News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 23, 2012

Wabash Valley landmarks: Walking tour reveals historic gems

Participants get a look into buildings’ past

TERRE HAUTE — From residential homes to industrial buildings, Terre Haute and Vigo County retain unique historical “gems” that sparkle in the eyes of a landmarks specialist.

Tommy Kleckner, director of Indiana Landmarks’ western regional office, studies such landmarks and shared his knowledge with brown-bag lunchers at the Vigo County Public Library last week.

On another 100-degree day Thursday, Kleckner led a walking tour of three downtown sites. One was the Landmarks office itself. The two others: the Sycamore Building and a room in the back section of the Verve, a downtown tavern, where a white tile wall has been restored, complete with a mural that depicts cows grazing in an open field.

The Sycamore Building, 19 S. Sixth St., was built for the Citizens’ Trust Co., opening in 1921. The bank did not survive the Great Depression and the building has had several owners since. At 12 stories tall, it remains the tallest commercial building in Terre Haute. Indiana State University’s Statesman Towers, at 15 stories, are taller. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Indiana Landmarks’ office since last year is in the former Terre Haute Mutual Savings Association building at 669 Ohio St. The Art Deco single-story building features panels above the front windows and entrance carved with allegorical figures — time, money and savings. Also figures of a native American, a pioneer and a “goddess of some kind,” Kleckner said.

In what is now a back section of the Verve at 675 Wabash Avenue, white tile walls have been uncovered. One wall contains the colored mural of dairy cows. The walls were likely part of a restaurant from the 1930s or 1940s, Kleckner said. The space held the Candeloris Restaurant, listed in the 1940 Polk’s Terre Haute city directory, while prior to that, the site in 1936 was the John B. Thompson Co. Restaurant, according to the city directory.

The tiles were found after building owner Todd Nation, a Terre Haute City Councilman, removed a former paneled wall and loft behind a space that once housed Kadel’s Hallmark store.

The Wabash River, the early development of the National Road, then the Wabash & Erie Canal and railroads all brought wealth to Terre Haute by the mid-1800s and early 1900s, Kleckner said, and affected local construction.

The city’s oldest intact residential home is at the southeast intersection of Park and Fourth streets, built in 1847, Kleckner said.

“I say the ‘earliest intact’ because it still retains its original character and features. This is one of those hidden gems of Terre Haute,” Kleckner said. The homeowner is David Lewis, who works in the Vigo County Public Library’s special collections section.

Another unique home is an “octagon house” along Indiana 42, east of Chamberlain Street, built around 1850. “This house really followed the promoter of the octagon house, Mr. Orson Fowler of New York. He promoted the house as the epitome of efficient residential living,” Kleckner said.

Fowler, an amateur architect, claimed the house was cheaper to build, allowed for additional living area, received more natural light, was easier to heat in winter and remained cooler in summer.

“He recommended how they should be constructed. He moved to a construction method of getting scrap lumber from a local mill, and you take that and begin to stack that flat, creating a solid wood wall,” Kleckner said. “You then side the exterior, and the interior you simply plaster.”

The house, known as round house farm and now in poor condition, “is one of the only houses in this region of the Midwest that actually used that method of construction, which is called board walk construction,” Kleckner said. “It is the only board walk construction in Indiana of an octagon house.”

Another house at northeast Fourth and Willow streets, also in poor condition, contains original windows, door and front porch posts in this shotgun style house. It also has a unique attic vent. “It is the fleur-de-lis, which looks like you could have plucked this out of New Orleans and brought it up to Terre Haute. Just wonderful details, but not something you would think to put on a simple little worker’s cottage,” he said.

Terre Haute, more than most communities, has “Lustron houses,” prefabricated, enameled, steel homes built in post-World War II, to provide homes to returning soldiers. “These were shipped to site on three semis, with a concrete pad and [assembled] like an erector set. Terre Haute has six, possibly seven, Lustron homes. Several have vinyl siding applied to them,” he said.

“It is not just exterior that is steel, but interior walls, the build-in, kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities,” Kleckner said. Two are Oak Street, east of Brown, while some others are in Edgewood Grove and Farrington’s Grove, Kleckner said.

Kleckner said other gems include a decorative concrete bridge about one mile south of Pimento; grave markers and a Tower of Memories in Roselawn Cemetery; and a stone marker at the Indiana/Illinois state line.

Another unique gem is a Chrysler limousine, owned by Frank Kleptz, which transported Admiral Charles Nimitz, who escaped an assassination attempt made in the vehicle, Kleckner said.

Also, New Goshen School District No. 2 in New Goshen “is the only two-room school house still standing in Vigo County and one of the most intact of historic school buildings.” It is used by a Lions Club and is a community hall, he said.

Some other buildings Kleckner pointed out include Fairbanks Memorial Library and Normal Hall, the oldest academic building on the campus of Indiana State University, in addition to the former federal post office, which will soon open as the new ISU Scott College of Business. Also the Hippodrome Theater, opened in 1915, in the Scottish Rite building, 727 Ohio St., which was also placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1983.

Kleckner also pointed to industrial structures as gems, such as the former Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., later General Housewares and currently operating as Columbia Home Products at 1600 Beech St.

“It contains 10 acres under roof,” Kleckner said. “It is amazing it has remained in operation since its construction” in 1902, he said. “Even more amazing is that they are still using some of the original stamping equipment. It is almost industrial archeology. It is an amazing gem in Terre Haute.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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