At 555 Kessler Boulevard, West Drive, Lyman S. Ayres II and his wife, Isabel, built a Colonial Revival style home named “Twin Oaks” in 1941. The Ayres family moved into the house in January 1942, one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lyman S. Ayres II was the grandson of L.S. Ayres, the namesake of the once-beloved local department store. After World War II, the Ayres family continued to develop the property and hired noted landscape architect Frits Loonsten to design the extensive gardens.
In 1955, Josiah K. Lilly Jr., whose grandfather Eli Lilly founded Eli Lilly & Company, and his wife, Ruth, purchased Twin Oaks. It was their intention to move from Oldfields – now on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art – to Twin Oaks, and they proceeded with a number of changes and renovations, hiring architect David V. Burns to adapt the exterior to a more European country-house style. The renovations included raising the roof of the west wing, reconfiguring the kitchen and building an octagonal breakfast room with a pepperpot roof.
In 1961, the Lillys erected an additional building to house Mr. Lilly’s collections of stamps, coins and miniature soldiers and to provide a studio for painting and a reference library that reflected his avocational interests. In 1963, the couple purchased an adjoining property and demolished a Tudor Revival-style home to add two acres to the estate, increasing it to 22 acres.
During this time, the property and house were fully staffed, and Mr. Lilly came daily from Oldfields to the “Hobby House” for his creative endeavors. Although all the changes to the estate were complete around 1965, Mr. and Mrs. Lilly decided not to move to Twin Oaks from Oldfields after all. J.K. Lilly died in 1966.
In the late 1980s, the Lillys’ daughter, also named Ruth Lilly, took up residence at Twin Oaks and enjoyed the home until her death in December 2009. Ruth Lilly was one of the nation’s major philanthropists, and both Indianapolis and Indiana benefited greatly from her many charitable gifts.
William and Laura Weaver purchased Twin Oaks several years ago with a special intent in preserving the property and its acres of woodlands from development. They generously updated the home’s interior for its use by the Indiana Historical Society by refinishing hardwood floors and painting. The Collections department placed 21 Indiana paintings in the home and a furnishings committee created a beautiful space for entertaining out-of-town guests and other events for the Indiana Historical Society. It serves as the home of President and CEO John Herbst, who acts as resident curator.
The general public has a rare opportunity to visit this luxurious estate this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 6, 7 and 8 from 11am to 6pm. Tickets and more information available here.