Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Thormeyers of South Butler Avenue

Paula Schmidt, one of our local history detectives, began to wonder about the large Victorian home along South Butler Avenue.  Her pursuit led her to the descendants of the Thormeyer family, who built the beautiful home.  Besides uncovering the stories of the family who dwelled there for sixty-two years, she also found historic photographs and documents.  Below is the fruit of her wonderful research.

The Thormeyers of South Butler Avenue
By Paula Schmidt

A lovely Queen Anne Victorian was built in 1891 on four adjacent lots along Lake Avenue, four houses south of Washington Street.   Today the address is 93 South Butler Avenue and because its appearance is almost original, one can imagine the owner, George Thormeyer, managing his business and political interests from his study, or his family resting after school or meeting with the Butler Alumni Literary Society on the deep front porch.

The Thormeyer family two years before they moved to Irvington in 1891: Front Row--George, Clara, Caroline Newhart Thormeyer; Back Row--Albert, Agnes, Phoebe, Bertha, Lydia Thormeyer.  The family dwelled in a large brick farmhouse along the Michigan Road near the Marion and Shelby County line before moving to 93 South Butler Avenue in Irvington in 1893.  

George Thormeyer c1900

This house has two separate chapters.  The first chapter is about George, a successful Acton farmer, who moved with his wife Caroline and their large family (Lydia, Bertha, Phoebe, Agnes, Albert, and Clara) to Irvington in 1891.  The second chapter focuses on two of his daughters, Bertha and Clara, who lived in the house until 1955.  Oddly enough, even his name has two stories!  One "e" or two, the papers, tombstones, obituaries, and even Butler College could not seem to decide.

George Thormeyer was an interesting man.   At age 18 he enlisted in the 22nd Regiment, Indiana Infantry Company G and served for three years in the Civil War.  He took part in some intense battles, was captured, wounded at least five times, and carried lead shot in his skull throughout his life.   He retained his medals and weapons which his family later donated to the Frazier Museum ( in Louisville, Kentucky. Remaining connected to other veterans was so important to him that he remained active in the G.A.R and died while parading at the age of 73 at a Civil War reunion in Terre Haute (obit, Star, May 12, 1916,"Calls Recruits to G.A.R. Ranks.." page 4).

Why would a successful farmer move to a new city when he was almost 50?  Many reasons! Indianapolis in the 1890's  was booming…the Columbia Club had been formed, the cornerstone of Monument Circle had been laid, Butler College had added a new Science Building and Hilton U. Brown was building his estate in Irvington.  George had both business ambitions and political interests in Marion County. At least five of his six children attended Butler College.  Possibly most importantly, as his Great-grandson Albert Thormeyer said, "successful German farmers built houses in town". Even then, retirees need challenging projects!

Unidentified women--possibly Thormeyer daughters standing in the side yard of 93 South Butler Avenue c1935

Bertha Thormeyer (c1928) standing in the side yard of 93 South Butler Avenue

Butler University report card of Bertha Thormeyer in 1890

Mr. Thormeyer  did not retire to that front porch when he moved to Irvington.  He founded a lumber company in 1893, Thormeyer, Weise & Company, located at 1208 East Washington Street and purchased tracts of property for development. He invested in a commercial building at the northwest corner of Ritter and Washington St.  He owned the Thormeyer Livery Stables housed in the former streetcar mule barn on the southwest corner of Butler and Washington Street (which also served as the marshal's office and as a justice of the peace court). He was involved in local Republican politics and ran for offices including the Warren Township Advisory Board and for Irvington Town Marshal. He was a charter member of the Irvington Masonic Lodge #666.

Mr. Thormeyer served as a trustee of the Irvington Presbyterian Church and was instrumental in raising funds.  When the church failed to get a loan of $500 in 1909 from Indianapolis banks. George Thormeyer and three other trustees (Fred Ropkey, John Friday and James L. Kingsbury) "secured the loan from a roadhouse on the outskirts of Irvington.”  Reporting to the congregation one trustee said:" I fear some of the brethren are shocked to learn that the church would accept money from a dive.  Perhaps they think this the filthiest of filthy lucre, tarnished and black, but let me assure you, my dear brothers and sisters, that when we paid it back with interest, it was as white as the driven snow." I like to think that acquirer of "filthy lucre" was George Thormeyer.

93 South Butler Avenue in April of 2014

93 South Butler Avenue in April of 2014
Paula would like to acknowledge Albert Thormyer from Austin, Indiana for the stories and historic documents.  

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