In her memoir How Dear to My Heart, The New Yorker magazine columnist Emily Kimbrough (b. 1899) recalled “a childhood that was happy in great part, I think, because it was spent in a little town, where I was not a stranger to anyone.”
In Muncie, Indiana at the dawn of the twentieth century, Emily Kimbrough’s happy childhood may also have been a function of her family’s prosperity—which was, in turn, a function of geology.
The discovery of a massive oil field in Delaware County in 1876 ushered in an era of heavy industry there, fueled by the availability of cheap power. Emily’s grandfather Charles founded the Indiana Bridge Company in 1886, building a home in the Free Classic Style Muncie’s East End.
Emily lived in at 715 East Washington Street until age 12, when the family moved to Chicago.
After attending Miss Faulkner’s School, Emily was educated at Bryn Mawr and the Sorbonne. Kimbrough got a taste for publishing as editor of the Marshall Field’s in-house magazine, and proceeded to New York, where she rose from fashion editor to managing editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal.
After marrying and raising twin daughters, Kimbrough teamed up with actress Cornelia Otis Skinner to write a memoir of their post-college European tour. The resulting best-seller, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, came out in 1943, and was made into a movie the next year.
Kimbrough’s literary success launched her popularity on the lecture circuit. She recounted her misadventures on trains and at women’s clubs in humorous columns in The New Yorker, in which she frequently referred to her Muncie roots and Hoosier world-view.
“This was good old familiar Hoosier talk,” she commented in one piece, “and I love it. We were friends by now,” she concluded about a train conductor, “because we Hoosiers become friends with other Hoosiers quickly.”
Kimbrough maintained an affiliation with the entertainment industry, most notably writing for Eve Arden’s TV show in the 1950s.
The Greek Revival, Italianate and other late Victorian homes built for Muncie’s captains of industry—the Ball family of canning jar fame, among them–were recognized in 2007 as the Emily Kimbrough Local Historic District.
Having remained under Kimbrough ownership until 1947, the Indiana Bridge Company continues to manufactures steel girders and other construction components in Muncie.