Historical society to operate former Ruth Lilly estate

The Indiana Historical Society will entertain its members in Ruth Lilly's former Indianapolis estate, Twin Oaks, under a contract with owners William and Laura Weaver, the society announced Tuesday.

The local not-for-profit signed a seven-year contract for the 17-room house and grounds at 555 Kessler Blvd. Several IHS members have stepped forward to pay for new furnishings, and the society has received donations of furniture and carpets that are appropriate for the historical period, President and CEO John Herbst said.

The house was built by department store magnate Lyman S. Ayres II in 1954. Ruth Lilly took up residence in 1987.

The Weavers bought the 22-acre gated estate in January to keep it from being subdivided after Lilly’s death in late 2009. It was listed for sale at $2.9 million in mid-2010.

"Laura and I are very glad the society will be able to use the Lilly house, with its connection to two great Indiana entrepreneurial families, to strengthen its mission of broadening appreciation of Indiana's rich history," Weaver, chief operating officer of Weaver Popcorn Co., said in a news release. "The society's participation helps us exceed our more limited initial plans for simply preserving a beautiful piece of Indianapolis by growing the numbers of people who will use and appreciate it. We couldn't be happier."

The Weavers will maintain the 22-acre property and use the lawns, woods and a 2,000-square-foot “hobby house,” which was used by Ruth Lilly’s father, J.K. Lilly Jr. They’ve already updated the interior of the 7,726-square-foot main house in preparation for the historical society taking over as manager.

The historical society plans to use the first floor of the main house for its various events and host out-of-town trustees, lecturers and consultants in the second-floor guest rooms. The society also plans to display more than 30 works by Indiana artists, including T.C. Steele and Frank V. Dudley.

Under the contract, Herbst will live at Twin Oaks and serve as resident curator.

The historical society likened the plan to arrangements by Indiana University and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which use historic homes to house top executives and entertain patrons.

"We are very grateful to the Weavers for their generosity and allowing the IHS to utilize Twin Oaks," said Thomas G. Hoback, chairman of the IHS Board of Trustees. "We are very excited about the opportunities to welcome our members and supporters to this lovely home through John's hospitality. Our mission is to share Indiana's history, and we have new ways to do this at Twin Oaks."

Previously, Herbst used his own Victorian home and garden downtown to entertain on behalf of the historical society.

Spokeswoman Amy Lamb said details of the contract would not be disclosed, but “the Weavers have been very generous, and the cost to the I.H.S. on this agreement is minimal.”

Herbst put his own home on the market in October.

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