There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays

Quick. Think Christmas. The residents of Terre Haute's Farrington's Grove know it's not a pink plastic tree in a mid-century ranch that first comes to mind.

  • Swan St. interior

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The front parlor of a restored home on South Fifth Street owes its distinctive shape to an octagonal turret.

  • Cox-Hulman House

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The Cox-Hulman House on South Seventh Street boasts parquet floors, Italian glass and a carved cherry cabinet that once housed a pipe organ.

  • Milk Home

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The Queen Anne/Shingle home on South Center Street was built around 1900 for the manufacturer of Milk's Emulsion, a home remedy.

  • Harriet McNeal

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    In the early 1980s, retired ISU professor Harriet McNeal initiated the effort for national recognition of the Farrington's Grove Historic District, where she lives.

  • window scrollwork

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The original scrollwork is intact on the second story window of Queen Anne home in Farrington's Grove.

  • Milk's emulsion

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    A Farrington's Grove homeowner's collection of bottles of Milk's Emulsion, an early-twentieth-century elixir manufactured in Terre Haute by the original owner of her home.

  • organ cabinet

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Although the pipe organ has been moved elsewhere, the Cox-Hulman home retains the cherry cabinet that once housed the instrument.

  • south center street

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    This Italianate home built in 1879 was once occupied by Burdette Royse, a prominent Terre Haute attorney and real estate broker.

  • Swan St. Investment office

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The 1890s home once occupied by the Cox family is a stone's throw from downtown Terre Haute.

  • 328 South Fifth Street

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The 1897 Romanesque Revival Structure at 328 South Fifth Street features red brick over a rusticated stone foundation.

  • shingle style home

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The shingle-style home features a sleeping porch on the second floor.

  • Kitchen Pass-Through

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    A Queen Anne style home first occupied by Frederick Reckert, manager of the Ehrmann Manufacturing Company, features this original pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room.

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    Photo:

When Terre Haute was the Crossroads of America, Farrington’s Grove was its best address.

The Hulman dynasty–which will forever be associated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway–owned several homes in Farrington’s Grove. Renowned poet Max Ehrmann lived nearby, as did Chapman Root, whose glass company designed the original Coca-Cola bottle.

The Cradle Of American Enterprise

It’s hard to fathom that such fixtures of American enterprise as the Indy 500 and a bottle of Coke can be traced back to a single group of about 1,100 houses, all built at the turn of the last century on what had been James Farrington’s farm.

Originally built as country estates just south of town, the collection of Queen Anne, Romanesque, Tudor and Jacobean structures between Poplar, Hulman, Fourth and Seventh Streets proved convenient as the booming industrial center grew to encompass them.

Every first Sunday in December, the present-day homeowners in the Farrington’s Grove Historic District invite in community members for the Holiday Home Tour. Five residences, along with the structure that houses the Vigo County Historical Museum, have been festooned for the holidays. These are interiors that provide the ideal setting for a twelve-foot fir—or six.

Showcasing the neighborhood during the holiday season is a pitch-perfect way to access the heart of its preservation efforts.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Scott and Tammy Kleinknight’s two-and-a-half story frame structure in the Free Classic style was built for the Cox family, sometime partners with the Hulmans, who later owned the house. Completed in 1900, the house is a constellation of steep gables and Doric columns.

From the grand central foyer, an enfilade of rooms leads the eye down toward the original dining room, a rhapsody in cherry wood, from the coffered ceiling to the intricately carved cabinet–spanning an entire wall–that once housed the home’s pipe organ.

“When the Coxes had their big social event, their organ recital,” Scott Kleinknight noted, “people came from as far away as Pennsylvania.”

And when all those guests showed up, they would be well taken care of. The imported parquet floor is punctuated by strategically placed floor buzzers that the host and hostess would tap to summon the help.

“There’s a whole story there that’s so removed from how I live,” exclaimed Rebecca Clapp, another Farrington’s Grove resident who was making the rounds. “There was never a utility room in my home, because they always had their laundry sent out. And they had a cook.”

Kaylynn Sanders, who has served as the president of the Farrington’s Grove Historic District, owns a home with an elevator. “And I’m sure the servants who worked in our house rode it,” Sanders speculates. “It opens on every floor from attic to basement.”

How The Other Half Lives

These days, though, there’s no staff riding up and down to wait on Kaylynn and her husband Dan, who only use the elevator to haul heavy objects. In fact, the empty-nesters can barely begin to use their 6500-square-foot house. “In my house,” Kaylynn admits, “we more or less don’t live in any room downstairs except the kitchen.”

These homes, built for the wealthiest Americans of 1900, have price tags that suit today’s average earners.

“You can get five, six, seven thousand square feet,” architect Dan Sanders estimates, “for two hundred thousand dollars. A couple of houses on the home tour on the East Coast, West Coast, they’d bring two million dollars.”

It’s a simple case of supply and demand. Terre Haute’s moment as the Crossroads of America has passed, and the captains of industry have found greener pastures. Their architectural legacy, however, is mostly intact, even though many of the landmarks of Terre Haute’s glory days are not.

Legitimizing A Historic Place

Dan credits the neighborhood’s survival to a now-retired Indiana State University professor of art history and architecture, who has long resided in Farrington’s Grove. “Harriet McNeal was the impetus in getting this district established,” he asserted.

In the early 1980s, McNeal proposed to her architectural history class that their semester project consist of preparing the documentation necessary to nominate the Farrington’s Grove neighborhood for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The students agreed.

“There were 1137 properties that we analyzed,” McNeal recalled. “It was an enormous job, and finally in 1983 it came through.” The Farrington’s Grove Historic District was one of the first to attain that appellation in the state.

Gentle Birth, Slender Means

Being listed on the National Register, however, does not provide penalties if the property is demolished—nor does it provide funds or tax incentives for their preservation. With property values dwindling, the neighborhood’s survival has been tenuous.

“My home was in desperate disrepair,” tour host Tina Copeland conceded, “so I got it at a bargain basement price. I bought it because I was afraid the wrecking ball was the next step. Even though I still have original woodwork and marble fireplaces, nothing was functioning. Everything has to be redone just to make it habitable.”

It’s a labor of love, but it’s far from unique here.

“Some very good friends of mine restored a house twenty years ago, “ McNeal recounted, “sold it with the understanding that it would be kept in good condition, but it wasn’t. So twenty years later they bought the house again, and restored it again.”

When 6,000 square foot houses tricked out with their original parquet floors, stained glass windows and marble fireplaces can’t seem to fetch more than 200 ,000—even in pristine condition–they are probably not attracting your average real estate investors, hoping to flip. So what brings people to care so much about these old homes?

A Home With Character

“I decided I wanted a historic house,” explained host Elaine McVay, “because I didn’t want to be the only character in the house.” McVay owns the home that was loved so much it was restored twice.

Like many Farrington’s Grove homeowners, McVay has done some research into the characters who preceded her. The home was built is the early 1900s for the Milk family, which owned it through the 1950s. Milk’s manufacturing facility in downtown Terre Haute produced Milk’s Emulsion–a constipation cure. “The active ingredients included petrolatum and glycerin,” read McVay from the label of an antique bottle of the elixir she displays in the kitchen.

“To me it’s about preserving history,” Copland concluded. Like many of the Farrington’s Grove homeowners, Copland has spent countless hours at the library and online poring over public records and genealogies to unearth information about her home and the families that owned it. “I want the whole story with the home. It’s not just about the home.”

For others, the allure is even more ethereal.

“People have a mindset about the comforts of home,” Kaylynn Sanders mused, “and they think of these old places that used to be grandma’s house. You get a Christmas card and it’s not a ranch-style house, it’s these old Victorians. It’s the atmosphere.”

Yaël Ksander

Raised in Alexandria, Virginia, Yael holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature. She joined WFIU in 2000, where she hosts music and talk programs, and produces features on artists, writers, musicians and other creative people for Artworks. Yael co-hosts A Moment of Science and writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History. She enjoys getting to know WFIU listeners--from those who submit commentaries for Speak Your Mind to those who provide the comments she reads on Saturday mornings.

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  • Bbackler

    I really enjoyed the article.  It gives me more of an idea of why people work so hard to hold on to old homes.  I grew up in a house in Dearborn, Michigan that was built by Henry Ford for his executives.  I know what a quality house feels like.  It’s great that people also want to know who lived there, so they can feel the presence of those folks who lived there and sat by the fire and enjoyed their guests.  It seems like an honoring of these people from the past and an acknowledgement and appreciation of a different time.

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