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Reader’s Question:

What’s the story behind the concrete wall lining 52nd and Guion Road?  The property is now owned by a church, but the wall is too old and substantial for the church.  There was once what looks like a guardhouse entry on 52nd Street.  Any thoughts?  ~ Natalie Hoefer, Indianapolis

HI’s Answer:

The Pike Township property that today is known as 4374 West 52nd Street was owned by four generations of the same family for more than a century.  Members of the Staton family migrated from Virginia to Indiana, stopping for a few years in Ohio, as they made their way west to their ultimate destination.  Brothers Joseph, George, and Smith Staton obtained several land patents in the early 1830s for tracts in both the northwest corner of Marion County and the southeast corner of Boone County.

One of several land patents issued to the Staton family in Marion and Boone Counties (image courtesy of Ancestry.com

One of several land patents issued to  Staton family members  in Marion and Boone Counties  ( Ancestry.com)            LEFT CLICK TO ENLARGE

Other early Pike Township settlers included names such as Boardman, Bridgford, Conarroe, Crist, DeBruler, Guion, Hightshue, Hollingsworth, Kissell, Klingensmith, Moller, Rodabaugh, Trester, and Wright.  Eventually, the extended Guion family owned so many different parcels in the area that one of the roads through the township began to be called Guion Road.

The oldest of the three Virginia-born brothers, Joseph Staton (1796-1862), passed his land on to sons George Washington Staton and Reuben Staton.  The property on the northwest corner of 52nd and Guion Road went to the older son. G.W.  That plat consisted of almost 29 acres, with a creek meandering through it, which they called Staton’s Creek.  In later years, Staton’s Creek was renamed Guion Creek, the name by which it is known today.  George Washington Staton then left this parcel of land to his son, Rufus George Staton.

The final generation of the Staton family to own the property was Lewis S. Staton.  Lewis and his wife, Martha Ann McCray Staton, had only one child, daughter Florence Olive Staton, who was killed in an interurban accident in 1919.  Florence was a passenger in a car driven by her neighbor, Leroy Guion, son of Mr. and Mrs. Asbury Guion.  They were returning home from an evening service at Crooked Creek Baptist Church at 56th and Michigan Road.  A rather detailed description of the event appeared in The Indianapolis Star.

Article in The Indianapolis Star

LEFT  CLICK  ON  ARTICLE  TO  ENLARGE  Jan 6, 1919, article in The Indianapolis Star

Some time after the 1930 Census (on which the Statons appeared) and before the 1940 Census (on which the Statons did not appear), the property was purchased by Victor and Alex Krannert.  Victor was the younger brother of Inland Container Company president, Herman Krannert, and was vice-president and secretary of the company from 1934 until his death in 1951.

1941 Wagner Map shows who the property owners were at that time (map courtesy of Indiana State Library)

Wagner’s Map of Marion County, Indiana, shows who the property owners near 52nd Street and Guion Road were in 1931   (map courtesy of Indiana State Library)                  LEFT CLICK TO ENLARGE

After Victor Krannert died, his widow Alex reportedly became paranoid about living alone on a large and densely wooded piece of property.  Born in France in 1900, she had lived through World War I, as well as other European conflicts, and she feared the United States could some day be invaded.  Mrs. Krannert and a servant proceeded to build a concrete block wall around the property with their own hands, in an effort to provide her with some security and privacy.

A concrete block was was built along the entire south and east property lines

A concrete block wall was erected at 52nd and Guion Road, extending the entire length of the south and east property lines  (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Unfortunately, neither the wall nor the gatehouse at the entrance to the compound kept intruders out.  Apparently it was a rite of passage in the ’50s and ’60s for teenagers to climb the wall and trespass on Mrs. Krannert’s property.  Vandals came on to the grounds on multiple occasions over the years, damaging the property and stealing her possessions.  The home invasions escalated, and in September of 1969, a group of adults — some of whom had formerly been employed by Mrs Krannert — beat and robbed her.  The final act of unkindness occurred on September 26, 1970, when her house was set on fire.  Alex Krannert died on December 15, 1970, from injuries suffered in the fire ten weeks earlier.  She was 70 years old.

Brief obituary in The Indianapolis Star reporting the death of Alex Krannert in December of 1970 (scan courtesy of Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

A brief obituary reporting the death of Alex Krannert appeared in The Indianapolis Star in December of 1970

Following Alex Krannert’s death, it took a quite a while to settle her estate, and the property was tied up in probate for many years.  Damaged beyond repair by the fire, the old Staton family homestead was eventually torn down.  Guion Creek Elementary School, directly across the street on the south side of West 52nd, was built on some of the Staton family’s former land.

In 1978, local developer Gil Templeton, Jr., purchased the property with the intention of building several condos on the east side of the creek and a few single-family homes on the west side of the creek.  Templeton had recently completed the construction of The Overlook at Williams Creek, near 86th and Spring Mill Road, and he was hoping to build another similar project at 52nd and Guion Road.  However, neighbors in the area felt the project was too intense and opposed it.  After neighborhood meetings and remonstrations dragged on for a period of time, the proposed project was defeated.

The property changed hands a few more times in the 1980s and 1990s.  Title holders included Ash Realty Co., Merchants National Bank, and MWM.  One of those owners (I’m not certain which) erected a commercial building on the property, in roughly the same location that the original Staton family home had previously stood.  In September of 2006, the Solid Word Bible Church bought the property and adapted the structure for its present use as a church.

 

30 responses to “HI Mailbag: Curious Wall Lining West 52nd Street and Guion Road”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Will stay with these township blogs. It would be interesting to see what development took place in Center Township prior to Indianapolis annexing the balance of it…

  2. Tom Davis says:

    I’ve lived nearby since 1982, and my son went to Guion Creek Elementary in the 90s, so I’m very familiar with the site, so I really appreciate learning about it. For many years, there was a big eye painted on the fence near the corner of 52nd and Guion that made it stand out, but then an accident took out that part of the fence. Many years ago, someone told me the property was associated with the Clowes family (or maybe it was the Krannert Family), but they must have been mistaken or you would have caught that.

    A business, I can’t remember the name, built the building that the church is using now, probably about 15 -20 years ago.

  3. Jim says:

    This is fascinating! I live in the Kessler-Michigan area, which is not far from this wall. I’ve wondered about its origins myself.

    The interurban accident must have happened near Michigan Road at 56th St., which no longer goes through at that location. I don’t believe Kessler Blvd. was built yet in 1919. What a terrible situation that must have been, especially at a time when this was probably considered a fairly remote location. The story of the difficulty getting ambulances to the site to carry away the injured was wrenching.

    I am especially fascinated by the 1941 map excerpt showing that the suburbanization along the Pike/Washington line was beginning even then, with the street layouts of Northern Estates, Wolfington, and Morningside already present. The neighborhood in which I live currently was still farmland then.

    I am also interested to see Michigan Road labeled as SR 29 on the map. US 421 must not have been extended into Indiana yet. SR 29 used to cover the entire Logansport-Indianapolis-Shelbyville-Madison portion of the old Michigan Road; today, SR 29 begins at Logansport and ends about 30 miles to the south where US 421 takes over.

  4. Evan Finch says:

    Thanks for this! I went to school at Guion Creek in the 1970s, and wondered about this property even then.

  5. Jeff says:

    This was interesting to read. My father grew up in Zionsville in the 1950’s and has referred to this property as the “house of walls.” Apparently this was the west side’s version of the “House of Blue Lights” amongst local teenagers who would sneak onto the grounds at night as a right of passage. It’s sad to think of the torment this woman must have endured in the later years of her life.

  6. Natalie says:

    Thanks SO MUCH for providing the answer! The history was far more fascinating than I expected. I so enjoy making the connections of current street names and old tombstone names with past family land owners–of the family names you mentioned, I recognize at least 5 current street names in that area. Fascinating stuff … many, many thanks for satiating an inquiring mind!!

  7. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I am intrigued by your comment that the property was associated with either the Clowes or the Krannert family. As far as I know, the Clowes family did not come to Indianapolis until about 1920, and the only homes they ever lived in were 4319 Broadway Street in Meridian-Kessler and 3744 Spring Hollow in Golden Hill. Herman and Ellnora Krannert’s home was in Pike Township, but it was further north and west of 52nd and Guion, at 79th and Marsh Road. Their estate, Normandy Farms, became an upscale housing subdivision after their deaths (which were later than Victor’s and Alex’s deaths).
    .
    I remain curious because I don’t have absolute proof of which widow it was whose story the neighbor on Guion Road remembered. Records in earlier times are difficult to obtain for properties that were outside the old city limits of Indianapolis proper. No records exist for this property prior to 1978 in the Marion County Assessor’s Office. There are no city directories to consult either. Even during the years when there was a suburban directory to supplement the city directory, neither Guion Road nor this stretch of W. 52nd Street was listed in them. The Census records were about all I had to document Lewis and Mattie Staton’s living on this property.
    .
    It’s possible that the neighbor who told me what went on in the the final years the house was owner-occupied has the general story line right (about a paranoid widow building the wall, being vandalized, being robbed, having her home set on fire, etc.), but maybe the woman who lived there was someone other than Mattie Staton.
    .
    Herman Krannert had a younger brother named Victor, who died in 1951. Victor’s widow Alex did not die until 1970. Both Krannert couples are buried at Crown Hill Cemetery (of course!). Victor and Alex Krannert also lived in Pike Township. Of the few records I could find for them, the only address ever given was R.R. 17, i.e., no street address. Alex Krannert may have been the one who built the wall and died at the hands of vandals. I hope I have not provided incorrect information in my article.

  8. Tom Davis says:

    Sharon, I certainly don’t have any documented source for any information on the property, and based upon what you’ve said about township records, I don’t know what to suggest. There is a Pike Township Historical Society and maybe somebody there or at http://historictraderspoint.org/ might know something.

    All three of the places I’ve lived at since moving to Indianapolis have been within a couple of miles of this spot, and I’ve probably gone by it three or four times a week and more for the past 30 years, so it’s always been a place of curiosity and even a running joke between my wife and I about who built it. But about 20 years ago, I had a temporary job at Universal Flavors and in talking to another employee, I discovered that she had grown up in the little subdivision that is to the southeast corner of the same intersection. I don’t remember if I asked her about the property on the northwest corner or if she volunteered that it had belonged to the Krannerts (or Clowes. I don’t remember really which one she said, but based upon what you’ve said, if there is even a slight chance that she was right, it must have been the Krannerts). If my memory serves me correctly, she would have been in her early 30s at the time, which was around 1995.

    Sorry I can’t be of more help. My wife and I do know a woman whose last name is Staton who actually lives in a condo just south of the middle school there. I know shes not a direct descendant of the Statons in the article, but If she happens to know anything, I’ll pass it on.

  9. Tom Davis says:

    Sharon, I did just think of something. It’s a long shot, but i’ll look to see if any of the Krannerts’ burial permits have an address on them.

  10. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Great minds think alike. I thought of the very same thing.

  11. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Something the Guion Road neighbor told me about the widow who lived behind the wall at 52nd and Guion is beginning to make sense. She said that the woman was born in Europe. She said that besides being nervous about being alone on the property after her husband died, the woman was also afraid that the U.S. could be invaded at some point. The woman had lived through WWI and other European wars, and she thought the wall would help protect her. At first, I discounted the statement by the neighbor that the widow had been born in Europe, because I knew that Martha “Mattie” Staton was born in Indianapolis. Once I learned that Alex Krannert was born in France, it all fit together.

  12. Tom Davis says:

    I may not make it tomorrow, but I’ll stop by the cemetery office soon to see if the burial permits have any clues. Meanwhile, I wonder if there is a way to find out any detail about the old RR 17.

  13. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Judging by Wagner’s 1931 Map of Marion County, Indiana, most of Pike Township was R. R. 17.

  14. Brad says:

    Great article. I played Little League baseball at Ransburg LL, and I went to GC Elementary in the early 90s, so I have also always wondered what the story was behind that wall.

  15. Evan Finch says:

    Interesting comments! I thought I remembered that property as being referred to in grade school as “the old Krannert mansion”, but I have no idea who would have told me that. And besides, I was probably 7, so who knows if I heard them correctly.

  16. Evan Finch says:

    On pages 29 and 30 of this document, there’s a discussion of the Krannerts’ property in Pike Township — but I saw no mention of the Guion Road property.

    http://www.in.gov/dnr/historic/files/eagletownship_mpd.pdf

  17. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Victor Krannert was not as well known as his brother, Herman Krannert. Herman was president of Inland Container, whereas Victor was vice-president and secretary. Herman owned 600 acres of land at the far northwest edge of the county that included a state-of-the-art (for the times) dairy farm managed by Purdue University, while Victor owned only 29 acres, which was closer in to town. Herman did not die until 1972, whereas Victor died two decades earlier in 1951. Herman’s property was developed into an upscale residential neighborhood, while Victor’s property languished behind an ominous concrete block wall built by his eccentric wife. Herman Krannert and his wife Ellnora outlived both Victor Krannert and his wife, Alex, so not as much is known about the latter Krannerts.

  18. Judy Champa says:

    We are renters ih the building at 1311 East Prospect Street. We love the building, but have heard all kinds of “history” behind it. We would love to know the real history of it. We have heard that it has been used for everything from storing caskets for the funeral home across the street, to a plumbing company. But we just don’t know the reall truth. Any enlightenment you can give us would be greatly appreciated.

    Also, about the property on Guion Road that the above article is about, thank you. It is interesting how different the facts are from the rumors I used to hear when I lived in that area.

  19. Wendy Guion says:

    If you could make a change regarding the information on the automobile accident, I would appreciate it. The driver of the car was Leroy Guion. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Asbury Guion which, I think is what the article says. He would have been 24 at the time, while Asbury was 54. Thanks

  20. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Please accept my apologies for this mistake and any discomfort it may have caused you or your family. The newspaper clipping clearly says the young man’s name was Leroy and his father was Asbury. As this column was written nearly eight months ago, I am not able to recall the circumstances at the time that may have led to the error.

  21. Wendy Guion says:

    I appreciate your changing the names. No discomfort caused. I’m working on a family history, and no one even knew about this event until I found your article so thank you for posting it. These kinds of things add depth to a look at the people from our past.
    Thanks again.
    Wendy

  22. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I totally agree that newspaper articles and other documents from the time period can help us to understand our ancestors better. Even though this event was a tragedy, it may provide some insight into other information about the family.

  23. Wendy Guion says:

    Yes, this is true. Leroy had a rich, full life and so moved beyond this tragedy. When I asked my mother-in-law if she knew about it (would have been her father-in-law) she said she hadn’t but he always had a bad leg, now we know why. Again thank you!

  24. Tom Oliphant says:

    I saw this property in 1974 as a teen. As you went down the drive from the front gate on 52nd St. you first came to a single small concrete structure, it was a mausoleum for a dog. Then as you approached the main house, there was a circular drive with the house on the right (east) and to the west of it was a greenhouse, a 4 or 5 bay garage, a kennel and a stable. The house had a large slab in the basement and veterinarian implements all about. The basement opened on one end to bring animals in. The upstairs foyer area had a large double painting of a man and a woman with a gold painted frame and a nameplate that said Krannerts. The faces had been burnt out of the paintings, but the shoulders, chest, arms and hands remained. Very eerie. I had no idea of the nature or the history of this property at the time I had explored it. I took two friends back there on Halloween night that year; it was dark as we approached the house, we could see someone had a campfire built in the living room. We became frightened and as we discussed what to do the fire spread. Rickey Lee Vaughn had just shot an Indianapolis police officer in prior days and after an intense manhunt had not been found, we were afraid that might have been him. We were too afraid to tell anyone for fear we would be blamed for the fire. I am very sorry to learn the truth about this property and the nature and history of how it came to be abandoned.

  25. Candee Hoff says:

    Thank you so much for the information. I am a descendant of Smith Staton and Nancy Goble. My Grandmother passed away at 103 and used to tell stories about her family, the Wrights and the Tresters, who were members of the Crooked Creek Baptist Church. By any chance would you also be a desc. of the Staton family of this article?

  26. Paul Arvin says:

    When I was a kid back in the 70’s, the Pike school bus used to drive by the old Krannert place daily. The wall intrigued me and stories used to spill out on the bus about the place. I used to swim at the Dolphin Club down the road and also played baseball at Ransburg baseball fields nearby, so; I remember the wall very well. In the mid 70’s, a few of us were in the area on our bikes and became curious. Somebody had the idea that we go in and check it out so we found a way in to the property. It was a very anxious moment for me with all the unknowns. The house was still standing and there were scorched walls and the slight smell of burnt wood in the lower area. I don’t remember there being a lot of fire damage. There was lots of broken glass and everyday items lay broken on the floors like records, picture frames, dishes, old radios, etc. We found one room in the lower area that still had Mason Jars sealed with food that were untouched sitting on the shelves. I know one was filled with green beans and another with peaches. The wallpaper also was very old looking with vibrant designs. It was obvious that several people prior to us made the similar trespass to investigate the property. It was one of those adventures were you were borderline scared of being caught anxious to get out. None of the kids damaged anything. I remember we also posted a look out for the kids that were too scared to go in the house. Looking back, I wish I would have looked a little closer at the architecture and layout. Funny how at 60, I look back and remember those things.

    Thank You for this story and about the real history of the place. It all make more sense now.

  27. Ron Kamstra says:

    I belong to a online newspaper archive site and was able to read the Indianapolis Star articles about the 1970 fire at the Krannert home and Mrs. Krannert’s later death. IFD determined that the fire was caused by careless smoking and it’s origins started in Mrs. Krannert’s bedroom. The fire spread and consumed four rooms of the twelve room mansion. Mrs. Krannert died from complications of smoke inhalation and her Doberman died in the fire as well.

  28. Anonymous says:

    4.5

  29. MAURICE KESSLER says:

    George Staton, one of the three brothers, was my 2nd great grandfather.

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