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Whispers of Yesteryear: 1424 N Delaware St -- The William Jillson House

  • October 20, 2022 10:42 AM
    Message # 12961274
    Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submitted by: Murphy Hendy, ONS resident and Realtor

    The magic of the past sings poetically through the rooftops and tree canopies of downtown's Old Northside, painting the grounded historic streets with an ominous yet strangely familiar haunt from yesteryear. The late Indianapolis summer is behind us and the spectre of fall is slowly and quietly approaching. As we prepare for crisp breezy leaves blowing across bustling boulevards while the sounds of late-day crickets fill the still-warm air with an eerie and comforting seasonal symphony, I can think of no task better-suited to this ethereal time of year than to summon the ghost of another shadow left from a once towering treasure, now long-gone. Let's head over to our beloved Delaware St again, where many of the opulent residential beauties still articulate the kinetic and iconic N/S artery running confidently through many of our region's most known neighborhoods. In order to tell the story of the forever-erased Jillson Home at 1424 N Delaware St, we must also elicit the stories of two other existing (and wildly familiar) residences. Grab your spiced lattes, friends; we have some breezy leaves to stroll through together while we prepare to stop by the lonely lot of this late great home. Jillson Home

    Let's first set the time and location for our journey: think late 1800s, the Wholesale District. Enter: William Malcolm Jillson and Mary Clippinger Jillson along with their children Anne and Douglas. Mr. Jillson was a powerful partner in the famed manufacturing and wholesale company, Knight & Jillson Co, located at 121-127 S Pennsylvania St, where he served as President, Treasurer, and GM of the operation. At this moment in history, Central Indiana was enjoying the big 'gas boom' of the time; therefore, making the production and distribution of piping materials of all kinds a very profitable endeavor. So profitable, in fact, that at the height of this rapidly growing and critical operation, it is said that Knight & Jillson Co's revenue totalled a whopping 1.5M (which amounts to nearly 52M today)! The handsome 5-story brick building was demolished in 1998 to make way for the Conseco Fieldhouse (known today as the one-and-only Gainbridge Feildhouse, of course). For reference: the main entrance to the arena is where the back wall of Mr. Jillson's building was essentially located. Now that we have introduced our main human characters, it's time to go further back-in-time to about 1875 so we can visit the first of our supporting residential characters in our revealing fall stroll: 1028 N Delaware St--the "Wedding Cake House" (the Kemper House, more formally). We all know the one; it's the short but broad Greek and Italian Revival sporting the iconic set of 6 double columns and a highly ornate roofline on the west side of Delaware just south of Hwy 65 at 11th St. The Jillson family proudly occupied the Kemper house shortly after it was built and raised their young children, Doug and Anne, there until about 1898 (which aligns nicely with the lucrative 'gas boom' we just spoke about).

    Now we head over to the site of the star subject of our story (finally, right?). In 1897 (one year prior to the family's exit from the "Wedding Cake House"), 1424 N Delaware St would be built and Mr. Jillson would move his family into the grand and financially robust home (which would later come to have 2 alternate addresses as our city continued to evolve: 1428 & 1448 N Delaware; the ladder being how it is known today--also known as "concrete parking lot" for The Marleigh, currently at 1434 N Delaware St). Upon construction, the original Jillson home sat immediately south of our 2nd supporting address (still standing proud today): 1456 N Delaware St; sometimes referred to as "the Castle" i.e. The Dickson House. We all know this one too. I wasn't kidding when I said there were 3 important address-specific subjects in this story! In various photographs of the time, we can see "the Castle" hugging the northmost wall of the Jillson house, as if to befriend and comfort its beautiful brick neighbor.

    While the leaves scurry across our firmly-planted feet, let's close our eyes and imagine the Jillson home, boasting all the iconic features of the time: turrets, finials, rusticated stone, corbels, gabled roofs, hipped dormers, towers, bay windows, columns, broad porches and everything in between. It's an alluring mental image to conjure-up on this crisp fall day. 1424 N Delaware St hosted the entire Jillson family until William and Mary both passed away in 1918 (within just 3 months of eachother), leaving their son, Douglas, as the primary occupant and caregiver of the family fortress until he would later sell the property sometime after his WWII draft registration was complete. A lot remains unknown about this particular transition; but it is believed he sold the property in the late 1940s, based on records that indicate the home was divided into 8 apartments for rent throughout the 50s and 60s. It is likely the Jillson home was operating as a boarding house during its final years (as many of these Grande Dames were at the time). And by the early 70's, 1448 N Delaware St (the 3rd designated address for this plot) disappeared from our city's directory, indicating this is when the commanding co-op was demolished from the sorrowful site to make way for what would become the parking lot of the now-standing Marleigh.

    While 1424 N Delaware St no longer lingers over this busy urban street, the ghost of the Jillson Home still remains for those of us that know where to look.  As the sun is setting over our city's western horizon, perhaps one can find the shadows of the tall turret and fanciful finials casting a gentle reminder on the terrain below. Finding our way back to 2022, let's see what other ghosts we can uncover as we prepare for another festive fall season here in the dynamic Old Northside.


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