Hillside was apparently constructed as a “builder's house,” and its obscure origins have been met with a history of alterations and changes. The hipped roof and lower gables betray its late 19th-century origin, but over the years the house has been decked out in a variety of colors, a front porch was attached, a driveway moved to the rear (in place of a circular pull-up for carriages at the front), sections have been added, interior changes made, and most unfortunate of all, aluminum siding was slapped over the wooden clapboarding. Yet the scale and siting of Hillside remain outstanding features for a house that has been the residence of the University's Presidents and Chancellors for over a century.
Minor misfortune surrounded the house in its early years. The sixth president, Paul Chadbourne, selected the present site, but died before the house was built, and when the $2,000 that had been set aside for the building ran out in October 1883, construction ceased. The following May, the legislature granted another $6,000 to enable construction to resume and to begin work on a campus chapel and a library. When it was finally completed in 1884, the total bill for Hillside had risen to $11,500 at a time when tuition was $12 per term and board $3-5 per week.