Touring the James Whitcomb Riley home

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.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

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.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

Check out all of the detailing as you look up.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

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.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

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.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

The bedrooms are upstairs. Here’s one of them, with its fireplace.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

Here’s the room Riley rented, his signature tophat and cane laid out and waiting for him.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

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.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

The Riley home has been a National Historic Landmark for longer than I’ve been alive.

James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis

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.

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15 responses to “Touring the James Whitcomb Riley home”

  1. lizkflaherty Avatar

    I enjoyed these pictures. I have never toured the home, although it’s been on my “We should do that” list for years!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s totally worth it.

  2. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t it though?

  3. Charlie Audritsh Avatar
    Charlie Audritsh

    The only thing I remember learning in 4th grade was long division. That may be a bit early to teach Indiana history. I never knew he didn’t own the place. Thanks for the interesting local history post Jim!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Doing my duty for Indiana tourism!

  4. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    Thank you Jim …. Beautiful historic home.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Worth a visit!

  5. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    Thank you Jim …. Beautiful, historic home.

  6. brandib1977 Avatar

    What a beautiful home. I didn’t realize he was from there.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Indeed he was.

      I am a graduate of James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend. As you can imagine, that has kept the Hoosier Poet on my internal radar.

  7. Rush Rox Avatar
    Rush Rox

    Jim Riley was certainly one of Indiana’s most beloved sons. Although his time on Earth ended 49 years before I was born, his influence echoed resonantly in the community and household in which I was raised. His poems were adoringly recited to me from my earliest days and I will carry those cherished memories with me all my life. On boyhood hiking or fishing outings with my father along Deer Creek near Delphi, Dad would often remind me that Riley loved to explore there, too, and that maybe there was a possibility we were right then at one of Riley’s favorite fishing locations. Today, Riley lies at the highest and most honored resting place in Crown Hill Cemetery, long ago silenced by nature’s inevitable call. But his voice rings clear in my thoughts and I cannot say that he is gone — he is just away.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Clearly, Riley has affected you in your life!

  8. J P Avatar

    Somehow I have never been to see either that one or the museum (birthplace?) in Greenfield. And somehow I do not remember learning about Riley in grade school. But then I was in Fort Wayne, where everything was about Chief Little Turtle and Johnny Appleseed.

    I do remember my mother reading Little Orphan Annie to me – I have never forgotten the concluding lines, telling us that the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve done both places now. Fascinating that Riley isn’t in your fourth-grade memory.

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