The Right Touch

Francis Costigan left his mark on Madison architecture

Little is known about the famed 1840-50s architect

August 2018 Cover

(August 2018) – When Historic Madison Inc. unveiled its $2 million renovation of the Shrewsbury-Windle House at a reception held June 23 in Madison, Ind., it ushered in a new era for the historic preservation organization. For many in the preservationist community, the house represents the best example of a pre-Civil War, antebellum, Greek Revival-inspired house in the United States.
The home was designed by famed architect Francis Costigan, who during his lifetime also designed the nearby J.F.D. Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, a home on Third Street that is also owned by HMI, and several other buildings in Madison and Indianapolis.
There is much to be learned from Costigan’s architectural designs of the time, even though all but one of his structures in Indianapolis have long been demolished. Madison has somehow managed to preserve nearly all of his designs over the years. The elegance in his designs and his mastery of efficiency and scale show in the columns and ceilings, the tall doors and rooms, and the spiral stairs that are found in the Shrewsbury-Windle House and the Lanier Mansion – both National Historic Landmarks – and in the Francis Costigan House, now a museum home.
But when it comes to learning more about Costigan, the man, the book shelves and library files are essentially bare. There are no known photos or images of Costigan or his family. Little is known about Francis Costigan beyond some basic facts – where he was born and died; his wife and two children’s names; where he lived and worked.

Costigan-Attributed Buildings in Madison, Ind., Historic District

• St. Michael the Archangel Church (1838), 519 E. Third St.
• First Francis Costigan House (1838/demolished c. 1846, south side of Lot 82 addition west
• David McIntire House (1842),739 W. Main St.
• J.F.D. Lanier Mansion (1843-1844), 511 W. Main St.
• Griffin Place, (1844), 601 Mulberry St.
• John Woodburn House (1846/demolished 1927), southeast corner of Broadway and First streets
• Second Francis Costigan Double House (1846), 415-417 Vine St.
• Charles Shrewsbury-Windle House (1847-1849), 301 W. First St.
• Madison Hotel (1848-1850/demolished 1949), southwest corner of West Second and Mulberry streets
• Charles Holstein House (1850), 718 W. Main St.
• Third Francis Costigan House and Double House (1850), 404-408 W. Third St.
• Charles Schussler House (1850), 514 Jefferson St.
• Abijah Pitcher House (1848), 708 E. Main St.
• David White House (c. 1851), 610 W. Main St.
• William McQuiston House (c. 1852), 312 Vine St.
• Lot 107 Additional West House (1852), 620 W. Main St.
• Thomas J. Goodman Jr. House (1853), 707 W. Second St.

Francis Costigan-Attributed Buildings outside Madison’s Historic District

• James Beckwith House (1839), top of Michigan Hill Road
• Thomas J. Goodman Sr. House (1848/demolished 1905), at the Madison State Hospital property
• Spiral Staircase for George Henry Kyle in Ulysses P. Schenck House (1848), in Vevay, Ind.
• Mount Marsh (1850), on Telegraph Hill in Madison.

– Cornerstone Society Inc. Brochure

And not much else.
Costigan was born March 4, 1810, in Washington, D.C. He worked as a carpenter in Baltimore, where he was heavily influenced by New York architect Minard Lafever. Costigan married Elizabeth Taylor of Baltimore in 1835 before settling in Madison in 1837. There is no information on the birth or death of Elizabeth.
The couple had four children while living in Madison. Ann Theresa died at six months of age. After the family moved to Indianapolis in 1851, Frank became a railroad clerk. Sarah died before her father. Theodore studied law but did not practice. He died in 1888. Francis, the oldest child, died in 1907. Neither son married or had children.
Costigan spent his time in Madison building and repairing structures throughout the town. Today, at least 14 Costigan-attributed structures still stand in the town’s National Historic District.  “We have very little information about Costigan, the man, but we have this wonderful collection of buildings here in Madison that he designed,” said John Staicer, HMI’s executive director.
Among them is the home on Third Street which he designed and built but probably never actually lived in it since he was in the process of moving to Indianapolis the year it was finished in 1850, Staicer said.
The Francis Costigan House is considered a marvel in urban design with Costigan fitting the stylistic details associated with Greek Revival homes onto a 22-foot wide city lot. The two-story, red brick building is rectangular in plan with sandstone foundation and small basement windows on the façade. The house’s large windows have sandstone sills and slightly pedimented lintels. A projecting cornice with dentils and beading creates an entry portico supported by two Egyptian-influenced columns. The portico also sports a detailed coffered ceiling, an unexpected stylistic addition. Another thick cornice with decorative dentils follows the façade’s roofline.
Costigan’s architectural mastery continues on the house’s interior. The main entrance contains a sliding pocket door, which allowed Costigan improved use of the interior space usually reserved for a hinged front door. The drawing room’s tall windows and door embody the vertical emphasis seen in many of Costigan’s houses and the room’s bowed southeast end, complete with curved door, allows for a small entry hall.
The high-style room has dual cast-iron fireplaces in black wood mantels embellished with carved ogee designs and gilded egg-and-dart molding. Straight flights of stairs from the hall and the dining room meet at a small second-floor landing and are separated by a removable swinging gate.

Photo by Don Ward

Visitors examine the spiral staircase during a June 23 grand re-opening reception at the Shrewsbury-Windle House.

The Lanier Mansion, meanwhile, is recognized as a masterpiece of the Greek Revival style. This elegant house overlooking the Ohio River was built for banker James Franklin Doughty Lanier in 1843 and 1844. At the time Lanier lived in the mansion, there were iron foundries to the north and east, the railroad station to the west and Lanier’s own wharf and warehouses to the south – all long gone. The house today has an unobstructed view of the Ohio River.
Costigan designed the house, which would become known as his finest work. The home’s cubic form features Greek Revival characteristics such as the south portico supported by colossal Corinthian columns; a large, dentilled entablature punctuated by oculus windows; decorative window architraves and cresting. The interior is equally ornamented, and is most noted for its spiral staircase that gracefully occupies the east wall of the entry hall. Curved doors, a feature used elsewhere by Costigan, are found within the house as well. As in many of his other works, Costigan drew directly from the pattern books of architect Minard Lafever in designing the house.
“It was the biggest commission he had ever had up to that time,” said Link Ludington, a Madison resident and former curator at the mansion from 2000-2005. He now is the Director of Historic Preservation at the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites.
“The Madison Hotel was a major project that Costigan apparently took over from someone else. But the Lanier Mansion he did from start to finish, and it is what established his reputation from that point on.”

Photo by Don Ward

About 180 people attended the June 23 grand re-opening reception at the Shrewsbury-Windle House. The house underwent a $2 million, four-year renovation.

Ludington said that newspaper accounts of the time in 1844 described just how involved Costigan was in the project. “He just didn’t do the design work and then turn it over to someone else; he was involved throughout its construction, and reportedly even executed some of the decorative work himself,” Ludington said.
Lanier was one of the most powerful and influential people in Indiana during the first half of the 19th century because of the role he played in promoting the state’s banking and railroad industries. He lived in Madison until 1851, when he moved to New York City to establish a new banking house there. He maintained ties to Indiana, and during the Civil War years, loaned the state more than $1 million. These funds allowed Gov. Oliver P. Morton to continue contributing to the war effort, despite the Indiana legislature’s failure to appropriate funds. A significant number of legislators either sympathized with the South or wished for Indiana to take a neutral stance.
The Lanier Mansion remained in the Lanier family until 1917 when it was donated to the Jefferson County Historical Society. Shortly after, in 1925, the home was transferred to the state, and it has been operated as a State Historic Site ever since.
“The Lanier Mansion is one of the top and most visited historic sites in the state, and I’d say Costigan has a lot to do with it,” Staicer said.
Built by Costigan between 1846 and 1849, the Shrewsbury-Windle House is a Greek Revival masterpiece. Costigan designed the house for Capt. Charles L. Shrewsbury, a Virginia native who earned his fortune as a commission merchant, meat packer and as part owner of the Palmetto Flour Mill. Shrewsbury also served as mayor of Madison from 1870 to 1872.
The cubic house features a wide entablature with dentils and frieze-band windows. Two main entrances, located at the front and rear of the house, lead into a central hall. A one-story porch over the garden entrance is supported by two tall, fluted columns, while the recessed First Street entrance features a lintel decorated with a center anthemion (fan-shaped palm frond). The lower-story windows flanking the entrance have iron balconettes with a palmette design, possibly symbolic of Shrewsbury’s involvement with the Palmetto Flour Mill. The interior’s vertical emphasis is conveyed through 16-foot tall ceilings, 12-foot tall doors, the two pairs of fluted columns dividing the drawing room, and the pilasters found in corners and around the 13-foot windows.
The centerpiece of the Shrewsbury home is its 53-step spiral staircase that is considered one of Costigan’s most dramatic architectural achievements. Located in the middle of the front hall and extending the entire height of the house, the staircase is a visual and architectural wonder. The staircase’s weight is concentrated on the bottom step and supported by the end of each subsequent pine step. While Costigan’s grand staircase serves an aesthetic purpose, it also functions as an early form of air conditioning. Its spiral shape facilitates air flow, moving warm air to the house’s top floor where it may be released through attic windows.

Photo courtesy of
Catherine A. Fisher for HMI

Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis speaks during the June 23 reception at the Shrewsbury-Windle House.

Inspired by the Shrewsbury House’s masterful design, retired Chicago librarian John Windle and his wife, Ann, purchased the house in 1948 and set about preserving its historic appearance and character. In 1960, the couple founded HMI, an organization dedicated to preserving Madison’s sizable historic district. After John Windle died in 1987, Ann continued to live in the house up until a few months before her death in 2009 at age 98.
During the grand re-opening reception in June that attracted about 180 people, Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis said of the house, “HMI has raised the bar and set new standards for restoring historic places through this outstanding restoration.”
Staicer said, “I was blown away with that comment from Marsh Davis, who is one of the premier preservationists in the United States.”
In addition to the well-known buildings in town, Costigan also designed several other private residences, including Mount Marsh, a home on Telegraph Hill in Madison. There is also a duplex on Vine Street that he designed for himself as well as the one next door to the Costigan House. He also may have helped finish St. Michael the Archangel Church in 1839. The church was built by Irish immigrants with stone from the Madison Railroad incline cut. Costigan was a parishioner at the church, and his children were the first to be baptized there, Staicer said.
“We think he had a hand in designing the church’s bell tower and the rear of the building,” Staicer said.
Although most of Costigan-designed buildings remain standing in Madison, not all were spared the wrecking ball. The Madison Hotel (c. 1849) that once stood at the corner of Second and Mulberry streets, and where the former Ruler grocery store recently closed, was demolished in 1949. And the Woodburn House (c. 1846) that once stood at the corner of Broadway and First streets was demolished in 1927 to make way for the Madison High School. About that same time, a battle ensued with preservationists to demolish the nearby Shrewsbury-Windle House to make more room for the school system. But the house was saved.

Photo courtesy of
Lee Lewellen for HMI

The Drawing Room inside the Shrewsbury-Windle House is considered one of the best examples of pre-Civil War, antebellum decor in the United States.

“Madison has become essentially the repository of Costigan-designed buildings, and that fits in well with the town’s reputation for historic preservation,” Staicer said.
Costigan left Madison for Indianapolis in 1851. There, he designed private residences and public buildings. Notable works included the Insti-tute for the Education of the Blind, the Bates House (1852-53), the Odd Fellows Building (1853), the Gatling Gun Club, the Wallace Residence and the Groves Residence. In 1858, he designed, built and then operated a hotel called the Oriental on the site of what is now the Le Méridien Indianapolis Hotel on South Illinois Street in downtown Indianapolis.
According to historian Wilbur Peat, Costigan was Indiana’s “outstanding architect” in the state’s formative years. He died of tuberculosis in Indianapolis on April 18, 1865 – four days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln – at age 55 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. There was no obituary, only a death notice, probably because newspapers were full of information on Lincoln’s death.
Costigan was originally buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, but when the old graveyard was abandoned to create a park, his body along with many others were moved to Crown Hill Cemetery.
Those who would like to learn more about Costigan’s urban designs will have the opportunity to tour the Shrewsbury-Windle House and the Costigan House on upcoming home tours. The Shrewsbury Windle House at 301 W. First St. will be on the Tri-Kappa Tour of Homes in October. The Costigan House at 408 W. Third St. will be on this year’s Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December.
The HMI-owned Costigan House also is open for tours from April to October each year. In addition, the Cornerstone Society Inc., a local preservation group, offers a brochure and walking tour of the Costigan homes. Tours are also offered at the state-owned Lanier Mansion Historic Site.
Group tours of 10 or more people are offered by HMI at the newly renovated Shrewsbury-Windle House with advance reservation. The property also will be available beginning next year by appointment for weddings, family events and corporate meetings and receptions.

• For more information about visiting the Francis Costigan House or Shrewsbury-Windle House, call Historic Madison Inc. at (812) 265-2967. For information about touring the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, call (812) 265-3526.

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