Beardsley Avenue Historic District
The Beardsley Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
The Beardsley Avenue Historic District lies north of downtown Elkhart and includes a historic vehicular bridge, an island park, and a wonderfully intact early twentieth century residential neighborhood stretched along the north side of the St. Joseph River. To the west of the district, the houses are generally more modest and soon give way to industrial development, as is true to the north, along with Christiana Creek flowing eastward only two blocks north of the district. Immediately east of the district—and forming a natural boundary—is Pulaski Park, a small park established on the St. Joseph River in more recent years. At the time most of the present houses were new, two railroads and a number of industrial buildings marked the east end of the district.
A steel pedestrian bridge (outside the district) constructed in 1984 connects Pulaski Park to Island Park, which was developed in the late nineteenth century. None of the earliest park structures on the island, which had included a gazebo and a circular pavilion, survive; most were torn down in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. However, an early "picnic hall" was dismantled and moved from its original location in the center to the south of the island, where it was redesigned by WPA workers, who also redesigned an existing artesian well into a stone drinking fountain, which survives. The center of the island contains a historic bandstand that once stood at the C. G. Conn musical instrument factory; it was relocated to the park in 1980. Island Park sits at the confluence of the St. Joseph River, at this point flowing westerly, and the Elkhart River, flowing northwesterly from Goshen. When the park was first established, it was reached by a wooden bridge from the east end of Sycamore Street over the Elkhart River. This bridge was later replaced by one of the spans from an early iron bridge that took North Main Street over the St. Joseph River. Greatly altered, that span survived until just recently. It is being replaced.
The present concrete bridge that carries North Main Street over the St. Joseph River was completed in 1927 and is 375 feet in length. The bridge, of filled-spandrel triple arch design, boasts two large decorative piers at each end with light standards and bronze wreaths affixed facing the traffic, along with commemorative plaques. Two smaller piers topped with planters line each side of the span. Originally the bridge had open-column concrete railings that have since been replaced with functional metal ones.
Most of the extant houses in the district were built in the period between 1900 and 1920. The Beardsley mills, remodeled and enlarged over the years, had stood at the west end of the district along the river until about the turn of the century. The paper mill was destroyed by fire; the flour mill went out of business and was finally dismantled in 1904. The mill race, largely filled in over a century's time, is still visible just east of Edwardsburg Avenue. Not far to the east of the race is the Havilah Beardsley Memorial, located on a small triangular plot formed where Riverside Drive terminates at Beardsley Avenue, just west of Main Street. The little garden sets off a fountain dominated by a large bronze statue of Elkhart's founder. The site was once called Beardsley Park, but that name now denotes the riverbank south of East Beardsley Avenue, running for about two-and-a-half blocks eastward from the Main Street bridge. A large boulder with a bronze plaque stands at the top of the bank just east of the bridge, where a drive allows vehicular access to the river's edge. Some riprap is visible along the steep banks.
Immediately west of the Main Street bridge are four impressive dwellings, closely spaced along the top of the bluff above the river, the first on West Beardsley, the three others following the curve of the river along Riverside Drive. All were built around 1910. The red brick dwelling at 125 West Beardsley mixes elements of Prairie style with Neoclassical and Mediterranean. Its horizontal profile is decorated with a stone recessed entrance flanked with Doric columns; the attic story above features a hooded stone-trimmed eyebrow dormer, and dentils decorate the wide eaves. Next to it at 760 Riverside Drive, the stucco house with a tile roof mixes the Prairie style with several Mediterranean elements and a Palladian entrance. In contrast, the frame house at 756 Riverside Drive is a nice example of the Free Classic style, with its hooded entrance and sidelights and oriel window above. 750 Riverside is another Prairie style house with a Mediterranean feel. Beyond that is an open green space where some of Beardsley's mills once stood a hundred years ago, occupied today only at the west end by a Neocolonial dwelling built in the 1950s.
On the southwest corner of Beardsley Avenue and Edwardsburg Avenue is St. Paul's Methodist Church, built 1910-1911 in primarily the Gothic Revival style of tan brick, trimmed with limestone and featuring beautiful stained glass windows. The attached former parsonage, now a classroom building, is of brick and stucco with a half-timbering effect. There is a featureless modern addition (1961) on the west, which is set back sufficiently that it does not detract from the historic parts of the church.
Some modest dwellings and small commercial enterprises on the north side of the 300 block of West Beardsley were replaced in the early twentieth century by the larger houses that now stand there. Quite impressive is the dark brick house at 334 West Beardsley, with its tile roof and wide overhang supported by oversized brackets. An exaggerated brick and limestone arch defines the entrance. There are other Mediterranean-influenced dwellings and also a number of Queen Anne houses, most with Free Classic elements, on this side of the street, such as the one at 801 Christiana, which has an American Foursquare shape. The house at 130 West Beardsley applies elements of the Free Classic to a Foursquare shape, and the Foursquare at 114 West Beardsley has applied to it such Free Classic elements as quoining topped with terra cotta capitals and dentils beneath the porch eaves, which is supported with pairs of Doric columns.
The houses on the south side of West Beardsley are, for the most part, the oldest in the district and are slightly more modest than those on the north side of the street. Most are either American Foursquares or simplified derivatives of the Queen Anne style (a form sometimes referred to as "Princess Anne.") As a whole, these seem to have suffered a greater loss of integrity than in other parts of the district.
The Havilah Beardsley house, a brick Italianate house at 102 West Beardsley, was built in 1848 and is obviously decades older than anything else in the district. Beardsley Avenue's crown jewel is Ruthmere, a splendid Beaux Arts mansion at 302 East Beardsley. Both, of these buildings are already listed individually in the National Register.
Across Main Street to the east of the Havilah Beardsley house once stood a Second Empire mansion that was a well known showplace in the late nineteenth century; this house was demolished and gave way to another that fits into the district very well, although it was built about 1941. The massive house at 116 East Beardsley is set well back from the street, as was its predecessor, on a lot that takes up the entire 100 block on the north side.
There was once a small row of presumably modest nineteenth century dwellings on the south side of East Beardsley, perched at the top of the bank above what is now Beardsley Park, but they disappeared before 1920. Opposite them on the north were more substantial dwellings built around the turn of the century, but these were demolished in the late 1950s to make way for the construction of the First Presbyterian Church.
The row of houses on the other side of Ruthmere in the 300 and 400 blocks, however, is intact, consisting of mostly middle class dwellings featuring Craftsman or Mediterranean influences. The houses grow more modest and are closer together in the 400 block, almost mirroring the west end of the district on the south, except that these houses were built mainly in the 1920s and a few in the 1930s. The earlier ones are mostly American Foursquare, and there are several examples exhibiting Dutch Colonial influence.
The houses on the south side of East Beardsley overlook the St. Joseph River below the bluff on which they perch. They have virtually no front yards at all, and the land drops down quickly to the river behind them. Probably the most impressive of these is the sprawling house at 401 East Beardsley that combines Queen Anne with elements of the Shingle style.
The Beardsley Avenue Historic District includes several homes by Elkhart's premier architect E. Hill Turnock.
The district contains the mid-nineteenth century home of Dr. Havilah Beardsley, the founder of Elkhart, and indeed, the entire district was once Beardsley's land; his flour and paper mills once occupied the western part, where the mill race is still visible. Nearby, his nephew Albert R. Beardsley erected a memorial to Havilah Beardsley in 1913, a landscaped fountain surmounted by a heroic statue. Albert Beardsley, a prominent Elkhart businessman, himself lived in the district at Ruthmere, built 1908-1910, three blocks to the east of his uncle's home. Other extant houses in the district have Beardsley connections; Havilah's son James Rufus Beardsley built the house at 316 West Beardsley about 1903 (probably as a rental—he himself lived in the Beardsley "mansion"). Some decades later, grandson Charles S. Beardsley, who became president of Miles Laboratories, lived at 120 West Beardsley. Both parks in the district were donated to the city by the Beardsley family, Island Park in 1887 and Beardsley Park in 1922. The two main Beardsley-related houses in the district are listed individually in the National Register. Dr. Havilah Beardsley's Italianate house at 102 West Beardsley is an anomaly, built in 1848, decades before the other dwellings in the district. No doubt the best known house is Ruthmere (302 East Beardsley), built by Havilah's nephew, Albert, who had come to Elkhart as a boy of 17 and worked his way up from store clerk to an organizer and managing officer of Miles Laboratories, Inc.
The city of Elkhart originated with an un-platted settlement called Pulaski that appeared just prior to 1830 on the north side of the St. Joseph River at its confluence with the Elkhart River, essentially the site of the present district. South of the St. Joseph, Dr. Havilah Beardsley purchased land from Potawatomi chief Pierre Moran and in 1832 platted a town he called Elkhart, after the names of the river and the county, which had been established in 1830. Early dwellings and commercial development hovered around the river junction, and Beardsley established mills on the north bank of the St. Joseph River at the mouth of Christiana Creek, as well as along a race he dug just a few blocks west of present-day Main Street. He built his log house nearby to the east and replaced it in 1848 with a fine two-story brick house, the first one in Elkhart, which survives today as the city's oldest extant dwelling. Elkhart's location along the rivers, sources of both transportation and power, boded well for its future. Pulaski was soon forgotten. The village of Elkhart grew gradually southward, with the railroad (the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana, later the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway) arriving in 1851. The tracks, several blocks south of the original plat, drew commercial and residential development in that direction, and the population increased sufficiently for Elkhart to incorporate as a town in 1858. Beardsley played a major role in bringing the railroad to Elkhart, assuring its continued growth.
Havilah Beardsley died in 1856, but his sons continued to run the family enterprises, as did his son-in-law, Benjamin L. Davenport, whose showplace Second Empire house stood just east of the Beardsley home. In the nineteenth century there must have been a sort of Beardsley family compound north of the St. Joseph River, flanked on either side by the family industries along the river at the foot of Edwardsburg Avenue and at the mouth of Christiana Creek, as well as the businesses of others who had crowded alongside. But by the early twentieth century, those mills were gone and the family by degrees subdivided the land and sold lots to some of Elkhart's best known industrialists, who created a fashionable residential district along the north bank of the river. The streetcar line running west from Main Street on Beardsley Avenue was especially convenient for several of these residents, many of whose factories stood along Beardsley Avenue less than a mile to the west. George B. Pratt moved into the former Davenport home on the northeast corner of Main and Beardsley. He was an officer in the firm his father founded, the Elkhart Buggy, later the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company, located at the northwest corner of West Beardsley and Michigan. When the automobile came on the scene, the company expanded to include them as well, becoming the Pratt-Elkhart Company. Among other nearby industries was the Chicago Telephone Supply Company in the 1100 block of West Beardsley, which later expanded to manufacture radio and television parts. As a sales manager for the company, Floyd C. Best lived at 438 East Beardsley. In the 1920s he moved into the Pratt's former house and later replaced it with the present dwelling at 116 East Beardsley. He ultimately became the president of the company.
The Crow Motor Car Company was another local automobile manufacturer. Its headquarters stood conveniently scarcely a half mile north of the river on Main Street; perhaps Martin E. Crow, the president, occasionally walked to his office from his fine home that he had built at 425 East Beardsley. Across the street at 422, one of his superintendents, Robert Schell, lived for a time. The impressive Mediterranean-influenced house with elements of the Neoclassical perched on the bluff above the river at 125 West Beardsley was built about 1910 for A. C. Collins, an executive of the Davis Acetylene Company, located not far west of the district on Prospect.
The Beardsley family is inextricably linked with the development of Dr. Miles Medical Company, begun in 1880 by Dr. Franklin Miles, which, with the help of Albert R. Beardsley, became Doctor Miles Industries and eventually Miles Laboratories, Inc. In 1892 a massive building was constructed on West Franklin Street. A.R. Beardsley, no doubt aided by income produced through his successful management of the company, built Ruthmere in the 300 block of East Beardsley in 1910. His nephew A. Hubble Beardsley was also involved in the management of Miles, and lived just west of his uncle.
Downtown developer Herbert Bucklen, who in the late nineteenth century had built the Bucklen Hotel and the Bucklen Opera House, moved into the house at 114 West Beardsley, which had been built about 1906 by Livy Chamberlain, an insurance executive. He later passed it onto his son for a token sum. Several successful downtown merchants made their homes on Beardsley Avenue, among them William F. Stanton, who moved into the big house at 401 East Beardsley, and Edward D. Ziesel, who owned Ziesel Brothers Dry Goods store in the same block of South Main Street where Stanton's clothing store was located.
In 1887, well before the extended Beardsley family began subdividing their land on the north side of the river, the surviving sons of Havilah Beardsley donated the island at the confluence of the Elkhart and St. Joseph rivers to the city for a public park. In some of the earliest written records of the area, French traders had noted the island was alleged to be shaped like the heart of an elk, and this supposedly was the origin of the name of the river that ended there, the Elkhart, and thus, eventually, the name of the county and the town. Where only a few decades before had stood wharves and docks before the coming of the railroad had rendered them obsolete, a wooden pedestrian bridge was erected to Island Park, which soon became a popular pleasure spot with shady groves and a picnic hall, a large circular pavilion, a gazebo, and an artesian well. By the 1930s the frame buildings had fallen into disrepair, and workers under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) embarked on several projects to rehabilitate the park. They demolished the old frame gazebo and pavilion, and dismantled the picnic hall, moving it from the center of the island to the south, building an addition to it that reconfigured it into a T-shape. The WPA also constructed a stone drinking fountain around the artesian well. The bandstand in the center of island was probably built about 1905, but not in the park. It originally stood at the C. G. Conn band instrument factory on East Beardsley, almost a mile east of the district. It was dismantled and moved to the present site in 1980.
In 1922 Beardsley Park was donated to the city by Andrew Hubble Beardsley and Albert R. Beardsley, grandson and nephew, respectively, of town founder Havilah Beardsley. As there had been some modest dwellings which were demolished, probably rental properties, standing on the south side of East Beardsley opposite the Beardsley's houses, the gift of the land had the advantage of guaranteeing the donors an unencumbered view of the river. The park, subject to flooding below the bluff, apparently never had any buildings, but functioned from the beginning as a pleasant green space and picnic area, and a means of public access to the water for canoes and rowboats.
The St. Joseph River was traversed by way of ferry boats at first, but early on a wooden bridge had been constructed downstream from the present Main Street bridge. The first iron bridge crossing the river at North Main Street was built in 1871; twenty years later it was deemed unsafe and replaced by another. One span of the old iron bridge was re-erected at the end of Sycamore Street to carry park visitors to the island, replacing a wooden pedestrian bridge that had been placed there when the island became a city park. (This bridge remained in use until 2003, when it was replaced.) In 1927, prominent bridge engineer William S. Moore of South Bend designed the present triple-span concrete arched bridge, dedicated the following year to commemorate the soldiers who fought in World War I. The Main Street Memorial Bridge is one of several beautiful spans designed by Moore in northern Indiana in the 1920s and 1930s, among them the Angela Avenue and Twyckenham bridges in South Bend and the County Line Bridge between St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, all of which cross the St. Joseph River.
The district contains several examples of the work of Enoch Hill Turnock (1857-1926), Elkhart's premier architect whose work often shows influences of the Prairie style with some Classical twists. The great brick-and-stone pile of Ruthmere is his best known work.
After his Beaux Arts mansion was completed in 1910, Albert R. Beardsley commissioned Turnock to design a memorial for his uncle, the founder of Elkhart, which was erected in 1913. Restored in 1998, the landscaped fountain at the junction of Riverside Drive and West Beardsley Avenue features a bronze statue of Havilah Beardsley by Italian sculptor Pietro Bazzanti. Never lacking for work, in 1910 Turnock designed St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church on the southwest corner of Beardsley Avenue and Edwardsburg Avenue. The Gothic Revival edifice, with additional elements of the Romanesque style and boasting fabulous stained glass windows, was dedicated the following year. It is the only one of three churches known to have been designed by Turnock that is still standing.
Turnock also had designed a house for one of Havilah Beardsley's grandsons, Andrew Hubble Beardsley, in the 200 block of East Beardsley Avenue, but it was demolished in the 1950s. Happily, the Prairie and Mediterranean-influenced dwelling at 760 Riverside Drive that he created about 1910 for Dr. George Harter, a dentist with offices downtown, remains. The house at 750 Riverside Drive, which has Mediterranean and Prairie influences and a characteristic tile roof, is also attributed to Turnock, although it has not been verified. Other evidence suggests this house may have been designed by A.H. Ellwood. Also attributed to Turnock is 418 East Beardsley, which again features his characteristic tile roof and Mediterranean influences, although on a Foursquare shape. While this is not typical of Turnock's known work, the smaller lot may have justified the shape. A few other houses in the district possibly may have been designed by Turnock, but investigation thus far has not confirmed them.
Architect A. H. Ellwood, who came to Elkhart from Cincinnati in 1895 at the age of 45, designed the sprawling Queen Anne/Shingle style dwelling perched above the river at 401 East Beardsley for W.L. Collins. He designed numerous other dwellings in Elkhart and Goshen as well as out of state, commercial buildings such as the Green block downtown (listed in the National Register as part of the Elkhart Downtown Historic District), and churches, such as the St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, built in 1895. This was the commission that brought Ellwood to Elkhart.
† Glory-June Greiff, consultant for Elkhart Historic & Preservation Commission, Beardsley Avenue Historic District, Elkhart County, Indiana, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.