Fishers is well known for its rapidly growing newer suburban neighborhoods and ever-expanding schools. Some residents, myself included, may remember what Fishers was like before 116th Street became four lanes wide and there was no Target. Gasp! Most people know that many neighborhoods were farmlands prior to the cul-de-sac takeover; however, many don’t know there’s a piece of history still here today that residents can enjoy.
The Historic Ambassador House and Heritage Gardens, located in Fishers Heritage Park at 10595 Eller Road, has been a part of the local area since the 1820s. It wasn’t always located in the park. It began humbly as a log cabin, constructed by pioneer settlers in Hamilton County, and located on the northwest corner of 96th Street and Allisonville Road. By the time the house reached its third owners in 1880, it was a part of a 287-acre farm. These owners became the house’s namesake.
Addison Harris, America’s ambassador to Austria-Hungary from 1899 to 1901, lived in the house with his wife, India. Addison was a prominent lawyer in Indianapolis and kept a permanent residence on Meridian Street near the home of Eli Lilly. The Harrises enjoyed the house in the summer as an escape from their busy city life in Indianapolis. Because of their wealth, they were able to expand the original structure. When they were back in the city, a tenant farmer took care of the home and farmed the land.
Curator and Programming Coordinator Beth Clark took me on a tour of the almost 200-year-old house and shared its history with me. “India continued to spend summers at the house after Addison’s death in 1916 and maintained their Meridian Street home until the 1930s. India then sold the Meridian Street home and lived at the old Marott Hotel in Indianapolis (now the Marott Apartments) during the winter because the Ambassador House didn’t have heat.
“Thanks to extensive research by board member Kelly Gascoine,” Beth continued, “we also know that by the time India died in 1948, the Ambassador House sat on 405 acres. India willed the house and land to Indiana University, and the contents of the house were given to her lawyer, John Becker. In 1962, Becker and his wife purchased the house and 200 acres. His wife, Mayme, lived in the house until she died in 1995. After her death, the Washington Park Cemetery Association bought the house and 211 acres. Unfortunately, the Beckers’ belongings and all remaining items of the Harrises’ were sold at auction that year, so we have very few personal items from these families.” However, this piece of local history lives on because the Cemetery Association donated the house to the Town of Fishers.
Walt Kelly, past president of the Fishers Town Council, remembers the Town’s decision to move the house to Fishers Heritage Park in 1996. “The Ambassador House relocation, as a centerpiece for a new, more passive activity park, was championed by fellow Councilman Roy Holland, and I am proud of my support of its movement. Moving the outside stone house was almost as hard as the entire house. Allisonville Road was completely blocked by the size of the house. It was a sight to see, moving down the road.”
Restoration of the house began in 1996 and continued through 2009, thanks to the efforts of a citizen’s task force, the Fishers Historic Preservation Committee and the Indiana Landmarks. The Historic Ambassador House and Heritage Gardens is now used as a community resource and event center, with emphasis on local history, and is best known as a rental space for weddings, special events and meetings. The Town of Fishers and volunteers work together to maintain the house and preserve its original character while also providing modern conveniences to meet today’s standards as a public venue.
More information on visiting the house and gardens or booking space for your next event can be found at ambassadorhouse.org, or contact Private Event Sales Coordinator Kim Jones at 317-845-4265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In celebration of the house’s opening and dedication five years ago as a historic site and community resource event center for the Town of Fishers, a free event is scheduled for Sunday, June 1, from 2 – 5 p.m. Visitors will have the opportunity to view a retrospective photograph exhibition of the Ambassador House, tour the house and grounds, and learn about the exciting plans in store for its future. Guided tours will be conducted, and live music and refreshments will be provided.
The Ambassador House is also proud to announce that the Friends of Heritage Gardens at The Ambassador House and the Town of Fishers are sponsoring the inaugural “Fishers Heritage Garden Celebration” on June 7 and 8. This two-day event features Pearl Fryar, internationally acclaimed topiary artist, and includes a reception at the Ambassador House and gardening events at the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater in downtown Fishers. For further details on these events, contact Beth Clark, Ambassador House curator and programming coordinator, at email@example.com or 317-712-0236. The Ambassador House is located inside Fishers Heritage Park at 10595 Eller Road. Free parking; ADA accessible.