Early Rush County Home Emerges from Decay

Ball State history professor Ron Morris is restoring the 1845 home built by Rush County settler Dr. Jefferson Helm.

Helm House, Rush County

Vision of Democracy

For nearly 175 years, a home that looks like it could have been taken from Thomas Jefferson’s eighteenth-century architectural designs has drawn curious looks—at first in admiration, more recently in dismay—from people traveling along US 44 east of Rushville.

Built 1845 by Dr. Jefferson Helm, the elegant home’s Greek Revival details reflected Helms’s elevated status within the community and his dedication to the early nineteenth century’s classical ideals of democracy, civic virtue, and optimism.

One of Rush County’s early settlers, Helm’s long career as a physician, educator, and statesman included serving on the committee to draft Indiana’s constitution. By the time Helm built his house, he was one of the county’s largest landowners. The home became the centerpiece of his 900-acre farm, with bricks made on site, and woodwork cut from local trees.

Helm House, Rush County, Peat Collection

The Dr. Jefferson Helm House c.1963 (Indiana Landmarks Wilbur D. Peat Collection)

The house served as a private home for more than a century before falling into disrepair in the 1960s. Even in decay, the property’s historic character and potential shone through, capturing the attention of Ball State University history professor and longtime Indiana Landmarks member Ron Morris.

A serial restorer, Morris has plenty of experience in the challenges of preserving historic houses. He previously restored his 1830 Federal-style home in Centerville and the 1848 Centerville home of Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, whose administration Jefferson Helm served.

In late 2021, he acquired the Helm House from our affiliate Rush County Heritage and embarked on a mission to revive it as a venue for tours, special events, and educational sessions focusing on the local history of eastern Indiana.

With the help of a $ $100,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Morris completed essential masonry repairs, and plans to tackle window, door, and roofline work next. Throughout the project, Indiana Landmarks has served as a technical advisor, and our protective easements will safeguard its architectural character in the future.

“Having worked with Indiana Landmarks in the past on other home restorations, I see their covenant and easement program as the single best way to preserve historic properties and structures,” says Morris. “It ensures my efforts to save the historic character of the Helm House are preserved for years to come.”

In recognition of its history and architectural character, the National Park Service recently listed the Helm House in the National Register of Historic Places It’s a fitting honor for one of the county’s earliest homes that is once again on its way to being a standout for all the right reasons.

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