neighborhood wanted to visit their new home. “Large numbers of children would gather here, even through the girls’ high school years,” she added.

Shady Shore has been a regular site for grown-up gatherings as well. Since it is an official college building, the president frequently hosts receptions and events there. She enjoys holding buffet dinners attended by faculty and staff from across campus, giving them the opportunity to mingle with colleagues and members of the community.

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“It’s a very welcoming home, and we use every part of it,” President Stanley said. Even the stone porch and vast lawns become a place to host visitors. “Any time we have an opportunity and a group that will fit into Shady Shore, we invite them here. We know people are curious about it.”

Alumni especially love to visit, and during Reunion Weekend, the president opens her doors to the 50th and 25th year classes as well as volunteer Reunion planners. In one of the most moving moments at each Reunion, Golden Anniversary class members gather on the lawn at Shady Shore to remember classmates who have passed away as they light a candle in each one’s memory.

Living right on campus offered opportunities for the whole Stanley family to interact in the life of the college. The family would attend plays, concerts and sporting events, and enjoyed walks and bike rides on campus roadways. Even though the girls are grown and living in Washington, D.C., the president and her husband still enjoy biking the campus byways together.

“Our family feels special about being here,” President Stanley said. “It’s casual and comfortable, and always a welcoming home, but we never ignore the fact that it’s a big privilege to live here. We hope we are good stewards.”

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She remembered her days as a faculty member, when she and Michael were invited to visit Shady Shore by former President Stephen L. Weber and his wife, Susan. “We never imagined we would be living here,” she said. “Certainly not for 13 years … and hopefully more to come.”

The awe at living in the founder’s home spans the generations of the Stanley family. Michael Stanley’s parents grew up in Oswego, and his father always wanted to see the whole home, which was an iconic building for him. “We were delighted that he got the opportunity to experience that,” the Stanleys said.

Situated on the lakeshore and surrounded by trees, many planted by Sheldon, a nurseryman before he founded the college, Shady Shore offers a great opportunity to enjoy nature.

“My favorite part of the home is the grounds,” said Michael Stanley. “The house is wonderful and comfortable, but the property is so spectacular.”

“For a few years we strung a hammock between two trees out on the north side of the house,” said President Stanley. “It was a great vantage point to enjoy the lake.”

It’s also a great spot to observe wildlife. Foxes, raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks make their home in the vegetation, and deer are born occassionally on the front lawn. “We will see a little brown ball and then … a head pops up,” said the Stanleys.

Living in the historic home has spawned a number of family traditions the Stanleys would not have enjoyed elsewhere.

Food, fun and family times are especially important around the holidays. The Stanleys have forged wonderful holiday memories at Shady Shore, gathered around a huge 10-foot Christmas tree in the front living room, decorated with Stanley family ornaments. Usually joining in the festivities are children Jennifer and Joseph and their families, too.

Every summer, the Stanleys set up chairs along the shoreline and invite family and friends to watch the fireworks during Harborfest weekend.

Living in a public building can have its challenges for
children. The girls were always given the choice to opt in or out of gatherings in their home. One day Jackie, arriving home from a soccer game, joined in the buffet line, cleats and all.

Another time, Paige got an unpleasant surprise when the steam from her shower set off a fire alarm. She was shocked to find firefighters from several departments on her front doorstep within minutes.

The most spectacular place in the house, both Stanleys agreed, is the front library. Decorated in Arts and Crafts furnishings, its walls hung with historical photos and family portraits and floors covered with Oriental rugs from the
Stanleys’ own collection, it’s Michael Stanley’s favorite spot for reading the morning newspapers. “The view of the lake and the grounds from its windows is magnificent,” he said.

He has a spotting scope, which he uses to watch ships coming in to the harbor.

President Stanley was quick to address a Shady Shore FAQ. “The house is definitely not haunted,” she said with a laugh. But reminders of the founder are everywhere. A pair of marble-topped tables dates from when he lived in the house as do a couple of chairs and family portraits.

The president loves to point out Sheldon’s picture at the front entrance going up the stairs. “His portrait is a watchful presence,” she said.

Whether his presence is real or symbolic, the founder would probably smile to know that his family homestead continues to be a place where family members gather to enjoy the everyday and special moments of their lives, while sharing the historic space with the wider Oswego family.

One thought on “At Home in the Founder’s House

  1. What a great article about Shady Shore. Thank you.
    Our son Rick came across it recently and forwarded it to us.
    Rick, Matt ,Susan and I all have great memories of that extraordinary place. The Stanleys and we agree that it is a special place to raise young adults and to introduce them to many remarkable people/events. Our sons were in middle school and high school when we came to Oswego. We remember touch football games on the snow-dusted front lawn, sliding kayaks down the bluff to launch them from the slippery rocks below, the wonderful gardens and grounds, family dinners in that great, formal dining room. We remember celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary with an evening party on the back lawn sharing an Oswego sunset with friends. Later, the Stanleys were kind to allow us to use that back lawn for Rick’s wedding.
    It is a wonderful old house — particularly when you realize that it used to be used to store farm machinery!!!

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