Monday, January 28, 2013

Henry Lane Wallace & His Interest in Architecture

In families certain attributes and interests often pass down through the generations. In the Wallace family a number of traits surfaced time and again including an interest in architecture. Lew is widely credited with the design and construction of his personal Study in the 1890s. What is less remembered is that his son, Henry, had a strong interest in architecture and contributed significantly a number of projects. In the 1890s, Henry worked closely with John G. Thurtle the architect who designed the Blancherne, the Wallace apartment building in Indianapolis. Henry oversaw the initial construction of the building for his father as well as the construction of a large addition and was the manager of the building for over 20 years.

Blacherne Building ca. 1915
Closer to home Henry played a critical role in saving two of Crawfordsville’s landmarks and making architectural changes that affected their presentation. After his parents’ deaths in the first decade of the 20th century, Henry inherited the family home on Wabash Avenue, the Study and its grounds. As Crawfordsville grew in the early 20th century, one of the impacts of this growth was increased interurban and rail service on the rail line adjacent to the Study grounds. In addition, Elston Avenue and Plum (Wallace Avenue) Street were developed. In 1909, in an effort to better separate the Study property from these changes, Henry contracted with the Poston Brick Company and Swan & Sons to build the brick walls on the north and west sides of the property. A couple of years later Henry contracted with John H. Warner to build the wall along the east edge of the property.
Brick wall added by Henry in 1909 seen behind Study running along
Elston Avenue and the rail line.
Pedestrian Gate at the foot of Pike Street installed by Henry.
Beyond the construction of the wall itself, Henry was also responsible for the construction of the stone and iron pedestrian gate at the foot of Pike Street and for the purchase and installation of the statue of General Wallace that stands on the west side of the Study on the site of the Ben-Hur beech tree. Henry contracted with local stone mason, Sidney Speed, to detail the stonework for each of these two impressive features. Beyond their architectural impact construction of the walls and gates may also have better protected the property from the public as the fame of Lew Wallace continued to grow. Casual visitors were wandering the property and at different times thousands of people celebrating a Wallace anniversary or Tribe of Ben-Hur meeting came to see the Study so control of access became an issue.
Bronze statue by Andrew O'Connor
with base designed by Sidney Speed.
Installed on site of the Ben-Hur
beech tree.

As part of his inheritance, Henry Wallace had also received his parents’ home on Wabash Avenue. He kept the home for many years even though his primary residence was in Indianapolis. In 1918, his youngest son, William, was killed in action in France during World War I. Perhaps it was no coincidence when Henry sold his parents’ home to the Tribe of Ben-Hur in 1919 and soon completed the final segment of the perimeter wall along the south side of the Study grounds. At the time that the family home was sold, there was some thought that the building would be preserved intact and turned into a museum celebrating the accomplishments of the Tribe of Ben-Hur with a nod to the Wallace family. For different reasons this anticipated project was never pursued.

After his work to improve the Study grounds, Henry was not done with his contributions to Crawfordsville. Henry’s grandparents’ home, the Old Elston Homestead on Pike had passed from his grandparents, Isaac and Maria Elston to his aunt Helen Elston Blair and her husband, Aaron in the 1870s. When their daughter Annie married Harry Taylor in the 1880s, both the Blairs and the Taylors moved to Indianapolis and the Old Elston Homestead was sold to another of Henry’s aunts, Mary Elston Braden and her husband Hector.

During the Braden ownership, the land surrounding the Old Elston Homestead changed. Pike Street was cut through the Elston Grove on the south side of the Homestead and a number of new homes were built along Main Street in the former front yard of the house on the north. The Bradens stopped using the original front entrance and began using a side door off of Vernon Court. Today, this door leads into the dining room of the house. Hector Braden died in 1912, and for several years the future of the Homestead was in doubt. By 1919, it was in poor repair and generally unoccupied. Annie and Harry Taylor tried to sell the house without success in an effort to distribute the estate to the surviving cousins. Looking for a fresh start, Henry Wallace and his wife Margaret purchased the house. This purchase coincided with Henry’s sale of his parents’ home and probably served as a distraction after the death of his son.

Henry put his interest in architecture to use and carried out an extensive remodeling that included reorienting the entrance of the house to the south side as it is today, adding some needed kitchen improvements to the north side and generally upgrading the house and grounds. Until their deaths in the mid-1920s, this served as Henry and Margaret’s primary home. After their passing, their surviving son, Lew Wallace, Jr. used the homestead as a summer home. When he was not in residence, Walter Elliott and Horace Harvey, who were grounds keepers and caretakers of the Wallace properties, were often in residence. This proved particularly true in the early 1930s when Lew, Jr. and his family made fewer and fewer trips down to Indiana from their home in Connecticut.
Elston Homestead ca. 1900 when the front door
opened onto Main Street, prior to the
remodeling by Henry Wallace


Elston Homestead during the ownership of Henry Lane Wallace
showing remodeling work underway.

In 1935, exactly 100 years after it was built, Lew, Jr. sold the home to his cousin, Isaac Elson, III. Isaac III made additional repairs and upgrades, building on the work conceived by his Uncle Henry ten years earlier. Isaac owned the homestead for almost 30 years before ownership was transferred to Wabash College.

It’s hard to imagine Crawfordsville without some of the landmarks that we enjoy today. The landscape of the community would certainly be drastically different without the contributions of two amateur architects—Lew Wallace and his son, Henry. Each in their own way built and then preserved buildings that have come to be considered the heart of this community.

Sources: “The Quilt Chronicles” by Martha Cantrell.

“Honoring a Lesser Known Wallace,” Montgomery Magazine, by S. Chandler Lighty, 2001

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.

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