During the Industrial Age, the Gaar, Scott & Company was established to manufacture farm equipment. This equipment was shipped worldwide giving the Gaar family great wealth in which to build lavish homes such as the one located at 1307 E. Main Street in Richmond, Indiana. The home at this location was designed by architect and builder, Stephen O. Yates, who was the architect for many of the Gaar homes in our area.
Oliver Perry Gaar was born on February 26, 1852. He was named after a famous naval lieutenant that led the Americans against the British in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Oliver P. Gaar was said to be one of the most eligible bachelors in his day. In 1880, at the age of 28, he was slated to marry a socialite. As a machinist at the family business and the heir to family fortune, Oliver could have had his pick of any girl in Richmond, Indiana. Oliver instead fell in love with his mother’s seamstress, Mary Alice. She worked to help provide for her mother and sister as she had no father in her home. Oliver married Mary Alice on February 18, 1880. Most Gaar weddings were quite the affair, however, Oliver and Mary Alice had a quiet ceremony. After the wedding they lived at his parent’s home, known as Maplewood, until they could finish building their own home. In 1881, they moved to an Italianate style home located at 302 N. 12th St. “A beautiful first home, it had eight large rooms and several smaller ones, bedecked with cherry woodwork, cured open stairway and bay windows.” On November 4, 1884 their only child, a daughter, Agnes was born. Named after her grandmother, she was the first grandchild for Abram and Agnes Gaar. (To learn more about Abram and Agnes’s farm and mansion, Maplewood, go here: www. thegaarhouse.com). Oliver in later years, would eventually become known as, “a gentleman farmer, and enjoyed horse racing.” The mansion on Main and 13th was a home built out of love, if not for bragging rights. Oliver had this mansion built to prove his wife was equal in status to the Gaars.
There is some debate on the year the mansion was built. Some say the mansion was built circa 1903. Steven Jones, son of Deskin, one of the men who first bought the house from Mrs. Gaar in 1940; states the house was actually built in 1901. His father had it on good authority from Mrs. Gaar herself. Located in the house is a small, wooden crate with extra fireplace tile pieces on which is written the year, 1901. Underneath a marble lavatory the year 1901 is also written. A photo with the Gaar family in costume in the ballroom is dated 1902. So, it makes sense that the house was built in 1901. In the book Agar Houses, by James P. Hartig and Gertrude L. Ward, (to read this book, please visit the Morrison-Reeves Library, www.mrlinfo.org) this home is described as a “mansion, not just for its size but for its interior and exterior details. In terms of the exterior, Hartig and Ward noted, “a return to the elegance of colonial forefathers, in the Classical Revival style. The use of Ionic columns, dentils, pediments and other architectural detailing on the exterior was coupled with soft gray brick.” According to an interview with Mr. Steven Jones, the mansion once had silk wall coverings. The double drawing room had a pink silk tapestry that hung on the walls. A lovely, still present, ceiling mural is consistent with French drawing rooms of an earlier time. This too, is the only room with cherry wood and columns, including the interior side of the pocket doors. When the doors are closed, the interior door is cherry to match that of the drawing room, while the exterior side of the pocket doors are oak which match the grand entrance. Quarter sawn oak is used in the rest of the home, from parquet floors, to wainscoting to coffered ceilings. Ornate gas fireplaces are in every room throughout the home, each one different than the others. Many rooms have built-in marble lavatories. The dining room has a beautiful coffered ceiling, built-in oak sideboard/buffet and Art Nouveau stained glass windows. The grand oak staircase in the entrance of the home leads guests to the second floor bedrooms. Here, one can see four more ceiling murals, two more stained glass windows and a hall area large enough to be a secondary sitting area. All of the woodwork is in an “Adamesque-Colonial Revival Style.” Two rooms, Agnes’ room and the maids’ cupboards room are the only rooms with white painted trim. It was considered progressive at the time to have painted trim. One man and one woman servant stayed in the home during the week. Located in the bedrooms are some bedroom furniture original to the Gaar family, as well as a set of cane chairs and their original set of “The Encyclopdia Britannica” from 1910. The latter of which, still stands where it once stood when the Gaar family occupied the home. Two bathrooms located on the second floor, each contain the original claw foot bathtubs in mint condition. The second story hall leads to the back hall and secondary staircase made again, of oak. While not as grand as the main staircase, it leads to the exquisite ballroom, located on the third floor. The gold-washed sconces on the wall, and on the ceiling in a perfect circle, cast a beautiful glow in the room, perfect for special events.
One wonders what magnificent parties must have taken place in the ballroom. With over 2,000 square feet of space, there was plenty of room for dancing and parties. A newspaper article dated, February 19, 1909 reads, “An elaborate social function of last evening was the dinner company and dance given by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Gaar, Mr. and Mrs. Clem Gaar and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Gaar at the beautiful home of Mr. Oliver Gaar on East Main street. In the parlors, carnations and pink roses were used in decorating. In the dining room the color scheme red and green was carried out. A French basket filled with scarlet carnations formed a center piece for the table. Places were arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Wickham Corwin, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Holton, Mr. ad Mrs. Dudley Elmer, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Leeds, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Craighead, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Craighead and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Study. The other guests were served at small tables appointed with white sweet peas. The place cards were colonial figures. After dinner, dancing was enjoyed until a late hour. An orchestra furnished the dance music. Those present were members of the Gaar family…” In the book, “The Gaar Family, Pioneers of Industry, Richmond, Indiana”, by Joanna Hill Mikesell (great-granddaughter of Abram and Agnes Gaar) and Annette S. Warfel, is a photo of the Gaar family dressed in costume in front of the large window in the ballroom for an elaborate dinner and dance on February 19, 1909. You can find this interesting book at the Wayne County museum, www.waynecountyhistoricalmuseum.org. (All information used from the book is used with permission from Sarah, Joanna’s daughter).
One time, Oliver crossed the street to look at his home with all the lights on. When asked what he was doing, he replied, “I just wanted to see what the whole damn thing looks like lit up at night!” Also, on the third floor are two rooms and bathrooms, which were once open spaces used for storage. One room now, is used as a bridal suite. A large window above the back staircase shows an impressive skylight in the attic. This skylight shines all the way down the back stairwell to the first floor. Also located in the home is a service call box. Buttons located in various parts of the home can still be pressed to ring into the kitchen with corresponding numbers of 1-4. A needle moves while being rung to indicate the area of the house which needs service. Behind a door in the kitchen is a rudimentary intercom system made of pipes in the walls with a small opening for speaking into, or for listening. The other end to one pipe is located in the back stairwell hallway on the second floor. A dumb waiter is still present in the home as well as the original icebox. The full basement still contains the massive coal burner once used to heat the home. Coal was poured into a small doorway located beside the mansion’s driveway and shoveled into a brick lined room. Some of the old coal burner’s tools are propped against the wall as well. Let’s not forget the magnificent wrap-around porch. Stately columns and hand-tiled terrazzo flooring adorn the porch, the likes of craftsmanship which are not seen today. A large ‘G’ for Gaar still remains at the entrance in front of the front door. A porte-cocheres on the side entrance once allowed a horse and carriage or car to pass under to allow its occupants to exit to the home escaping any inclement weather. A two-story carriage house sits behind the residence. Rings still on the wall in the carriage house were for securing the horses. At age 73, Oliver died in his home on November 10, 1923. His death was that of a heart attack, his second in that same year. In 1940, Mrs. Gaar sold the home to Deskin Jones and Elmer Placke, who operated it as a very successful funeral home. When asked if she would be interested in selling the home, she simply said, “yes.” She promptly packed her suitcase and left the home that day, leaving all the contents within the home behind. The home was purchased from Mrs. Gaar for $12,250.00. Mr. Jones and Mr. Placke were instructed to 1) Keep the house intact, and 2) Not drastically alter it.
In October 1940, Jones and Placke opened the home for funeral services. By 1950, it was a success story, doing 160 funerals a year. Deskin’s son, Stephen took over the family business and the home in 1979-1999. It became the Lamb funeral home from 1999-2003. After that, it became a salon and day spa. In 2013 we purchased the home to restore it to its former glory. Plans for the home include: a special events venue, as well as custom baked cakes and sweets from the kitchen. Throughout local history, the mansion was commonly referred to as, “the mansion on Main and 13th.” Thus, the name: The Mansion on Main. We are undergoing the process to become on the National Historic Registry of historic places. As we learn more facts; we will update this history page. We love this home so much and we remain dedicated to the ever-going project of restoring this mansion and gathering furnishings. We hope you treasure it as much as we do!