Commencement is a time of many special rituals, among these is the senior reception at the Elston Homestead. With that in mind I’d thought I would share a couple of pictures of the house and tell a little of its history.
The Homestead was built in 1834 by Major Isaac Elston. It was the first brick home in Crawfordsville and was a mark of Elston’s wealth. The Major came to Crawfordsville early in its history and was at first a shopkeeper and the postmaster, a handy sideline for a merchant.
It wasn’t long before Major Elston was lending money – this was a land office town and folks came here for the large land auctions. The rate or “cost” of the money lent was 50%! The major gave up shopkeeping and opened his own bank. Elston also engaged in land speculation and owned large parts of what became Lafayette and Michigan City. His 40 acre parcel here in town – now the historic district Elston Woods – includes the DAR house, the Lew Wallace Study and the Lane Place. I mention these places in particular as they are all homes of the Major’s children and built on land he gave them.
The Major’s only surviving son was also an Isaac, but known as the Colonel from his Civil War service. The Colonel’s son was also an Isaac Elston, known in our history as “Ike” Elston. Yet Ike did not inherit the Homestead. Instead the home passed to Henry Lane Wallace, the only child of Lew and Susan Elston Wallace. The photo above is from the time of Wallace’s ownership.
Ike made a great deal of money in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and wanted to purchase the house back from the Wallace side of the family. He succeeded and early in the 1930’s as the owner of the Homestead he set about refurbishing it. Ike was a trustee of the College for decades and the house was a place for many of the social events connected to Wabash. When Ike died in the mid-sixties, his will gave the Homestead to the College for use as the President’s house.
The photo below is from the 1960’s.
One last bit of information about this house…The side we see in both of these photos is actually the back of the house. This house was built to face Main Street with a long front yard. However, two building lots which front Main Street were sold off early in the 20th century. This switch is best shown by the position of the staircase in the house. Visitors enter from Pike Street and walk in under the staircase. The view of the sweeping staircase is now seen only as one leaves the kitchen headed for the front door.
The Elston Homestead has been a lovely residence for our presidents for over four decades. Yet the Elston Homestead is also very closely linked with the story of our town…if only walls could talk.Best, Beth Swift Archivist Wabash College