The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum and Lew Wallace Study Preservation Society are pleased to announce a new restoration project planned for this winter. Thanks to a grant from the Montgomery County Community Foundation and donations from a group of local citizens, the Society, on behalf of the City of Crawfordsville, will properly restore a section of the brick wall surrounding the museum grounds.
A 50-foot-long section of the wall along Elston Street is leaning significantly, requiring the closure of the sidewalk next to it. The project will include carefully dismantling the wall, salvaging and cleaning the historic bricks, repairing the section’s foundation, removing trees that undermine the integrity of the wall, and then rebuilding the wall with the original bricks.
In 1909, Lew and Susan Wallace’s son Henry contracted construction of a brick wall on the east, north and west sides of the property. Contractors used locally-made Poston bricks. Ten years later Henry had the wall along the south side of the property built. A heavy limestone cap tops the bricks, protecting them from the elements.
For years, the wall stood in good condition. It was a community landmark enjoyed by many — especially neighborhood children who walked along the top of the wall and, according to rumor, climbed over the wall to gain access to the Wallace grounds when the museum gates were locked.
The MCCF grant will cover a significant portion of the restoration costs. A group of citizens informally known as the Wallace Wall Walkers have also made important contributions, spearheaded by Sue Rickett and Mary Kummings.
“For my family, the wall served mostly as a backdrop on a stage,” Mary Kummings said. “It was in all our pictures. I have photos of my mother and her sisters playing in front of it, of early cars picking up family members in front of it, of my grandmother positioning her adult children, spouses and first grandchild in front of it. My first 12 years were spent in front of it, many poses also, with friends, and in a nurse’s outfit. I certainly walked it with my brothers. I do remember the sensation of walking it fast (not running though) and the ground on both sides seemingly falling away. Here is the best memory, but it isn’t mine. My brother Bill recalls being on the wall and looking up to see our Irish Setter coming toward him from the other direction — a different kind of Wall Walker. The wall means family and friends to me. It surrounds and supports a special place. One that we all love.”
Sue Rickett also shares fond memories of the wall.
“My family moved next door to the Lew Wallace Study in 1957 when I was in the seventh grade,” she said. “My older brother, Bob Shearer, introduced me to the adventure of hoisting ourselves up on the wall by means of the iron fence and nearby tree limb at the corner of our property on Wallace Avenue. From there we would traverse the entire grounds to Elston Avenue and back around to Wallace. Of course, we were thwarted by the big iron front gate, but we considered that the finish line. (At that time, the back gate was a long wooden affair that we could straddle and scoot across.) The most treacherous part was the vines covering some of the south wall that could trip us up if we weren’t careful.
“Over the years, my nephew, Ben, carried on the tradition, in turn introducing his nieces and nephews as well as my two sons to the family wall-walking tradition so it turned into a multi-generational past-time. The younger kids thought it was a deliciously daring feat, which gratified the older veteran tour guides. The trip was usually made after dark and the only impediment was if some neighbor or passerby called the police!”
By the 1950s, however, the wall was deteriorating. For the next 60 years, stop-gap measures were taken to repair or even rebuild portions of the wall.
The wall restoration will be an difficult and expensive project, but will assure the preservation of this landmark feature for years to come. It will be the first step in restoring the wall completely.
For more information about the restoration project contact Larry Paarlberg at 765-362-5769 or email@example.com. To donate online, visit https://www.ben-hur.com/join-support/ and designate “Wall Restoration” in the comments.