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Hidden Indy: the Four Winds Estate, now a private residence tucked into a suburban neighborhood of impressive homes.

8140 Spring Mill Road, Indianapolis Now parceled and parsed out for the purpose of building what most of us would consider to be mansions in their own right, the historic Indianapolis estate once called Four Winds, held onto its expansive grounds north of Indianapolis for decades before relenting to subdivision. The property was businessman and philanthropist Hugh McKennon Landon’s second country estate within the boundaries of Marion County, located about four miles north of his other, better-known estate, Oldfields (now part of the property owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art).

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Hugh McKennan Landon circa 1920 at the wedding of his daughters at Oldfields. (Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society, Bretzman Photograph Studio Collection)

Hugh McKennan Landon was born on 22 June 1867 in Iowa. He married Suzette Merrill Davis on 22 November 1892. Mrs. Landon died in December 1918. Hugh Landon remarried on 10 April 1920 to Jessie (Spalding) Walker.

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Plat map circa 1920

Alverna Retreat (from collection of Tiffany Benedict Browne)

The couple built Four Winds Estate in 1933 using Pierre and Wright, a locally renowned architectural firm, established in 1925 by partners Edward D. Pierre and George Caleb Wright. The firm (a predecessor of Vonnegut, Wright & Yeager) was responsible for many landmarks in Indianapolis, and a number have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable other Indianapolis works include:

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Plat map of improvements to the property with thanks to the Ball State Archives.

Landon died in 1947 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. Soon after, the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart bought most of the property and renamed the mansion Alverna, adding facilities and operating the site as a retreat center until 1990. Notably, it was during this time that John Michael Talbot—one of the preeminent Catholic musicians in the world with more than fifty albums to his name, built a hermitage in the Alverna woods, where he spent the winter of 1978–79 to study and pray in seclusion.

Alverna retreat house

The main house during the Alverna years, functioned as a retreat house and chapel.

Later, Resort Condominiums International (RCI) bought the Alverna property from the Franciscans and restored the mansion as the focal point of a luxury housing development, Alverna Estates, developed in the 1990s.  The property was used as the Decorator’s Show House in 1992 and is now a private residence.

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What once was sizeable a country estate within the boundaries of Marion County has been parceled out to create a secluded neighborhood of impressive homes.

What are your recollections of the Four Winds/Alverna? Share with us in the comments section!

16 responses to “Friday Favorite: Four Winds Estate”

  1. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    For some reason, I thought that the Oldfields estate was a Lilly estate. When I was a member of the Christ Church Cathedral boys’ choir, we sang concerts at Oldfields on a grass covered back terrace above the garage (I think it was).

  2. Tom Davis says:

    When we first moved to town in the early ’80s, we would sometimes walk around the grounds, taking a path down to the creek and walking along the creek for awhile, past Talbot’s little hermitage, which as I recall, was kind of built into the hillside. I was a fan at the time and I knew what it had been. We never made it into the house though, but it was beautiful from the outside.

    I now realize that just upstream, running along the south side of 86th Street, was the former country estate, called Haverway, of another prominent citizen, Mary Stewart Carey.

  3. Tom Davis says:

    JK Lilly bought it from Landon in 1932.

  4. Rob Strickland says:

    I grew up just south of Alverna. As a young boy, we would run through the property only to have the sandled monks, as we called them, chase us away! Oh what fun and a challenge it was. If there was a bold one among us, he would go up to the front door and knock on it. The rest of us would run away. Remember, the house was overgrown with plants, it was tucked far back in the woods and to us it was very spooky especially the robed monks.

  5. Lisa Lorentz says:

    Tom is correct! Oldfields deserves an article unto itself (which I may attempt soon). It appears that, because of the Lilly connection and the association with the IMA, the property’s history has been better documented than the Four Winds Estate.

  6. Lisa Lorentz says:

    Kevin: you’re partially correct! Check out this week’s Friday Favorites article about Oldfields for the details. Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. Bo Franklin . says:

    I have a lunchbox that i bought at a yardsale in Arkansas that has Alverna Retreat House on it and the name Martin Wolter.Does anyone know of this person ?

  8. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Father Martin Wolter was the Franciscan priest who became the young John Michael Talbot’s mentor, when Talbot lived on the grounds of the Alverna Retreat House. After Talbot was older and had achieved success with the folk rock group Mason Proffit, Talbot bought land near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he started a community called Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage and Monastery. Martin Wolter moved to Arkansas to help run the organization. You could contact Brothers and Sisters of Charity to inquire about Father Wolter. Here’s a link to the site: http://www.littleportion.org/index.cfm?active=1.

  9. Pam says:

    I remember going to a retreat at Alverna around 1970. Beautiful place but gave off a sad feel. Also some strange happenings (voices, chanting) which led me to believe we weren’t there alone…as in haunted. But most definitely had a sad vibe.

  10. George Milanovich says:

    My Grandmother, Augusta Neumann, of Franklin, Indiana was caregiver to the Landon children when she was young. She traveled quite extensively with the family overseas. She then married Perry Templin and resided in Franklin until her death at age 101. She still has extended family in and around Franklin, and her great grandson, Joe McGuiness, is the current mayor of Franklin.

  11. Kathy whitacre says:

    I have the most wonderful memories of Alverna. The house, the chapel and the woods and stream are etched on my mind and my heart. It has been a place for growth….a sanctuary at times. I’ve spent many wonderful hours visiting there. My brother, my best friend and I took “A Course In Miracles” given by Father Justin in the early 80’s and we had such a good time. A time of bonding. Alverna will always hold a special place in my heart.

  12. Robert Newport says:

    I discovered a bronze plaque at the building I manage, McGowan Hall, home of the downtown Knights of Columbus. It reads: “pray for the members of K of C Council 437.” On the back there is a note written: “Alverna Retreat.” Must have been purchased by the Council to hang somewhere on the grounds there and perhaps given back to the K of C when the grounds again became a private residence.

  13. Steven Cornelius pettinga says:

    Did your Dad own & run Knaw Bone? We lived up the street t at 811. – Steven Pettinga

  14. Steven Cornelius Pettinga says:

    We lived at 8111 Spring Mill from 1960 on. Not many people lived up there. Our friends came from a mile or two away; instead of having 50 friends at 66 & Capitol. My parents had 5 kids instead or the two they had planned for. It was like moving to Siberia. It was however, the best place in the world for a kid with a with a bike to grow up in. Alverna was across the street and we atttended Spring Mill School which was built in 1959. Many of the posts made already; I grew up with you. Most of you lived in Somerset. Alverna was this kind of secret, mysterious place where we rode our bikes and explored. I really enjoyed learning about it’s entire history. Thanks again, Steven Pettinga Steven Pettinga on FB, PM me or call me, I have my parents old phone number. If you have the last phone book, you’ve got it.

  15. Rob Earle says:

    I attended Spring Mill Elementary School just to the east of the Alverna retreat in the late 1960s. We used to gaze through the bushes at the robed monks and thought it was so mysterious and spooky! It was the perfect “haunted mansion” for us at Halloween.

  16. Steven Shorr says:

    I attended Springmill School in the late 60s. I grew up just East of Spring Mill Road. I remember riding my bike where I met my friends. We would sneek onto the Alverna grounds. We worked our way down to the creek, where there were several boulders and large pine trees lining the banks of Williams Creek. A few of us took our guitars. We sat on the big rocks, smoked weed as we played songs, from the 60 and early 70. Usually one of the Monks would come out and shoe us off the property. The area was a wonderful place to grow up, and I have cherished the memories from that time.

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