During last December's Indiana Historical Society Author Fair, Elizabeth Turner paused at my table long enough to buy a book, snag a biz card, and mention that she was with the Indianapolis Propylaeum, and might just be interested in having me in for a program.
That’s just the comment an indie author hopes to hear. In fact, it doesn’t much matter how many books you sell at any one venue as long as someone there wants to book you for the next one that might be even better.
I had all but forgotten about our brief encounter until many months later, an email arrived inviting me to be part of the foundation’s author series, Pages at the Prop. Would I be interested? She obviously doesn’t know that I am a "yes ma’am." If asked, I say yes.
But what is a Propylaeum? It sounded, well, fancy. And it is.
I didn’t want to leave the experience of presenting a program there behind without sharing about this lovely historical-and-cultural masterpiece at 1410 N. Delaware Street in downtown Indy. I didn’t previously even know it existed.
Brian went with me, and we had an entertaining visit with Pages Co-Chair Diane Tolliver before the program began. What a fantastic hostess! She took such an interest that I felt as though I had found a new friend.
So Brian, being Brian, cut to the chase and asked Diane: What is a Propylaeum? She was glad he asked. It is the Greek word for gateway. It was selected as the name in 1888 for a cultural, literary and educational foundation to serve the public, and in particular, the women of Indianapolis.
For a time, the Propylaeum was at the present site of the World War Memorial Plaza. There, an assortment of women’s groups used the facility for a variety of gatherings. But it had to move when the city claimed the site for the war memorial you see today.
So in 1923, the Propylaeum bought the Delaware Street property it’s on now, and moved in the next year. Its Carriage House was the first location for the Children’s Museum. The house itself was built by beer baron John Schmidt. His father came to Indy from Germany to build a brewery.
Later, founder of the Indianapolis Star owned the house, and still later, another brewer and businessman named Joseph Schaf. The home was also home of the College of Music and Fine Arts, which became the Jordan College of Fine Arts at Butler University.
Yes, the property has quite a history.
Some of the architecture includes a veranda featuring Romanesque limestone columns,Georgian entrance doors, and an overall Queen Anne appearance. It's believed that the Propylaeum is the only remaining example in Indy of this particular architecture, which includes an irregular hip roof and chimney pots.
Rockwood pottery tiles in the fireplaces, a ballroom and servants’ quarters on the third floor, a slew of bedrooms on the second floor, and several lovely meeting rooms on the first floor, complete the décor. Charming.
And, the home can be rented by the public for social occasions. Just call 317-638-7881 for, as the brochure says, “the gateway to a classic experience.”
Now we know what the Propylaeum is. And I thank those caretakers of it today for allowing me the privilege of being a part of it for one lovely October evening.