Photograph owned by Sandy Burton courtesy of Vintage Irvington

The most common research request I hear from old house owners is “How do I find an old photo of my home?” You just know that lingering in someone’s attic sits grandma’s album full of old photographs from their era in your home. But finding these people is a complex odyssey of searching deeds, city directories, census records, and obituaries. Many people don’t have the time or know-how to track down descendants and sometimes the photo owners are not receptive to calls from strangers or are unaware of the location of old family photos. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if people with old house photos or abstracts surprised the current occupants by making copies for them?

Irvington resident Bill Gulde, previously profiled as a Heritage Steward, was doing yardwork at his 1907 American Foursquare house on Audubon Road when a car slowed down and a woman asked if he lived there. Sandy Burton, a granddaughter of a woman connected with his home, had recently discovered a box of family photos and documents and was on a  quest to learn more about the grandmother she never knew. Bill, a history teacher and author of the Vintage Irvington blog, has tracked down dozens of photographs of Irvington houses but never one of his own. The apologetic granddaughter explained that she would not have bothered him by knocking on the door, so it was his good fortune to be in front on his day off from school to finally view an image of his house as it appeared in 1920.

Bill learned that Sandy’s grandmother Genevieve Schmutte was a music teacher at the Irvington School of Music, located in his home from 1918 through 1921. Operated by Italian immigrant Miss Adelaide Conte, the school offered lessons in voice, violin, organ, piano, and other instruments in her rented home’s parlors. Miss Conte, who had studied voice at the Conservatory of Venice, lived upstairs and rented out rooms to students, many of whom attended nearby Butler University. Genevieve Schmutte, who lived on Talbott Avenue, taught primary students.

Sandy generously shared with Bill a copy of a 1920 print by photographer Charles Bretzman. It shows teachers posing on the steps and students seated on and in front of the stone porch. Visit his blog to learn more and to view recital programs.

Courtesy of Bill Gulde, Vintage Irvington

2012 photograph courtesy of Bill Gulde, Vintage Irvington

Today Bill’s beautifully restored house looks much as it did in 1920. But I’ve known historic photographs to inspire the restoration of houses, including this ca. 1905 glass negative of a house at 1939 N. Pennsylvania Street that guided owners on the recreation of their missing porch trim.

So here is my question:  Have any readers ever received old photographs or documents of your house from previous occupants? Share the details below. Do you have photographs of your ancestors’ homes or businesses? Why not scan them and make copies for the current caretakers? And while you’re at it, share a copy with The Indiana Album so future homeowners can easily locate these treasured images.

3 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: Irvington School of Music, 269 S. Audubon Road”

  1. DavidAE says:

    Shortly after we purchased our 1885 vintage home, my wife answered the front door to a gentleman who had lived in the upstairs of the house in 1949 when he was 6. We were in the process changing in back to a single family dwelling. He copied a page out of his parents photo album and set it to us. We were able to see where the trees had been in the tree row, the trim on the front porch, and the iron fence, all long gone. Such a blessing.

  2. Joan Hostetler says:

    What an odd coincidence. Today I met a woman who lived in my house from 1937 through 1954. She has to dig through boxes for photos, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

  3. Joan Hostetler says:

    I’m sure he was happy to see his childhood home. I wish we had established places in houses to leave stores and photos for future occupants. I wrote the history of our house on the wall before wallpapering and wonder who will find it one day.

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