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The campus of Aquinas College was formerly known as Holmdene Estate, a forrmer dairy farm that was purchased by local businessman Edward Lowe in 1905. Lowe sold hardwoods to furniture makers when Grand Rapids was the center of the U.S. domestic furniture industry, and also founded the region's largest hospital.
The architectural firm of Winslow and Bigelow (Boston) completed the original designs for Holdene in 1905, but the plans were substantially revised by Lowe's wife, Sarah Blodgett Lowe, and architect Frank L. Proctor. Hollis French and Allen Hubbard of Boston were the construction engineers for the project, and O. C. Simonds Company of Chicago and Mrs. Ellen Shipman of New York were responsible for landscape design.
The original estate consisted of 69 acres of park, farm, and wooded land and contained a garage, a caretaker's house, a lodge, a two-story storage building, stables, and a 22-room Jacobethan revival manor house. Holmdene has English country house architecture characteristic of turn-of-the-century domestic upper-class architecture. Lowe was also an avid gardener, and is said to have planted over 1,000 trees on the estate, including an example of each species found in the state of Michigan. Several varieties of beech trees were brought from England and remain adjacent to the mansion; these include copper beech, cut-leaf, and nut beech, as well as small silver beech.
Holmdene remained the residence of the Lowe family until the death of Edward Lowe in July 1938. Early the following year, the Catholic diocese of Grand Rapids considered buying the estate for use as a new home for the St. John's orphanage, but nothing came of the plan. Then in August 1939, Holmdene was sold to the new University of Grand Rapids (Davenport College), which was just beginning to prosper.
With the onset of WWII and American involvement in the war, the University was forced to sell the property in the spring of 1945. At that time Aquinas College was located on Ransom and Fountain Streets, and the Lowe property was purchased by the trustees to become its new campus. Title to the property passed to Aquinas College on May 22, 1945, and the Lowe mansion was used as an administration and classroom building until the opening of the present Administration Building in 1955.
Holmdene remains today largely as it was originally laid out, with a carriage house, winery, and riding-horse and thoroughbred cattle stables still visible. However, the greenhouse, rose arbor, and vegetable and flower gardens along Robinson Road, as well as the orchards and tennis courts, have disappeared. Mrs. Lowe's sunken garden, terraced with fountains and reflecting pool, remains, as do the sculptured marble lions and fountain. On the lower part of the estate, near the original entrance, a small lake formed where Coldbrook stream met one from the north, and this was enlarged with a paved bottom.
The interior of the mansion has many features typical of the transitional era in which it was built, including an elevator, electricity, and heating. There are sixteen fireplaces, each different and beautiful in its own right. The first floor has extensive hand-carving, stained-glass medallions, frescoed ceiling, terra-cotta floors, and quarter-sawed oak, walnut, and circassion paneling.
The estate continues to serve as the campus of Aquinas College, and almost all of the original buildings remain and are in use today. The Lowe house is located near the center of the grounds and is now used as a residence for the Dominican Sisters who serve on the faculty of the college. In 1962, the Michigan Historical Commission erected an historical marker on the campus about one block south of the Lowe house to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Novitiate Normal Schoool of the Dominican Sisters of Maryland, the fortieth anniversary of the founding of Aquinas College (formerly Catholic Junior College), and the 25th anniversary of Msgr. Arthur F. Bukowski as president of the college.