Hiding in plain sight in the Sumner collection were images of the Benton house at 312 South Downey Avenue. Nothing in the photographs made sense however, as the aging Professor Allen R. Benton, a widower after 1900, lived alone in the beautiful Second Empire home. So, who were all of these young people hanging out at his residence on a summer day?
The answer required some detective work, that I must say, is still ongoing. Thanks to a subscription to Newspapers.com, I was able to find some morsels to assist with the mystery. On May 25, 1901, the Indianapolis News carried this society bit on page 22:
Mr. and Mrs. F. C. Gardner have taken the residence of Dr. Allen R. Benton at Irvington for the summer and will go there on Wednesday.
F. C. Gardner? Who was this? My research led me further to Fred C. Gardner, the future secretary-treasurer of the Atkins Saw Company. The rising business star was very active with the Disciples of Christ where he might have met Allen R. Benton. He later replaced Dr. Benton as the treasure for Butler University in 1903. Mr. Gardner was 39 years old in 1901 as was his wife Cara Davis Gardner. They had two children, four-year-old Mary and two-year-old, Margaret. They lived at 1318 North Broadway in 1901.
The Gardners likely found the Benton house as a quiet retreat away from the city. But where did Professor Benton go? Society snippets in both the Indianapolis Journal and News indicated that he traveled to visit relatives for part of the summer although he was occasionally home. Did the Gardners remain in his house during those times?
Then, I found this amazing blurb published on page three in the Indianapolis Journal on July 3, 1901:
Mr. and Mrs. Fred C. Gardner have taken Professor Benton's home in Irvington for the summer and have invited a number of friends out to spend the Fourth with them.
Did I just uncover the exact day and year as to when these amazing photographs were snapped? Osbert Sumner was 29 years old and single at the time. What was his connection to Fred C. Gardner? They were both active members of the Republican Party and in the Masons. Was Mr. Gardner also a member of the Canoe Club? In one of the photographs, a young man is wearing patriotic-striped socks. Wouldn't one do that on the Fourth of July?
By examining photos of Mr. Gardner in the Indianapolis newspapers, I am able to determine that he is in these historic images along with Osbert Sumner, of whom we already knew what he looked like. The women in the photos still need more research. One of them might be Cara Davis Gardner. Another might be her sister Hazel Bird Davis, who never married, and lived with the Gardners at the time. Two of the younger girls in the photos might be Mary and Margaret Gardner.
On the day that the photographs were snapped, it appears to be late in the afternoon or early evening as the sun is in the western sky. Mr. Gardner, who has a beard and is wearing a dark suit, can be seen holding the shutter release cable in a few of the images. You will note that the address of the house prior to the neighborhood's annexation as 364 Downey Avenue. This fact also tripped me up in the beginning.
More work is needed, but this exciting find adds new imagery about one of the neighborhood's most important landmarks. You will note that there were no immediate neighbors and that there used to be a carriage house or a barn nearby. The photos were taken before the brick was painted and it appears that Professor Benton used planks as a front sidewalk.
|Children posed on the lawn of the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue on July 4, 1901. Two of the young girls in the photo are perhaps Mary and Margaret Gardner, the children of Fred and Cara Davis Gardner.|
|A woman watches over the children at a lawn fete on the grounds of the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue on July 4, 1901.|
|Fred C. Gardner as he appeared on March 1, 1906, in the Indianapolis Star|
|The Benton House at 312 South Downey Avenue in the spring of 2020 (photo by Wm. Gulde)|
Scans of these historic images are courtesy of the Irvington Historical Society. I also wish to thank Deedee Davis and Paula Schmidt for their assistance with this post.