Mrs. Newcomb bought this house across from the Washington Avenue campus for a residence hall for the growing school in 1894. The original Josephine Louise House was managed by Alice Bowman, who was charged with both running the household and managing the girls who lived there. Shortly after opening, the new dormitory had some dozen boarders and, on occasion, Mrs. Newcomb herself.

Potential disaster struck in 1896, when a fire broke out in the Josephine Louise dormitory, and Mrs. Newcomb believed that one of the girls had intentionally set it. The interior of the dormitory was damaged, and many students lost possessions, but no one was hurt in the blaze. President Dixon himself allowed many girls to reside in his own home, and they set up a makeshift dormitory, often crowding five girls into one room.

Mrs. Newcomb's interest in the College waned until the cause of the fire was discovered. It was not the result of a firebug, but of a firecracker from a political parade entering the building through one of the attic windows. After the discovery, Mrs. Newcomb decided to donate money to build the much needed connection between the Academy and the main building, "the Arcade."