By Rick Hinton
Correction to last week’s article: I reversed the original location with where the home ended up at Southport & Mann Roads. Apologies for any confusion.
When David Nicholson began building his Gothic-Revival house in the small settlement of Valley Mills, at Mann (then known as Spring Valley Road) and Mills Roads on the southwest fringe of Indianapolis, he was also involved in the construction of the Marion County Courthouse in downtown Indy. Many of the design features and construction materials from the courthouse materialized in this home. Back in the day, the journey from downtown to Valley Mills was an all -day trek along a series of twisty dirt roads. Rumor was, a constant caravan of horse-drawn wagons delivered building materials to the house site. Colored tile in the home was the same as in the courthouse, as was interior woodwork. Leftover stuff? Nicholson’s home and the courthouse were both completed at the same time in 1876.
The home, with ties to the downtown courthouse and eventually DePauw University, weathered decades of history until it finally rested empty and abandoned. Saved for preservation purposes, it was moved in 1997 to its present location to a corner lot at Southport and Mann Roads. The town of Valley Mills, complete with a post office, faded from memory. However, the home that Nicholson built gained a new lease on life after the move: new ownership, with an eye toward bringing it back to its former glory. A photo taken during that move gave birth to an example of a “haunted” house. The rest, as they say, is history!
Mike Fender’s photo of a young blond girl in a blue dress staring out of an upstairs window during the move of the home garnered a lot of attention. Fender felt that it was a natural anomaly caused by a trick of the light on the window screen. He reasoned the blue dress could be explained away because the room was blue. It appears, however, that the figure is standing in front of curtains. And… when the photo is blown up, regardless of the resolution, the figure does not distort. This photo was the birthplace of the stories that would come soon after; and the evolution of an urban myth.
The stories seem pulled out of the air. Who was the blonde girl in the blue dress? Nicholson and his first wife’s daughter; the ghost of a former tenant who had fallen out of that window; a young girl accidentally killed by hunters in nearby woods; the ghost of a child buried in a nearby family cemetery. Then, tales of a former renter hanging himself in an upstairs bedroom; a kindly women’s spirit hanging around; blood dripping from the walls, muffled screams and the odor of decaying flesh. My favorite theory is that the home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, where slaves perished in an accidental basement fire (I believe they have this house mixed up with the Hannah House).
None of these stories have been historically verified. Yet, through the vast number of years and a turnover of residents, some things might have happened that weren’t reported or swept under the rug: unwanted pregnancies, a ‘simple’ minded child being hidden away, succumbing to an illness or a death? It’s always a possibility.
One internet site proclaims that the Nicholson-Rand home is one of the most haunted sites in the country. Hmm? Present owners have never experienced any paranormal activity of any kind. Hmm? I would imagine, by now, they are weary of sight-seers parking in their drive to get a look at “the home with the stories.” I guess it comes with the territory. On June 22, 2003, the home was posted to the National Register of Historic Places.