Retro Riley: Riley Home in Lockerbie preserves hospital namesake’s legacy

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James Whitcomb Riley home

William Fortune (1883-1942) was a successful Indianapolis entrepreneur, businessman and civic leader, but one of his claims to fame was the home he owned. It wasn’t just any house. Fortune bought the house where James Whitcomb Riley once lived.

William Fortune

During the last 23 years of his life, Riley lived as a paying guest at the 528 Lockerbie St. home of Charles and Magdalena Holstein. The house, built in 1872, was previously owned by Magdalena Holstein’s father, John Nickum, and was designed by architect Robert Platt Daggett, father of Robert Frost Daggett, the original architect for Riley Hospital for Children. Magdalena Holstein died on Oct. 18, 1916, nearly three months after Riley died. Her will stipulated that her home be sold and that proceeds of the sale would be divided among heirs. Her will also provided for Katie Kindell, long-time housekeeper and nurse for Mrs. Holstein and Mr. Riley. She was to receive $10,000, the gift of household property, a Lockerbie house and lot across from the Riley home, and the privilege to live for the next three years in the home at 528 Lockerbie St.

Magdalena Holstein

Newspaper accounts report the sale of the house in late October 1919 by the Union Trust company, executors of Mrs. Holstein’s estate, to a purchaser who requested his name not be made public as it was understood that he made the purchase for a committee that was trying to have the property preserved as a memorial to Riley. What is known most assuredly is that William Fortune bought the house to “save the property,” and Fortune went on to hold the property in trust until the Riley Memorial Association (now the Riley Children’s Foundation) could be formally incorporated in April 1921.

In 1917, Fortune was among the prominent friends of Riley who announced plans to honor the Hoosier poet’s legacy by building a children’s hospital. World War I interrupted those plans, and Fortune did his part by leading a public movement that raised $4 million to support World War I relief and other public needs in Indiana. After the war, plans to build the hospital resumed. In October 1921, the association purchased the original furniture of the home from the estate of Katie Kindell. All that remained was securing the house itself. And in February 1922, Fortune sold the house that he had retained in trust to the association for exactly the amount he paid for it.

With their purchase of the house from Fortune, the association moved quickly, and a new committee was formed to make necessary improvements at the house to ready it for opening as a museum. The James Whitcomb Riley Home opened to the public with great fanfare and celebration two months after its purchase by the association.

James Whitcomb Riley home

The dedication and opening of the Riley home on April 13, 1922, was a springboard for increasing public awareness and launching a statewide campaign to raise additional funds to build the hospital. Association leaders convened a luncheon and conference at the downtown Claypool Hotel that day and talked of plans that contributed to the successful opening of the hospital on Nov. 19, 1924.

Katie Kindell was named by the association on March 15, 1922, to be caretaker and supervisor for the Riley home, a role in which she served until retiring in 1933. The James Whitcomb Riley Home was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

--Compiled by the Riley Hospital Historic Preservation Committee; photos provided by Digital Indy/James Whitcomb Riley Collection, Bass Photo Collection/Indiana Historical Society, Indiana State Library, Riley Children’s Foundation