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A Home in Our Keeping

Twin Oaks
Historic Twin Oaks, a stewardship property of the Indiana Historical Society, is the former residence of Ruth Lilly. It was built by Lyman S. Ayres.

In May 2011, IHS signed a lease to occupy and manage Twin Oaks, once the home of the Ayres and Lilly families, through the generosity of William and Laura Weaver. The Weavers purchased the property in January 2011 from the heirs of philanthropist Ruth Lilly. IHS uses Twin Oaks as a hospitality center, and it serves as the home of President and CEO John Herbst, who acts as resident curator.

Lyman S. Ayres II and his wife, Isabel, built Twin Oaks in the Colonial Revival style in 1941. The Ayres family moved into the house in January 1942, one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lyman S. Ayres II was the grandson of L.S. Ayres who founded the L.S. Ayres & Company department store. After World War II, the Ayres family continued to develop the property and hired noted landscape architect Frits Loonsten to design the extensive gardens.

In 1955, Josiah K. Lilly Jr., whose grandfather Eli Lilly founded Eli Lilly & Company, and his wife, Ruth, purchased Twin Oaks. It was their intention to move from Oldfields – now on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art – to Twin Oaks, and they proceeded with a number of changes and renovations, hiring architect David V. Burns to adapt the exterior to a more European country-house style. The renovations included raising the roof of the west wing, reconfiguring the kitchen and building an octagonal breakfast room with a pepperpot roof.

In 1961, the Lillys erected an additional building to house Mr. Lilly’s collections of stamps, coins and miniature soldiers and to provide a studio for painting and a reference library that reflected his avocational interests. In 1963, the couple purchased an adjoining property and demolished a Tudor Revival-style home to add two acres to the estate, increasing it to 22 acres.

During this time, the property and house were fully staffed, and Mr. Lilly came daily from Oldfields to the “Hobby House” for his creative endeavors. Although all the changes to the estate were complete around 1965, Mr. and Mrs. Lilly decided not to move to Twin Oaks from Oldfields after all. J.K. Lilly died in 1966. In the late 1980s, the Lillys’ daughter, also named Ruth Lilly, took up residence at Twin Oaks and enjoyed the home until her death in December 2009. Ruth Lilly was one of the nation’s major philanthropists, and both Indianapolis and Indiana benefited greatly from her many charitable gifts.

Twin Oaks gardens
IHS President and CEO John Herbst is serving as the resident curator of Twin Oaks, taking on the rehabilitation of the home's extensive gardens.

The Weaver family purchased Twin Oaks several years ago with a special intent in preserving the property and its acres of woodlands from development. They generously updated the home’s interior for its use by IHS by refinishing hardwood floors and painting. The Collections department placed 21 Indiana paintings in the home. Several donors made financial gifts to furnish the first floor rooms and the guest bedrooms where out-of-town IHS trustees and speakers are now  accommodated. A Furnishings Committee consisting of Trustees Wanda Y. Fortune and Katharine Kruse, designer Tom Korecki, Kirby Stearley  and guided by Ben Solomon and Ryan Paris of Solomon-Paris Antiques, worked to create a warm and hospitable environment as a backdrop for the appreciation of Indiana history and IHS’s statewide mission and work.