Lafayette and Tippecanoe County
Thursday, May 15, 2008
By Nelson Price
Twenty-nine Pioneers and their guests enjoyed a fascinating and delightful day visiting historic sites in Tippecanoe County on Thursday, May 15. The first stop on the itinerary was truly unforgettable: the historic Haan Mansion in Lafayette – a massive, Colonial Revival home that, in addition to having an unusual past, currently houses what’s generally considered to be the best collection anywhere in the world of artwork by the illustrious Hoosier Group of painters.
Once known as the Potter Mansion, the house was built for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. A wealthy Lafayette resident, William Potter, attended the World’s Fair, bought the mansion as a gift for his wife, and had it dissembled, shipped to Lafayette by rail, and reassembled at 920 State Street. The current owners, Bob and Ellie Haan, have decorated it with an outstanding array of Renaissance Revival furnishings. The Haans had the Pioneers as guests in the mansion, which has a Great Hall, a Tiffany hanging wall clock, an 1878 pool table, a double staircase, and a seven-foot vase that won first prize at the 1904 World’s Fair as well as a chandelier from the fair.
Above all else, though, the Haan Mansion is distinctive for the Haans’ vast collection of paintings by the Hoosier Group (which included T.C. Steele, J. Ottis Adams, Otto Stark, William Forsyth, and Richard Gruelle) and other Indiana artists. Near the entryway is an 1893 painting by Steele of his daughter, Daisy, that fetched a record price at an auction when the Haans acquired it a few years ago. Indiana artwork adorns every room in the mansion, featured in the 99 Historic Homes book published by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana.
The Pioneers were divided into two groups to enjoy the house, with Mr. Haan escorting one group and Mrs. Haan taking the second. Both groups spent nearly two hours in the mansion, which is so stunning that even more time could be allotted to appreciate the furnishings, including a Wooten Cabinet secretary.
After leaving the Haan Mansion, the Pioneers enjoyed a luncheon at the elegant Bistro 501 restaurant in downtown Lafayette. That was followed by a driving tour, with a local step-on guide, of historic sites in Lafayette (including the Tippecanoe County Courthouse) and the Purdue University campus.
The next stop was the Long Center Theatre, a restored vaudeville palace built in 1921. Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Ethel Merman, and the Marx Brothers performed at the vaudeville house, which eventually became a movie theater known as the Mars Theater, then struggled during the 1970s. Thanks to a $2 million restoration in 1999, the Long has been revived as a performing arts center, and today, it is the home of the Lafayette Orchestra. A local theater historian took the stage to share the ups and downs of the Long with the Pioneers, who then toured backstage areas and marveled at the theater’s organ.
From the Long, the Pioneers traveled to the seven-acre grounds of the Indiana Veterans’ Home (built for Hoosiers who fought in the Civil War) and related sites. The first stop was a bed-and-breakfast, a spacious, Greek Revival home built in 1895 for the Commandant of the Veterans’ Home. The current owners, a married couple with young children, escorted the Pioneers through their historic B & B.
That was followed by a tour of the Veterans’ Home, which includes a library that’s said to have the largest collection of paintings of Civil War generals. (The artwork was created in the early 1900s by a painter who resided at the Veterans Home, a long-term care facility that today serves veterans of all wars.)
On the return trip to Indianapolis, the Pioneers enjoyed a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception aboard the motorcoach.