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The Wingate Pagoda is a notable architectural folly with a history that connects to larger regional narratives. The town of Wingate was laid out in 1831 by Christian Bever and was originally known as Pleasant Hill. A post office was established in 1833 and the town was resurveyed and platted in 1836. Pleasant Hill’s population grew to about 120 people by 1840, but it remained a small, rural farming community without access to water or rail transportation. The town was renamed in 1889 for John Clay Wingate (1851–1924), after he helped to persuade the Toledo, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad to build its narrow-gauge line through Pleasant Hill in 1881, sparking increased development that led to a peak population of 457 in 1900.
Wingate was born near Pleasant Hill to the children of early settlers of the area and married Lida Gileky (1857–1930) in 1879. He became a dealer in agricultural implements, and platted several additions to the town of Pleasant Hill. Around 1900, Wingate built a new frame house on a lot at the center of the original town plat. At the time, Wingate was active in the Indiana Republican Party and he hosted several receptions for governors and state officials in his new house.
The Wingates appear to have traveled widely. It is believed that Lida Gilkey Wingate visited the 1910 Japan–British Exhibition held in London and was so impressed that she decided to erect a Japanese-style structure upon her return. The Wingate Pagoda was built on the lawn south of the Wingate House in 1911 and was featured in an illustrated article in the Indianapolis Star in January 1912. Oral tradition states that when the masons completed the stone base, Lida found it to be unsatisfactory, ordering it to be demolished and rebuilt.
The lower level of the pagoda is an open porch called the swing house. This concrete-floored room measures 12 by 16 feet, is framed by four battered columns and knee walls of fieldstone masonry, and was originally furnished with a porch swing, rocking chairs, and other furniture. The wooden structure of the second level cantilevers out at each side to provide a sleeping room measuring 16 by 20 feet. A metal stair located along the west elevation provides access to the second floor. The lower walls of the second floor are clad in stucco with a mosaic pebble finish, while the upper walls consist of 24 six-light wood sash windows and wood mullions measuring 8 inches wide on two sides and 12 inches wide on the other two. The window sash descend completely into pockets in the lower wall, similar to streetcar windows of the period, allowing the entire opening to provide fresh air to the interior. The original window screens were of bronze wire, and interior Pullman railcar shades were provided at each opening. The hip-and-gable roof features concave hipped eaves with exposed rafter tails and flared corners and is capped by a gable with a concave ridge trimmed with curled cresting.
The interior of the second-floor room is finished in natural-stained hardwood, with wainscoting extending up to the window sills. The mullions bear oil paintings of flowers, birds, and scenery inspired by Japanese art and executed by a German decorator from Indianapolis. The window sills were intended to be high enough that sleepers would be just below the breeze passing through the room.
After Lida Wingate’s death in 1930, the house was sold. Subsequent owners have maintained the house and Wingate Pagoda, allowing this unique architectural folly to survive largely unaltered since its construction. The property remains in private hands.
“A Prosperous West.” Crawfordsville Weekly Journal, June 29, 1900.
“Artistic Outdoor Sleeping Room.” Indianapolis Star, January 7, 1912.
Baker, Ronald L. From Needmore to Prosperity: Hoosier Place Names in Folklore and History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
“Ben-Hur a Success.” Indianapolis News, February 16, 1900.
“Bermuda is Rich, Thrifty, Prospering.” Indianapolis Morning Star, April 21, 1907.
“Death of Nancy Wingate.” Crawfordsville Journal, July 23, 1897.
“New Church Bell.” New Richmond Record, December 20, 1900.
Standard Atlas of Montgomery County, Indiana. Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle and Company, 1917.
“State News.” Indianapolis News, April 8, 1882.
“The Wingate Post Office.” Crawfordsville Review, May 19, 1889.
“Welcomed at Wingate.” Indianapolis News, August 29, 1903.
“Will Talk About Indiana Writers.” South Bend News-Times, November 21, 1914.
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