Indiana Pythian Home

Dates:

1926-1927

Location: 1501 S. Eighteenth Street, Lafayette, Indiana
Architects: McGuire & Shook of Indianapolis
Contractor: A. E. Kemmer
Cost: $300,000

The Indiana Pythian Home was built “to provide a home for aged members of the order, their wives and widows, and for orphans of members” of the Knights of Pythias. The Knights of Pythias are a fraternal order based on the values of Fraternity, Charity, and Benevolence, and were once among the largest fraternal orders in Indiana. The first Lafayette Lodge, Knights of Pythias, was organized in 1874. The K. of P. had their Indiana office in Indianapolis , in an eleven-story skyscraper built 1906-1907. The Indiana Pythian Building, designed by noted Lafayette architects J. F. Alexander & Son, was demolished in the 1960s. At that time, the order then moved its main headquarters to the Indiana Pythian Home at Lafayette, occupying the former superintendent’s house.

A c.1930 postcard of Pythian Home Aerial view of Pythian Home and grounds, 1930. S. 18th Street at bottom, Carnahan Memorial at left, Superintendent's House left-center, main building above circle drive

The Indiana Pythian Home was open to all members residing within the state of Indiana and was built solely on funds raised by the Indiana lodges of the order, no loans being taken out. Lafayette was selected over several other cities as location for the home. The building was designed by the noted Indianapolis architectural firm of McGuire & Shook, and built by local contractor A. E. Kemmer. The cornerstone was laid October 4, 1926, and the building was dedicated August 10, 1927 . Dedication was a “gala day” for Lafayette, with flags and banners decorating the city.

The Indiana Pythian Home opened for residents in October, 1927. Late in 1927 a memorial to Lafayette's General James R. Carnahan was built on the home’s grounds. The monument consists of a flagpole on a cylindrical limestone base with a round stone terrace. The grounds of the Home have long been regarded as beautiful and park-like. Many people walk through the grounds for exercise or walk their dogs there. The massive ancient trees are impressive to say the least. Some have trunks 4-5 feet in diameter.

The care of orphans was later discontinued and Pythian Home became a nursing home for Pythian members. It closed in 1992 due to decrease in patients and was soon after sold to the Lafayette School Corporation (LSC).

LSC's facilities division occupies a 1974 addition at the rear of the building. The main building sits neglected, used only as the "Haunted Mansion," a haunted-house walk-through with live actors conducted by the Jefferson High School Music Department as a fundraiser around Halloween. The Haunted Mansion has proven a very successful fundraiser, and allows the Jefferson musical organizations to have a larger budget than they otherwise would have. Despite this highly profitable use, LSC has performed virtually no maintenance on the building and allows demolition-by-neglect to proceed. The slate roof is in need of repair, windows are broken, and paint peels from all exterior woodwork. Downspouts and gutters have fallen and not been repaired, causing rainwater to run down the face of the building and directly onto the foundation. Despite the variety of re-use options, including potential use for School Corporation offices or other education-related functions, LSC has expressed no interest in maintaining or repairing the building. As multi-million dollar additions and renovations are conducted at the adjacent Jefferson High School, Pythian Home does not even receive minimal maintenance.

Since the demolition of the Pythian Building, Pythian Home is the most significant of the order’s buildings left in Indiana. It was built through the hard work of hundreds of Indiana Knights of Pythias and was a source of both local and state pride for decades. The Journal and Courier of August, 1927, contained many advertisements and articles thanking the Knights of Pythias and recognizing the value of the home for the community. It was considered to be both an economic benefit and an aesthetic feature to the city.

Today it remains a great asset to the community. Much is gained from Pythian Home, monetarily and aesthetically. Its grounds are of great beauty, even neglected as they are, and its trees are among the oldest and largest in the city. Sadly, the Home sits in a gradually-worsening state of neglect which, if left un-checked, will result in a great loss for the community.

In November, 2004, the superintendent of the Lafayette School Corporation announced his opinion that the building should be demolished, despite the fact that it is in very good structural condition. It had been inspected after some individuals suffered from health problems after being exposed to debris in the neglected interior. The health problems relate to bird droppings, resulting from birds getting into the building because of its neglected state. This provides the excuse that LSC has been looking for; a reason to demolish the building so the site is vacant real estate. Letters to the Editor of the Journal and Courier have expressed much disapproval of the proposed demolition. However, if the community is not vocal about the importance of Pythian Home, a great asset of our city will be lost to short sighted management.

Architectural Rendering printed in the Journal and Courier, August 10, 1927
View of the main building from near S. 18th Street, December, 2003
View from S. 18th Street, May 2004 View approaching main building on the drive, 12-2003
Looking southeast along the front facade, 12-2003 Looking northeast along the front facade, 5-2004
Detail of half-timbering on the north wing The north wing
The center wing The south wing
Detail of entrance tower Knights of Pythias crest on entrance tower ("Fraternity, Charity & Brotherhood")
Dormer to the south of the entrance tower Cornerstone (a plaque seems to have once been attached over this--note mounting holes)
North porch Interior of north porch, note concrete floor scored to look like tile
Rear (east) side of the south wing Window smashed by vandals on the rear of the south wing
The south wing and Durkee's Hollow, 12-2003 Fire escape on rear of south wing
View towards S. 18th Street on driveway View north along front edge of property on S. 18th Street
Trunk of large tree near drive. White item is a student ID card, aprox. 3.5" wide. With that as a scale, this tree is about 5 feet in diameter View north from near drive, note large tree at right of center
Large tree and post at driveway entrance Shattered birdbath or urn with large pebble-dash finish in center of circle drive. "Donated by Mr. and Mrs. Amos Wendling, Roachdale, Ind." according to a small plaque
View of octagonal sidewalk in center of circle drive, vandalized birdbath in clump of weeds at center Superintendent's House, northwest of main building. Apparently a c.1870s-1880s farmhouse which received an exterior remodeling when the Home was built
View from sidewalk to northwest of main building View towards S. 18th Street (taken from same spot as previous picture in opposite direction)
Carnahan Memorial from near S. 18th Street--the trees seem to have once been planted as shrubbery Carnahan Memorial
Note circular stone terrace Very large tree on north end of property (note size of nearby house in background)
View from Jefferson High School (south of Pythian Home) showing large trees--note scale of tennis court fence at right foreground View of south part of grounds towards Lafayette Jefferson High School, Durkee's Run in foreground
Another view of the Durkee's Run area with Jeff in the background--note enormous trees (one is a sycamore) Two smaller trees that have grown around each other near the driveway entrance