Sigma Rho was founded as the first professional mining fraternity in the United States, at one time boasting three other chapters in Minnesota, Virginia and Montana. With the slowdown in mining the fraternity is now social in scope. Today, the members seek all fields of endeavor- the arts, the sciences, and engineering. The clothes are a little different, the hairstyles have changed, the classes more crowded, the town a bit larger, the faces a mite younger, and the beer is more expensive; but in 115 years the Sigma Rho spirit has remained unchanged. The house is still home, its' dwellers still Brothers, the snow is still king, there are still many fireside toasts, and the lamps burn on into the night.
The Alpha Chapter of the Sigma Rho Fraternity was founded at the Michigan College of Mines in 1892 by Henry Hoffman Holbert, Elton W. Walker, John T. Been, Royce E. Barlow, Carl R. Davis, Dave Dockery, Alvin B. Carpenter, William E. Upham, and William M. Cameron for the purpose of aiding and bringing the members more closely together, to “help each other in every way within their power, and to open new channels for the members to pass more pleasantly their college days.” In April of 1894, a charter was granted to Sigma Rho by the State of Michigan and the Michigan College of Mines. Meetings were first held in the front room of a two room flat located over a saloon, overlooking Sheldon Street in Houghton.
In May of 1906, the thought of building a new fraternity house was discussed. Sigma Rho alumni were asked to pledge funds for the new home and in February of 1907 plans of the house were approved. In November of 1907, the house was a reality, the "dream come true" of the fraternity. One unique feature of the house was its' extensive library, continually updated by the members and at one time even commanding its' own librarian, Mr. Lyman Richards. The house, which was to be their home for half a century, was an elegant white house perched atop a hill at 1715 East Houghton Avenue (the site of today’s West Wadsworth Hall).
As America's involvement in World War II expanded, some of the Brothers of Sigma Rho were asked to defend their country. Due to the lack of membership, it was decided in the early months of 1943 that the Chapter House would close down indefinitely. The school's ROTC program increased in size and quarters for these soldiers was hard to come by. On August 9, 1943, Sigma Rho's beautiful home was transformed into a barracks for soldiers for the period of one year. The fraternity signed a lease with the university in which the house was paid $1,800.00 per year in rent.
In April of 1956, news had already circulated of the school's desire to expand Wadsworth Hall; as luck would have it, the beautiful "White House on the Hill" stood in the way of progress. Negotiations with the university were begun and it was decided to sell the house to the college. T
A beautiful parcel of land and an exquisite mansion in Chassell was found, which would eventually become the home of the Sig's for the next eighteen years. This was the only house of size the fraternity could locate, and thus began the current stay in Chassell for the next half century. In October of 1956, negotiations began for the C. H. Worcester property for a sum of $31,750.00.
The fraternity then made the move to Chassell, inhabiting the newly acquired Worcester Mansion at the beginning of the 1957-58 school year. Maximum capacity of the house was 25 members. The new house was enjoyed by all of the members, and being a Sig Rho was a unique experience. No other Greeks on campus could brag of such a grand backyard or the opportunity to enjoy such picturesque scenery, not to mention Chassell sunrises and sunsets.
Besides minor repairs, the beautiful Worcester Mansion remained unchanged for eighteen years. Then, on December 31, 1974, at approximately 1:30 a.m., a fire broke out in the house, and by daybreak, all that was left of the house was the towering chimney, still bearing the Greek letters of Sigma and Rho, which adorn the bar at the present house. Cause of the fire was never determined. Fortunately, the fire occurred during the Christmas recess and there was no loss of life, except for the house's mascot, Dog. All of the records of the fraternity were lost forever.
The members were forced to find residence elsewhere, and a basement in a Chassell church was to be the Sig's temporary home for close to a year and a half. Efforts to rebuild were delayed by a second fire on August 26, 1975 that destroyed the 75 percent complete new house. The cause of the second fire was suspected to be arson although it was never proven. On March 19, 1976, the fraternity took occupancy of their current home in Chassell.
In the mid-‘80’s the fraternity was informed that one of their alumni, Charles R Foster, had passed away and left the fraternity a sizable donation. Since the current house had been built on a rather stringent budget with few “extras”, it was determined that the money should be used to construct a new chapter room that could be enjoyed by all members. A fund drive was begun and in 1992 the “Charles R Foster Chapter Room” was completed. The tradition and history can be taken in as one sets foot in the new room, styled after the chapter room of the "White House on the Hill."
Since its' founding, Sigma Rho has progressively established the tradition of which it now upholds; in 1896 the first Sigma Rho Fraternity pin was worn; in 1898 the miner's lantern was officially chosen as the recognition pin; in 1905 the House Song was written; and in 1921 the Coat of Arms was established.