Swayzee-Love House

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The Swayzee-Love house, as the records of the Marion Public Library call it, has held a large place in Marion history since its construction. The house has been owned by shoemakers, army men, store owners, and librarians. The house is a very beautiful structure, one of the best and only examples of Greek Revival Architecture in Marion. It has been owned by many Marion famous names and people with notoriety around the country. During its existence, it has undergone many changes under its many owners. During the latter half of the twentieth century, it was put on the National Register of Historic Places and on the Indiana State Preservation list. The Swayzee-Love house is an impressive sight to anyone that looks at it.

Physical Characteristics of the House

Overlooking North Washington Street from its vantage point on number two hundred and twenty-four of the same, the Swayzee-Love house is an impressive and unexpected surprise in a neighborhood filled with houses of smaller sizes. It was built in the Greek Revival style of architecture, and designed by an anonymous architect (Marion and Grant). One approaches the house over a long lawn, a lawn whose trees were destroyed in a tornado in 1956. The house is pristine white with two Greek columns, Corinthian style, adorning the front entrance. At first glance, it looks like something that could possibly show up on a piece of US currency. Upon entering the house, the first thing noticed is the spiral staircase that spans the house’s three stories. Above the staircase, built into the roof of the house is a stained glass window. Also in the entrance hall is the crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The first floor consists of a parlor and library located on opposite sides of the front entranceway, the new, modern-style kitchen in the back of the house, and dining and living rooms near the kitchen (Smith, “In the house”). The second floor of the house is filled with bedrooms, as is the third floor. The walls in the house are some of its most unique and unusual features. The library has wallpaper made of leather. The dining room has a wall covering known as “plaster encrusta.” It has the texture of paper and a dark color. In addition to the very different wallpaper in the dining room, it is filled with many stained glass windows, but none of them overshadow the amazing window above the staircase (Smith, “In the house”). Even more ornate is the living room, which has a handpainted floral pattern circling the room near the ceiling. This truly amazing piece of nineteenth century architecture was built and first owned by Aaron Swayzee.

Construction, by Aaron Swayzee

The Swayzee House, ca. 1877
In 1837, one Aaron Swayzee moved to Marion, Indiana. Swayzee was a shoemaker whose shop on the west side of the square garnered quite a lot of business. Swayzee became very successful and purchased 47 acres of land in Marion. This was done in 1854, and the following year Swayzee built his home on that piece of property, and he and his wife Minerva moved in. He gained fame in Marion also as a politician, and in 1874 was elected to the Indiana state legislature in both Grant County and Blackford County. In 1878 Aaron Swayzee died, but he was survived by his widow and five children (Smith, “In the house”). His widow Minerva gave much of the property to the city before her death in 1890. The sole occupant of the home until 1893 was the youngest of the Swayzee children, Mark.

George W. Steele

In 1893, Marietta Steele, Swayzee’s daughter, and her husband George W. Steele moved into the property as a necessity, as their house was the unfortunate victim of a fire. Steele was arguably the most illustrious person to ever live in the house. He was a veteran of the Civil War, having served almost the entire 4 year span of the conflict. After the war’s end he married Marietta Swayzee and continued his service in the Frontier Army. Marietta followed him across the country for years as he was transferred from place to place. When they finally did return to Marion in 1875, Steele worked within the pork packing industry. Five years later in 1880, he was elected to congress. In 1888 he proposed a bill that eventually led to the construction of the US Veterans Affairs Medical Center, now called the VA, in Marion (Conover). In the election of 1890, Steele lost his bid for a third term in congress and came back to Marion. Here, he co-founded the First National Bank and upon its creation served as its first president. Later he was asked by Benjamin Harrison, the US President at the time, if he would be the territorial governor of Oklahoma. He accepted and served for more than a year and a half, getting many things accomplished and generally preparing the Oklahoma territory for eventual statehood (Smith, “House with”). When he was finished in Oklahoma he returned to Marion, and in 1894 Steele was elected to Congress once again.

Miller and Erlewine

Tornado damage in March, 1956
In 1902, the house was sold to a man named Horace M. Miller (“Old Home”). Miller was the mastermind behind the Boston Store, which was located on the Northwest corner of 5th Street and Washington Street. It was one of the first department stores in the area. Miller added extensively to the house (Smith, “House with”). Miller and his family moved out eventually and for years the house was home only to a keeper. In 1920, it was bought by Henry L. Erlewine and his wife Anna Louise Erlewine (Smith, “In the House”). Erlewine was an industrialist who managed the Marion Machine Foundry & Supply Co. It was during the time that the Erlewines owned the house that the tornado of 1956 tore up the front lawn, destroying thirty-eight trees (Smith, “House with”). Henry Erlewine died two years later in 1958, but his wife lived in the house until she passed on in 1963. Once again the house stood empty and there was much speculation as to its future fate. An article in the Marion Leader-Tribune in 1964 speculated that the house might be turned into a museum, but that a far more likely future was an “ignominious use” like a parking lot (Carison).

Edwin and Barbara Love

In 1965, the house was purchased and so saved by Edwin and Barbara Love, a couple who have done more for the house than any owners to date. Edwin Love began his immense project after his retirement from his position at the Diggs Funeral Service. While Edwin Love worked hard to refurbish the physical aspects of the house, Barbara Love, a librarian at the Marion Public Library, embarked upon a decades-long quest to discover the history of the house, tirelessly researching the various inhabitants. After 18 years of research, she decided to submit the house to the National Register of Historic Places. It was confirmed in 1983 (Smith, “House with”). In June of 1997, after 32 years in the house, the Loves sold it to yet another set of owners, David and Vicki Sherbondy.

Improvements Through the Years

The first owners to make any real changes to the house were the second owners after Swayzee himself--the Steeles. Although George Steele spent very little time at his North Washington Street address, before he and his wife sold the house it was one of the first in the area to have working natural gas lighting (Smith, “House with”). This was the only real significant change made by the Steeles.

Horace Miller, however, was responsible for many of the details that make the house as attractive as it is today. Barbara Love credits Miller with this, saying, “He’s the one that really made it a showplace” (Smith, “In the House”). Miller added the stained glass windows, the leaded windows, the round windows, the chandeliers, and the ornate doors. Miller gave the house its ornate ceilings, its parquet floors, and its unusual and unique walls. He supplied the library with its bookcases and its desk. He also met with an unexpected complication soon after his purchase of the house when a fire destroyed the back section, including the kitchen. Miller rebuilt it completely, adding a basement and eight more rooms than the house previously had.

When the Erlewines owned the house, they made no changes to the structure. The only thing to happen to the house during their possession was the tree-devastating tornado. The Loves, however, are another matter entirely. When they bought the house in 1965, the general structure of the house was intact, but it left much to be desired. First, the two Corinthian columns at the entranceway had to be replaced (Smith, “In the House”). The originals had been damaged in the same 1956 tornado that destroyed many of the trees. In addition, the white-painted bricks were sandblasted to show the house’s original design, only to be repainted due to the color differences in sections that were built decades apart. Another part of the renovation was repainting the intricate gold design located on the ceiling of the front parlor. Antique furniture was bought and placed throughout the house, as well as collections of crystal and porcelain. In addition to the many renovations, the Loves added a personal touch to one of the second floor balconies. Located on the end of the balcony is a black metal fence with a heart in the center. They built that, of course, to signify “love” (Smith, “In the House”).

Barbara love spent many years researching her home and fmally, in January 1983, she decided to register it on the National Register of Historic Places. Her confirmation was received in June of the same year (Smith, “House with”). The house is also registered on the Indiana Preservation List, making the Leader-Tribune’s prediction of a parking lot in the house’s future quite impossible. Since that time, the Loves registered it on the St. Paul’s Tour of Historic Homes and let people tour the house, a tradition continued by the current owners, the Sherbondys. Barbara Love estimated that during the time they owned the house, as many as 2000 people walked its ornate hallways, climbed the spiral staircase, and gazed at its many stained glass windows (Smith, “In the House).

Conclusion

The Swayzee-Love house has been around for a good deal of Marion history. Its architecture and ornate furnishings are among the most beautiful in Marion. It has been owned by many an important figure in Marion. Some of these owners have seen fit to change or improve upon the original design of the house. Due to its historical significance, it was registered on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Indiana Preservation List. The Swayzee-Love house is a wonderful sight to behold in Marion, as a house like it would be anywhere. If the Sherbondys keep up the tradition of caretaking, this house with such an illustrious past also has a very promising future.

Works Cited

  • Carlson, Don W. “Uncertain Fate Awaits Historic Home.” Marion Leader-Tribune. 17 March, 1964.
  • Conover, Sheri. “Guarding history can take time.” Marion Chronicle-Tribune. 6 July, 1990.
  • Marion and Grant County File, Marion (Ind.) Public Library. House with a History. January, 1999.
  • “Old Home is Sold: Major Steele sells the old Swayzee homestead on North Washington Street to Harry Miller.” The Marion Leader Weekly. 5 September, 1902.
  • Smith, Sherie. “House with a history.” Marion Chronicle-Tribune. 4 September, 1983.
  • Smith, Sherie. “In the House that Love built.” Marion Chronicle-Tribune.

Credits

This article was written by Don Riefler and submitted on January 16, 2001.