Oldfields Estate and gardens in warmer months. Image credit: IMA

Oldfields: 100 Years at 4000 Michigan Rd

An earlier article on the Four Winds Estate, relates to another well known property — the “Lilly House” located on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

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Oldfields 1913-2013. Image credit: IMA

While many believe (probably because of it’s aforementioned nickname) that the beautiful 26-acre manor was built by J.K. Lilly Jr., Oldfields (its original name) was actually built between 1909 and 1913 by Indianapolis Water Company executive Hugh McKennan Landon. The property had been established as part of the Town of Woodstock — a tract of farm land purchased and developed by Landon and Linnaes C. Boyd. The plan for Woodstock, adjacent to Crown Hill Cemetery and the White River, included residential lots, a reservoir, and a country club which was built to induce prospective residents. In its heyday, Woodstock consisted of only nine houses. The town came to an end in the early 1960s.

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Maple Road (38th street) ended at the White River at the time Oldfields was built, as there was no bridge. Baist Atlas Map 1927. Image credit: IUPUI Library. 

Boyd subdivided his half of the property into parcels fit for multiple mini-estates. Landon reserved about half the original 52-acre land purchase for the construction of his own country estate — a 22-room mansion that was designed by architect (and brother-in-law) Lewis Ketcham Davis in the French Chateau style. The property north of the intersection of Michigan and Maple Road (38th Street) was both remote enough to qualify as countryside, yet near enough to the city for reasonable travel. The Interurban rail line bordered the western edge of the property.

The Landons were concerned about fire safety, and thus employed the best fireproof building technology of the age, a reinforced concrete-frame, hollow-tile structure veneered in brick.  The family moved in upon its completion in 1913.  At the time, the house was grand but the setting, still wild.

Landon’s first wife, Suzette, died in 1918. Two years later, Landon married Jesse Spaulding of Chicago.  It appears Jesse had a great deal of influence over the development of the grounds and gardens. After visiting the Lamont estate in Maine, Jesse wrote to Percival Gallagher of the renowned landscape architectural firm Olmsted Brothers, to contract for services.  Construction of the new and improved garden complex took five years. After Jesse Landon’s death in 1930 and the Great Depression, Hugh Landon decided to sell Oldfields, with proceeds of the purchase benefitting a trust for Riley Hospital.

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Hugh McKennan Landon circa 1920 (Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society, Bretzman Photograph Studio Collection)

J. K. Lilly Jr.–noted philanthropist and son of Eli Lilly, the founder of the international Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company— purchased Oldfields from Landon in December 1932. He then undertook to make the home and property his own with a number of enhancements, most notably, the addition of a library to house his collection of rare books. In 1939, Lilly constructed a house called Newfield for his son J. K. Lilly III. Eventually a recreation building featuring indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a garden were added to the property. In the 1950s, the Lillys improved the main house with extensive decorative work, including scenic murals and a collection of portraits by famed painters.

Oldfields library addition. The Lilly House museum has been restored to its 1930s splendor with approximately 90% of the Lilly furnishings. Image credit: IMA

Oldfields library addition. The Lilly House museum has been restored to its 1930s splendor with approximately 90% of the Lilly furnishings. Image credit: IMA

In 1967, the estate, was given to the Art Association of Indianapolis by J.K. Lilly’s children, following the death of their parents. Now, as a jewel in the Indianapolis Museum of Art campus, the mansion and extensive gardens are open to the public.

Percival Gallagher, of the acclaimed landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers, designed Oldfields’ magnificent gardens and grounds in the 1920s. Lilly House is closed January through March for seasonal maintenance but the gardens are open year round, dawn to dusk. Image credit: IMA

Acclaimed landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers designed Oldfields’ magnificent gardens and grounds in the 1920s. Image credit: IMA

Oldfields was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2003.

If you’ve only visited the main museum, Oldfields is worth its own trip. Free audio tours are available for both Lilly House and the Garden. Visit the Lilly House Welcome Desk to rent a listening device, or visit imamuseum.org/gardentour on your smart phone to take the Garden Tour, or imamuseum.org/lillytour on your smart phone to take the Lilly House tour. Lilly House is closed January through March for seasonal maintenance but reopens in April.

Oldfields sprawling grounds. Image credit: IMA

Oldfields sprawling grounds. Image credit: IMA

Please share: what are your favorite corners of the IMA, grounds, and gardens?