If you are in the area this semester, you might want to stop by the Lilly Library and have a look at our exhibit on the Elston men. A trio of savvy businessmen the Elstons were instrumental in Crawfordsville’s strong economy. The Elston best known to Wabash is Isaac Compton Elston III – Ike.
Here is a great piece written by David Phillips as part of the Chapel Book project. David’s research is meticulous and his ability to summarize a life in a single page is truly remarkable. Over the next few months, I will post his other pieces as they too are chock full of interesting facts and thoughtful insights. Enjoy!Beth Swift Archivist, Wabash College
“I doubt that Wabash will ever have a more colorful trustee than I. C. Elston. Part buccaneer, part bon vivant, part gracious gentleman, Ike Elston from the 1920s until the early 1960s was a splash of color on the Wabash board. His service as a trustee was broken for a period when he resigned in the late Hopkins years, but his connection with Wabash was never broken.”
Byron K. Trippet, Wabash On My Mind
Born in Crawfordsville on November 13, 1873, Isaac Compton Elston, Jr. was a member of one of the town’s pioneering families. His grandfather, Major Isaac C. Elston, opened the first store and the first bank in Crawfordsville, served as the town’s first postmaster, built the first railroad in Indiana, served briefly as a Wabash College trustee, and built the house that is now the President’s official residence.
In 1888, aged fourteen, Elston enrolled in the Wabash College preparatory school, which he attended for two years. After a brief sojourn at Marietta College in Ohio, Elston returned to Crawfordsville, where he worked for the family bank.
After serving as an officer in the Spanish-American War, Elston moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, progressing from meter reader to president of several public utilities corporations. While in Iowa, he established a long-standing friendship with General Charles Dawes, later winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and Coolidge’s vice president from 1925 to 1929. In 1912 Elston moved to Chicago, where he made a fortune in investment banking.
In 1935 Elston returned to Crawfordsville and acquired the Elston Homestead, which had passed on to another branch of the family. Within a few years he assumed a major role in the family bank. Elston’s management style has been described as “powerful, constructive, and sometimes abrasive.” Former colleagues report: “He wanted his way, and he was usually right.” “By and large he was good for the bank. Scared the hell out of a lot of people.”
Elston served on the Wabash Board of Trustees from 1921 to 1939 and again from 1942 to 1962. Throughout this period he was a generous donor to the College, contributing more than $1.25 million, often for mundane but necessary projects. He also worked with Will Hays, Sr. to raise the funds for the building of this Chapel. Elston was active in alumni affairs, giving generously of both his time and money. He consistently avoided official recognition of his service to Wabash, turning down the offer of an honorary LL.D. degree in 1957.
During the 1920s Elston adopted an opulent lifestyle common to the super-rich of the period. And, after returning to Crawfordsville he became known for his lavish entertainments at the Elston Homestead. He was also a colorful raconteur, although some of his stories had to be taken with a grain of salt.
Elston died in Delray Beach, Florida on April 11, 1964. In a final act of generosity he bequeathed his Homestead to the College. Wabash Presidents have resided in the Elston Homestead since 1966. A posthumous portrait of Elston, painted by Lee Detchon (Class of 1923), was presented to the College in 1970 and now hangs in the Chapel.