History of Kemper Center

old pictures

Kemper Center had its beginning in 1861, as the private home of United States Senator Charles Durkee. In 1865, Senator Durkee’s home became a boarding school for young women. The Episcopal girl’s school became Kemper Hall in 1871, in memory of Bishop Jackson Kemper, the First Missionary Bishop for the Northwest Territory of the American Episcopal Church. When the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary assumed the leadership of the school in 1878, Kemper Hall also became the Mother House for the Western Province, which then extended to the Pacific Ocean.

Kemper Hall emphasized learning, prayer, athletic competition and self-discipline. Classes were demanding and focused on developing critical thinking skills. Students were taught to “Fight the Good Fight” (the school motto) with spiritual, intellectual and physical force in order to right the wrongs they encountered and were developed as community leaders.

Kemper Hall celebrated its 105-year anniversary in 1974 when it granted diplomas to its 100th graduating class. Unable to staff and maintain the school any longer, the Sisters of St. Mary and the Kemper Hall Board of Directors decided to close the school and sell the buildings in 1975. Penny Palmer Enroth, a Kemper alumna, along with a group of other concerned alumnae and civic leaders, led the fight to keep Kemper Hall from private development. One year later, Kemper Center was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kemper Center, Inc., was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in order to purchase the property on a land contract until additional funding could be secured. The preservers of Kemper raised $150,000.00, which was matched by a federal Land and Water Conservation (LAWCON) grant to purchase the property from the Sisters of St. Mary. Kemper Center was then given to Kenosha County, and it became Kenosha’s seventh County Park.

When Kenosha County agreed to accept the gift of Kemper Center, Janet Lance Anderson, a 1910 Kemper Hall graduate, deeded her home, adjacent to the Kemper property, to Kenosha County. The Anderson residence functionally became part of Kemper Center after Mrs. Anderson’s death in 1989, and in 1992 opened as the Anderson Arts Center.

Many tourists visit Kemper Center, the Durkee Mansion and the Anderson Arts Center. Sometimes they have lunch in Founder’s Hall and listen to stories of Charles Durkee’s life and of student life in Kemper Hall Boarding School. These stories contribute to their knowledge of the past and the understanding of the present.

And so it is with each generation. We study history in order to understand our past and our present to strengthen our ability to make wise choices for our future. Kemper Center values the lessons of history and is dedicated to making its lessons available to members of future generations.

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Mark Your Calendar!

Durkee Mansion open April – October

1st and 3rd Weekends

1:30 – 4 p.m.

Tours available by appointment, 262-925-8040