Friend of this blog Nick Harby, of West Lafayette, has tipped me off to a fascinating account of Purdue University’s role in two high-profile former area property owners; J.K. Lilly and Herman Krannert. Nick writes:
“Years ago I found a book that I think you would like to know about as you are interested in the history of real estate in the Pike Township area. Maybe you already have seen it. It is “R.B. Stewart and Purdue University” by Ruth Freehafer. It tells the story of how Josiah K. Lilly gifted 3500 acres of land along Eagle Creek to Purdue. The land ended up as I-65 and Eagle Creek Park. When I found your blog I figured you’d be interested in this book but I hadn’t found it in the library again until now. The book also talks a little about Normandy Farms, Purdue had something to do with that too apparently. Here are some of the parts of the book dealing with land in Pike Township.” (Thanks Nick, good stuff!)
R.B. Stewart and Purdue University,
By Ruth W. Freehafer
Chapter “Expansion in the Fifties”
Herman C. Krannert of Inland Container Corporation…..had made his first contact with Purdue when he called on the Department of Animal Sciences for help in treating some cattle on his Normandy Farm northwest of Indianapolis
Normandy Farms, the Krannert farm where the agriculture school people had done much work, was leased to the (Purdue Research) foundation, with all livestock, equipment and machinery included, for $16,000 a year. The foundation operated it for research in dairy farming and animal husbandry. Most of the people involved always believed that the farm was to go to the university but it was retained in the Krannert Charitable Trust and later developed into an area of fine homes.
Another large tract was given—“with no strings attached”—to the university by Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., of Indianapolis. His father, a Purdue trustee from 1927 to 1938, had made many gifts to the university, beginning with the replica of a pharmacy store in the former Pharmacy building and with one of the two gifts that founded Purdue Research Foundation. In 1958, through William A. Hanley, president of the board of trustees, Lilly sought a meeting with President Hovde and R.B. to discuss the gift of a tract of his land northwest of Indianapolis. Over the years he had acquired about 3,500 acres along Eagle Creek, bordering on Lafayette Road (U.S. 52). Calling it Eagle Crest Farms, Lilly had planted trees on the acreage; it was entered as a forest preserve on the property tax rolls. Under Indiana law such land was taxed at ten cents an acre. He owned almost all of the entire area except for a few parcels where homes had been built many years
before. His own summer house and those of some family members were on the property as were twenty-five to thirty other individual houses. About 1,500 acres was farmed. Lilly’s offer to the university officers was to make a gift of the entire property and its buildings with no stipulations whatsoever.
The land, he said, had been appraised for tax purposes at $5 million and each January for five years he planned to give acreage equivalent to $1 million to the university. In the meantime, he wanted the university to assume management of the entire tract immediately. Purdue officials had no immediate plans to develop that property, but they felt that it could only grow more valuable because of its beauty and its proximity to the city.
Stewart designated Gabbard to manage the land. He handled the rental of the houses and negotiated with three different farm operators to grow crops on a share basis. While the university managed the property, it was proposed as a possible location by state and Purdue officials of a huge, federal nuclear atomic research program and particle accelerator, which eventually was built at Batavia, Illinois.
In 1960, a newspaper article quoted Indianapolis Mayor Charles Boswell to the effect that part of the Lilly land should be given to his city for use as a park. Hanley, as president of the Purdue board and a resident of Indianapolis, came under a great deal of pressure on the subject. His answer was that “this wasn’t given to the university to benefit Indianapolis. This was given for the benefit of the university and we have no right to give it away.”
At a trustees meeting, someone suggested that if Indianapolis wanted the land, the city ought to buy it—the entire tract—for a park. The trustees and the administration were aware that, to develop the land, the university would require a longtime operating agency and a great deal of money. The university, they felt, would be better served with endowment money from a sale of the land and they expressed willingness to sell it to Indianapolis for the appraisal given Lilly. Stewart did not know Mayor Boswell but he asked the board’s permission to talk to him.
R.B.’s approach to Boswell was that if the city bought the land, he, Boswell, could provide Indianapolis a park with areas for sports of all kinds and wooded picnic grounds along a U.S. highway within a short distance of anywhere in the city. He also told Boswell that it would be possible to pay the purchase price over a period of time if he used the city’s bonding power. Boswell answered Stewart that he would take the matter to the city council. But before a decision came from Indianapolis, another governmental agency wanted part of the land as a gift.
At that time the Indiana State Highway Department was in the process of planning Interstate 65 north of Indianapolis and one of the interchanges of that highway was to be laid out on a corner of the Lilly land. Officials of the department approached the university administration with the argument that since they were both arms of the state of Indiana, the necessary land should just be transferred to their department. Again, it had to be emphasized that the land hadn’t been given to any governmental agency except Purdue and the university was entitled to the benefit of the gift.
The highway department people weren’t convinced and the dispute continued. Finally, board president Hanley and several other trustees, Hovde, Stewart, the state highway commission, and some representatives of the Federal Bureau of Roads met in Indianapolis. At the meeting the chairman of the state highway commission offered the university $500 an acre for the land it wanted. At that R.B. exploded, slapped his hand on the table, roaring “Mr. Chairman, let’s stop talking nonsense and talk about the real issue here—the value of the land. Where in the hell in Marion County can you buy land for less than $2,000 an acre?” The federal representative whose agency was to supply 90 percent of the highway’s cost agreed with R.B. The State Highway Commission remained unconvinced and the decision was eventually made by Governor Handley who said that the highway department, to get title to any part of the land, had to purchase it from Purdue as it
would from a private individual.
Eventually Indianapolis bought the land for a park. Some years later R.B. was shown the preliminary plans for the park and noticed that there was no entrance to the interstate for many miles north of 38th Street. When he pointed it out to the park board, the highway had to be redesigned to provide an entrance in the vicinity of Seventieth Street. When both the highway department and the Indianapolis Park Board had made their purchases, the university received a little more than $5 million. The money was used to set up the Lilly Fund, part of which was used to finance construction of the building of the Krannert School of Management.
Chap. 7 Winding Down in the Sixties
Many of the projects and much of the planning with which R.B. was involved in the later 1950s carried over into the 1960s. The sale of the Lilly land for an Indianapolis park was delayed when the purchasing agents, the Indianapolis Park board and the Flood Control Commission, were sued by a group of taxpayers. The suit sought to prevent the issuance of bonds which would be retired from a property tax levy. While the matter dragged on, Purdue Research Foundation bought the land from the university at the appraised value so the money would be available to Purdue even if the sale was not consummated. Besides the use of some of the Lilly fund money for the Krannert building on the West Lafayette campus, it also provided some of the financing for the construction of a new runway at the airport. J.K. Lilly, who had given the Eagle Creek land, did not want any personal recognition for it and in 1960 the trustees approved naming the life science building to
honor the entire Lilly family.
(For 36 years, R. B. Stewart served the University as its chief financial officer from the 1930s through the 1960s. Stewart and Lilly shared an appreciation for Amelia Earhart and her efforts. A letter in the Purdue archives (reproduced above) confirms Mr. Lilly’s gift of $2,500 to Purdue to recognize Earhart’s acheivements.