Landmarks Foundation president is living with history

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

As president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Marsh Davis is surrounded by history every time he goes to work.

It also greets him when he comes home.

Davis and his family live in a 100-year-old Prairie-style, Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood home that they have filled with Mission furniture, family heirlooms and quirky artifacts.

A Lake County native and foundation staff member for 18 years, Davis picked up and moved from Indianapolis to Galveston, Texas, in 2002 to head that city’s historical preservation society. But he never forgot about the Prairie house at 3947 N. Delaware St., and when he returned here in 2006, he was pleasantly surprised to find it for sale.

Marsh Davis was attracted to his 100-year-old home’s Prairie style, and he’s filled the Meridian-Kessler residence with period furnishings. (IBJ Photo/Robin Jerstad)

“From my first stint here I knew about the house,” Davis says. “It’s very distinctive because of its severe Prairie style, and I thought it was a great-looking house.”

He and his wife, Grace, along with their two daughters, jumped at the chance to buy the home and have done very little to change it since. “The house was in pretty good shape when we bought it. The previous owners were very good stewards,” he says, noting the house suffered a fire in the 1960s but no indication of that event lingers.

Enough space

The home is divided into three floors, including a basement that the Davis family has dedicated to TV viewing and hanging out.

The main-floor living room, dining room and sunroom house numerous pieces of Mission-style furniture, many of which were handcrafted by Davis’ father. “We’ve benefited a lot from his hobby,” Davis notes.

The kitchen would be considered tiny compared to those in contemporary homes, and Davis admits it can get cramped at times. But he has no plans to knock down walls and expand the space. “One of the reasons I bought [the house] is that I don’t have the time,” he says.

With one daughter off to college in New York and the other a senior in high school, the home is plenty big enough to accommodate the soon-to-be empty nesters. At roughly 3,000 square feet, the home is “a bit modest by today’s standards,” Davis says, but was considered anything but modest at the time it was built in 1909.

A.D. Johnson, then the president of the Indianapolis-based Diamond Chain Co., commissioned Swiss-born architect Adolph Scherrer to build the home. Scherrer, who designed the Crown Hill Cemetery Gates and Waiting Station, worked under Edwin May on the design of the State Capitol Building. May actually died while that project was still in its early stages, leaving Scherrer in charge.

Known more for his Victorian design sensibilities, Scherrer departed from that philosophy on the Johnson house and turned to the Prairie style, a genre made famous by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The house remains mostly as Scherrer designed it, save for a second top-floor bathroom a later owner added. A century later, the Davises have added their own touches with furnishings and artwork.

Some of the most notable pieces are those the family picked up during its time in Texas. They include a sculpture of the Dona Sebastiana, a skeletal figure used by some Hispanic-American cultures around the Easter holiday, and several pieces of artwork commemorating Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

Those unexpected items mingle with more traditional elements, including several “tall case,” or grandfather clocks throughout the house, a baby grand piano in the sunroom and a large built-in buffet in the dining room.

Upstairs, a sleeping porch extends off the master bedroom. A holdover from the Victorian era, the porch functions well as a home office for Grace, an art teacher.

Comfortable with history

Living in an historic home is a no-brainer for Davis, an undergraduate history major at Butler University who earned his master’s degree in historic preservation from Ball State University. While a graduate student in Muncie, he began an internship with the Historic Landmarks Foundation that developed into a career.

Davis was happy in his lead role in Galveston, but knew he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to return to his Hoosier roots at the helm of Indiana’s Historic Landmarks Foundation, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It really is the preeminent statewide preservation organization in the country,” Davis says.

With a staff of 50 and annual budget of $4 million, the foundation oversees nine regional offices and three museums. The group uses its $32 million endowment to make grants to not-for-profit organizations statewide.

Davis took over in 2006 when then-president Reid Williamson retired after 31 years in the job. After 25 years in historic preservation himself, Davis has yet to grow tired of his profession.

“With each passing day, I am more and more convinced of how important it is to our neighborhoods and communities,” he says. “The challenge of protecting our heritage is very exciting.”•




Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Good Day I am Mr (Victoria Wright) from United state of America, i stayed in NEW YORK, and i have a broke up business, until i found this company email who help me to gain a loan for business,, and now i want to used this short medium to congratulate the below company for the fast and safe money they loan to me without any form of collateral, i loan 500,000USD from the company to save my business and lots more, i saw their mail on the internet, everyone always give testimony for what they did, so i quickly contacted them and they all did everything for me without stress and my money was sent to my account just 3 days later, i was surprise and i feel so glad, now i have a standard business control agent who help me, now i will advice those who need urgent loan to contact him at the bellow email:zenithfirm12@gmail.com

  2. NOTICE:This is to inform the general public that Vampires are real. My name is James Franklyn.,am an agent of vampire,am here to introduce our new world trend to you,a world of vampire where life get easier,we have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich,you will be assured long life and prosperity,you shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness,stronger and also very fast,you will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk.In case you are wildly oppressed by some unscrupulous persons we can still help you fight them.Your protection is assured immediately you join.Just contact the bellow email if you are interested we are here to attend to you anytime you want us. Contact the bellow email for more details. Email:vampirescreed@hotmail.com Sincerely: James Franklyn.

  3. Bravo! Someone else that is willing to speak the truth! Bravo!_____NBCSN is available in almost 2 MILLION more homes than just a few years ago, but Indycar STILL gets less total viewers than it did just a few years ago when NBC took over Versus. Attendance and ratings cratered with the end of season races (just when the title battle got "interesting" HAH!__________And now...new race in Basilia, where Miles celebrated the "rich history" of Indycar racing there. Rich history? What, 7 events in the 100 years of AOW? Yep, some history. Well, at least its an oval. It's not??? Are you kidding me??? Gosh darn road racin furriners.

  4. PURITY RAY LOAN OFFER........ Have you been denied by your banks,or are you in need of of an urgent loan to pay of your bills we are capable of giving loans @ cheaper rate to interested individuals, student, companies and members of the public in need of finance to settle bills, we do offer considerable loans which you can count on. For more information on our various types of loan,then you will have to contact PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM, to help you achieve your desire LOAN APPLICATION FORM TO BE FILLED BORROWERS INFORMATION * Full name:………………………. * SEX * ……………………………. * Country………………………….. * State:……………………………. * Land:…………………………….. * Occupation:…………………….. * phone number:…………………. * Telephone: ………………………….. * Age:………………………………. * Amount needed as loan:……… * Loan Duration:………………….. * Propose of Loan:……………….. * Annual revenue:………………… * Monthly Income:……………….. * Guarantee:………………………. * Payment: monthly or annually Email.....purityrayloanfirm@gmail.com Thank you and God bless Mr Purity Ray PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM we tend to serve you better

  5. Problem: most of the people responding to this article don't know about this service AT ALL! Why? Lack of awareness. This isn't IndyGo. This is CIRTA: might as well be the mattress company because they are asleep at the wheel - something like 3 directors over the last year? Playing with federal grant money is great! This "region" wants commuter rail service, has spent MILLIONS on Transportation studies yet can't even support a commuter bus line? This is largely for suburban riders to get to downtown - not for "service people to work in our hotels and restaurants" ! Get your head out of your backside!! These are professionals, students etc. that don't want to fight traffic, save some money on parking, gas, stress.... if CIRTA would put their federal money into widely promoting the sevive to Greenwood, Fishers & Carmel instead of finding directors and studies - this would be a successful service. Our family uses(d) it daily for the last several years - but the recent uncertainty & now unreliability due to cuts from Carmel has been a problem. Now, costs us an additional $350/month for gas & parking ( $4200/year) plus vehicle wear, service, environmental impact ... YES - this REGION needs this this type of service in order to keep growing and getting the people it needs to fill skilled positions in downtown Indianapolis. Think outside of your own car !!!