Home of a Literary Legend: The New Historical Marker at the Booth Tarkington House

Updated: Oct 25


As has been discussed in earlier articles, Butler-Tarkington takes its name from Butler University, which purchased its present location in 1922 (with the University moving to the former Fairveiw Park in 1928), and author Booth Tarkington, who lived in the neighborhood at 4270 N. Meridian Street (pictured above in 1915, prior to renumbering of local streets). Tarkington became one of the most prolific authors and playwrights in the country in early 20th century, with many of his works being based in Indianapolis and the Midwest. His first published work to find success was The Gentleman from Indiana (1899). His works also included the Penrod trilogy, The Magnificent Ambersons, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, and Alice Adams which also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1922. Some of his works, including Ambersons and Alice Adams were turned into Hollywood movies. 

Booth Tarkington (his first name was Newton, although he would use his middle name) was born in Indianapolis on July 29, 1869 at 520 North Meridian. This location is now occupied by an office building on the northwest corner of Meridian and Michigan Streets, although a small plaque on the side of the building facing Meridian memorializes his birth. His family later moved to a large brick home at 1100  North Pennsylvania. Tarkington attended Purdue University for two years before transferring to Princeton, although he failed to obtain a degree from the latter due to a few missing credits. Following college he embarked upon his writing career and continued to live at the 1100 N. Pennsylvania Street address (presently occupied by I-65) in Indianapolis, until 1923 when he and his second wife, Susannah, purchased a home at 4270 North Meridian.

Credit: Indianapolis Star, January 12, 1923

At the time, the area of the future Butler-Tarkington was transitioning from a rural setting, with a mixture of fruit farms and patches woods, to a residential community. The Tarkington house had been built in 1911 and was set amongst the large wooded lots which are still characteristic of that stretch of North Meridian Street. While still maintaining their home in Indianapolis, Tarkington and his wife would also spend time in their summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The Baist Atlas excerpt below is from 1915, and shows the Tarkington house as the large reddish (meaning brick) structure just to the left of the large "H." Meridian street is on the right of the image, while Illinois is on the left The Hare family were the original occupants of the home, and owned most of the block at this time.


Tarkington passed away in 1946 while in Indianapolis, and his funeral was held at the 4270 Meridian home, with burial being at nearby Crown Hill Cemetery. The Tarkington’s had no children (a child from Booth’s first marriage had died at a young age), and Susannah continued to reside in the home, while also spending time in Maine. The house was eventually put up to for sale in 1948, and was sold in 1950 to Frederick and Henrietta Willkie, the brother and sister-in-law of Wendell Willkie, a native Hoosier, and prominent lawyer and diplomat, who was the Republican candidate for president in 1940. 


Following the sale, Mrs. Tarkington downsized to a nearby home at 4111 Washington Blvd. At the time the house was put on the market, there was some discussion in the local papers that the home be preserved as a memorial to Tarkington. A February 1948 column in the Indianapolis Star suggested the home be “preserved as a memorial to the memory of one of Indianapolis’ most illustrious citizens.” However, no memorial was forthcoming. At some point since the home was sold in 1950, a plaque which reads “The Booth Tarkington House” was placed on a brick column at the base of the driveway. When the plaque was placed is not clear. 

Over the years, the Tarkington home changed hands several times, and was featured as a Decorator Show Home in 1985 and 2010 (more formally known as the Decorators' Show House and Gardens). The current owners, Tim and Doris Anne Sadler, purchased the home in 2008. The Sadlers had already been residing in Butler-Tarkington near Boulevard and 46th Street, when the Booth Tarkington house went on the market. The Sadlers were familiar with Tarkington, which contributed to their interest in the home. “Knowing it was Booth Tarkington’s home, and being a history buff, made the home very attractive,” Doris Anne said. 

Aside from the plaque on the column, there had been no indication or information about Booth Tarkington’s legacy. However, this recently changed when a historical marker was placed outside the home in the tree lawn between Meridian Street and the sidewalk. The Indiana Historical Bureau, a part of the Indiana State Library, manages and selects sites for historical markers. The Indiana Historical Bureau initially contacted the Sadlers about the potential for a marker, and the Sadlers were interested in having the marker placed. However, there is a detailed process for getting a marker, and the Sadlers had to not only work through the placement of the marker in the city right of way along the road, but Doris Anne also described their own historical research that they then submitted to the Historical Bureau. “We had to research and even find the newspaper article which noted Tarkington’s birth as part of the process.” The marker then had to be approved by the Historical Bureau, and a placement fee paid by marker’s sponsor. 


The historic marker was placed in August of this year and provides a brief description of Booth Tarkington’s literary accomplishments and life. The text for the marker was written by the Sadlers with input from the Historical Bureau. The Sadlers explained that they had intended to have a larger dedication for the new marker, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented this, although they still had a smaller dedication ceremony. The marker is easily visible on the east side of Meridian Street between 42nd and 43rd Streets.


Note: A version of this post appeared in the October 2020 edition of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association Newsletter.




Sources


Lead Photo: Marea Fletcher Ritzinger Hare House, Booth Tarkington House, 4370 North Meridian, 1915 (Bass #41410), Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society. (https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/9783/rec/75)


Indianapolis News, January 12, 1923, May 20, 1946


Indianapolis Star, December 30, 1923, February 27, 1948

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