OTTAWA — Thanks to a little generosity and a little supernatural aid, a historic Ottawa domicile is being given new life.
“It’s a house built by an Ottawa mayor, (Herbert Franklin Sheldon), who was one of our early founders,” said John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “And now it’s been purchased by a former Ottawa mayor, and it’s being donated to Ottawa University. I can’t think of a more appropriate way for this building to remain involved in the life of the community and the university.”
Coen was referencing the home at 718 S. Cedar St., which was christened, The Gillette House. The residence is now in its second year of housing Ottawa University students. And on Friday, it was celebrated as the latest addition to the university’s off-campus options. The residence will be managed by Lizzie Hernandez, a junior at OU and resident assistant. It has four bedrooms and houses eight students. Residents of the house are typically returning or transfer students who meet select criteria.
The house has a storied history, extending beyond the time the Gillettes owned it. Built in 1889, it was commissioned by Herbert Franklin (H.F.) Sheldon as his family home. Wanting “a grand and dignified structure” from architect George Washburn, the home was styled to emulate the chateau architecture of France’s Loire Valley during the Rennaisance — complete with stone trimming and band, terra-cotta accents and a steeply pointed turret.
But the tale behind its donation begins much later — in 2018 with Charles Gillette, a former Ottawa mayor, retired businessman and self-described, “big, fancy old houses” enthusiast.
“I must tell you how this happened,” Gillette said. “I had a premonition — a dream — one night. It said, ‘Find that house, find the owner, buy that house, and find someone who will take care of the house forever.’ It said, ‘Find the owner of that house, and find a way to pay him $300,000 for it.’ But my premonition also said, ‘Put another $100,000 with it for maintenance, so they can take care of it for awhile, and make this house something that Ottawa can be proud of.’
“This was a faith premonition for me.”
Gillette snapped a photo of the the Queen Anne-style home and asked his friend, Tommy Kitchens, if he was familiar with the structure.
“And he said, ‘That’s the house I live in,’” Gillette said, laughing.
After offering to sell the home to Gillette for $300,000, the pair instead decided it would simplify things for the school to buy the house directly. Gillette donated $405,000 to OU — $300,000 for purchasing the home, and $105,000 for maintenance and upkeep. And in August 2018, the house saw its first influx of students in many decades. The home was previously used by the university from the 1930s to the early-1970s. At that time, it was known as Sheldon Hall.
“We’re proud of the house, and glad OU has it,” Gillette said, standing alongside his wife, Sue.