Shrewsbury-Windle House is a true architectural gem in Madison, Ind.
The house just underwent a four-year,
$2 million renovation
(August 2018) – With the recent completion of a four-year, $2 million comprehensive interior and exterior restoration of the Shrewsbury-Windle House, Madison, Ind., boasts a real gem to show off to preservationists and visitors alike who appreciate historic and architectural masterpieces. Historic Madison Inc., which owns the house, held a grand re-opening reception on June 23 to show off restoration. The event attracted about 180 people and featured remarks by noted preservationist and Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis.
Designed a National Historic Landmark in 1994 by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the house today shines as one of the nation’s best examples of pre-Civil War, antebellum, Greek Revival structures, complete with original furnishings and other design features.
Photo by Don Ward
The Shrewsbury-Windle House on First Street in Madison, Ind., was built for Capt. Charles Shrewsbury in 1849 and designed by Francis Costigan.
The house, designed by famed architect Francis Costigan, was built in 1849 for Capt. Charles L. Shrewsbury, his wife, Ellen, and their children. Today, the house is well known among those in the national preservation community. In May, renovation of the landmark received the Victorian Society in America’s prestigious national Preservation Award.
“We were impressed by the best practices employed during the restoration, including a detailed historic structure report and museum quality restoration standards,” said Charles Robertson, chair of the society’s Preservation Committee.
“The importance of the Shrewsbury-Windle House as a premier example of Greek Revival architecture designed by Francis Costigan is attested to by its status as a National Historic Landmark,” said John Staicer, executive director of Historic Madison Inc., which owns the Shrewsbury-Windle House, along with 15 other historic properties in Madison.
“The home is noted for its exquisite design, its scale and proportion, its high quality workmanship and its state of preservation. We are pleased to be recognized with this national honor.”
As a National Historic Landmark, the house is among only 2,500 historic places in the nation that bear this honor. National Historic Landmarks are so designated because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.
The Shrewsbury-Windle House showcases a famous, three-story, 53-step spiral staircase that winds its way up through the center hallway. The Drawing Room may be the best preserved Greek Revival interior in the United States. It features the original 1859 paint and varnish on the walls, plus original woodwork and elaborate plaster moldings, and gas chandeliers that the Shrewsburys originally installed. The room also has 19th century family oil portraits that have always been in the home, original restored Shrewsbury furniture and a new custom carpet replicating one seen in early photos of the home.
Photo courtesy of Lee Lewellen
The 53-step spiral staircase in the hallway is one of the unique features of the Shrewsbury-Windle House.
Staicer noted that Shrewsbury family members donated some of the original furniture back to the home. The house also features the original fireplaces and mirrors and a chandelier. Some of the carpet replicas, meanwhile came from England; some of the fabric used in the restoration came from Germany.
The Shrewsbury-Windle House is the birthplace of the organized historic preservation movement in Madison. The Windles and a group of committed preservation-minded people founded HMI there in 1960 at a $100 a plate dinner. Since that time, HMI has been recognized nationally for its role in helping establish a nationwide community revitalization program, for a unique industrial history preservation project and its successful 2006 effort to designate the 144-block Madison Historic District as a National Historic Landmark District – the largest in the United States.
“We did everything possible to get it back to the original decorative look of the home,” Staicer said.
He said the simple elegance of the home is reflected in the original pink and white paint and varnish on the 16-foot high walls that was meant to reflect natural light throughout the day. HMI hired art conservators who spent six weeks cleaning the walls to reveal the original paint and varnish on the walls.
“The house originally was heated with coal burning fireplaces, so the walls were covered with years of the soot and dirt from that,” Staicer said. “Now the house has modern heat and air conditioning year-round and Wifi – all the amenities of a 21st century building.”
In addition to using old photos of the hallway to try and replicate the carpet, they used photos as a guide for decorating other rooms in the house to the 1840s period.
The house also features magnificent curb appeal from both the north street side facing First Street and the south side facing the Ohio River. “It is similar to the (Costigan-designed) Lanier Mansion in that way in that it has two fronts,” Staicer said.
The main north street-side exterior features two 12-foot tall entry doors, perhaps the largest in any home in the United States. Intricately carved 170-year-old stone and wood decorative embellishments look like they were made yesterday. Details like the original but restored ornate iron fencing and balconies, brick sidewalk in herringbone pattern, stone curbing and even a stone-lined gutter frame the view from the street.
“It is truly an amazing structure, and we are lucky to have it because it survived a threat of demolition in the 1920s when the school system wanted to take it down to make room for more classroom buildings,” Staicer said.
Another Costigan-designed building next door was not so lucky. The school system bought and demolished the John Woodburn House in 1927 on the corner of Broadway and First streets to build Madison High School. The building is now home to Rivertrace Apartments.
The Shrewsbury-Windle House has had just three owners. The Shrewsburys owned it until 1927 when it sold at a sheriff’s sale to Harry Baldwin and Lucy Rogers Walker. The Walker family sold it to John and Ann Windle in 1948. The Windles retired to Madison from Chicago to restore and live in the home – in which they also bought and sold antiques. John Windle died in 1987, and Ann continued to live in the home up to a few months of her death in 2009 at age 98.
The home was deeded to HMI in 2011 by Ann Windle’s estate. Her wish was to preserve the home as a “historically correct example of architecture for the cultural enrichment of people.”
Back to August 2018 Articles.