The Circle Connection


Center Hall DC950f LO
Center Hall at Wabash College. Photo from the Ramsay Archives at Wabash College.



Each year at Thanksgiving the Circle in Indianapolis is jammed full of folks there to see the monument and its thousands of Christmas lights come to life for the holiday season. This event draws thousands to the center of Indy, but this post is about a different site on the Circle, Christ Church and the Wabash connection via Irish architect William Tinsley who designed our Center Hall.

Tinsley by Forbes CVR


Much of the material that the Archives holds on William Tinsley came to the College via John D. Forbes, history and fine arts faculty at Wabash from 1946-1954. Forbes wrote a book documenting this talented architect, Victorian Architect: The Life and Work of William Tinsley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1953).

William Tinsley (1804–85) was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland.  He worked as an architect in Ireland for some years in the Gothic style. William Tinsley’s large family left Ireland due to the increasingly worrisome rebellion and also due to the worsening financial times associated with the potato famine. These two problems made it increasingly difficult for him to find work as an architect in Ireland. Arriving in America in 1851, Tinsley settled in Cincinnati.

North Western Christian University [later known as Butler] held a design contest to arrive at a plan for their new building. Tinsley won the contest and his first big institutional project in the States built at the corner of College and 13th Street in Indianapolis. Following this success, in 1853 the family moved to Indiana and it was shortly after this time that Mr. Tinsley was hired to present a design for Center Hall at Wabash.

Center no wings
Center Hall at Wabash College from the 1850’s lithograph.


Here is a drawing of Center shortly after it was built. Note the lack of north and south wings, they followed some time later.  Tinsley designed this new building on the campus of Wabash College to face east [into the Arboretum] which was the front yard of campus at that time. This accounts for the very ornate porch on the east façade of Center, while the Mall side is exceedingly plain.

Lilly PD-013_03
Eli Lilly photo from the Ramsay Archives at Wabash College.


Back to the church on the Circle in Indianapolis. To learn more about this Tinsley project we turn to Eli Lilly, a prominent member of Christ Church. Lilly was so passionate about his church that he wrote a history of it, The Little Church on the Circle which was published by the church in 1957. We are lucky to have a copy here in the Ramsay Archives and it tells the reader that the church construction process began in March of 1856 with the formation of a building committee. Later that spring the committee recommended that another committee be created “to confer with Mr. Tinsley, Architect, as to a plan for a Church,” and to begin the fund-raising. That meeting was in May and by August Tinsley had drawings and plans to present. The estimated cost was between thirteen and fifteen thousand dollars.  This little jewel has stood the test of time. Here is a link to a great website out of Indianapolis which shows some excellent pictures of Christ Church over the years.

In addition to Center Hall, Christ Church and the long ago demolished building for NWCU, Tinsley also did a building for the campus at Kenyon College. Ascension Hall still stands along the Middle Path there and I was delighted a few years ago to have the chance to wander inside it.

Tinsley by Forbes Kenyon Interior
Interior photograph of Ascension Hall at Kenyon from the book by John D. Forbes, Victorian Architect: The Life and Work of William Tinsley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1953).
Tinsley by Forbes Kenyon Exterior
Exterior photograph of Ascension Hall at Kenyon from the book by John D. Forbes, Victorian Architect: The Life and Work of William Tinsley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1953).

Tinsley designed buildings for a number of other colleges in the Midwest including buildings for Indiana University, Ohio Wesleyan and Oskaloosa College in Iowa. He also designed a number of homes for the wealthy, the first Boone County Courthouse and several other churches including St. John’s Episcopal in Lafayette which is still standing. Tinsley had a very successful career in America and lived in the Midwest the remainder of his life.

Each time I drive on to the Circle in Indianapolis, I smile at the beautiful church and think of the connection through the Irish architect that gave us these two buildings.

All best,


Beth Swift


Wabash College