In Indiana, every child in public school learns of James Whitcomb Riley by the fourth grade, as that’s when Indiana history is taught. Riley, the Hoosier Poet, wrote stories in verse, in the Indiana vernacular of his childhood. In his day, he was as popular as a rock star.
Riley lived from 1849 to 1916, born in Greenfield but lived as an adult in Indianapolis. In 1893 he rented a room from a family named Nickum who had a large Victorian house in the fashionable Lockerbie neighborhood near Downtown. He lived there the rest of his days.
Shortly after Riley passed, the house was sealed up, all furnishings and decorations intact. It remains largely in that condition today, and is a very real time capsule into the late Victorian era. It shows how a wealthy family would have lived at that time.
You can tour the Riley house (by appointment) as well when you are in Indianapolis, but let me show you a few photographs. This is one of the front rooms.
Check out all of the detailing as you look up.
This is the other front room, which features a gorgeous Tiffany lamp. If I recall correctly, this room was more for the family while the other front room was more for entertaining.
This is the dining room. Many rooms in this house had fireplaces; the one in this room is partially hidden by the dining table. The place settings on the table belonged to the family who owned this house.
The bedrooms are upstairs. Here’s one of them, with its fireplace.
Here’s the room Riley rented, his signature tophat and cane laid out and waiting for him.
In its time, this house was the height of modernity because of its bathroom. It included two incredible conveniences: a flush toilet (to the right out of the picture) and a bathtub.
The Riley home has been a National Historic Landmark for longer than I’ve been alive.
This was at least my third tour of the Riley home. I made it first with my first wife, and later with my mom. I may have done it with my sons once, too – there are photos of them on the cobblestone street in front of the home, but my memory is hazy about whether we went in.