Shrewsbury House lights burning
88, HMI founder's widow
still espouses need for preservation
Nita S. West
MADISON, Ind.(April 2000) The old saw, "Behind every
successful man, there is a woman," could never be ascribed to Ann
by Don Ward
the heart of Historic
She might disagree with you and say that she was just
helping her late husband, John T. Windle. But she never stood behind
him, she worked right along side of him.
Together, they opened an antiques shop, founded a preservation organization,
received honorary degrees, numerous awards and once had a day proclaimed
theirs by a Madison mayor.
Mrs. Windle is not the type to rest on her laurels or boast too much
about her past achievements. Instead, she relates her accomplishments
more like adventures and plans for the future.
She is quick-witted, always smiling, and enjoys telling stories to her
many visitors about her husband and HMI's early beginnings.
These days, she uses a walker to get around the large house but doesn't
let it slow her down. Currently, she is planning a new garden in HMI's
recently acquired land behind the Brown Gym that is adjacent to her
home and was once part of the original property. She also reads and
frequently suggests ideas for HMI's future social gatherings.
"I've just ordered a new blue dress," she says excitedly.
Mrs. Windle grew up in a home in Chicago surrounded by books, over 10,000
of them, graduated from Wellesley College in 1933 with a degree in English
and continued her studies abroad. After returning to Chicago, she quickly
became actively involved in several women's organizations and local
In 1937, at a party, she met John T. Windle, head of reference and public
service at the Newberry Library in Chicago and a part-time sculptor.
Within six weeks, they were engaged; three months later, they were married.
Mrs. Windle continued her interest in women's roles on the political
scene by serving on the board of the Women's National Republican Club
and even helping to organize the Woman's National Republican Club of
Illinois in Springdale, Ill.
During their marriage, both the Windles became interested in antiques
and began collecting them. When Windle decided to retire from the library
in 1948, a small southern Indiana town they knew of seemed to be the
perfect spot. They had learned of Madison while visiting Mrs. Windle's
aunt, Jean Anderson, a professor of French at Hanover College for more
than 30 years.
"One time when we were visiting Madison for an antique auction,
a man convinced my husband to go down and look at this house that was
for sale," Mrs. Windle said. "In just a week, it was supposed
to have been converted into a boarding house. At first, John was reluctant,
but he finally decided to look at it."
The Windles extended their trip a few more days to discuss purchasing
the property at 301 W. First St., and eventually bought the house and
grounds for $12,500. They moved in the following year.
by Don Ward
The Shewsbury House, with its 12 rooms, 13 fireplaces,
free-standing staircase and Greek-Revival architecture was one of several
homes in Madison designed by Francis Costigan. Capt. Charles L. Shrewsbury,
a riverboat entrepreneur, commissioned Costigan to design the home,
which was built from 1846 to 1849. The property exchanged hands only
one other time before the Windles bought it in 1948.
By December 1949, the Windles had furnished the home with their antiques
and opened it as an antiques shop and house museum.
"People said they had come to look at our antiques, but most of
them just wanted to see the house," Mrs. Windle said.
Soon, they began to take part in the community. While John Windle was
named president of the community council, his wife became active in
the Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, where
she was named president, and was on the first civil rights panel in
Madison. She was also named to be a member of the Indiana Advisory Commission
to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, serving as secretary for a time.
With all her outside activities and the antique business, which required
a good deal of travel to locate and purchase inventory, Mrs. Windle
still found the time to begin a serious study of Wedgewood. In 1964,
she was invited to deliver a paper she had written on Queensware epergnes
at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
In time, the Windles recognized the need for an organization to preserve
the historic buildings in the downtown area. John called a meeting of
town business and civic leaders at his home, and the result was the
formation of Historic Madison Inc.
Mrs. Windle recalls a dozen men meeting at her home one evening and
all pitching in $100 apiece to buy the Judge Jeremiah Sullivan House.
"I still don't know how they expected to buy the place with only
$1,200," she said.
With a $5,000 personal donation from Eli Lilly, the group was able to
purchase the historic home as what would become the first of HMI's many
acquisitions. Today, the organization owns 14 properties, four of which
are open to the public.
"It was amazing how fast things came together," Ann Windle
said. "When the Sullivan House opened, we had a big party. It was
an exciting and wonderful time."
John Windle died at age 86 on Feb. 1, 1987, two months before the couple's
50th wedding anniversary. During their 49 years of marriage, the Windles
received many honors.
In 1960, they were named "Couple of the Decade" by the Madison
chapter of Welcome Wagon. At Hanover College's 1976 commencement exercises,
Honorary Doctor of Law Degrees were conferred on the couple. One Saturday
in June 1981 was proclaimed "John and Ann Windle Day" by then-Madison
Mayor Warren R. Rucker.
In 1999, Mrs. Windle received the Servaas Memorial Award and was also
designated a Sagamore of the Wabash.
Today at age 88, Mrs. Windle continues to reside at the Shrewsbury/Windle
House, which she opens to visitors from April through October, and for
a brief time in December. She gave up her antiques business last year
because "it just became too much to keep up with."
The home is one of only 10 National Historic Landmarks in Indiana and
has the added distinction of being the only one occupied by the owner
as a resident. The others are all museums.
True to her nature, Mrs. Windle has provided for the continued preservation
of Shrewsbury/Windle House for future generations to enjoy. She will
deed the home to HMI, along with an endowment to care for it. With her
passing, it will become a public museum.
"I've met so many wonderful people from all over the world who
have come here," she said. "I try to keep the house open every
day (in season), but it's probably best if people call ahead for an
Editor Don Ward contributed to this report.
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