Dick and his good friend Dan Evans in Hawaii
While shelving another piece of local history yesterday, I saw a small pamphlet entitled, “Some Early History of Montgomery County.” This little booklet is a reprint of a paper given by Thomas H. Ristine in 1913. As I was reading about the founding of Crawfordsville by three young men, one of whom was a Ristine, the phone rang with the news that Dick Ristine died over the weekend. While many on campus knew it was coming, it is hard not to feel that we have lost something big. It is true that, as Dick liked to say, he was the last of the alums closely connected to someone who knew Caleb Mills very well. Dick’s family history is a history of this college and of this town in equal measures. I would like to share a little bit of that excellent history in this posting.It starts in the pioneer era…In 1823 Henry Ristine built the second log structure in this new town and it quickly became a gathering place. Ristine Tavern was where most of the business of this young community was discussed and then settled. An early court hearing even took place there. In fact a history of the young town is in many ways a history of the Ristines as they were in this area right from the first. They have served as trustees, lawyers, public officials, church elders and across many charitable committees. From 1823 on the Ristines have left their good mark on our community in dozens of ways.Nine Years later, in 1832, a small group of Presbyterians came to town to hold a meeting on the subject of an academy here in Crawfordsville. It was agreed that this would be the best way to supply enough teachers and preachers to the “Wabash Country.” Leading the founders were James and John Steele Thomson. James was the first President of the Prudential Committee and John was on the first faculty. Their younger brother Samuel Steele Thomson was in Caleb Mills’ first class and became the first alumnus to join the faculty. Professor Thomson’s daughter married Theodore H. Ristine, an alum of the class of 1865 uniting these two pioneering families. It was this same fellow who wrote the “Early History of Montgomery County” that I mentioned earlier.

The Ristines lived in Crawfordsville and raised their children at the edge of campus. Theodore Ristine served the college as a Trustee for 48 years. Dick would sometimes speak about being a little shaver and playing under the table as his grandfather met with the various trustees and officers of the college.

Dick’s parents were yet another example of the melding of town and gown as Dick’s mother was the daughter of long-time professor James Osborne. Her brother was the legendary English professor Insley Osborne. Dick would tell me stories about “Uncle Insley” and other legends of the faculty. His stories were always told with a chuckle and a grin – often things no one else knew or that few remember…Stories about Doc Mackintosh, George Kendall, Bryon Trippet, Frank Sparks or Eli Lilly.

While I will greatly miss the chance to listen as he spins a yarn, perhaps even more I will miss the sense that Dick had of Wabash – as something timeless, something bigger than any era, bigger than any person. Dick lived the history of this place, it was truly in his DNA. Dick also loved this place and served it well in nearly every capacity. Dick lived and loved well all of his life – his family and his friends, his beloved Alma Mater, the state he served as Lt. Governor, the state he retired to and the natural world around him were all objects of his affection – and all benefited from his passion.  The world is a better place for the life of this good man.

Indeed, we will all miss our good old friend Dick Ristine…


Beth Swift

Archivist,Wabash College



Historic Downtown

A few months ago I posted a picture of East Main Street. As a follow up, here is an image of our downtown taken in the middle of Washington Street and looking south. In this photo we get a sense of Crawfordsville as a bustling county seat.

In the furthest point visible on the right side of the photograph is the Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church steeple. On the left side and back is the St. Bernard’s Catholic Church bell tower. The Catholic Church had a lovely cathedral on the corner of Pike and Washington Streets. It was demolished and a bank was built on that spot. We can also see that the building that was destroyed in the Tommy’s Silver Dollar fire is looking good and holding down that end of the block. Note the train tracks in the middle of the street, there was also a set of tracks running east and west that served the interurban railway. Crawfordsville was well connected by trains at this time. The ladies of the town would ride over to Indianapolis for shopping or lunch and students were frequent passengers as well. Many of the “big” games were played in Indianapolis as the stadiums could seat more fans. I love the idea that our students could hop on a train, ride to Indy for a day and then ride back in the evening. Those were the days!

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Chapel Sing

Chapel Sing 1938

This past weekend as I watched the reunion classes at the Big Bash participate in the Chapel Sing it was like watching time travelers…the year was not important. For the alums,  it was the gathering of their class on the steps, all together, to sing “Old Wabash”.  From the smile on their faces, it was a pleasant journey.

This morning as I was looking through some pictures, I came across this small snapshot from 1938. This picture is labeled “Chapel Sing 1938”. Most of the young men in the shot are wearing freshman “pots”. Perhaps the organization of the event? Perhaps photos of each fraternity class, the photographer appears to be at work.

At any rate, this picture put me to mind of the Chapel Sing at Big Bash and from what I could see, a great time was had by both alums and their appreciative audience.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

What a gift!

In a previous post about Notre Dame football, I used an image of a football poster. I was contacted by Dick Hughes, a Phi Delt from the class of 1965 and living in Muncie Indiana. Dick had an original copy of this poster. Was the Archives interested he asked – as interested as can be was my answer!!

Dick drove the poster over one beautiful day and told me the story of both his poster and the image that I had used for the previous post. As I mentioned before, Dick lives in Muncie where a Ball Department Store was closing. In their cafeteria they had a number of pieces of memorabilia, including this fabulous poster. Dick was to be out of town on the day of the auction, so he sent a friend to buy this piece. The winning bid was $75 and Dick was the new owner of a true treasure. King Lumpkin, a Phi Delt from the class of 1988 took a really good picture of Dick’s poster and a copy of that photo was reproduced in poster size. This was the image that I had used in the earlier blog posting.

The poster is now on display in the Archives and is really just wonderful. A great bonus of this poster is the letter written by a Notre Dame student to his parents on the back. Dated Nov. 17th 1894 the letter talks about Thursday’s game against Wabash and how our team was much larger than the ND team. The final score was 30-0 in Notre Dame’s favor with part of the second half unfinished due to darkness. We lost and lost big, but the poster is still just a delightful piece to have for our collection and many thanks to Dick for spotting it and securing it all those years ago.

Here is a picture of Dick’s treasure – now in the Archives…

This poster is another great example of Wabash men preserving their history. Thanks Dick for saving this treasure and a huge thank you for personally bringing it to the Archives!!

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Race photo

Back home again in Indiana…

Race day has come and gone again. Each year as I hear Jim Nabors sing that song, it always stirs something inside of me…”the gleaming candlelight still burning bright”…I always enjoy the Indy 500 race at home via my radio. I found this picture in our files earlier this year and thought that this would be a good image to have for a post this month.

Little is known about this picture…it is in the pits at the Indianapolis 500. That truck is a road service truck from the Crawfordsville Firestone store and the name on the door is John A. McCabe.  I should also point out that there is a rope tied to the car. Whether it was being towed into the pits or if that was part of the start, I don’t  know. But I do know that I love this image!

Beth Swift


The birth of football at Wabash

One thing all Wabash men have in common is their love of a football game on a sunny autumn day. This passion was born at the very beginning of the football program at Wabash. These images record that birth and also show that football and fanatic have always been linked at Old Wabash.

These scans were all made from a great scrapbook compiled by Caleb Mills’ grandson, Blackford Condit [W1892]. If you are quick on the draw with the math, you will note that there is a six year gap between this game and his graduation as he was a first year preparatory school student in a full collegiate course that took six years

As you can see from the results listed in their first game, Wabash played Franklin to a tie. This was followed two weeks later by another game which Wabash won. It was decided that Wabash needed a yell and a school color…the color heliotrope (a pinkish red) was suggested when a full throated student shouted, “Heliotrope Hell! We want blood!!” and scarlet was selected instead.

This next image is of a piece of the first scarlet ribbon ever worn by a Wabash athlete. It is in great shape and what a delight it was to see it in that scrapbook.

Next we have the State Champions of 1886. Look at the ball, it is distinctly different from the footballs of today. Hanging on the wall to the left of the photo below is the State Championship banner won by this team.

Long since lost, the banner hung for years in the reading room of the Yandes Library. In the image below there are four banners in the upper part of this image.

Here are some excerpts from an article in the Wabash magazine, “The final game of Foot-ball for the State Championship and field medal was played at Indianapolis…The result was a glorious victory for Wabash, which gives us the State Championship…Our team meant business from the word go. And improved with each game, and the last one they played like professionals. Hanover had a strong and well-drilled team, which had been shown by her former victories, but when she met Wabash, she was out-run, out-kicked and out-schemed, and as a result and “official” score of 23 to 4…The day was fine, and about seventy-five students and several of the Professors accompanied to encourage and cheer the boys and enjoy the game…In the evening our team was banqueted at the Bates Hotel by the admirers, which was a very enjoyable event; and after attending the opera, they returned on the midnight train, and were met at the depot by the students en masse with brass band. They were marched down to the College, and after serenading the Faculty and having a general jubilee, they disbanded.”

As we can see this was a rousing start to a long and passionate tradition at Wabash…an unbridled love of the game of football.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Elston Homestead

ca. 1925

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.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Friends for a lifetime…

This painting is by a very talented artist who is famous worldwide, but not for painting. This portrait of our first president Elihu Baldwin was painted by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, better known for his work on the telegraph and the creation of Morse Code to send messages. I was prompted to think about Morse when my children told me that the “Google” doodle of yesterday was in Morse Code as a tribute to this inventor. Here is a great story about the man behind the code…

Samuel Morse was the brother of Sidney Morse, owner and publisher of The Observer. Sidney’s dearest friend was Elihu Baldwin, pastor of a thriving church in New York City. When Edmund O. Hovey visited Baldwin in New York and asked him to serve as Wabash’s first president this area of Indiana was known simply as “the West” and was considered extremely dangerous. Sidney Morse supposed that if his friend Baldwin took the post, he might die in the effort. With this in mind, Sidney asked his brother Samuel F.B. Morse, a well-known portraitist of the time, to do a painting of Baldwin for Sidney to keep close. When Baldwin died just five years after taking the post, Morse sent the painting to Mrs. Baldwin. A copy was made and given to the college, this copy hangs in the Chapel yet today. The original was gifted to the college upon the death of President Baldwin’s children.

Samuel Morse lives on in our history because of the huge changes his science work had…the telegraph changed the face of the world. Samuel’s destiny was, he was sure, to be an artist. He studied abroad and while he had done a number of portraits on commission, it was clear that this alone would not support a family. Morse was also of a very inquisitive and analytical mindset and always interested in mechanical things. It was while returning to America in 1832 and chatting with some other fellows shipboard that he really started thinking hard about the telegraph and what would become the Morse Code.

When Morse succeeded in securing from Congress the money to hold a demonstration of the telegraph to send and receive a message from Washington, DC to Baltimore and back, the message that was chosen “What hath God wrought?” was picked from the Bible by the daughter of Henry Ellsworth, a Yale classmate of Morse’s. Morse had promised that Miss Ellsworth could choose the item to be broadcast. Ellsworth was teaching at Wabash College prior to accepting the government position. Ellsworth left Wabash to become the U.S. Commissioner of Patents.

It was to be through his science that the world best remembers Samuel F. B. Morse but in an interesting twist of fate it is through his art that he is most closely tied to Wabash College.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Lilly at 50

After working here in the Lilly Library for several years, I have come to take it a bit for granted. I walk in the door, greet whomever is about and head to the Central Office for my mail and the news of the day. I walk to the stairway near the elevator and head to the Archives. As I fish out my keys and go to unlock the door, I am reminded of the history of this building. In the 1990’s the Lilly Library was substantially remodeled and expanded. The front doors were removed to create a better entry. These lovely brass doors were then reused by the architect as the doors to the Ramsay Archives. The transom that sat above the doors is now a window in my office.



I have been thinking a lot about the Lilly as it was when built 50 years ago. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Lilly Library. There is a display on the main floor with lots of images of the “new” Lilly. This exhibit includes a nod to the Library’s biggest donor, Eli Lilly, and the groundbreaking for the Library.

As the photos above show, the furnishings in the Lilly were bright and cheerful. Near the exhibit on the main floor, we gathered what is left of these original pieces and put together a lounging area. Thanks to the eagle eyes of a member of the college community we were able to retrieve one of the bright gold chairs pictured in the display from across campus.

Of course, the really dramatic news surrounding the new Lilly was the move from the old library in Yandes Hall. The Lilly was finished in early January and ready for business. However, arrangements were needed to move the 100,000+ books across the mall. This was done by the students  in extremely cold weather.

The memory of the move has stayed with them for all of these years. In fact the Class of 1959 were seniors that year and are returning for their 50th reunion at the Big Bash this June. Among the images they requested was something connected to that great move.

Here are a few of those images…

As you can see it was really cold. The students, faculty and staff who were moving the books were treated to hot coffee, hot chocolate and doughnuts.

While the students were hauling the books across the mall, faculty and staff members were ready for them in the new library. Pictures show them directing the students where to place the books.

In this picture we see the line of students on the way over with books and students and faculty toting empty boxes back. You may note the the boxes are for beer bottles, this was because they were very sturdy and had good handles.  It is noted in every article that these were provided EMPTY by a local distributor.

The new Lilly Library was a big change from old Yandes with its dark stacks and crowded quarters. Byron Trippet notes that the third floor archives room became his quiet place and favorite haunt. I would like to think that he would find the new archives space a comfortable place as well. At least he would recognize the doors!

Beth Swift


Pan-Hel Week

It is finally warm and sunny here on campus and it feels like spring. Along with spring comes Pan-Hel week. Wabash Pan-Hel has taken a variety of forms. For most of its history Pan-Hel meant a weekend of dances. In earlier times these dances and parties were heavily chaperoned.

This is a picture of a fraternity dance and I love this photo because it captures the zest for life and the youthful exuberance of Wabash men and their dates. Clearly the fellow at the front of the line is having a big time. He is high-stepping and looks like he is leading the group. The couple in the middle of the line seem to be so clearly taken with one another. And then there is the last young lady in the line. She is like the exclamation point of the photograph and part of what makes this image so compelling,

This picture is of the Kappa Sigma fraternity in 1900. At that time the fraternities were not residential, merely social. Each fraternity had a “hall” which occupied the top floor of a downtown building. They held their meetings there and all of them were large enough for dances. In Wabash College the First Hundred Years we learn that the pride of the fraternities was the smoothness of their dance floors. From that same source we also know the location of this photo. The Kappa Sigma fraternity occupied the top floor of the Music Hall which was known to later generations of Wabash men as the Strand Theater.

As the weather warms, the students gear up for the bed races of Pan-Hel and a block party on the mall this weekend. A different time and yet it is fun to look back at other eras.

Beth Swift

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