Harry Joseph Milligan [W1873]

One of the best parts of my work as Archivist at Wabash is untangling the stories of the Wabash family. Much like our own families, we know a little of the story, and it is in the distillation of the tales that the real story becomes clearer. The subject of this post is a Wabash man, well known in the past and little-known today, Harry Joseph Milligan of the Wabash class of 1873.

Like many before and after, Harry Milligan was a local boy. His father, Joseph [W1840], was a successful businessman and served as a Wabash trustee for 20 years.  The image below is of a business card for Joseph’s Crawfordsville Coffin Company. This was located on the future site of the Lew Wallace Motor Inn just a block from campus and which is now owned by Wabash.

Early life

Joseph was raised in Waveland, a small town in the southern part of the county, founded by his pioneer ancestors. Joseph moved his young family to Crawfordsville where he built a beautiful home, just west of campus. A gothic brick house which is pictured below, still survives. Milligan Street, which runs past the Wabash tennis courts, is named for the family whose stately home sits at the end of it.

Young Harry grew up a stone’s throw from Wabash and attended Crawfordsville public schools until he enrolled at the college. As a student, Milligan was the youngest founding member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and joined the Calliopean Literary Society. Following graduation, Harry attended Columbia University Law School. Following his graduation, he returned to Indiana and quickly made a name for himself in Indianapolis.

Career success

From his obituary which appeared in The Bachelor following his death, “He came to Indianapolis in the late seventies and began the practice of law as a student in the law offices of Harrison, Hines and Miller, of which firm Benjamin Harrison, later President of the United States, and W. H. H. Miller, United States Attorney General under President Harrison, were members.

“He first gained prominence in 1884 as receiver for the banking firm of Fletcher and Sharp, that occupied quarters in the Saks Building at Pennsylvania and Washington Street. His skillful management of the affairs of the bankrupt firm made it possible for the many creditors to be paid nearly in full and much praise was voiced at his ability in connection with the receivership.”

Milligan’s career was on the rise. In 1885 Harry married Miss Caroline Fishback of Indianapolis. Together they had a daughter, Louise, who married Charles Douglas Herron [W1897]. The Herrons are also a Wabash family, father and sons as alumni. They built the brick house with the tower which sits across from the Arboretum on campus.

Charitable donations

During his life Harry Milligan believed in giving back to his community. In 1911 he donated a 40-acre tract of land that became Milligan Park here in Crawfordsville. He specified that the land be used, “to perpetuate the memory of Joseph Milligan.” Harry’s father who was one of the town’s earliest merchants and landowners.

Preparing the land for use as a park was a project requiring several years’ work. Roads had to be surveyed, graded, and graveled. Then, a pavilion and bandstand were erected, and a wading pool, horseshoe pits and playground equipment were added. It was June 16, 1916, before Milligan Park was dedicated, as the town celebrated the state’s centennial.

From an article in The Bachelor comes this from Professor Bechtel, a Wabash botany professor who praised Harry Milligan’s foresight and understanding of the basic human need for woods for recreation. “The influence of a large grove of trees, or woodland, undoubtedly exerts a powerful effect upon the nature and habitats of both young and old,” he wrote. “The youths who grow up without the companionship of trees have missed something for which there is no adequate substitute.”

Service to Wabash College

Milligan was a highly respected member of the Wabash Board of Trustees from 1902-1916, serving as President from 1906 until his death in 1916.  From The Bachelor of 10/11/1916, “Mr. Milligan subscribed $10,000 to what is known as the Endowment of 1909, and $2,000 to the Gym Fund.” During his life he also gave Wabash a beautiful Italian marble bust of Dante. Made of three types of marble, Milligan spotted it on his travels and brought it back to Wabash for the Yandes Library. Sadly, it has been missing for many years now.

These donations were just the beginning of more substantial gifts to Wabash. At the reading of his will, it was learned that at his death Milligan bequeathed all of his Montgomery County property to Wabash.  This gift is shown in college records as $118,488 or, in a rough conversion to today’s money roughly 2.4 million dollars. A portion of the principal was used to endow the Milligan Chair in English, first held by George V. Kendall.

Following Milligan’s death in 1916, the family also gave a portrait, which now hangs in the Chapel. This is so fitting as the Milligan family also made a large donation toward the Chapel’s construction. Mrs. Milligan donated her husband’s significant law library to Wabash. It formed the basis of a deep collection of law materials.

In 1920 Mrs. Milligan gave another gift and one that still graces our campus today – the Milligan Clock. Located on the east side of Center Hall, the clock is a beautiful limestone tower with four illuminated faces.

Wabash mourns his passing

Milligan’s death was a loss to the college. Details from The Bachelor of 10/04/1916, “Wabash College and Crawfordsville paid honor to Harry J. Milligan, President of the Board of Trustees of Wabash College, who died at his home Sunday of acute indigestion.

“Classes at the college were not held and a big delegation of students attended the Crawfordsville services for the trustee, which were held at the Center Presbyterian Church. The body was laid to rest at the Oak Hill cemetery, north of Crawfordsville.”

And the gifts keep coming. just a few years ago Louise’s family contacted Wabash with the offer of another gift – a portrait of their ancestor painted by T.C. Steele. It is beautiful and hangs in the English Department here.

It is often difficult to measure the impact of a life on a long lived institution, but the impact of the Milligan family on Wabash is still easy to see on campus. The Chapel, the clock and the professorship all survive to the benefit of Wabash and more than a hundred years later the threads of that family’s story still shine. Now that is a legacy!

All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana