Janet here. I love a road trip, especially when celebrating our June anniversary with my DH. Back in March, he suggested we travel to Columbus, IN, the town where I was born and lived for only five weeks. I've always been curious about the house and the town so I jumped at the chance. He reserved two nights at the Inn of Irwin Gardens and I found the address of my house in my baby book.
The day before our anniversary, we drove to Columbus. After lunch, we headed to Ruddick Avenue and had no difficulty finding the house. It looked old enough to have existed back then, yet I was pleasantly surprised by its condition. The owners appear to be painting the scalloped peak. I would've loved to see the interior. But no one was outside and I didn't have the courage to knock on the door. Maybe next time.
|Entrance of the Inn of Irwin Gardens|
We stopped at the Visitors Center with its displays of Chihuly glass and booked two tours for the next day, then took a leisurely stroll through a few downtown shops before heading to the tree-lined street of the bed and breakfast. The impressive exterior of the Inn and the walled gardens didn't overshadow the interior.
|The tea room and fountains as viewed from the veranda|
photo taken from the website
The Innkeeper took us on a tour of the public rooms. After we settled into our room, we viewed all the sleeping rooms, open until the other guests arrived. Built in 1864 by Joseph I. Irwin, then remodeled twice, the last time in 1910, the mansion embodies early 20th century luxury. Our room named for J.Irwin Miller, who was born and raised here, was huge with an adjoining bath. Some of the fixtures looked like they could have been there in 1910 but I'd need to do some research to know.
|Our room's sitting area|
Besides five bedrooms/suites, the Inn has a tearoom, library, small room built for the telephone and electric elevator and a huge terrace with two sections under roof overlooking sunken gardens and fountains, and even a bronze elephant, replica of the one at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
Not surprisingly for an historical author, the four generations of the Irwin/Miller family that once lived in this mansion triggered my curiosity. Who were these people and where did all their wealth come from?
I discovered that Joseph Oliver Irwin immigrated to America from Ireland and fought in the Indian War under General Anthony Wayne, then later settled in Bartholomew County, IN, in 1828. This man was the great-grandfather of Joseph Ireland Irwin, who came to Columbus at the age of 22.
Joseph I.Irwin's mother had given him 30 cents to ride the train but he decided to save the money for a start in life and walked to Columbus. Not sure of the distance, but I am sure this man was frugal and industrious. Irwin found work in a dry good's store. Four years later he started a dry good's store of his own. He built this house in 1864 at the age of 40. Seven years later, he started Irwin Bank.
Joseph's son bachelor William G. Irwin, a businessman and banker, hired a chauffeur and mechanic Clessie Cummins. I was fascinated to learn that in the 1920s, Clessie, a man with no formal education beyond eighth grade, tinkered in the Irwin garage, inventing a way to increase the speed and endurance of the diesel engine for use in trucks, buses and race cars. With Irwin’s financial backing, Clessie Cummins founded Cummins Diesel. Though the company struggled at first, sales to the military during World War II and the post-war expansion of trucking, along with the savvy leadership of William's great nephew, J. Irwin Miller, led the company to prominence.
J.Irwin Miller ran the company for four decades.Today the company has about 40,000 employees worldwide. All this is to say that Columbus, IN, was blessed by one man with an idea, another with the wherewithal to make it happen. I find that inspiring.
|Zaharakos ice cream parlor|
|The Miller house, mid-century modern|
J.Irwin Miller built this house for his wife Xenia and their five children. We were not allowed to take photos inside the Miller House, now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but we could snap pictures from outside looking in. The reason for reflections in the glass in the photo of the conversation pit and piano and bookcases beyond. The Swedish architect designed small, even tiny bedrooms for the children. Even the parents' bedroom was not large by today's standards. The children's bedrooms might have been small, yet they lived and played among expensive furnishings, artwork by Monet and Picasso and a Stradivari violin their father played. J.Irwin and Xenia lived in this house into their nineties. Though the conversation pit was not the only living space in the house, a brass handrail was installed to help them safely enter it. Of their five children, only Will still returns to Columbus for board meetings and has a residence there.
I find the contrasts between these two Irwin family homes fascinating. I loved our stay in Columbus. I not only found my roots, I also found story ideas taking root in my head. Think of the historical possibilities with the Irish immigrant, the industrial revolution, the automobile and all the changes they spawned. What caused Clessie Cummins to leave Cummins Diesel, taking some patents with him, and start a company of his own? Think of the contemporaries that could be spun from a family with this back story. Perhaps a romance between an architect and a woman in town.
I also visited the library designed by another famous architect, but better yet found many Seeker books, including three of mine. It was fun to think that my books were being read in the town of my birth.
I brought bananas foster French toast, fruit, juice and sausage, the same breakfast we had the second morning of our stay at the Inn of Irwin Gardens.
Grab a plate and let's chat. Share trips you've taken that have broadened your perspective and enriched your lives and perhaps even brought stories to life in your mind. Leave a comment for a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card.