by Sheryl D. Vanderstel
Tucked away along the high, eastern banks overlooking White River, near one of the busiest intersections of Indianapolis, Golden Hill is a small community of early 20th-century homes. Farmland in the 19th century, the area just southwest of what is now 38th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was platted by 1872, a few years after nearby Crown Hill Cemetery was dedicated. Originally part of a subdivision called Clifton on the River (now south of Bertha Ross Park), the curvilinear Golden Hill neighborhood still closely resembles the early plat. However, property sales did not materialize, most likely because the unpopulated area northwest of the city was still simply too far from the city center for the horse-and-buggy transportation of the day. The 1899 Baist Insurance map shows only a few farm structures in the area.
David Parry, owner of “the largest carriage manufactory in the world,” began purchasing property in Clifton, and by 1907 owned most of the platted neighborhood. In 1906 he hired the Scottish landscape architect George MacDougall to plan and build the grounds for his 100-acre north-side estate, which he called Golden Hill. Well known in the city, MacDougall designed the estates for several wealthy Indianapolis residents, including Eli Lilly, Nicholas Noyes, and Walter Marmon. For Parry, MacDougall incorporated the existing curved lanes and woods of the Clifton plat to create an idyllic rural landscape, then added large, rustic fieldstone gates, a fieldstone gatehouse with an unusual conical hipped roof, and a stone bridge.
Parry’s home echoes the rustic setting created by MacDougall. Constructed of fieldstone and exposed half-timbers with stucco, the home is a charming cross of the early 20th century Craftsman and Tudor Revival styles. It is a mix of leaded glass windows, hipped roofs with exposed purlins punctuating the eaves, hipped dormers, several towering brick chimneys, and an entryway protected by a large fieldstone porte-cochère. By far the largest and most impressive home in Golden Hill, Parry’s house was completely restored in 2014.
The Parry family enjoyed the solitude of their rural home until shortly after Parry’s death in 1915. The following year the Parry heirs decided to subdivide the property into the originally planned individual home sites and rehired MacDougall to complete the design and landscaping. The Parry family maintained a large area for grounds surrounding their home overlooking the White River and the Central Canal, and the rest of the sites were offered for sale under the new neighborhood name, Golden Hill.
By 1920, the automobile was more widely used and the location of the neighborhood was no longer a detriment to sales. Wealthy citizens sought home sites away from the traffic, noise, and dirt downtown. Large, elegant homes on commodious lots began to line North Meridian Street north of Maple Road (38th Street). For the city’s elite who preferred home sites of a more secluded nature, the appeal of the Parry family’s development was ideal. An added attraction was the establishment in 1915 of the prestigious Woodstock Country Club adjacent to the neighborhood. Soon, families of economic, social, and political prominence were calling Golden Hill home.
Most of the lots sold quickly. Of the 54 homes in Golden Hill all but 11 were constructed before 1940. Nearly all the earlier homes are built in one of the many Revival styles so popular in the 1920s. Because of this, Golden Hill reflects a comfortable and cohesive presence of stability and charm. Tudor, Georgian, and Colonial Revival styles abound. The few Mission Style, French Eclectic, and Italian Renaissance homes add interest and charm. Even the Parry estate stone gates and attached gatehouse have been preserved, with the gatehouse enlarged to serve as a charming home at the southern entrance into the community.
The work of prominent Indianapolis architects can be found throughout Golden Hill. Frederick Wallick, architect for the Woodstock Club’s main building, designed at least four estates in the community, as well as homes in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. The firm of Pierre & Wright, architects of the Oxford Gables Apartments (300 East 38th St.) and numerous Midtown commercial buildings, designed Isabel Parry’s Tudor Revival residence. Owen Mothershead, a Golden Hill resident himself, was the builder of at least three area homes with his partner, architect Harry Fitton. Lee Burns and Edward James also designed several homes as partners or individually.
It is easy to see why Golden Hill became home to prominent Indianapolis leaders such as Dr. George Clowes, developer of insulin production for Eli Lily & Co.; William B. Stokely, chair of Stokely-VanCamp; Purdue University trustee William Atkins; and Indiana Bell President Walter Longsworth. In the center of a thriving city, the secluded neighborhood provided a haven for these wealthy citizens. Until the last quarter of the 20th century, their homes often passed to children or friends without being listed for sale.
No story of the Golden Hill neighborhood is complete without an account of the now-vanished totem pole. The Alaska Pavilion at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair featured a display of 19th-century Haida totem poles belonging to the Alaskan governor. At the end of the fair one of the poles was given to David Parry, which he installed on his estate. After the neighborhood was established, the site of the totem pole was in a small parklike circle created by the intersection of several streets. The decayed artifact stood in this location until it collapsed during a storm and was removed. Today a bronze plaque and state historical marker commemorating the totem pole stand in the little park.
In 1991 the neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Golden Hill Historic District. The document cites the neighborhood for architectural and historic significance.
Sheryl D. Vanderstel is a historian specializing in local history, historic preservation, and historic foodways. The Midtown Holiday Home Tour on Nov. 16–17 includes the Nowak and Carbrey homes in the Golden Hills neighborhood. Details.
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 2019 print edition of the magazine.