Oldfields Estate and gardens in warmer months. Image credit: IMA
Oldfields: 100 Years at 4000 Michigan Rd
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.
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.
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.
Please share: what are your favorite corners of the IMA, grounds, and gardens?