Hillcrest History

Homes of SAE Cornell

Since the founding of the Cornell chapter in 1891, SAE has had four homes.

804 E. Seneca St. (1900 to 1902) 

The chapter probably rented this house, which still stands.

801 Stewart Ave. (1902 to 1911) 

This house was purchased in 1902, the year that the New York Alpha Association of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was incorporated. It stood on the site of the present house and was called Hillcrest by its owner, botany professor Albert Nelson, who died in 1896. His widow, Adeline E. Prentiss, ran a boarding house, offering “rooms at Hillcrest, off University Avenue,” until she sold the property to SAE. The original Hillcrest was totally destroyed in a spectacular fire on June 10, 1911. Fortunately there were no deaths or injuries.

113 Oak Ave. (1911 to 1915)

This was the temporary home of the chapter while funds were raised and plans prepared for a new Hillcrest. It is now a cooperative living unit called “The Shire.”

Today’s Hillcrest (1915 to present)

Brothers Ralph S. Kent ’02, Edward A. Wadsworth ’04, and William H. Marland ’01 were instrumental in the construction of the new Hillcrest. A new (south) wing, extending towards Alpha Delta Phi, was added in the late 1960s through the efforts of Doug Crowe ’61, a US Army Captain who died in Vietnam. Hugh Zimmers ’59, was the architect. The late Fairbairn Gilkeson ’14, chapter adviser for many years, arranged the financing and oversaw the project.

1896 | Don Robinson Almy

By Charles P. Wood, NY Alpha 1904, The Record of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, December 1927 edition

Before 1905, only three fraternities existed at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. They included Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Delta Upsilon, all founded before the Civil War. There was also a large, neutral group of men not associated with the fraternities known as the Commons Club, but its size wasn’t conducive to intimate relationships. George E. Kimball, president of the Commons Club, and two other members, Irving T. Coates and John Beecher, decided they would meet in Room 14 of Old Painter Hall in the fall of 1904. They discussed the formation of a new, more closely knit fraternity group, with the primary focus being promotion of fellowship among members and the advancement of truth, justice, and virtue.

1898 | Andrew J. MacElroy

During the 1960s, we had numerous visits from an alumnus who just could not get enough of Cornell University and SAE Hillcrest. He was Andrew J. MacElroy, class of 1898 and badge number 540, and he was our oldest living alumnus at the time.

We never knew exactly when he might show up, but we did know it was always on party weekends.

He became quite a fixture (all positive) so we arranged to replace his badge that he had lost somewhere between here and there, and presented a new exact replica badge with number to him at our March Founder’s Day Banquet the same night that Fairbairn Gilkeson ’14 was honored for 50 years of service to Hillcrest. In Andy’s moving acceptance speech that followed he left one message for the brothers!

1904 | Charles P. Wood

A recipient of the Distringuished Service Award at last summer’s Yellowstone Convention, Mr. Wood served consecutively as associate editor, assistant editor and editor of The Record, holding this last position for three years. He is a past president of the Atlanta, Georigia, Alumni Association and Trustee Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of the National Fraternity. He has been a Life Member of the Chapter National for many years and recently Founder Number One Hundred Sixty Eight of the Levere Memorial Foundation Sustaining Fund.

Besides his fraternity work, Mr. Wood served our country in France in World War I, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel, and again during World War II as a civilian consultant to the Army Service Forces. He has distinguished himself in civilian life as a consulting engineer and through numerous articles written for technical periodicals, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

1911 | SAE House At Hillcrest Totally Destroyed By Fire!

Excerpted from The Ithaca Journal
Article by Ithaca resident and SAE Ron Demer ’59

The stately and beloved SAE house, Hillcrest, which crowns the prominence above Stewart Avenue on the south bank of Fall Creek gorge, was totally destroyed by a fire which consumed all of the personal property of the brothers. Fortunately, only two SAEs were in the house, and they escaped safely with no loss of life or injury. Records, photos, and some first-floor furniture, including a grand piano, were saved by brothers of neighboring Alpha Delta Phi and nearby residents. The fire was started by crossed electrical wires and set off an automatic fire alarm system.

Why Cornell Owns Hillcrest...And Why We're Better Off Today Because of It!

By Hal Sieling ’62

The facts are that it is a much more pleasant task to talk about the benefits of Cornell ownership of Hillcrest than why we got to this position in the first place. But since I have been involved with this from the beginning, I will take a stab at explaining both.

It all started in the early 1960s when it was determined that we needed additional dining and live-in brothers to pay the ever-increasing costs to run and maintain the fraternity. The old dining area only seated 48 and there were nearly twice that many brothers. Only 38 lived in and that was with double and triple rooms. Most seniors had to live out, and that was impacting chapter unity and leadership.