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Kemper House

1028 N. Delaware
Indianapolis, IN

Summary of History and Significance

The Kemper House is significant because it is an unusual and unique example of Victorian architecture combining elements associated with the Second Empire style and Greek forms.  It is also associated with two Indianapolis citizens, William Jillson, businessman and John Lewis Griffiths, a Consul General to Liverpool and London.

Kemper House is a unique example of the excellence of the builder's art in the 1870's.  Although the builder's name is unknown, the house itself offers testimony to his expertise.  The structure is a true example of High Victorian architecture as defined by Marcus Whiffen:  although small in size, the formal rooms have extremely high ceilings, and tall-proportioned windows and doors, displaying the High Victorian love of height; the building is symmetrical in massing and plan; it utilizes a variety of surface textures, and calls upon different styles of the past for its ornamentation.  The house is distinguished by the excellence of craftsmanship found in wood detail and the skill of the builder in manipulating the diverse forms into a unified whole.  The builder's expertise gave the relatively small house a visual impact as important to the streetscape as the impact of the larger mansion which once surrounded it.

Today, the house retains virtually every piece of its original detail; its integrity has not been compromised in any way by the addition at the rear.  No house of similar caliber is known to exist in the Indianapolis region or within the State of Indiana.  It is important, too, to realize that great numbers of the prestigious houses of Delaware Street have succumbed tot he wrecker's ball:   Kemper House is an important reminder of the past glory of this area of Indianapolis.

The first owner of the house was a businessman, Charles C. Pierson.  He commissioned construction of the house, but sold it only one year after it was built to Annie L. Clipplinger and  her daughter and son-in-law, Mary and William M. Jillson.  The three moved into the house in 1875, and remained there 16 years, until 1891.  Mr. Jillson was a locally important businessman, a partner in the plumbing and hardware supply firm, Knight and Jillson.

The next important owner was Mr. John Lewis Griffiths, one of Indiana's most notable orators.  Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths owned the house for 17 years, from 1897 to 1914.  Griffiths served in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1886 and 1887, and ran, unsuccessfully, for Governor in 1892 and 1896. 

The house changed hands four times after 1912.  In 1962, it was purchased by the late Mr. Eli Lilly, notable Indianapolis philanthropist, and given to the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis for use as a curate's home and place for small gatherings.  During 1962 and 1963, Mr. Lilly financed restoration and redecoration of the home, purchasing fine furnishings of the Victorian period for use in the four front rooms.  Mr. Lilly dedicated the house to the memory of the Reverend Jackson Kemper, the first Episcopal Bishop to serve in Indiana. 

In 1977, the Diocese granted title of the property to the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, stipulating that it continue to be called "Kemper House" in the Bishop's memory.  The Foundation uses part of the house as their local Indianapolis office, and maintains the formal rooms as a museum facility. 

Kemper House