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Crapo Estates

Originally "Old Lane Farm" — One of East Central Indiana's Most Spectacular Estates

A Brief History…Looking Back

Contributed by W.R. Sprugeon

Crapo Mansion

Frederick Martin Crapo, a native of Terre Haute, was a young engineering graduate of Rose Polytechnic Institute there (now Rose Hulman Institute of Technology), when he arrived in Muncie in 1920 to work at the Hemingrary Glass Co.

He soon met Mildred Kitselman, daughter of one of the four brothers from Ridgeville who had come to Muncie at the turn of the century and established successful fence and wire-making factories here.

They were wed in 1922. The next year he joined the Kitselmans' Indiana Steel & Wire Co. as chief engineer. He was the inventor of numerous industrial products and processes, including a galvanizing process for wire that became known as "the Crapo process."

He soon became vice president for manufacturing at the wire mill. And the Crapos and their three young daughters were living at 300 Riverside Avenue in the early 1930s when the decision was made to build a new, larger home.

From a few city lots they expanded their vistas to an historic farm west of the city. They set their sights on Buckles Place, nearly a half-section of the land north of Riverside Avenue at its intersection with the Jackson Street Pike. The family's interest in acquiring farm land was not unusual; numerous members of Muncie's business and professional community were doing it, too.

Joseph Buckles had been a livestock dealer who came to the Muncie area from Ohio in 1833, and the two-story wood-frame house that he built and occupied in the 19th century was still there when the Crapos acquired the place, as was a large, traditional barn. Both structures remain more than 60 years later. By 1920, the site and the area adjoining it consisted of more than 600 acres.

The New York firm of Peabody, Wilson and Brown, Architects, designed a large brick home. Its exterior design was Georgian modern. The interior was more eclectic. A French influence in the library might have been a carryover from the Berwyn Road design, which had French elements. Other recognizable interior elements reflect art mod erne (art deco) and classic Greek influences.

By the time the Crapos moved into the structure in the late 1930s, he was president of Indiana Steel & Wire, a post he retained for more than two decades. The firm was sold to General Cable Corp. in the late 1950s, and he then served on that company's board of directors.

Because of its location on a large estate, surrounded by timber, the house the Crapos built, although one of east central Indiana's most spectacular, was in low public profile throughout the family's occupancy. It could be reached only by traveling a long lane from Jackson Street (crossing a creek in the process), or by way of a little-known "back gate" along Morrison Road.

But the Crapos were not reclusive. She was active in numerous organizations involved with music, art and drama, as well as several philanthropies. He was an active member of the Ball Memorial Hospital board of directors and served as a consultant to several of its building projects.

After the Crapo family moved there, the Buckles Place was re-christened "Old Lane Farm." General farming operations were carried out, and the barn was modernized to house saddle horses. A riding ring was build, and Muncie riding teacher, Marcella M. Lahr, and farm manager, Ralph Brown, (who occupied the former Buckles home) conducted riding classes there. Dairy cattle were kept too, and crops were raised on some of the land, which extended north and east to Petty Road.

Following the deaths, in 1979 and 1982, of Fred and Mildred Crapo, the house they had occupied for more than decades was occupied briefly by other family members and sold to Muncie physician Terry Marsh. The current developers acquired it from him. Some of the land along Petty Road had previously been sold. Further north, a Bethel Avenue farm once owned by Mildred Crapo's parents, C.M. and Irene Kitselman, had been given by the Crapos to the Ball State University Foundation.

One Crapo daughter, Ann Hannah, resides in Muncie. Another, Betty Horton, calls Omaha, Nebraska, home. A third, Janet Harvey, is deceased.

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A Home Full of Memories

Entrepreneur has restored the 33-room Crapo mansion
By Nancy Millard
For The Star Press

Muncie — "I'm back home again," said Bob Spray, house renovator extraordinaire. This is my 75th house, my last."

For the past 3 years, Spray has been revitalizing the Crapo mansion, built in the 1930s by Fred and Mildred Crapo on farm land west of Muncie.

When the property first came on the market some 12 years ago, Spray wanted to buy it. "My mother said go ahead, you can handle it. But my dad pointed out that I already had a big mortgage on the Chrysler house that I was working on in Palm Beach, Florida, and said that I could go bankrupt."

So, the entrepreneur passed up the farm and continued his restorations, buying old Palm Beach properties and restoring them to grandeur, for 17 years.

The old Edith Chrysler mansion on Jungle Road, for instance. "It took me a year to do it," he said. "Meantime, some of the neighbors were Ivana Trump and Sonny Vanderbilt.

"Those years in Palm Beach were an education in design and architecture, also in people; Greg Norman, Vera Wang came through my houses, not to be name dropping," he added with a grin.

The Crapo mansion reflects the maturing of his taste, his respect for historical values and knowledge of the decorative arts that he acquired during his Palm Beach era.

He envisioned the 33-room Crapo house as a country estate, a home with furnishings that look like they've always been there, a comfortable place to entertain friends and family. And to work.

"I painted all 114 exterior shutters in place, and then had to paint them again," he said. Peat is the Martha Stewart color he used.

Spray, who grew up on a farm near Cowan, acquired the eclectic furnishings from his grandparents (who were in vaudeville) and parents, form local historic homes, auctions and estate sales in our area and Palm Beach.

He brightened the interior with warm, creamy white paint, and added mitered moldings to walls, which "refined the space more," and suggested classical paneling.

In some rooms he sponged the walls, using four tones of cream and a glaze for subtle pattern and texture. Woodwork in the dining room is painted faux marble, so masterfully subtle that it blends with the walls. The dining room floor looks like old pink marble, but was faux painted on the original rubber tile by two Vietnam artisans from Florida.

The soaring center hall with curving staircase sets the spirit of the house. An ornate "Chinese Chippendale mirror gone wild" over a carved console gives pause by the stairway, while nearby a stately, hilt-framed peer mirror faces a courtly painting of a cardinal receiving homage from grand ladies.

The Chippendale mirror is from a Palm Beach estate, the console table from a Carmel auction house and the peer mirror from the Mayme Oesterle historic home in Muncie (now the Newman Center). The oil painting was a recent $100 bargain.

"The large living room is more formal than I intended," he said. However, the furnishings - a pair of French settees by the fireplace and a coral sofa that harmonizes with the Chinese screen ("from my Chinese neighbor in Florida, he bought it from Neiman Marcus") — and a pair of antique ormolu chests on either side of the front window ("I seem to buy in pairs") were things he had on hand. The room-sized Kerman rug had belonged to his parents. A pair of plastic vases is from a TJ Maxx half-price sale; the Zeus bust, which he calls Cousin Frank, is plaster.

"The library is my favorite room," Spray said. The Sarouk rug he bought from the estate of Muncie trial lawyer Clarence Benadum, the fireplace screen and andirons are from the Chrysler mansion and the pair of half-round tables are from a Westwood neighborhood garage sale.

"The grandfather clock is by a clock-maker from Losantville made with walnut from the Thornburg farm near Windsor," he said.

"This house, to me, is a home full of memories. The furnishings are from people I've known. The gardens are mainly perennials from starts that friends have shared."

Spray has lost track of how many houses in Muncie he's renovated and lived in.

"While I was living in Florida, coming back to Muncie kept me grounded," he said. "It's good to be back." And with that he dashed off to another auction.

The above article ran in The Star Press, Sunday, July 6, 2003 in section F.

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