Tuesday, January 3, 2012

5743 Oak Avenue Then and Now

In 1985, Laraine and Kevin Robbins purchased 5743 Oak Avenue in the dead of winter. They knew that the home used to belong to Florence Wiese, who had lived into her nineties. They had also been informed by another Wiese family member that Miss Wiese, who had gone blind, used to rent the upstairs of the home out to widows or single women. At the closing, the Robbins family received a 1920s era photo of their "new" historic home. So who was Miss Wiese and was there more to the story of this charming Arts and Crafts era home? It turns out there was.

Harry C. Simpson (1883-1954) left Aberdeen, Scotland in 1908 at the age of 24 for a new life in the United States. He departed on the SS Victoria bound for Canada in April. He entered the US via St. Albans, Vermont. His immigration papers describe him as 5'7" with brown hair and brown eyes. He had a total of $230 in his pocket as he made his way towards Indianapolis. He had been trained as a lithograph artist in Scotland and he took a similar position with the Indianapolis Engraving and Electrotyping Company. How he came to meet Grace L. Pritchett (1885-1973) is unclear, but they fell in love and married at the Irvington Presbyterian Church on July 11, 1911.

Immediately following their ceremony, Harry and Grace departed Indianapolis for Montreal and then on July 15, they sailed for the United Kingdom so that Grace could meet his parents in Scotland. They stayed away for the entire summer and lingered in the eastern United States before settling at Sadie Pritchett's (Grace's Mom) home at 5743 Oak Avenue in Irvington. It appears that Mrs. Pritchett built next door to Samuel Downs, another employee of the same firm as Mr. Simpson. Perhaps Mrs. Pritchett was connected with the firm in some way and discovered the lot via Mr. Downs. The two-story Arts and Crafts era house would be now be home for the newlyweds who would eventually have a son named James G. and a daughter named Grace L.

In 1920, the Simpsons moved from their Oak Avenue home for the country. As an artist, perhaps Mr. Simpson longed for nature to inspire him as he illustrated for others. They sold the house to Peter Winkel, a printer, and his wife Minnie. Both of the Winkels approached 50 as they moved in and they welcomed their 23 year-old son Raymond and his wife Edith to join them. The elder Mr. Winkel died in 1923 so Mrs. Winkel sold the home to the Wiese Family.

Harry C. Wiese tried out many business adventures throughout out his working life. In 1923, he managed the Claman Lunch and Recreation Billiard Parlor at 207-11 North Delaware. (also known as Claman Cafeteria). By 1930, he worked for the Beech Nut Packing Company as a traveling salesman. Back home his wife Odessa or Tessa managed the affairs at 5743 Oak Avenue. Also living with the Wieses in 1930 included Anton Wiese, the 82 year-old father of Harry, and Harry Wiese, Jr, their 30 year-old son and electrician. So, who was Florence Wiese? As it turns out, Florence was the spinster sister of Harry C. Weise. She had lived with her father for years and then moved into 5743 Oak Avenue with everyone else. Florence worked as a stenographer and secretary for several doctors and businessmen on the east side including William Tomilinson, John R. Swan, and Edwin Tether. By the 1960s, only Florence remained in the large bungalow so she started renting out the upstairs rooms. Some of the women who lived up there during this time include Helen R. Johnson, Helen Miller, and Linda Chambers.

Upon the death of Florence Wiese in the mid-1980s, her distant family members longed to sell the house quickly. Laraine and Kevin Robbins had no idea that the home would take years to restore, but they have faithfully done it. With one photo and some scant information, we now at least know a little more about the families who dwelled here. The historic image is courtesy of Laraine and Kevin Robbins. The contemporary image was shot on January 3, 2012.

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