Getting a Facelift
Madison’s Shrewsbury-Windle House undergoes renovation
Historic Madison Inc. is updating the house
(July 2017) – People with an interest in Indiana history often refer to the Lanier Mansion as the crown jewel of Madison, Ind., architecture. But just a few blocks away sits the Shrewsbury-Windle House, another crown jewel of architecture. That house is near the end of a multimillion-dollar renovation by its new owner, Historic Madison Inc., which was deeded the property in 2011 after the death of owner Ann Windle. She and her husband, John, who founded HMI in 1960, had lived in the house after purchasing and renovating it in 1948. Ann died in 2009; John preceded her in death in 1987.
Capt. Charles L. Shrewsbury, a Virginia-born pork merchant and flour mill co-owner, built the house in 1849 for him and his wife, Ellen, and their children. Architect Francis Costigan designed it for Shrewsbury.
David Cart, HMI’s Director of Preservation, has a deep love for both the Lanier Mansion and Shrewsbury House, and for Greek Revival architecture.
Photo by John Sheckler
Historic Madison Inc. was deeded the Shrewsbury-Windle House in 2011 after the death of Ann Windle in 2009.
“I come from a unique perspective,” said Cart. “I was preservation director of the Lanier Mansion and worked at both buildings during the renovations.
Both are two of the finest examples of Greek revival architecture in the country.”
Cart is quick to point out the historical significance of having two such outstanding buildings so close together.
“The fact that we have these two houses in Madison, just a couple of blocks from each other, is very significant,” Cart said. “One of the things I find interesting when I talk about the Shrewsbury-Windle house is how comfortable people are when they are in the house. They draw a comparison to Lanier.
I am amused because it is exactly what the architect was shooting to accomplish.”
Costigan designed both homes with very different goals, according to what the owners wanted.
“He had to be very formal with Lanier,” Cart said. “People don’t go in rooms, and that was exactly as intended. Lanier was very proper and business like. If you go in Lanier, you lower your voice and stand up straight. It is almost like walking into church.”
The Shrewsbury-Windle home is much different.
“If you go in the Shrewsbury-Windle house, you go in, take your hat off and have a drink,” he said. “I feel at home here, it is much more comfortable.”
The Shrewsbury-Windle house was designed for comfort and fun.
Photo by John Sheckler
Workers install a new fence out front of the Shrewsbury-Windle House.
“In contrast, Shrewsbury-Windle house had a three-day house warming and continued to have parties over the years,” said Cart. “The house was designed for that. That is why people felt so comfortable with their life there.”
The modern-day use of the houses is also quite different. The Lanier Mansion is open daily for tours.
“These two house in Greek Revival style reflect the personalities of the men who had them built,” Cart said. “They are just a real gift to the community. It is one architect and one style, but he was able to reflect two men that were very, very different.”
HMI plans to use the Shrewsbury-Windle House for events and parties, according to Executive Director John Staicer.
Staicer has a similar enthusiasm for the Shrewsbury-Windle House. “This is one of the most important historical homes in the United States,” said Staicer. ‘It had only three private owners. We had a two-volume, 600-page book to guide us.”
HMI plans for the building to reflect the original intensions of the house’s first owners.
“We plan to use the house as a museum but also for community events as a way to raise funds for the upkeep,” said Staicer.
The $2.5 million capital program started in 2011, and the grand opening is being planned for August 2018, Staicer said. It will be a donor event. “There will be a second event in October with the International Ulster Project.”
There has been a massive amount of work to do the renovation.
“When we got the house, it had 15,000 pounds of furnishings in storage,” Staicer said. “Not including hundreds of items from the basement underground.”
Morgan Foods was a major donor. They gave a $250,000 challenge grant.
Photo by John Sheckler
Inside upgrades to the Shrewsbury-Windle House include new paint on the walls of the spiral staircase.
Historical details have been a very important part of the project.
“We had done some paint archeology so we could get the paint back to the original,” he added. “We had craftsmen from throughout the United States and England to do an accurate restoration. We had to clean all the masonry from the roof to the foundation.”
There was brick molding and trim to repair, as well as gutter and downspout work to be done. HMI is adding exterior lights for evening events.
“The Windles never threw out a piece of paper,” Staicer added. “We have all the old receipts back to 1910 in 150 boxes.” It is a great collections of letters and diagrams.”
The carpet was custom milled in England on the same type of looms from the 1840s and 1850s.
“The way we plan to use the house is nearly identical to the way the Shrewsbury family used it,” said Staicer. “Of course, there are still mysteries in the house that is what makes it fun. There is a child’s handprint in the attic plaster in a raw unfinished space. My guess is that one of the Shrewsbury kids went up and put his hand in the wet plaster.”
There is also a 22-caliber slug that had been fired. Staicer expects it was target practice by the Shrewsbury boys.
Another mystery is that one room has wallpaper trim of a different color.
“There are lots of fun things we will be doing in this house,” said Staicer. We want furniture from 17th and 18th century.”
HMI will include some modern things, like Wifi for events and conferences and weddings, Staicer said.
“But we will hide all that,” he added. “It is kind of fun to bring a place like this back to life and an honor to be part of a nationally significant property – a real joy. I like the idea to preserve this part of American history”
Photo by John Sheckler
The detail work is impressive on the columns inside the Shrewsbury-Windle House.
Some of the family letters give a peek into family life.
“People can go to the website and find a You Tube button to see the restoration,” he added.
“Sam Shrewsbury was one of the younger sons. He wrote a letter to his brother about a carriage ride to Hanover to shoot passenger pigeons,” said Staicer. “It said they went to see mother at the wharf to pick her up from a trip to Cincinnati. The brother fell between the steamboat deck, and the deck hands reached down to save him. He was just a pistol.”
The Shrewsbury-Windle House is one of 15 properties owned by HMI. It is considered to be one of the most important historic homes in the United States and in 1994 was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The building is 8,000 square feet and has 12 rooms, 13 fireplaces, 16-foot tall ceilings and 12-foot tall entry doors. There is a 53-step, three-story spiral staircase. There is original varnish over paint finishes in high-style Greek Revival. There are original black marble mantels in the formal areas.
Outside, there are original iron fencing and balconies, and brick sidewalks.
There have been only three private owners, the Shrewsbury family, the Walker Family and the Windles.
Most of the existing furnishings were antiques purchased by the Windles in the United States and Europe. They lived in the house and used it as their antique shop. Many of the items still have price tags on them.
“The floor cloth in the entry hall was generally canvas painted to look like marble,” Said Staicer. “It is being redone by Rile May of Frankfort, Tenn.”
HMI is a local partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More than 100 donors have contributed $2,371,975 to the renovation campaign so far, Staicer said.
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