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Detchon Family History

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 DetchonElliott 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.

I.A. DetchonIrwin 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.

Lee and Esther DetchonEsther 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.

ContractThis agreement between Elliott Detchon and his brother-in-law, John Simison, was written soon after they both settled in Romney.

March 3rd 1852 Romney Ind.
Article of An agreement entered into between John Simison and Elliott Detchon where-by we agree to associate ourselves in the practice of medicine Surgery and Dentistry for the term of one year. The [sd.] Simison Agrees to furnish the Shop now occupied by himself Medicines Glass ware and Instruments in his possession at this time. The aforesaid Detchon Agrees to throw in all Medicines in his position possession at this time Instruments Surgical and Dental also to purchase twenty dollars worth of stock more for the same purpose. All stock used beside this for the year remainder of the year each one pays his half. At the termination of the year each one [receivs] half of the proceeds of the practice. If the partnership is dissolved at the termination of the time all Instruments put in by each will be retained by each and the Medicine and glassware on hand at that time are divided equally. The above partnership [comences] on the 20th day of March by the acknowledgment of which we hereto affix our names this the 3rd day of March.
Jno. Simison
Elliott Detchon

LicenseThis recommendation was signed by two of the most respected pioneer doctors from Rockville, Indiana: James L. Allen and Harrison J. Rice.

Rockville August 28th 1852
This certifies
that Doctor Elliott [Datcheon]
has taken the Regular Course of study with us.
His Talents for Acquiring Medical Knowledge
are good. His study with us has been more thorough
than is common for medical students. Dr. [Datcheon]
has also taken a course of Medical Lectures
at the [Cleaveland] Medical College.
We have no hesitation in Recommending
him to any community in which he may
choose to locate, both as a Physician & a Gentleman.
Jas. L. Allen, M.D.
H. J. Rice, M.D.

LetterLetter page 2Irwin Agnew Detchon wrote to his parents from medical school in 1876. He passed his examinations and returned home to Crawfordsville in April to practice medicine.

3446 Chestnut St. Phila
March 5 1876
Dear Pa & Ma.
I passed through my examination all right. I passed four branches without missing a question. I missed six questions in all. The faculty voted on us last night. They send notices to those who have failed, to appear before the faculty immediately. As I did not receive a notice I suppose I am all right. I knew all the time that I would get through, as I was better posted than the majority. And whilst there are others going through there is always a chance for me. There were about twelve or fifteen, who did not get through. I suppose C.H. Crain is an M.D. by this time. Their Commencement was on the 1st inst. I hope Ada & Hattie are better. I was not so nervous during examination as I expected, indeed I was quite composed. I send you herewith an invitation to our commencement which I am sorry you can not attend. Emma saya “Don’t you think Pa passed through here and never stopped to see me”

Letter to EstherLetter page 2Letter page 3Irwin Agnew Detchon wrote to his daughter, Esther, as she embarked on a trip to Europe in 1914.

My Dear Sweet Esther, I was so glad to receive your telegram saying you arrived all right and was “feeling fine.” If you had continued to be sick I intended to go to New York with you but you seemed so well thought Uncle Jay and Aunt Celia could put you aboard in care of Miss Dennis and perhaps I could not be of much assistance. I know Miss D. will take good care of you. I am wishing you a safe and delightful voyage, and hope you will greatly enjoy the entire trip. I have just returned from Detroit, where I met Uncle Seymour and had a nice visit with him. We went to see Philadelphia play Detroit Base Ball. It was a great game. Eleven innings Detroit won–you may know that Philadelphias are the world champions. Ty Cob was in the game with Detroit. We tried out the new wheels and look like a perfect success. Are going to organize companies to work France and England soon as can. Had a good rain at home. Mama said she wrote you yesterday so you have all the home news. Dearie I will be awfully lonesome while you are away, but shall rejoice that you are having a good time seeing the world. Whether you are on land or sea always remember that I love you better than my own life and that you are dearer to me than all things else in the world.
Again wishing a happy joyous tour. I am as always

Letter from Lee
Letter page 2 Lee Detchon wrote to his sister, Esther, circa 1914, probably from the family’s summer home in Ludington, Michigan.

Dear Sis,
I hope you are having a nice time-I am. I know all the new dances and am having lots of fun up to the Club House. I can’t go in bathing this summer because of the effects of Scarlet Fever. I caught 72 fish yesterday none under 6 inches. Uncle Clay was visited us about a week and taught me how to play a little golf. When you come home I will play with you. There nothing doing at home because there is nobody there. It has been a 106° in the shade.I read the paper the other day where Pauline Curnick eloped with a boy. The Soldiers are camping here this summer and I met a boy who from Lebanon that knows everybody in Crawfordsville. We are pretty good friends now. His name is Edward Shores. Nothing been going on at home except a few [Maljink] parties. Hoping to here from you soon I am your loving brother