The library received a donation from the estate of local artist Lee Detchon after his death in 1994, including a large collection of photos that are digitized in our image database. Letters and documents in the donation from as early as 1850 helped us piece together the history of the Elliott Detchon family.
Elliott Detchon was born in Portage County, Ohio, on March 15, 1828. Elliott’s success in life is extraordinary considering his father, Oswald Detchon Jr., died when Elliott was about a year old. Elliott claimed to have worked side-by-side with John Rockefeller in the hayfields of Ohio; he put himself through school, graduating first from Linnean Academy in Ohio in 1846. He came to Indiana in 1847 with his best friend (and brother-in-law) John Simison via boat from Cleveland to Toledo to Lafayette to Parke County, where the friends taught school together at Rockville. In 1851, after graduating from Medical College of Cleveland (now Case Western Reserve University), Elliott and John went into practice together in Romney, Indiana. During his career, Elliott also practiced at Newtown, Wingate, New Richmond, and Crawfordsville. He also became a partner in his cousin Emory Totten’s store. The life of a businessman seemed to suit Elliott, as he opened a drugstore at Main and Green Street in 1871, which he ran for twenty years until he sold it in 1891 and began manufacturing proprietary medicine with his sons.
Elliott married a young lady from Rockville, Martha Jane Agnew, in 1848. Martha was the cousin of Dr. DeHays Agnew, physician to President Garfield. Elliott and Martha had eleven children, six of whom survived to adulthood. Elliott built a beautiful Queen Anne-style house at 300 East Green Street. The home remained in the family until 1920, when Lambda Chi Alpha purchased it from Elliott’s son-in-law, Senator William White. Elliott died of septic arthritis on January 29, 1905; Martha died of pneumonia in 1908.
Irwin Agnew Detchon was the oldest of Elliott and Martha’s children, and the only one who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor. He was born in 1850 while his father was practicing medicine at Newtown in Fountain County. He graduated from Wabash College in 1873 and went on to the University of Pennsylvania Medical College. He returned to Crawfordsville and began his own medical practice in 1876. Irwin Agnew did not practice medicine long; like his father, he became more interested in business. When Crawfordsville Wire and Nail Company incorporated in 1900, I.A. Detchon was elected to the board of directors along with H.H. Ristine and Benjamin Crane. Detchon’s son, Lee, recalled that his father had an office in the Ben Hur building, and “got interested in farms. He thought that was just about the best investment there was. It turned out to be about the worst.” I.A. worked with his father in the proprietary drug business; around 1910, a grand jury returned an indictment against I.A. Detchon for the misbranding of certain proprietary drugs; analysis showed the drugs contained mostly sodium salicylate, sugar, and water, making the claims of curative properties false and misleading. Detchon pled guilty and was fined $200. Dr. Detchon was active in the temperance movement, and his obituary calls him “one of the most progressive men in the city in all activities.”
Irwin Agnew Detchon was married in November, 1882, to Ella Washburn, of New Richmond; Ella died just a few months later, in March, 1883. He married again in 1892, this time to Annie Bell Lee. They had two children, Irwin Lee Detchon and Esther (Detchon) Olds. Irwin Agnew Detchon died in 1928.
Esther Detchon was born at Chicago in November, 1893. She attended Crawfordsville High School, Tudor Hall Boarding School at Indianapolis, and Ogontz School for Girls at Philadelphia. While a student at Ogontz, Esther took a trip to Europe with her classmates. When World War I began on July 28, 1914, the girls from Ogontz were stranded in Italy. Esther made an emergency passport application at the American Consulate in Genoa, Italy on August 4; after weeks with no word from Esther, she finally returned home safely in September. Esther married Arch Olds in 1924 and they lived in Indianapolis and Crawfordsville. Esther was an avid golfer and was very active in society circles. She passed away in 1980.
Esther’s younger brother, Irwin Lee Detchon (who went by Lee), was born in July, 1900. Lee also graduated from Crawfordsville High School, then went on to Wabash, finishing in 1923. His early career was in advertising in agencies at Miami and New York City but Lee’s real passion was for art, despite his father’s disapproval. “My father didn’t understand artists at all,” Lee said in an interview; he was 35 years old before he seriously considered being an artist. Lee took lessons with Fritz Schlemmer, although he was still unsure if he could make a living at it. Schlemmer told him, “Well, what do you want, do you want money? Or do you want prominence, or do you want to leave something to posterity? Think about leaving something to society.” From that point on, Lee devoted himself to painting. Besides his art, Lee left something else to posterity: in 1993 he made a gift to Wabash College, and Yandes Hall was renamed the Detchon Center in his honor.
Lee Detchon married Mary Hannah Peterson of Darlington on May 12, 1947; they lived in Crawfordsville. Mary Hannah died after a long illness in 1963. Lee never remarried and passed away at his home in 1994.