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Historic Madison Inc.

Costigan was considered one
of Indiana’s finest architects

Renovations nearly complete
of historic Costigan House

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(May 2008) – In 1837, a young, relatively unknown architect arrived in Madison, Ind., from Baltimore. When he left Madison 15 years later, he had left an indelible mark on the city that remains today.

Costigan house work

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Workers install period carpet
throughout the main rooms
of the Francis Costigan
House Museum.

Architect Francis Costigan was responsible for the design of several historic properties in Madison, including the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site and the Historic Madison Inc.’s Charles Shrewsbury House. His architectural brilliance heavily influenced other area designers during his time. He was also responsible for designing many public buildings in Indianapolis, the city he relocated to after he left Madison.
An extensive remodeling of Costigan’s residence at 408 W. Third St. is being undertaken by property owner, Historic Madison Inc. Executive Director John Stacier said the project was made possible through a substantial anonymous donation.
“Our goal is to reopen the house to the public during the annual Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes,” he said. “People that have seen the house before will be amazed and pleased with all of the work that has been done in it.”
Heidi Valco, program director at Historic Madison Inc., said the remodeling project included repainting of trim and adding period reproductions of wallpaper and carpet. Some of the existing furnishings were refurbished, and other period pieces have been purchased at auctions around the country.
Stacier said the wallpaper was an expensive part of the remodeling because it was handprinted in the same manner that wallpaper during that era would have been done. The wool carpet was also specially made for the historic home.
Costigan, whom experts claim is perhaps one of the finest architects in Indiana, was born in 1810 in Washington, D.C.. He opened his own carpentry business in Baltimore in 1835.
Many speculate he decided to move west and settle in Madison because of the economic hardship his native area was experiencing during that time. Whatever the reason, he arrived in Madison in 1837, a time when the town was growing prosperous.
In Madison, Costigan quickly earned a reputation as being a master architect. At his own residence on Third Street, he solved a difficult architectural problem of fitting a stately and elegant home on a narrow lot that is only 22 feet wide. The house shows Costigan’s characteristically fine woodwork, including both curved and sliding doors and an interesting stepladder staircase with a push gate at the top.
He designed a few other residential buildings in Madison, including the duplex that neighbors his own home. Costigan lived in the home with his wife, Elizabeth, and three children, Francis, Sarah and Theodore.

John Staicer

John Staicer

Costigan took over the project of designing St. Michael’s Church, which was started prior to his arrival. That project was completed by 1839.
Around 1843, Costigan designed the home of industrialist James F.D. Lanier. Because of his work in both the banking and railroad industries, Lanier became one of the most influential figures in Indiana history during the first half of the 18th century.
Today, the mansion, one of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture in the country, is a highlight of Madison’s historic architecture. The home, an Indiana State Historic Site, is also listed on the National Historic Landmarks register.
During the 1840s, he also designed the Shrewsbury home for the salt-barge riverboat captain, flour manufacturer and pork merchant. Shrewsbury was also the mayor of Madison.
The Shrewsbury home, also known as the Shrewsbury-Windle House, was added to the National Historic Register in 1994. It is a majestic home built in 1848 in the Greek Revival style.
The house, now a historic house museum, has 12 rooms, 13 fireplaces and a 53-step staircase. The staircase, which many say is the best architectural aspect of the house, is both freestanding and self-supporting.
Costigan also designed the Madison Hotel, which opened in 1850 at Second and Mulberry streets. It was described in historical documents as “at that time being second only to the famous House of Cincinnati in size, finish and convenience.” Unfortunately, that building was razed in 1949.
In an oversight, Costigan was accidentally left off of the guest list for the opening ball of the Madison Hotel.
Stacier said many other buildings in and around the Madison area have been attributed to Costigan, but have yet to be authenticated. “He had many men working for him, and they may have copied his work.”
In 1851, Costigan moved to Indianapolis. There, he was the supervising architect on the Institute for the Blind. He later assumed the same responsibilities for the city’s Hospital for the Deaf and Dumb and the Hospital for the Insane. He also designed the Odd Fellows Building and several other residences in the Indianapolis. All of those buildings have been razed.
In 1858, Costigan designed, built and operated a four-story stucco-ornamented Oriental Hotel on the northeast corner of Illinois and Chesapeake Streets in Indianapolis. Its name was later changed to the Mason House and then the Oxford Hotel. In 1928, that building was torn down.
On April 18, 1865, Costigan died of tuberculosis. His death was little noticed, largely in part because it was a mere two days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
While the Costigan family was at one time refined and quite wealthy, that was not the case in their later years. Costigan’s daughter died a short time after him. The son also died of tuberculosis. In 1884, Elizabeth Costigan became ill while taking care of her son, and she died in the same bed as her helpless child.
The family had been reduced to near poverty and would have suffered had old friends not stepped in to help.

• For more information about touring the Francis Costigan House Museum, call Historic Madison Inc. at (812) 265-2967.

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