R.J. Spencer and The Gas Boom
“A monarch travelling from the Earth’s center aids the wife to cook a meal.” This is the situation the people of Grant County encountered at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1887, five wells were dug in search of natural gas. All five were successful (Marion Illustrated 1889 32). By 1889, the population of Marion doubled from three years before from 4,500 to 11,000 and the wealth quadrupled. Spencer Avenue was growing with the rest of the city.
In 1885, R.J. Spencer bought forty-five acres from the children of the late Greenup Holman. Spencer was now the owner of land stretching from present day Second Street to Jeffras Street. Spencer soon began construction of houses in his first, second, and third additions. They were being built at an enormously fast rate and soon it was a thriving residential district.
Clarence Wheeler, First Owner
In 1890, Spencer sold lot 220 in his third addition to Clarence Wheeler. Wheeler and his family became the first occupants of the house (An Abstract of Title). In May of 1899, R.J. Spencer leased land behind Spencer Avenue to the Marion Golf Club. The club soon turned the into a nine hole golf course. It stretched from Euclid past Jeffras and down to Wabash Avenue. Membership was ten dollars for the first year of the club and soon rose to twenty dollars (Tobin). Clarence Wheeler now had a golf course literally right behind his house.
Wheeler worked as the superintendent at Marion Malleable, an iron works factory at the corner of Tenth and Miller (Grant County Directory 1895). Marion Malleable employed two hundred men and manufactured two hundred fifty tons of furnished goods. Marion Malleable was one of the first factories to come to Marion after the discovery of natural gas, arriving on July 31, 1888 (McKown). It later became a prominent company in making castings and crankshafts for automobiles (Industrial Directories Marion Indiana 1920 3). Marion at that time had a well-advanced public transportation system that allowed workers to get to work easily. For a fare of five cents one could ride the railway to anywhere on the line (Whitson 68).
This was a good convenience for the workers in the forty-five factories operating in Marion (Marion Illustrated 1889 14). Grant County manufactured more goods than any county in Indiana, the third most productive state in the Union. Marion factories made net over one million dollars in 1890 alone. The city of Marion encouraged factories to come by giving them free land as well as free use of some utilities (Marvelous Marion Queen City of the Great Indiana Natural Gas Belt). Marion was such an industrial center because of its location as well as the abundance of natural gas. Marion was exactly halfway on the railroad line between Chicago and Columbus (Whitson 68). It was also the closest route from the Great Lakes to Indianapolis (Marion Illustrated 1889 13). Because of this, Marion shipped goods all over the world (Whitson 68). These were all keys to Marion’s success as an industrial center. Wheeler was one of the many important people that helped to create the standard of quality for Marion made products.
Physical Characteristics of 714 Spencer
The Wheeler-Luttrull House through the Years
Marion was, in 1920, a thriving city of 23,747. The house at 714 Spencer Ave. had been through a few owners; Isaiah Price sold it to John Haswell who in turn sold it to Harry Hunter. In 1918, Hunter sold the house to Hugh Wilkinson and his wife Anne (An Abstract of Title). Hugh worked at Spencer Table Co. which was originally Spencer-Bedell Co. (“Work is Started on New Marion Factory to Make Fine Tables”). Spencer Table Co. originally began with making extension tables and soon expanded to other furniture. He later was promoted to vice-president of the company. In the 1920’s it became Spencer-Cardinal Corp. and was known widely for its “novelty furniture” (McKown 108). Spencer-Cardinal was a major asset to the city of Marion. It supplied one hundred people with jobs and was one of one hundred factories in Grant County at that time (Facts about Marion and Grant County Indiana 1920).
Marion was still a bustling industrial area. There were also many types of entertainment. Five theaters, in which four could be used for movies, were in Marion as well as semi professional baseball, football and basketball teams. The Marion Golf Club course was still at its original site, bordering the back yards of the houses on Spencer Avenue; at the time that Wilkinson purchased the house. It would be there for eight more years. At that time the course ceased to be in use, the Marion Golf Club merged with the Country Club, and moved to Meshingomesia (Marion and Grant County Indiana 1926). The 1920’s was also the era of the Prohibition. Wilkinson would drive to Canada to purchase liquor during these years. He would drink this in his attic and store the bottles in the basement (Luttrull, Debbie).
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Wilkinson employed an African American woman as a maid. Her name was Clara Wingo and she was a friend of the present owners, the Luttrulls, up until her death. The Luttrulls invited her to the house when they bought the house. She disclosed to them a fireplace in the dining room of which they had not discovered. She served at the house as long as Hugh Wilkinson was the owner (Luttrull, James). He would own the house until 1944, when he died and willed his estate to his wife, Anne (Abstract of Title). Wilkinson had his funeral in the entryway of his house (Luttrull, Debbie).
Currently, James Luttrull and his family own the house at 714 Spencer Avenue. Luttrull is the Chief Deputy prosecutor in Grant County (the forty-seventh district of Indiana) and also teaches part-time in the Criminal Justice Department at Indiana Wesleyan University. The Luttrulls have made many changes to the house at 714 Spencer. In 1991, they renovated the kitchen and tore up the carpet to utilize the original wood floors. In 1993, they renovated the downstairs bathroom and discovered the fireplace located in the dining room. They bought a mantle, which had been at one time in the historic Spencer Hotel in order to open up the fireplace. In 1994, they tore down the deteriorating front porch and built a new one. In 1998, the Luttrulls renovated the upstairs bathroom and built in another bath in an existing upstairs bedroom. In the year 2000, they built on a patio off the back porch. These are the changes the Luttrulls have made to the house at 714 Spencer Avenue (Luttrull, James).
Marion is still affected greatly by the factories that occupy the area. Although Marion Malleable and Spencer-Cardinal Corp. are no longer running, other companies have come. One hundred twenty-five factories occupied Grant County in the year 2000 that employs over ten thousand employees (Grant County Indiana).
The Wheeler-Luttrull house at 714 Spencer Avenue has stood from the late nineteenth century to the present as Marion has gone through many changes. At the very beginning of the house, Clarence Wheeler worked as superintendent of Marion Malleable in a boom era of Marion. He contributed to production to give “Made in Marion” products a good name. Hugh Wilkinson owned the house and ran a furniture factory in the “roaring” 1920’s. Now in the twenty-first century the house is owned by James Luttrull the Chief Deputy Prosecuting attorney for Grant County and Marion is a stable city with 32,000 residents.
- Abstract of Title. Grant County Absract Co.
- Facts about Marion and Grant County Indiana 1920. Marion Association of Commerce, 1920.
- Grant County Directory. Marion Public Library. 1895.
- Grant County Indiana. www.grantcounty.net. 4 Jan. 2001.
- Industrial Directories Marion Indiana 1920. Marion Association of Commerce.
- Luttrull, Debbie. Personal Interview. 21 Nov. 2000.
- Luttrull, James. Personal Interview. 8 Jan. 2000.
- Marion and Grant County Indiana 1926. Marion Association of Commerce, 1926.
- Marion Illustrated 1889. Conover, J.S. Coldwater 1889.
- Marvelous Marion Queen City of the Great Indiana Natural Gas Belt. 1890
- Massey, James and Shirley Maxwell. House Styles in America. New York: Penguin Group, 1996.
- McKown, June. Marion: A Pictorial History. G. Bradley Publishers Inc. St. Louis 1989.
- Tobin, Tom. The Heritage of Country Club Golf in Marion Indiana. 1991.
- Whitson, Rolland L. Centennial History of Grant County 1812-1912. Chicago 1914 V.1
- “Work is Started on New Marion Factory to Make Fine Tables.” Marion Leader Tribune 15 Feb 1907.
This article was written by Andrew Luttrull and submitted on January 16, 2001 for Mr. Lakes' and Mr. Munn's classes at Marion High School.