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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)

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]

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6 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: The House of a Thousand Candles, 1500 N. Delaware St.”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Love that Georgian style! There’s one in the 4300-4400 block (I think!) of North Illinois Street as well that’s always fascinated me…on the west side of the street…

  2. Sharon Mangas says:

    When my late mother was a young woman in the early 1940’s, she and a friend moved to Indianapolis and lived in a residence for young unmarried working women called “Meredith Manor.” I know it was close to the downtown area. Would anyone know if the house highlighted in this article would be that house?

  3. William Goodhart says:

    I saw your question about the house at 1500 N. Delaware. My mother from about 1945-1948 lived in a women’s boarding house called Meredith Manor. I have tried to determine which of Meredith Nicholson’s homes– the one on Delaware or his later residence on North meridian– became Meredith Manor. I am hoping to get some old photos of M Manor to settle this.

    Most of the residents of M Manor worked at the Eli Lilly Plant, as my mother did until her marriage.

    I have often thought there must be many stories of any lives at Meredith Manor.

  4. George Hanlin says:

    I don’t know if anyone is still following this post, but this house is indeed the one known as Meredith Manor. Indiana Humanities recently completed a renovation of it, and we created an exhibit about the home’s history, which includes a video of a woman who lived there in the 1940s. We don’t have a picture of it from that exact era, but we do have one from 1962 when it was still known as Meredith Manor. Please give us a call and visit the house!

  5. Alessandra Souers says:

    Six years later and they’re opening up the porch again via Google Street View. A+

  6. Kathleen says:

    In 1966, I lived in an apartment in Meredith Manor. It was on the third floor in the northeast corner. My view of the world was through the northern gable window. There were at least three other apartments on that floor and we all shared a bathroom. It was a ladies-only apartment house with two elderly ladies overseeing the place and us. Good times, good memories.

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