The Windle Magic

Couple’s preservationist goal
for Madison comes full circle

Historic Madison Inc. to inherit
Shrewsbury-Windle House

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

December 2009 Indiana Edition Cover

December 2009
Indiana Edition Cover

(December 2009) – The community of Madison, Ind., is about to inherit one of the most outstanding examples of mid-19th century architecture ever created by famed architect Francis Costigan with the anticipated passing of the Shrewsbury-Windle House to Historic Madison Inc.
The late John and Ann Windle founded the non-profit, historic preservation organization in 1960. John died in 1987; Ann died July 30 at age 98. In the couple’s will, the impressive house with its freestanding spiral staircase and massive doorway columns at 301 W. First St. in downtown Madison is to be given to HMI. An endowment, to be established by the Windles’ estate, will provide for the future maintenance and upkeep of the property. It is expected to someday be open for public tours, according to historic preservation officials. The estate is being probated in Jefferson County.
“The Shrewsbury-Windle House is the most important surviving piece of Costigan’s architecture,” said Marsh Davis, president of Historic Landmark Foundation of Indiana, which is headquartered in Indianapolis. “Costigan worked out some design issues, and the house is more refined than some of his earlier work.”
Costigan was commissioned to design the home in 1837 by riverboat Capt. Charles Lewis Shrewsbury. He was a successful riverboat captain, commission merchant and flour mill owner who settled in Madison and selected a choice location facing the Ohio River. Shrewsbury later served as Madison’s mayor from 1870-72 and died in office.
The Windles purchased the house in 1949 upon moving to Madison from Chicago. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. It is a majestic home built in 1846-1849 in the Greek Revival style. The house is an example of Regency, a fashion which evolved toward the end of the period of Classical Revival that pushed vertical line and measurements higher and higher.

Freestanding Spiral Staircase

Photo by Don Ward

The Francis Costigan
signature freestanding
staircase is the featured attraction inside the
House at 301 W. First
St. in Madison, Ind.

The house has 12 rooms, 13 fireplaces and a 53-step spiral staircase. The staircase, which many say is the best architectural aspect of the house, is both freestanding and self-supporting. During its construction, more than 100 men were kept busy on the house with Costigan laying out the work each day for the supervisors. For his double task of designing and supervising, Costigan was paid $1.25 a day, the highest price on the job.
More conservative and restrained in design than the J.F.D. Lanier Mansion, built a few years earlier by Costigan, the style of the Shrewsbury house follows closely that of classic Baltimore houses, according to the documentation presented in the application for its addition to the National Register of Historic Places. Costigan worked as a carpenter in Baltimore before arriving in Madison. “Large and cubic in form, the Shrewsbury-Windle home is built of hand-polished pink brick with a majestic entablature and cornice that completely surround the house,” according to the documentation.
Costigan apparently made great use of the carpenter handbooks being published during the first half of the 19th century, notably the works of Asher Benjamin and Minard Lafever. The design of the iron fence was taken from a handbook by Asher Benjamin, as were the palmetto and anthemion or honeysuckle designs of the iron balconies that flank both the street and garden entrances.
On the interior, Costigan’s most spectacular achievement is said to be the spiral staircase. The original design came from Lafever. The staircase rises from the center of the front hall to the top of the house and is freestanding and self-supporting. The weight is concentrated on the bottom step and is carried by the ends of the steps. The curved drum is made up of four layers of laminated wood, each about a quarter of an inch thick. The steps are pine, painted white to resemble marble and the railing is cherry. Where the curved railings become tangent to the wall, there is a saucer or depression in the plaster that follows the curve of the handrails so that peoples’ knuckles don’t hit the wall. The staircase still serves as the air conditioner for the house where the hot air can rise to the top and escape out of the attic windows.

Marsh Davis

"The Shrewsbury-Windle House is the most important surviving piece of (Francis) Costigan’s architecture."
– Marsh Davis, president of Historic Landmarks of Indiana, Indianapolis

Costigan also used a spiral staircase at the Lanier Mansion, which has often been touted as the crown jewel of Madison’s National Historic Landmark District. However, instead of freestanding, Lanier’s circular staircase is tucked demurely into a wall. Shrewsbury’s stands in the middle of the hallway.
Throughout the interior, Costigan made use of the newest developments in dimension and proportions. He used greater verticals, taller doors and higher ceilings than had been used in the country. The full-length windows have 13 feet of glass.
Another special design evident in the Shrewsbury house is the traffic pattern. The front hall extends the entire depth of the house, with the drawing room on the east side and two rooms, a reception room and a library on the west. Beyond the two west rooms is a wing with two additional rooms, the dining room and a bedroom. Each of the rooms has two exits or entrances that allow for a smooth traffic pattern. The second floor has the same traffic pattern.
“It’s a beautiful home that will be a treasure for HMI,” said Davis.
Little is actually known of Costigan himself. He was born in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 1810, and died on April 18, 1865, of tuberculosis. He opened his own carpentry business in Baltimore in 1835.
Many speculate he decided to move west and settle in Madison because of the economic hardship his native area was experiencing during that time. Whatever the reason, he arrived in Madison in 1837, a time when the town was growing prosperous.
His architectural brilliance heavily influenced other area designers during his time. He was also responsible for designing many public buildings in Indianapolis, the city he relocated to after he left Madison.

Ann Windle

Photo provided

Ann Windle was
a graceful presence
in Madison and enjoyed
entertaining guests.

In Madison, Costigan quickly earned a reputation as being a master architect. At his own residence at 408 W. Third St., he solved a difficult architectural problem of fitting a stately and elegant home on a narrow lot that is only 22 feet wide. The house shows Costigan’s characteristically fine woodwork, including both curved and sliding doors and an interesting stepladder staircase with a push gate at the top. The home is now an HMI-owned property that is open for public tours.
“Costigan’s use of curved wood and curved doors in his designs is amazing,” said HMI’s programming director Heidi Valco-Kruggel.
He designed a few other residential buildings in Madison, including the duplex that neighbors his own home. Costigan lived in the home with his wife, Elizabeth, and three children, Francis, Sarah and Theodore.
In 1851, Costigan moved to Indianapolis. There, he was the supervising architect on the Institute for the Blind. He later assumed the same responsibilities for the city’s Hospital for the Deaf and Dumb and the Hospital for the Insane. He also designed the Odd Fellows Building and several other residences in the Indianapolis. All of those buildings have been razed.
In 1858, he designed, built and operated a four-story stucco-ornamented Oriental Hotel on the northeast corner of Illinois and Chesapeake streets in Indianapolis. Its name was later changed to the Mason House and then the Oxford Hotel. In 1928, that building was torn down.
His death was little noticed in 1865, largely in part because it was a mere two days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

John Galvin

"John Windle recognized at once the unique and intact architecture of Madison and set out to make Madisonians aware of how special it was."
– John Galvin, president of HMI

While the Costigan family was at one time refined and quite wealthy, that was not the case in later years. His daughter died a short time after him. The son also died of tuberculosis. In 1884, Elizabeth Costigan became ill while taking care of her son, and she died in the same bed as her helpless child.
The family had been reduced to near poverty and would have suffered had old friends not stepped in to help.
The Shrewsbury-Windle House remained in the Shrewsbury family for many generations but eventually sat empty for a period until the Windles purchased it, according to Valco-Kruggel.
The Windles were avid antique collectors. They had learned of Madison while visiting Ann’s aunt, Jean Anderson, a French professor at Hanover College for more than 30 years.
Upon John’s retirement from Chicago’s Newberry Library, the Windles decided Madison would be a perfect spot in which to relocate and live. While visiting Madison for an antique auction, they found the Shrewsbury house and knew they had to have it, said John Galvin, a close friend of the Windles and president of HMI. They bought the house and grounds for $12,500, and after an extensive restoration and refurbishing, they moved into it in 1949.
“John Windle recognized at once the unique and intact architecture of Madison and set out to make Madisonians aware of how special it was,” said Galvin. “From the time he arrived, until HMI was established in 1960, he had been laying the groundwork for the preservation organization.”
Galvin said one of the purposes of HMI was to boost and revitalize the commercial district of downtown Madison and to attract regional business. Galvin was a merchant on Main Street at the time and was interested in helping attract business that had left the downtown area for the hilltop.

Shrewsbury-Windle House

Photo by Don Ward

The south side of the house faces
the Ohio River. The large columns at
the door are signature Costigan design.

“John and Ann were Mom and Pop of the preservation movement. They ran HMI from their home by themselves for almost 10 years. Without them, Madison may not have ever become a National Historic Landmark District.”
John died in 1987, but Ann carried on his legacy. For many years, she opened her home to the public, but in her later years was unable to.
“Ann Windle was a wonderful person through and through,” said Kim Nyberg, former director of programs at HMI and the current program manager for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s Community Development Division “Her positive attitude and her sense of adventure made her the success she was.”
Nyberg said the Shrewsbury House not only has national significance because of its architectural uniqueness, but is important also because it also tells the story of the Windles. “Their story is as rich and important to Madison as the architectural significance of the Shrewsbury-Windle House”
Davis said it’s befitting that the historic property belong to HMI.
It’s the natural progression of their life and work,” he said. “It’s where it all began.”

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