Saturday, January 30, 2016

South Audubon Road a Century Ago

Sometime in 1915 a young Edward Lollis posed along the front walk of his home at 275 South Audubon Road.  He had come to live with his Uncle Robert and Aunt Mary Stevenson in that year.  Behind him, you can see the southern edge of the Irving Circle Park. The most visible house in the photo is located at 240 South Audubon Road. Elizabeth Hadley, the widow of William Hadley, dwelled in the home at the time that this photo was taken. Edward grew up in the neighborhood and spent most of the remainder of his life in Irvington along Julian Avenue. To learn more about the Lollis or Stevenson families, click on the links below.

Edward Lollis in front of 275 South Audubon Road in 1915

South Audubon Road scene in 2016

240 South Audubon Road in 2016
 The historic image is courtesy of Ted Lollis.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

East Washington Street and Audubon Road in 1924

Sometime in the late fall or early winter of 1924 an unidentified Butler University sorority girl who dwelled at 5657 East Washington Street stopped to pose for this photograph. She had been sweeping the walk. Behind her you can see the grand home that used to stand at 5698 East Washington Street. The Stevenson family lived in the large house at the time. In three years, the Stevenson residence would be demolished for a commercial strip that still stands in 2016. The Kappa Kappa Gamma House where the young woman stood was also later razed.

A Kappa Kappa Gamma member posed in front of the chapter home in 1924. Behind her you can see the residence of Robert and Mary Stevenson at 5698 East Washington Street. (Photo: Butler Drift, 1924) 

Robert and Mary Stevenson purchased this home in 1918. To learn more about this history of this former Irvington dwelling click on the Stevenson link below. It was demolished in 1927.

This beautiful home at 5657 East Washington Street briefly served as the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority House in the 1920s. It was razed in 1945. (Photo: Butler Drift, 1924)

5600 block of East Washington Street in 2016
The historic image of the Stevenson home is courtesy of Ted Lollis.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Young Attorney Defends D.C. Stephenson

George O. Cowan grew up in Decatur County, Indiana and graduated from Greensburg High School in 1915. In May of 1917, he became one of the first young men in that county to enlist in the U.S. army for service in World War I. He was likely wounded in the war as he joined the Disabled Veterans of America shortly after his return.

After Cowan mustered out of the military in 1919, he enrolled and graduated from Butler University and then the Indiana Law School in 1924. The timing of his admittance to the Marion County Bar landed at an ominous time in Indiana history. Just as he was starting his law career, David Curtis Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana and Ohio, was a rising force within Indiana politics. Stephenson had become a millionaire by selling Klan memberships, robes, and paraphernalia as thousands of Hoosiers joined the "pro-American" organization. Stephenson helped to get many politicians elected including Governor Ed Jackson and Indianapolis Mayor John Duvall. With his flush bank account, the Grand Dragon purchased the Graham home at 5432 University Avenue.

In a story now well-told and well-known, Stephenson kidnapped and brutally raped and attacked Madge Oberholtzer in the spring of 1925 on a train ride to Hammond, Indiana. Miss Oberholtzer, who dwelled nearby with her parents at 5802 University Avenue attempted suicide shortly after the attack by swallowing poison. The next morning Stephenson sobered up and brought the now dying Miss Oberholtzer back to Irvington. Unsure of what to do with her, his bodyguards eventually dropped her off at her home. She lived long enough to give a deathbed confession to authorities although she warned the police that Stephenson had bragged to her that he was "the law in Indiana."

Two local Irvington men served as attorneys for D.C. Stephenson including Robert I. Marsh of 28 Downey Avenue and George O. Cowan, who rented a duplex at 5020 Orion Avenue When detectives came to question Stephenson about Miss Oberholtzer at the Hotel Washington on April 2, 1925, it was Cowan who was alone with the Grand Dragon. When Stephenson needed $10,000 to post bail for him, it was Cowan who scraped together the money.

Neither lawyer was able to save Stephenson from his fate after Miss Oberholtzer's death. The sensational trial of the Klansman brought down the Governor of Indiana and numerous other politicians. It also ended the reign of power for the racist and anti-semitic organization. Ordinary Americans finally realized what they had been a part of and most no longer wanted anything to do with the Klan.  While his client headed to prison, George O. Cowan married Ella McClure on January 23, 1926.  He was 30 years old. For the first several years, they rented a small double at 5020 Orion Avenue in western Irvington. Perhaps he struggled to get back on his feet after being associated with one of the most infamous men in America. Did George Cowan subscribe to the ideology of the Klan? Did he attend the notorious Bacchanalias at the Stephenson home in the months before the Grand Dragon's arrest? He was obviously close to Stephenson, but how close?  His obituary in his hometown newspaper in 1955 spoke of none of this. The residents of Decatur County were clearly proud of their hometown boy as they spoke of him as being "prominent" and involved with lawsuits related to the trucking industry.

Cowan graduated from the Indiana Law School in 1924

Mr. Cowan lists 325 North Ritter Avenue in Fellow Citizens of Indianapolis, but there is no such address, nor is there a 325 South Ritter Avenue. City directories reveal that he rented a duplex at 5020 East Orion Avenue in 1926.  
5020-22 Orion Avenue on snowy January day in 2016

William Lutholtz. Grand Dragon: D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue Press. 1991, pp.190,191, 197,198.

Greensburg Daily News, February 9, 1955.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Winckelbachs of South Bolton Avenue--1940

Harold Wincklebach, a native New Yorker, moved to Indianapolis in 1935 after completing his studies at the Illinois College of Podiatry.  He met Indianapolis native, Martha Spalls after moving to the city and married her on November 25, 1937. The young couple first took up housekeeping at 916 North Tecumseh Street, but decided to move to Irvington in 1940.  Their home at 63 South Bolton Avenue was very unusual for the neighborhood as it had a flat roof and was in the Mission Revival style. The stuccoed one-story home located on the northeast corner of the intersection of South Bolton and Julian Avenues had been built in 1928.  The Winckelbachs had two children while living at the home and Mr. Wincklebach's mother eventually came to live with them as well. The family did not stay in the home for long. Perhaps it was too small for their growing family as they moved to Kealing Street by 1942.  To see a photo of the home today, click on the address below. The residence has been drastically altered over the years with the removal of windows and the covering of the stucco with vinyl siding.

Martha and Harold Winckelbach in the summer of 1940 in front of 63 South Bolton Avenue

Martha Spalls Winckelbach with her daughter Teddy in August of 1940 at 63 South Bolton Avenue

Teddy and Martha Winckelbach near 63 South Bolton Avenue in the summer of 1941.  

The historic images are courtesy of the descendants of the Winckelbach family via  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wonderful Restoration Work

Two historic homes have been or are currently being renovated in Irvington. In both cases, homeowners have beautifully returned the dwellings to their original appearance. The American Four Square at 76 North Layman Avenue was likely built around 1908 and was first occupied by the Thomas family who resided there for years.  The current owners have removed vinyl siding and have restored the lovely clapboards hidden underneath for a few decades. They have also restored the beautiful porch. It will be exciting to see the final results on this grand home.

76 North Layman Avenue (c1908) is undergoing a significant renovation in 2016

5360 East Washington Street has also been extensively renovated. The home, likely built around 1909, has had its stucco and wood clapboard siding restored as well as several features inside the house. The front porch, which had been enclosed in the mid-twentieth century, has been reopened although the 1950s-era stone remains.  Kudos to both homeowners for these beautiful restorations.

5360 East Washington Street in 2016