The Fowler House Mansion is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. The home was built for Moses Fowler, a notable early resident of Lafayette, and his family. Construction began in 1851 and the home was completed in 1852, taking almost 2-years to complete.
Moses Fowler was born in Ohio in 1815 and his father was a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. In 1839, he moved to Lafayette with his friend and business partner, John Purdue, the namesake of Purdue University. They were partners in the mercantile business for several years but eventually went their separate ways; both did well, but Fowler did better.
Fowler became one of the "Prairie Cattle Kings." He purchased large tracts of land in Benton County, inexpensively, and developed large cattle herds. That land was not desirable for farming since prairie sod was very difficult to till prior to the advent of mechanized farming.
Over the course of his life, Fowler grew his wealth through other businesses, including wholesale supply, railroads, investments and eventually he went into banking. At the time of his death in 1889, he was one of the wealthiest men in the Midwest, with an estate valued over $3 million dollars; in today's dollars, it is roughly the equivalent of $70-million.
In 1844, Moses married Eliza Hawkins who was from one of the Quaker families of the Farmer's Institute near the present-day town of West Point, Indiana.
On a business trip to Baltimore in 1850, Moses visited a business acquaintance who had a large Gothic Revival home and he was so taken with it that he decided to build his own upon his return to Lafayette. On his way through New York City, he purchased a new book by, then prominent architect, A.J. Downing, titled Architecture of Country Houses, from which he drew much inspiration. He later acquired a design by Downing that was published in a magazine, from which the Fowler House design was largely based.
Fowler selected the mansion's location on a hill that overlooked the young town of Lafayette. At the time, the land was considered to be in "the country," as Lafayette only extended to approximately what is 6th Street today.
Craftsmen constructed the amazing woodwork of the home from locally harvested walnut and white oak trees, and the faux painted stone walls in the entry hall were done to emulate a castle. While somewhat unusual today, this was a popular wall treatment in the mid-19th century.
In 1902, Eliza Fowler passed away and the house was inherited by their grandson, Cecil Fowler. In 1916-1917, Cecil and his wife, Louise, completed major renovations and additions to the house, including a formal, English Tudor-style dining room, a garden room that served as the Fowler's living room, the Italian-style patio and gardens, complete with terraced steps, fountains, a tea house, and reflecting pool, as well as servant quarters.
The upstairs of the mansion now houses seven bedroom and five bathrooms, including a full attic, which served as playrooms and gymnasium for the Fowler children. The Fowler's lived in grand style, traveled extensively and loved to host elaborate parties. Like many during the period, Prohibition did not slow them down one bit and their parties were somewhat legendary. One of the attic rooms served as the storage area for alcohol during that period. Their eldest son, James, even operated a "speakeasy" complete with a game room in the basement called the "Crock Club," for his friends and Purdue students. Fifty cents bought you all the beer you could drink and "Shorty" (the gardener) served up hamburgers for a nickel each.
By 1941, Cecil and Louise's children were grown and they no longer wished to live in such a large home. After almost 90 years in the Fowler family, the house was sold to the Tippecanoe County Historical Association. The house became the home for the Association's offices, collections and served as the County Museum. Following an extended period of marked decline in visitation, the Association closed the museum in 2005, although it was still partially used for offices, storage, and rented out for weddings and other events.
By 2014, the Association had determined that operating a special events venue was well outside of their mission and staff capabilities and that TCHA needed a modern facility in order to provide the proper curation environment and preservation standards required to care for and exhibit collections. Thus, the difficult decision was made to place the property for sale.
In the Spring of 2015, Matt and Dr. Ann Jonkman founded the 1852 Foundation to purchase, preserve, and operate this landmark, allowing it to once again be enjoyed by our community as a special events venue. The property is now available to rent for a wide variety of special events, including weddings, luncheons, reunions, meetings fundraisers, and holiday parties. Other public events will be hosted by the Foundation, including tours, wine tastings, brunches, lectures, fundraisers, parties, and theater events. In addition to restorative work, facility additions and required upgrades are being completed, which include handicap accessible restrooms and a full-service commercial kitchen.