A Rural Retreat
“So far as I can testify, nothing much happened in Indiana previous to 1870. The world at that time was all prairie and cornfields, except for the white houses of the county seat and a dark line of timber against the horizon….”
George Ade’s upbringing in rural Indiana provided him a world view that served him well as a prominent playwright and humorist in the early twentieth century. But his fame never disconnected him from the Hoosier state, especially when he turned to the tree line near the small town of Brook, where he built his grand estate known as Hazelden. Today it’s a property poised for new use as an events venue and gathering space.
Born in Kentland, Indiana, in 1866, George Ade was the lone Newton County resident to leave for college in 1883, when he departed to attend Purdue University. After graduating in 1887, Ade worked for newspapers in Lafayette and Chicago, observing the rapidly changing country around him from a Hoosier perspective.
Ade’s writing transformed these views into fables and plays, later earning him the nickname the “Aesop of Indiana.” His most notable works include plays such as The County Chairmanand The College Widow, and at one point he had three plays running simultaneously on Broadway.
Ade wanted an escape from his growing fame and the increasing commotion of Chicago, so he eventually found refuge back in his native Newton County. In 1902, he bought 417 acres along the banks of the Iroquois River, just east of the town of Brook, where he intended to build a summer cottage. With the help of Chicago architect and Sigma Chi fraternity brother Billy Mann, Ade’s “summer cottage” took shape as an immense English Tudor Revival-style country home. His Indiana residence eventually included a carriage house, spring house, cow barn, lavish gardens, swimming pool, softball field, and an adjacent golf course and country club. Ade named it Hazelden after the home of his English grandparents.
Hazelden may have provided a reprieve from city life, but it was not always quiet. Ade was particularly known for his love of entertaining and over the years hosted luminaries such as Douglas MacArthur, Ernie Pyle, James Whitcomb Riley, and U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and William Howard Taft. Taft even chose Hazelden to announce his candidacy for the Presidency in 1908 before an estimated crowd of 25,000. Ade also welcomed the children of Newton County to explore and enjoy the wonders of his estate.
Upon his death in 1944, Ade left Hazelden to Newton County. A group known as the George Ade Memorial Association formed to oversee the property. In the 1960s and 1990s, the group oversaw interior rehab projects at the estate, including the office where Ade wrote, which remains relatively unchanged. But last year the group folded, and today the National Register-listed property sits mostly dormant.
With the help of a grant from Indiana Landmarks’ Efroymson Family Endangered Places Fund, county officials are assessing the condition of the buildings at Hazelden, aiming to make the estate more accessible to the public as a historic site and events venue.
The first step is gathering estimates for repairing significant elements — including deteriorating wood timbers on the exterior of the main house — and stabilizing the aging carriage house and spring house. Future goals for the property include recreating the its grand gardens, inspired by Ade’s globe-trotting travels.
To learn more about the George Ade Home and future events at Hazelden, contact the Newton County Historical Society.
Stay up to date on the latest news, stories, and events from Indiana Landmarks, around the state or in your area.