Maintaining Affluence: Service Labor among Indianapolis’ Elite

Throughout the 20th century the exclusive residential community of Crows Nest was home to some of Indianapolis’ most prominent families.  Not surprisingly, narratives of the neighborhood have focused on the neighborhood’s opulent homes and the famous families who have called it home for a century.  Yet the mansions and formal landscapes in Crows Nest demanded a significant service labor staff of cooks, butlers, chauffeurs, gardeners, and housekeepers who maintained the literal appearances of affluence and managed a unique social and material world for the city’s elite.  While we know quite a lot about Crows Nest’s home owners, architects, and landscape designers, we know nearly nothing about the service laborers who made Crows Nest and maintained it and many other affluent neighborhoods.

Built in 1930, Eli Lilly's Sunset lane estate was mdoeled on his grandfather's Maryland plantation (image courtesy Nyttend, wikimedia).

Built in 1930, Eli Lilly’s Sunset lane estate was modeled on his grandfather’s Maryland plantation (image courtesy Nyttend, wikimedia).

Until the early 20th century, Crows Nest lay in a scatter of farms along present-day Kessler Boulevard west of the White River.  In the late 19th century urbanites sometimes swam and relaxed along the White River banks near Crows Nest, but the area and the Crows Nest bluff was sparsely inhabited farmland (and a small cemetery from that period still survives today).  In 1904-1905 the first estate in the area was built by Indianapolis Brewing Company President Albert Lieber.  In 1910 Dr. Albert Cole and his wife Ruth moved into a home at 5801 Sunset Lane, and they were followed by Warren H. and Jane Simmons in 1914.

Most of Crows Nest’s trademark mansions were added along the private Sunset Lane drive in the 1920s: new residents included LS Ayres department store executive Frederic and Alma Ayres (1927), Eli Lilly Company executive Nicholas and Marguerite Lilly Noyes (1928), Kingan and Company executive William Richardson Sinclair and his wife Emily, Josiah K. Lilly, Sr. and his wife Lilly Ridgley Lilly (who purchased Albert Cole’s residence in 1927), and Lilly’s son Eli, who in 1930 built a home modeled after the Maryland plantation where his grandfather grew up.

In April, 1901 the Ayres family advertised for a "good German girl" to do housework in their Delaware Street Home

In April, 1901 the Ayres family advertised for a “good German girl” to do housework in their Delaware Street Home (click for larger image).

Most Crows Nest residents had lived most if not all of their lives in genteel homes with service staffs, and they brought that household service expectation to the spacious mansions in Crows Nest.  For instance, department store executive Frederic Ayres’ family had lived at 1204 North Delaware Street from about 1882, an elite Victorian neighborhood today referred to as the Old Northside (the house was demolished in 1962 to expand the yard for the neighboring Benjamin Harrison House).  The Ayres and other elite families found their laborers through a vast range of mechanisms ranging from personal referrals to newspaper advertisements.  For instance, in 1901 an ad appeared in the Indianapolis News seeking “a good German girl” to work at the Ayres’ home at 1204 North Delaware (when Frederic was living there with his mother Maria H. Ayres).  In 1920, the Ayres’ five family members in the Delaware Street home were waited on by five service staff:  a Swedish-born nurse, an Irish servant, and an African-American cook, maid, and butler (the maid and butler, Rowena and John Buchanan, were married).  The only one of the five staff who followed the Ayres family to Crows Nest was a servant, Mary Sugrue, who came from Ireland in the late 1890’s.  She was one of two live-in servants in the Ayres home in Crows Nest in 1930, and Sugrue worked for the Ayres’ family in Crows Nest until the mid-1930s.

This undated circa 1930s map has Crows Nest in the upper right along Kessler Boulevard. The Golden Hill neighborhood is unmarked on this map, but it sits in the lower left on the south side of the Woodstock Country Club along Maple Street (that is, 38th Street).

This undated circa 1930s map has Crows Nest in the upper right along Kessler Boulevard. The Golden Hill neighborhood is unmarked on this map, but it sits in the lower left on the south side of the Woodstock Country Club along Maple Street (that is, 38th Street) (click for an expanded view).

Thirty-seven residents incorporated as Crows Nest Town in 1927, and three years later the census recorded 129 residents, of which 23 were service employees living in Crows Nest.  Ten mansions along Sunset Lane had resident service staff, and another nine structures were rental properties in which laborers lived on the estate.  All but one of the rental properties were home to staff (the exception was Real Silk Hosiery Mills’ founder Lazure Goodman’s home, which he rented on the grounds of his brother and Mills co-founder Jacob).

Most of the service laborers in Crows Nest were performing relatively typical domestic labor.  Celeste Lawrence, for instance, was a cook in the home of Eli Lilly Company Vice President Charles Lynn in 1930.  Lawrence had migrated to Indianapolis from Jamaica in 1921, when she specified Indianapolis as her destination.  In 1930 Lawrence was living in the Lynns’ home, and Stephen Hoggatt and his wife Dora were living on the grounds of the estate as the Nyes’ butler and maid respectively.  A decade later the Hoggatts and Lawrence alike were still working for the Lynn family, whose three family members had four service staff in the home (an extra servant was added in the 1930s).  Stephen Hoggatt likely was conducting a typically broad range of service tasks, with his occupation being recorded as butler, houseman, and chauffeur in various primary records.  Lawrence last appeared in Lynn’s home in 1942, returning to Montego Bay, Jamaica where she died in 1955.  Dora Hoggatt died in March, 1941 and Stephen Hoggatt appears to have worked for the Lynns until Hoggatt remarried in 1945.

Most of the service laborers in Crows Nest were American-born Hoosiers, but they included nearly every ethnic group that lived in Indianapolis.  In 1930, for instance, Carlos Quintano was a butler in the home of Nicholas Noyes.  Born in Spain in 1900, Quintano had migrated to the US in 1923.  In 1940 Warren and Jane Simmons’ two service staff, Wilhelme and Helene Hagemeier, were German immigrants.  Wilhelme and Helene had migrated to the US in 1929 and 1930 respectively.  While many domestic laborers—especially laundresses and maids—were African American, a modest number of people of color were service laborers in Crows Nest.  Both Celeste Lawrence and the Hoggats were Black, and in 1930 ten of 22 service laborers in Crows Nest were Black.  Yet in 1940—when 32 service laborers were living in Crows Nest—only five people of color were service laborers living in Crows Nest, and four of them were working in the home of Charles Lynn.

American domestic labor was the province of women, and this was certainly true in Indianapolis: in the 1880 census, for instance, 85% of the city’s servants were women, and two decades later 89% were women.  Over one-quarter of the city’s servants in 1900 were Black women, a percentage that did not really change significantly until 1940.  Modest numbers of Irish and German women were employed as servants from the late-19th century onward, but most of the city’s domestic service laborers were from Indiana and Kentucky.

In the 1930s John and Lula Duncan worked as a chauffeur and maid respectively at the home of Nicholas and Marguerite Noyes. In 1936 the Indianapolis Recorder noted that the Duncans' son Robert Todd Duncan was starring in a production of "Porgy and Bess," a role he played over 1800 times in his life. Duncan was an internationally known opera singer and taught at Howard University for 50 years.

In the 1930s John and Lula Duncan worked as a chauffeur and maid respectively at the home of Nicholas and Marguerite Noyes. In 1936 the Indianapolis Recorder noted that the Duncans’ son Robert Todd Duncan was starring in a production of “Porgy and Bess,” a role he played over 1800 times in his life. Duncan was an internationally known opera singer and taught at Howard University for 50 years.

Crows Nest service labor reached beyond conventional domestic labors like cooking and cleaning.  In 1930, for example, William and Emily Sinclair had one of only 17 governesses in Indianapolis, Scottish immigrant Emma Wallace.  Albert Cole’s widow Ruth had a watchman who rented a home on the grounds of her estate and lived there with his wife, a housekeeper in Cole’s home.  In 1940, Ayres had a chauffeur, Ernest L. Tandy, who lived on the grounds of the Sunset Lane mansion with his wife and three sons; a chauffeur (who doubled as houseman) also lived in the home of battery magnate Phillip R. Mallory; and Nicholas Noyes employed a full-time chauffeur as well.

While cooks, housekeepers, and laundresses did not work in Crows Nest for long periods of time, several gardeners lived on the grounds for decades and worked in Indianapolis’ other elite communities.  In 1930, for instance, George Epperson was living on the estate of William and Janet Sinclair as a landscape gardener; Epperson’s son Norman was also a gardener living with his parents and four siblings.  His two brothers in 1930 were working as golf professionals (son Noel Epperson won the 1947 Indiana PGA State Open championship and a year later began a long term as pro at the Broadmoor Country Club).

Epperson and his wife Priscilla came to Indiana from Virginia in about 1906, where they settled in a home neighboring the affluent Golden Hill neighborhood.  Epperson billed himself as a landscape gardener by 1918, and he remained employed as a gardener until his death in Indianapolis in 1960.  Epperson’s brother-in-law Talmer Hackney was a street car operator until the late 1920s, when he moved into Golden Hill alongside Epperson and became a gardener.  In 1935 Hackney and his wife Emma moved into a home on the grounds of Charles Lynn’s estate in Crows Nest.  Talmer and Emma lived in Crows Nest at Nicholas Noyes’ estate Lands End until 1977.

Like Crows Nest, Golden Hill was an exclusive neighborhood along the White River.  Most of the landscape planning in Golden Hill was done by George Macdougall, who landscaped David Parry’s Golden Hill estate beginning in 1908.  After Parry’s death in 1915 his family hired Macdougall to plan a subdivision around Parry’s home.  Macdougall subsequently designed many of the landscapes in Crows Nest, and his brothers Charles Patterson Macdougall and William Smith Louis Macdougall both worked as gardeners in Golden Hill and Crows Nest.  William was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1883, and he appeared in the 1901 Scottish census as a gardener.  Macdougall, his mother, and his sister arrived in New York February 13, 1920, and William married fellow Scottish immigrant Janet Mill Edward in Indianapolis in May, 1920.  In 1930 Macdougall was living on the grounds of Nicholas Noyes’ home in Crows Nest with his wife and two sons.  After he retired Macdougall continued to live on Sunset Lane and remained a Crows Nest resident until 1975.

For some laborers, these jobs in Crows Nest were enormously important.  For example, after Eli Lilly moved to Crows Nest in 1930 his employees included an African-American chauffeur, Thomas Edward Carter, Sr.  A friend noted that Carter “was so particular about the big car he drove.  And his uniform.”   Yet in December, 1933 Carter was released from the position, and on Christmas Day Carter shot himself.  Friends told the Indianapolis Recorder that “it was grief over the loss of his job that caused him to do it.”  Carter survived the gunshot to his head, and he eventually died in Indianapolis in 1988.

The view up Sunset Lane from Kessler on Google street view confirms that the estates in Crows Nest are today largely out of most peoples' sight.

The view up Sunset Lane from Kessler on Google street view confirms that the estates in Crows Nest are today largely out of most peoples’ sight.

The vast number of laborers who worked in affluent neighborhoods like Crows Nest profoundly shaped the social and physical landscape of such communities, but relatively few analyses of such places examine the people who have performed such labor or contemplated their sway on everyday life.  The stories of the breathtaking homes in places like Crows Nest and Golden Hill are important, and the families that called these places home have shaped the city and nation in significant ways.  The challenge is to tell their story as well as that of their service laborers.

 

For more details on the neighborhood, see the Town of Crows Nest Historic District National Register Nomination filed in 2000 (PDF).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s