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Dream Maker

Shrewsbury family member donates furniture to Historic Madison Inc.

HMI director Staicer surprised, excited
by call to offer items

(February 2017) – Historic Madison Inc. recently received the kind of news that is the “stuff of dreams” for those in the world of historic preservation, as well as for a community that prides itself on having an entire downtown that is on the National Register of Historic Places.  
In late January, Janet Knothe of Paramus, N.J., contacted HMI Executive Director John Stacier about several pieces of original furniture from the Shrewsbury-Windle House that she owned. They had been passed down in her family. She thought it was time to send them back to the 1848 Greek Revival home built by her great-great-grandparents, Capt. Charles L. and Ellen Woodburn Shrewsbury. 

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

From left, Greg Ziesemer, Jim Schell and David Cart unload an American Empire couch that was donated to Historic Madison  Inc. and will eventually be taken to the Shrewsbury House in Madison, Ind.

For Stacier, the news was “absolutely major and exciting.” He continued saying, “It is sort of a dream to be able to put original furniture, major pieces, back into the house. It is such a rarity to be able to do that in a lifetime.”
The pieces include an American Empire sofa, an American Empire octagonal table with a tapered base, two American Empire side chairs with embroidered seats, Rococo Revival arm chairs and an ottoman, and other pieces.
They are major pieces from the house,” he said. The furniture shows in some of the historic photos we have of the house.” Stacier drove to New Jersey in late January to pick up the furniture and transport it to Madison.
Ultimately, the story of the furniture is the story of the family, as told by the generous donor, Knothe. “The furniture was passed from my grandmother to my mother to me. I had the room for it,” Knothe said. “I asked my kids, ‘do you want the furniture?’ And they were not interested. I think it would be wonderful for it to be back where it should be. I think it is great that it has gone back.”
Knothe is descended from the Woodburn and Shrewsbury families of Madison. Her great-great-great grandmother was Mary Woodburn, who was married to John Woodburn. Their Costigan home was located on West First Street at the site of the former Madison High School and next to the Shrewsbury House at 301 W. First. The house was demolished in 1928.
The Shrewsburys, who married in 1839, had five children. Knothe is descended from their youngest child and only daughter, Mary Louise Shrewsbury. The other four children were males, all of whom died relatively young. Capt. Shrewsbury, who served as Mayor of Madison, died at age 68 about one-half hour after he fell down the back stairs at the house. His wife died at age 70.
Knothe told the family story she had heard. Her great-grandmother, Mary Louise Shrewsbury, married A.J. (Andrew Jackson) Wyatt, who was much older than her. They had a daughter, Eleanor, when A.J. was 68 and Eleanor was 45. When A.J. died in about 1907, Knothe’s great-grandmother, Mary Louise, and grandmother, Eleanor, tried to stay in the house.
One attempted to run a school there. Eventually, expenses became too much for them to manage. They took some of the furniture but left many of the portraits, and they moved to Indianapolis. Knothe’s mother is Mary Louise Wilson, and Knothe’s birth name is Janet Louise Wilson.

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

John Staicer unloads an ottoman that had once been in the house.

Her great-grandmother, Mary Louise Shrewsbury Wyatt, lived to be 95. She kept diaries, which Knothe still is reading. “They give me insight into her feelings and the social events of the time,” she said. “She was a big writer. She was always writing. The diaries make me feel closer to her, what she was like. I see little obituaries pasted into the pages. It touched my heart to see the obituary of Ellen Shrewsbury pasted in her diary in 1892, and other people, too.”
Knothe was born in Indianapolis, but the family moved when she was only 2 years old. There were frequent visits back to visit her grandmother, so she knew the city. But there was only one visit to Madison when she was in her 20s after her grandmother had died in 1978.
“My mother and cousin, Bobby Wood, took a trip to Madison, and we got to go through the house. The Windles (the late John and Ann) were there. John Windle made us spicy Bloody Marys to drink. We went through the whole house. We saw pictures of our relatives on the walls. It made everything come alive to see their portraits there.”
When her cousin stood under a portrait of Charles Shrewsbury, their great-great-grandfather, Knothe saw an uncanny resemblance between the two.
She said she would like to visit the Shrewsbury House again. She has three children, two grandchildren and “another on the way.” She recalls that Madison gave her a “nice feeling.” It was a “less metropolitan place” than where she now lives.
Her late cousin, Carole Gorenflo, who died in October 2016, also has returned some items to the house, she said.

After the furniture was picked up on Jan. 25 for the trip back to Madison, Knothe said, “It was a great feeling to know the furniture was going back home.”

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