The Library of Congress owns over 14 million prints and photographs and only a small fraction have been (or probably ever will be) digitized. Therefore I’m always thrilled to find scans of Indianapolis images, even if they are not fully cataloged. This image, made from an 8″ x 10″ dry-plate glass negative, will be recognizable to most Indianapolis residents as “The House of a Thousand Candles,” but it is merely cataloged as “North Delaware Street, facsimile of John Hancock House, Indianapolis, Ind.” Catalogers have limited time to research and were lucky that the negatives made by the Detroit Publishing Company had location captions on the paper envelopes.
The home at 1500 N. Delaware Street was built in 1903/04 for Meredith Nicholson (1866-1947). Nicholson was a best-selling author during the Golden Age of Indiana literature. While living in this home he wrote the mystery/romance novel “The House of a Thousand Candles,” thus the nickname for the house. Owners through the years have decorated the windows with candles at Christmastime, and many people mistakenly believe that the book was about this house, but Nicholson stated that he was inspired by a house on Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana. Librarians estimated the date of this photograph between 1900 and 1910. Based on the more mature trees and the adjacent house, built in about 1906/07 according to the Old Northside Preservation Plan, the date of this photo is probably closer to 1910. (Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company)
So is Nicholson’s home really a facsimile of the house of John Hancock, remembered for his large signature on the Declaration of Independence? None of the histories that I’ve found make reference to this fact, but it is possible that the Hancock home influenced the design, one of the earliest Georgian/Colonial Revival houses in Indianapolis. The Detroit Publishing Company cameraman assigned to photograph the Nicholson house for a print or postcard made the notation on the envelope at the time probably based on information he received from the company or even from Nicholson himself. Visual comparison to Hancock Manor (seen above), built on Beacon Hill in Boston in the 1760s for John Hancock’s uncle, reveals many similarities including a gambrel roof with wood balustrade, end chimneys, three gabled dormers, corner quoins, a balcony over a central doorway, dentils, and stone lintels above the multi-paned windows. Despite protests, the Hancock home was demolished in 1863 sparking a preservation movement in Boston.
After Nicholson’s family sold the house in 1923, a variety of businesses and families have occupied the home, including the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, a doctor’s office, the Meredith Manor Dining Room restaurant, and apartments. (Indiana Landmarks slide library, 1970)
The Old Northside neighborhood was undergoing revitalization when Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (now Indiana Landmarks) purchased the building with money from a revolving loan fund and sold it to arts and civic leader Bob Beckmann, Jr. in 1979. (Indiana Landmarks slide library, 1979)
After extensively refurbishing the house and living there for several years, Beckmann sold the property to Indiana Humanities in 1986. Although the house remains intact, note that the southern porch has been enclosed, the center dormer was altered, and the roof lost the wood balustrade. Today the well-loved home serves as Indiana Humanities’ headquarters and houses several other nonprofit organizations. (Google Street View, 2009)
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