IN Brief

These 10 Indiana historical sites are “most endangered,” according to nonprofit’s annual list

By: - August 23, 2023 1:37 pm

After nearly 20 years of vacancy, Knox County’s historic poor farm is in desperate shape, according to Indiana Landmarks. The nonprofit cautioned that, without repairs, the 1882 building faces demolition by neglect. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

A statewide collection of historic fraternal lodges, the former home of a wealthy South Bend industrialist, and once-bustling venues in Anderson, Evansville and Stinesville. Those sites are among Indiana Landmarks’ 10 “Most Endangered,” an annual list published by the Indianapolis-based nonprofit that seeks to save historic and “meaningful” places across the Hoosier state. 

The organization says the places on the list often face a multitude of problems, including abandonment, neglect, or owners who lack money for repairs. 

These places “shape lives,” the nonprofit emphasized in a news release, “and when they’re gone, they leave a void that can’t be filled.”

This year’s list features five new landmarks and five repeats from the 2022 list.

“Each endangered place tells a distinct story, and each faces its own set of challenges. In all cases, when an endangered place lands on our list, we commit to seeking solutions that lead to rescue and revitalization,” Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis said in a statement.

Indiana Landmarks first published its “Most Endangered” list in 1991. Since then, 153 sites have been included on the list. The nonprofit notes that 101 places have been completely restored or are no longer endangered, while only 20 have been demolished.

“Indiana Landmarks uses its 10 Most Endangered list in several ways. Sometimes it serves an educational role. It functions as an advocacy tool. And it can assist in raising funds needed to save a place,” said Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis. “Each endangered place tells a distinct story, and each faces its own set of challenges. In all cases, when an endangered place lands on our list, we commit to seeking solutions that lead to rescue and revitalization,” he adds.

Get a glimpse at the full 2023 “10 Most Endangered” list below:

Historic Fraternal Lodges, statewide

 

An 1899 building in North Vernon once occupied by the Improved Order of Red Men now stands vacant and condemned. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

Among the landmarks on the list is a statewide collection of historic fraternal lodges. Indiana Landmarks said in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, nearly every town in Indiana had at least one fraternal organization and lodges built by Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, and other orders.

Lodges in need of revitalization include two in the Jennings County town of Vernon: the 1860 Masonic Building and the nearby International Order of Odd Fellows building.

Other lodges listed include a building constructed in 1899 and occupied by the Improved Order of Red Men, as well as the Knights of Pythias Lodge in Shelbyville.

International Harvester Engineering Building, Fort Wayne

The International Harvester Engineering Building in Fort Wayne. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

For decades, every truck International Harvester put on the road was designed, developed, and tested at the building and nearby track. The 140-acre complex included labs where engineers could assess the engines and sound of the trucks, as well as a giant freezer to test how vehicles performed in subzero temperatures. From 1986 to 2012, Navistar International owned the building, continuing its use as an engineering facility. It was later acquired by a local developer.

But earlier this year, Allen County Commissioners acquired a parcel along Meyer Road — that includes the site’s Engineering Building — with intent to build a new jail on the undeveloped land and consider the building for county offices. Another developer has already demolished the nearby former test track.

Thomas and Louisa Little House, Plainfield

The Thomas and Louisa Little House in Plainfield (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

Built between 1885 and 1891 on the west side of Plainfield, along U.S. Highway 40, the large Queen Anne-style home sits on land first settled by pioneer and state legislator Alexander Little in 1830.

But the stately frame house is “an artifact in peril,” Indiana Landmarks cautioned. 

Hendricks Regional Health purchased the Thomas and Louisa Little House and surrounding 15 acres in 2017, proposing to demolish the landmark and build a new medical facility on the site. Members of the community protested, however, circulating an online petition that drew nearly 9,000 signatures in favor of saving the landmark.

Plans for development were subsequently abandoned. The property is now for sale, but without any stipulations for the Little House’s protection.

Starr Historic District, Richmond

One of several endangered homes in Richmond’s Starr Historic District (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

Beginning in the 1860s, Richmond’s affluent residents flocked to an elite neighborhood north of the city’s downtown, where they built large homes to reflect their elevated status. 

Architecture enthusiasts previously considered the Starr Historic District one of the Midwest’s best-preserved Victorian-era neighborhoods, according to Indiana Landmarks. But today, the area is better known for its ongoing decline.

Most of the large homes built for wealthy families have since been divided into multi-unit rental housing, much of it controlled by “negligent or absentee owners,” the nonprofit said. 

State Theatre, Anderson

The State Theater in Anderson (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

Opened in 1930 at the corner of 13th and Meridian Streets, the State Theatre featured an eclectic Spanish Baroque façade, with white and emerald-green glazed terra cotta. With seating for over 1,500 movie-goers, the interior incorporated state-of-the-art systems, including modern sound and projection technologies and an early form of geothermal heating and cooling.

The theater closed in 2008, and a series of subsequent attempts to redevelop and reopen the property stalled. A pending lawsuit discouraged progress, alleging the City of Anderson contributed to water damage at the landmark in the 1990s by failing to shut off water to the building. The City purchased the theater from an out-of-state buyer in 2019 to resolve the legal issues, hoping the site can become part of downtown redevelopment efforts.

Birdsell Mansion, South Bend (repeat entry from 2022)

South Bend’s Birdsell Mansion has been vacant for more than a decade. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

When it was built in 1898, J.B. Birdsell’s mansion rivaled Clem Studebaker’s Tippecanoe Place and J.D. Oliver’s Copshaholm in opulence and prestige. Today, however, the Birdsell mansion’s ongoing neglect is cause for alarm. It’s been vacant for more than a decade, held by an absentee owner with a growing list of code enforcements, according to Indiana Landmarks.

The nonprofit said that since first appearing on the 10 Most Endangered list last year, conditions at the mansion “have only gotten worse.” Plywood and trash bags cover missing windows, and water seeping in from leaking gutters threatens high-style interior finishes.

First Friends Church, Marion (repeat entry from 2022)

First Friends Church in Marion was designed by Samuel Plato, one of the early 20th century’s most prominent Black architects. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

A Quaker congregation chose Samuel Plato, a Black architect who became known for his work on post offices and housing, to design their church in 1914. The Gothic Revival-style building features semi-circular seating and stained glass windows.

The congregation originally established First Friends Church in the 19th Century in an effort to treat the local Black community equitably, and to aid residents of Weaver, a nearby African American settlement. The Quakers later outgrew that first building, however.

Today, vacancy and neglect “are slowly destroying the church’s graceful features,”  according to Indiana Landmarks. Plywood covers one of the large windows, and water infiltration from a rotten roof precipitated crumbling plaster, buckled flooring, peeling paint, and mold.

After adding the church to the “Most Endangered” list last year, Indiana Landmarks commissioned an engineering assessment that determined the building is structurally sound, and grant funding was secured for a new roof. The nonprofit wants to see the building transferred to a new owner with adequate resources to tackle complete restoration.

Hulman Building & Garage, Evansville (repeat entry from 2022)

The Hulman Building and Garage in Evansville (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

Since its construction in 1929, a 10-story commercial building on Fourth Street has dominated Evansville’s downtown skyline. It’s commonly known as the Hulman Building after the company that acquired the site in the 1930s.

The building has remained mostly vacant and neglected for years, according to Indiana Landmarks. Water now leaks in through the roof and windows. 

In spring 2022, an out-of-state buyer purchased the Hulman Building and neighboring 1927 garage in an online auction, relisting the properties for sale as separate parcels. Those plans fell through, and the Hulman Building remains on the market.

Knox County Poor Asylum, Vincennes (repeat entry from 2022)

After nearly 20 years of vacancy, Knox County’s historic poor farm is in desperate shape, according to Indiana Landmarks. The nonprofit cautioned that, without repairs, the 1882 building faces demolition by neglect. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

In the 1800s, Indiana’s plan for caring for the poor and disabled centered on the development of poor farms, where people in need could work in exchange for housing and food, according to Indiana Landmarks. All 92 counties created poor farms between 1831 and 1860, but as federal agencies supplanted them, county homes gradually lost their purpose, leaving county governments and private owners struggling to find new uses for the historic complexes.

By 2014, only 47 remained, prompting Indiana Landmarks to add county homes to its endangered list. 

The 1882 building in Vincennes — constructed to replace an earlier predecessor — is now vacant and deteriorating, according to the nonprofit. County officials transferred ownership in 2020 to a nonprofit that seeks to rehabilitate the property as a hospice facility. The site was last occupied in 2004, and since being added to the “Most Endangered” list last year, little progress has been made to secure and repair the building.

Stinesville Commercial Buildings, Stinesville (repeat entry from 2022)

Featuring limestone facades and large storefront windows, four historic commercial buildings remain vacant in Stinesville. (Photo from Indiana Landmarks)

Constructed between 1884 and 1894, the two-story Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge and four limestone-faced commercial buildings on Main Street are all that remain of Stinesville’s once-bustling downtown. The historic lodge houses the Stinesville Mercantile and local post office, but the other buildings have been vacant for decades. 

The block first appeared on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list in the 1990s.

The City of Stinesville previously offered the block of four for $1 to anyone who could stabilize and restore them, but got no takers. The buildings remain eligible for rehabilitation tax credits as part of the National Register-listed Stinesville Commercial Historic District.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

MORE FROM AUTHOR