the most beautiful sites in Fayette County is the picturesque home and surrounding
grounds now known as Elmhurst, thought its early history is recorded under
the name of "The Old Elm Farm". Situated on the west side
of the Whitewater Valley along the banks of the Whitewater Canal and adjoining
the south edge of Connersville, it played a prominent part in the development
of this section of the state. It was the home of those responsible for the
early growth and advancement of the city as well as the State of Indiana.
the historic building was not constructed at the same time. The nucleus of
the present structure was erected in 1831 by the Hon. Oliver H. Smith, then
a member of Congress. His contribution to the magnificent building consisted
of principally four rooms. The building was of brick, two stories in height
with immense chimneys at each end with the addition of a frame structure on
the back, which was used for the kitchen and dining room. It is said that
he located his home at this particular spot because of the choice view of
the valley it afforded and the fact that the old Indian Trail passed directly
in front of it, then continued past the house a short distance to a well known
spring that the Indians visited on their trips through the valley. This trail
then branched off to the west and up the hill to what is now known as Jenny's
Point, the highest point in Fayette County, where the Indians had fire bowls
for their signal fires. Smith was very friendly with the Indians and befriended
them at every opportunity. He wrote several books but is best known for his
"Early Indiana Trails and Sketches" whicyh was published
in 1857. In this herefers to his purchase of the land as follows: "I
bought the fine farm of one hundred and sixty acres, adjoining Connersville
the same now the residence of my friend the Hon. Samuel W. Parker, of John
Adair, of Brookville, for $9 per acre, in three installments without interest."
This transaction is recorded January 3, 1831.
It is not
known how long he lived in his new home, but shortly afterward he purchased
a pretentious hom located in the heart of the village of Connersville and
moved there while his Whitewater mansion became the residence of the Hon.
Celeb B. Smith, member of Congress for three terms and Secretary of the Interior
under President Lincoln. He also served his state in the Legislature from
1833 to 1840 and was speaker of the House in the sessions of 1835 and 1836.
He was one of the most eloquent and powerful stump speakers in the United
States. This distinguished man died in Indianapolis in 1864, and according
to tradition , it was his dying wish that he be buried on the grounds of the
estate he loved so well. Whether that wish was fulfilled is not known because
to the present day there is no true evidence as to his exact burial spot.
at this period, so history states, formed an important link in the Old Underground
Railway. The trail forked here, the West prong leading toward Yankeetown,
the East prong toward Centerville and Union City. A brick building still stands
on what is now known as the Gamble Farm, but, at that time part of Old Elm
Farm, which was a haven and refuge for escaping slaves from the South.
next became the property of James Shaw on November 13, 1838 and later of Nicholas
Patterson on February 14, 1842, and from the latter it passed into the hands
of the Hon. Samuel W. Parker, recorded under the date of February 23, 1850.
Parker was a member of Congress from 1851 to 1855, and a resident of Connersville
from 1828 until his death in 1859. On return to his home from Washington,
he divided his attentions between the practice of law and the direction of
his varied railroad interests. He was president of the Junction Railroad Company
and for several years president of the Whitewater Canal Company. It is said
the the canal boats on their trips up and down the canal, as they passed his
home, would toll their bells in respect to Parker and that he would answer
their salute with a bell which he had installed by the front porch of his
home. Parker gave his support and rendered valuable aid to the career of Henry
Clay and tradition has it that this great man was entertained within it's
is given credit for beautifying the grounds that surrounded his home, for
it was he who planted many of the trees that are standing today. The dwarf
Catalpes now in the foreground of the estate were set out by Parker. He started
the first remodeling of the building, paneling the lower front rooms with
the solid cherry that graces the walls of the lobby today.
slight elevation at the rear of his home, he dedicated to the Parker cemetery
and in order that his remains should never be disturbed, Parker with his own
hands built tombs for himself and his sister. They were intricate structures
of solid flagstones, brick lined, with bottom of gravel for drainage. His
marble shaft on which he inscribed the one word "Parker" marked
his grave. The splendid grove of tress he planted and cared for is a more
fitting monument to his memory that is the marble which gives no information
next became the property of James N. Huston through a foreclosure sale in
1881. Huston is said to have entertained Benjamin Harrison and his first wife
Caroline Scott Harrison, upon numerous occasions, one of the bedrooms being
reserved exclusively for their frequent visits.
Huston's time, the building was extensively remodeled, being patterned along
the lines of the White House in Washington. The massive porch columns and
wings at both north and south ends of the old structure were added and the
paneling started by Parker was continued. This included the oak stairways
and panels in the upper room and hall and dining room at a cost of $44,000.
These panels and stairs are now restored and are prominent parts of the present
decorative scheme. The estate was often referred to as "The White House
Huston occupied the residence, it was part of the estate of over eight hundred
acres known as the "Old Elm Farm" from the ancient elm grove and
particularly the single giant elm that stood in front of the building. Huston
was the political manager for Benjamin Harrison who later appointed Huston
United States Treasurer.
Huston who added the huge fireplaces in both the upper and lower halls. The
fireplace, which now is the center of the present lobby, is made of carved
red sandston and polished granite. Huston commissioned a noted sculptor to
carve the likeness of Indian Joe, a crippled Shawnee Indian, who remained
in the valley after the remainder of the tribe were sent to a reservation.
This Indian was a famous character known to the early settlers of the valley,
and as the story goes, he was buried somewhere on the grounds of the estate.
The sculptor used and old tintype of the Huston's to obtain his likeness and
while working at his task he was watched by a stable boy, a dwarf Negro who
whistled constantly. After completing the profile of Indian Joe, the sculptor
to balance the design, obtained Huston's permission to carve the profile of
the whistling Negro boy on the opposite side.
next passed into the hands of Andrew Daum in March, 1901. Daum added the norht
wing, known as the Daum Annex. This annex consisted of 26 rooms and was used
as a sanitarium and at this time was well known throughout the country. Dr.
A. H. Daum on one of his trips to Europe, contracted a strange disease which
caused his death at the height of a promising career. His body was placed
in the Parker burial plot and for over a month lanterns stood at his grave
and a guard stationed to insure no molestation by those who sought to solve
the enigma of his strange malady.
finally disposed of the property in April, 1902 to Charles Chambers and Ella
Porter, who operated a sanitarium under Dr. W. J. Porter. Later when "Old
Elm Farm" was divided and sold, Mrs. Porter applied for the modified
name of "Elmhurst" to the part retained which consisted of the house
and one hundred forty acres. The estate was then sold to the Connersville
Sanitarium Co. in August of 1903.
1904, Elmhurst was purchased by George B. Markle of Hazelton, Pennsylvania,
who used it only as a summer home.
later in 1909, the "Elmhurst School for the Girls" was established.
This school was directed by Isabel Cressler and Caroline Sumner for the purpose
of giving the girls of the Middle West educational opportunites equal to those
to be had in the Eastern Schools. Elmhurst was a unique school in many respects.
In the first place the enrollment was originally limited to twenty-four students,
the number which could be accommodated in the building, although at one time
there were as high as forty enrolled. While the school was strictly nonsectarian,
it was permeated with a religious atmosphere. The school property comprised
one hundred and forty acres and by utilizing the tillable land, the school
developed a combination agricultural and domestic science course which was
unique in the work of private schools for girls.
of both prominent and wealthy families obtained their education at Elmhurst.
The Italian marble drinking fountain was presented by George Ball of Muncie
to the school while his daughters were emrolled. This fountain is now in the
dining room of the present remodeled structure.
time the magnificent forest trees surrounding Elmhurst furnished one of its
distinctive features. The famous Elmhurst Elm stood ninety-five feet high
and measured more than sixteen feet in circumference at its base. Good authorities
placed the age of the tree at close to four hundred years. The tree was cut
down in 1935 due to its endangering condition, and it is said the wood when
cut furnished heat for the building for an entire winter.
near the building on the southwest corner, was a catalpa species, eight feet
in circumference and one of the best specimens of this variety in the country.
This tree fell in 1934, on a calm summer day.
It is said
that at one time there was a specimen of every known variety of tree that
would grow in Indiana, planted and growing on Elmhurst's beautiful acres.
closed in 1929 and the estate came under the control of Manfred Dale. It was
vacant until the Pennington Military Institute was started by Mr. Lewis, who
operated the school for about a year. In 1931 Herbert Bard, an Eastern professor
sought to open a private school, which subsequently proved a failure.
then stood idle except for a caretaker, Robert Ingersoll, until purchased
by Warren Lodge No. 15, F. &A.M. to be used as a Temple by the Lodge.
remodeled and restored to it's grandeur of years gone by, it stands today
a landmark of beauty, a magnificent link between the days of early development
of Fayette County and the present day.