Visual Arts » Architecture

A Legendary Tour

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Like The Secret Garden, a lush, overgrown stand of trees along Kessler Boulevard West Drive conceals a breathtakingly beautiful surprise. Behind it sprawls the 22-acre gated estate and 17-room mansion of Twin Oaks. The former residence of Ruth Lilly, one of Indiana's most notable philanthropists, is open for tours for the first time to the public today through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Lilly family owned Twin Oaks from 1955 until 2009.  - COURTESY OF INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
  • Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society
  • The Lilly family owned Twin Oaks from 1955 until 2009.

The home was built in 1941 by Lyman S. Ayres II (the L.S. Ayres department store magnate) and his wife, Isabel and then was later purchased by Ruth's parents, J.K. and Ruth Brinkmeyer Lilly. They used it as a guest house and venue for entertaining visitors and other luminaries about town.

Their daughter and heiress, Ruth, moved into 2,000-square-foot estate in the late 1980s and lived there until her death in 2009. A highly influential philanthropist and friend of the arts, she gifted most of her inheritance to cultural institutions, universities and charities in her home state.

Today William and Laura Weaver, of the Weaver Popcorn Co. fame own Twin Oaks. They have generously granted the Indiana Historical Society use of the estate for seven years, to help spread knowledge of its historical significance and share its beauty.

When built, the home originally featured Colonial-Revival architectural design throughout, though the Lilly family had it renovated to reflect their preferred taste of formal European-style homes. Some of these modifications included beech wood parquet floors, Rococo-style moldings, and 18th-century French mantels, doors and windows.

Highlights of the tour include viewing the elegant updated furnishings, finery and antiques collection, the distinctive spiral staircase and muraled entry, as well as more than 20 portraits on display from renowned Hoosier artists, such as T.C. Steele and Frank V. Dudley, and paintings depicting famous historical Hoosiers. Outside, you can see Ruth's coveted Rolls-Royce convertible and stroll through the exquisite English cottage garden she so loved.

The ticketed event is accessed by shuttle service, and all income from the tours benefits the Indiana Historical Society. Admission is $20 or $18 in advance. For more information, check out the society's website or call (317) 232-1882.

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