College's Makeover Of Downtown Leaves Residents Sour

A $40 million gift from a wealthy alumna helped Wells College transform the small town of Aurora, New York into a postcard perfect setting. But while enrollment is up, residents say the change hasn't been good for them.

"After a five-year makeover at the hands of the founder of the American Girl doll collection, this village of white clapboard and faded brick on Cayuga Lake practically glows, with freshly painted homes, refurbished inns and markets selling dried organic cranberries and cheese made from sheep's milk.

It was an act of philanthropy by the woman who began the popular line of historic dolls and books, Pleasant T. Rowland. Ms. Rowland, an alumna of Wells College here, gave $40 million to her alma mater to revitalize Aurora's diminutive downtown and to help reverse the college's declining enrollment. The money did just that, but not without earning Ms. Rowland enemies: a group of residents who resented her for making the historic village, in their eyes, too fancy and artificial, about as authentic as a dollhouse.

"The thing that a lot of people lament is that it has torn the village apart," said Anna Baxter, 29, who moved to Aurora from New York City with her partner, Rufus Bates, a furniture maker, to open Grove Gallery, where the paintings cost from $250 to $3,500.

On the outside, the village of 750 in the Finger Lakes region could not be more placid, with the white caps of Cayuga framing a timeless streetscape. But tensions fester, despite the dismissal of a lawsuit that sought to derail some of the work. On some of Ms. Rowland's visits to town from Madison, Wis., where she lives and presides over the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, some residents have cursed her to her face."

Full Story: Doll’s Village: Some See Restoration as Too Cutesy




While Pleasant Rowland made millions and millions hawking faux historic dolls to America's youth, she has in essence depleted the authenticity that is Aurora. Authenticity is a central component of historic preservation and she has in essence recreated the American view of authenticity--Disneyland, only this one is in the snow. I have never been more proud to be a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Of course Wells College loves the woman--she has given them plenty of money and frankly colleges, in the main, are not bastions of historic preservation--or good architecture as far as that goes. I urge the locals and the Trust to keep up the good fight.

Chuck D'Aprix [Charles D'Aprix]
Economic Development Visions
The Downtown Entrepreneurship Project

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