The House of Blue Lights

By Rick Hinton

Urban legend… a form of modern folklore, usually consisting of fictional stories containing elements rooted in localized popular culture. Many times, these stories carry on for decades. On the flip side, many never die. Regardless of what side of town you call home, the legend of the House of Blue Lights and an eccentric millionaire, Skiles Test, is familiar territory in Indianapolis lore and has endured the passage of years.

Skiles Test’s 1908 Manual High School graduation photo. and Skiles around 1960. (All photos courtesy of Gary Ledbetter)

Skiles Test, born 1889 into money, had a worry-free life. His father, Charles E. Test, was president of The National Motor Vehicle Company. The family resided at 795 Middle Dr. in the then affluent Woodruff Place neighborhood. In 1910, when Skiles was 21, his father died, leaving him a substantial inheritance. At age 23 he married his first wife, Josephine Benges. They had grand plans, packing up and moving to the northeast side of Indianapolis — then literally in the wilderness — to a huge, heavily wooded plot of ground that became referred to as “The Farm”. And a farm it became. Skiles gradually purchased the surrounding property, increasing his domain to 700 some acres that today includes the neighborhoods of Avalon Hills and Hillcrest. The original caretaker’s house was renovated and added upon. It became their permanent residence and eventually what would be called The House of Blue Lights! But… that would come much later.

Front exterior of the house.

The farm grew: cows, pigs and a working dairy. Skiles employed as many as 20 people to keep things running. He built his own power plant on the property and a small rail system that navigated his boundaries. He loved his animals, hosting his favorite dogs — St. Bernard’s — and what is rumored as 150 some cats, providing them their own special “cat compound” with a heated house. After these pets died, however, became a different matter…

Skiles Test entertained quests as the homestead evolved. He was the perfect host, well-liked by all who knew him. He had numerous get-togethers with the social elite, of which he was a member. The house went through its own transformations: the plain wood frame home soon contained an exterior facade of white opaque glass brick. Additions of a glass solarium/greenhouse and lightning rods on the roof added to the allure; a series of tunnels connected the house and various trapdoors about the property, leading to numerous out buildings; the solar heated pool: an Olympic size 48 x 84 (one of the first privately owned pools in Indianapolis), with a three-story diving tower and motorized surfboard pulley system.

It would seem the Tests had it all, residing in their mansion upon a hill on Fall Creek Parkway, very close to the present Bob & Tom Q95 radio studio, yet life sometimes throws a monkey wrench in the best-laid plans. And urban myths are born: death, glass coffins, blue lights and years of teenage rites of passage…