Fowler House Mansion: the Intriguing Story of the House on the Hill

Learn the story behind Fowler House Mansion in Indiana.

This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.

By Toritsegbogwa Jakpa

As I wove my way through downtown Lafayette’s Historic District, past the quaint houses, elegant churches and stately museums, I was amazed to see the efforts put in place to preserve the history of the area.

After a few twists and turns in the district, I came across a huge mansion uphill in the middle of the cross-section with a sign that read, “Fowler House Mansion” and I just had to check it out.

Fowler House Mansion in West Lafayette Indiana

Out of the 97 known Gothic Revival-style buildings in Indiana, Fowler Mansion is “considered the finest example of a large Gothic revival residence still standing in the United States” by early authorities on Indiana architecture.

Yet with so many other popular buildings in the area, Fowler Mansion is hardly talked about or sometimes not mentioned at all; the only online presence it has was from the company’s website. So, I decided to be the one to break the silence.

Related: why you should visit Lafayette Indiana

The Story of Fowler House Mansion

Portraits of Moses and Elizabeth Fowler on the walls of the North Parlor.

The Gothic style mansion was built from 1851- 1852 by Moses Fowler, who in 1839 had moved from Ohio to Lafayette, Indiana, to pursue his dreams with his business partner and founder of Purdue University, John Purdue.

Fowler’s love for Gothic architecture inspired him to follow the work of A.J Downing, who is considered to be the founder of American landscape architecture and an advocate of Gothic architecture.

This picture shows the original South Parlor before the renovations.
This picture shows the original South Parlor before the renovations.
The former back of the house that led to the tea room and garden of Fowler House

Fowler began making his fortune in the mercantile industry but branched out to numerous other fields. Notably, he became one of the “Prairie Cattle Kings,” so-called because of his vast tracks of land and great herds. He was considered to be one of the wealthiest men in the Midwest.

Zoomed in picture of a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to Moses one month before he won the presidential election.
A letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to Moses one month before he won the presidential election.

Upon entering, creaky hardwood floors led to a waiting area at the front of the mansion with two doors opening to the North and South Parlors.

Moses and his wife, Eliza, were known as big entertainers so these parlors were the place to be when people came around. Dinner was usually one of the highlights of their gatherings, but after dinner, guests usually didn’t socialize together.

The North Parlor for the women
The South Parlor for the men at Fowler House Mansion

Men and women parted into separate groups, with the men in the south of the room while the women socialized in the north side of the room; this was made possible through the pocket doors created to separate both parties.

One of the major reasons I visited the mansion was to see the famous “speakeasy” in the basement of the mansion. It was run by Fowler’s eldest son, James, who at that time was a student at Purdue University.

Along with the speakeasy, there was also a game room called the “Crook Club.” Fifty cents bought you all the beer you could drink, and “Shorty” (the gardener) served up hamburgers for a nickel each.

Basement window by the side of the house where the “speakeasy” and “Crook Club” were located at Fowler House Mansion
Basement window by the side of the house where the “speakeasy” and “Crook Club” were located.

Guests to Fowler House must be accompanied in the speakeasy; unfortunately, it was not available the day I went. Just in case you’d like to visit the basement, call in before your tour and ask if the required staff is available to take you.

The tour guide and I made our way to the second level, where we explored all the living quarters. I was particularly interested in two suites.

Entrance of Mrs. Fowler’s second suite, also showing her walk-in closet in Fowler House Mansion
Entrance of one of the suites, showing a walk-in closet.
Other half of Mrs. Fowler’s second suite leading to the sleeping porch and bathroom.
Other half of the suite leading to the sleeping porch and bathroom.

Moses and Eliza did not have a happy marriage. He died in 1889, and the last ten years of his life he lived across the street with their daughter Ophelia, who was also estranged. Both of these suites were the biggest bedrooms in the house and had the most exquisite ornaments, chairs, and details.

One of the most surprising features of the house is a marble, standing steamed shower that had a glass door that looks like something from the 20th century. This was built in 1917 by Cecil Fowler, Moses and Eliza’s grandson, and was part of an extensive renovation that included new masters and servants’ quarters and an indoor kitchen.

Interior of the “steam and drop” shower .
Interior of the “steam and drop” shower
The exterior of the shower, which originally came with a glass door but was later removed during renovations.
The exterior of the shower, which originally came with a glass door but was later removed during renovations.

As my final goodbye, I decided to take a selfie in James Fowler’s mirror, which was previously sold but later returned to the mansion. The tour was a great walk through time, and I was able to gain more understanding and history about the house and life in early Lafayette.

Fireplace, mantel, and mirror in Fowler House Mansion

Today, the Fowler House Mansion is used mainly as a wedding location and for their weekend house happenings such as Sunday brunch, “Wine on the Terrace,” dinners, etc. Check out the mansion’s website for holiday events such as Octo-Beer-Fest dinner and Brunch with Santa.

If you have more time after your tour, there’s a lot to do nearby. A two-minute walk can take you to the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette that sits just behind the mansion, or a seven-minute walk to the Haan Museum of Indiana Art.

Fowler House Mansion displays wedding gowns and accessories used in the 19th century.
Fowler House Mansion displays wedding gowns and accessories used in the 19th century.

If you’re hungry, downtown Lafayette eateries such as DT Kirby’s, East End Grill, and many other local favorites are less than 10 minutes away.

For more information on touring the Fowler House Mansion, visit their website, contact (765) 400-2002 to schedule an appointment, or visit the house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.