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Keeping House

Ann Windle keeps
Shrewsbury House lights burning

At 88, HMI founder's widow
still espouses need for preservation

By Nita S. West
Contributing Writer


MADISON, Ind.(April 2000) – The old saw, "Behind every successful man, there is a woman," could never be ascribed to Ann Windle.

Ann Windle

Photo by Don Ward

Ann Windle symbolizes
the heart of Historic
Madison Inc.

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 politics.
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.

Shresbury House Staircase

Photo by Don Ward

The Shrewsbury
House staricase.

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 appointment."

Editor Don Ward contributed to this report.

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