Warren County Historical Society Presents …

The Digital Version * * * “REWIND”

November 16, 2013

Editors Note: Edward Eggleston (December 10, 1837-September 3. 1902) was an American Historian, novelist, and ordained Methodist minister.  Born in Vevay, Indiana, he had a summer home on Lake George, which eventually became his year-round home.  In 1971 his Lake George home, “Owl’s Nest,” was declared a National Historic Landmark.  In 2011, the Eggleston –Seelye family gave the society a large collection of Eggleston material.  In going through the boxes of Eggleston’s papers, the following article from the Indianapolis News was discovered in which Eggleston breakfasted with Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley and discusses his Lake George connection.  We thank Trustee Bob Bayle for transcribing the newspaper article.  We have printed the article as it appeared in the newspaper. 

 ~ ~ ~ From the Indianapolis (Indiana) News of April 7, 1897:



Edward Eggleston No Hat

He and his wife take breakfast with Riley

Mr. Eggleston’s Present Literary Work – His Visits to Indiana – “Poor Whites” In His Stories – His Grandfather

            Mr. and Mrs. Edward Eggleston arrived in this city yesterday afternoon. This morning, at the Bates House, they and James Whitcomb Riley breakfasted together.  Mr. Eggleston, as the author of “The Hoosier Schoolmaster”, bears the distinction of being the first to give to the world a novel depicting Indiana scenes and characters.

“I last met Mr. Riley,” said Mr. Eggleston, in the conversation following the breakfast, “at the Aldrich dinner, given by the Aldine Club, in New York, four or five years ago, and felt that I could not leave Indiana without again seeing him.”

Edward Eggleston normal pose.

Edward Eggleston normal pose.

Mr. Eggleston has made his summer home at Lake George, NY since 1881. “I am well fixed there,” he said, “where I have a stone cottage and a separate building for my library. My home is there from the middle of April until the middle of November. The place is remote from visitors to the lake. It is five miles from the nearest railroad and telegraph station.”

Boyhood Home, Vevay, Indiana.

Boyhood Home, Vevay, Indiana.

The author appears to be in excellent health and, keenly alive to all that is going on in the world, has a special faculty in remembering names, incidents and faces. He recently finished his historical work, “The Beginners of a Nation”, and is now engaged upon a second volume of the series. “I intend,” he said, “to make a set of books that will represent the seventeenth century life of this country. I am nearly sixty years old now and it will not do to be planning too much, so I promise but one volume at a time. The volume I am now engaged upon will be a study of the intellectual, domestic and mechanical life of the earliest period of colonial history, a study as to cause and effect, not only what the people thought and did, but why they thought and did. You see this will be a long way off from the ordinary way of writing history. The News had a kindly review of the first of this series. I have not yet settled upon a title for the book I now have in hand. That will be the last thing to fix. I changed the title of the first book during the last month of my work on it.

The Main House, "Owl's Nest," off Route 9L at Joshua's Rock.

The Main House, “Owl’s Nest,” off Route 9L at Joshua’s Rock.


Visits to Indiana

            “I come to Indiana as often as I can. Mrs. Eggleston comes every year to visit her family at Madison. This visit covers nearly six weeks. Most of the time is spent at Madison. I was last at Vevay four years ago, and attended a dinner given by the Eggleston Club, many of the members of which are my old schoolmates. I wish I could come to Indiana every year. After this I may be able to do so. My work is carried with me and I write every day. I find many old friends here. In fact I can see more people here from Madison than I would now know at Madison, and the same is true of Vevay people. I first knew Indianapolis as a boy of eleven years old, in 1848 – 49, and I visited here often in the ‘50’s as a young man. The only building I now recognize as having been here when I was here as a boy is that old building across the way” (indicating the old bank building at Kentucky Avenue and Illinois Street), Indianapolis was a small town then, and what most attracted my attention was the amazing number of pumps in the town – a pump at almost every corner. I went into that old building – it was then, I believe, a branch of the Bank of the State of Indiana – with a boy companion who was showing me the sights of the place. I think he went in to get some money of his father, who was in the bank, in order to entertain guest. In our rambles about the place we visited a factory where shoe lasts were made, and at another place we found a factory that cut out lathes. The latter work appeared quite wonderful to me then, as at Vevay we rived our lathing.”

The Old National Road Bridge

            Mr. Eggleston spoke of the old National Road bridge over White River, and was pleased to learn that it is still in existence, and likely to survive for years to come.

“I shall try to see the bridge before I go away,” he said with some enthusiasm. “When I young man here I was in feeble health, and in my walks would frequently visit the old bridge. I envied the man who kept the toll-gate at the bridge as one who held a sinecure. There I thought is a man whose living is assured, and at the same time he can read to his heart’s content between the infrequent occasions of taking toll. I remember that beyond the bridge the road passed through a thick forest. My visits to the bridge were taken between shakes, for I was a victim of the ague.”

Mr. Riley here made a remark about the beauty of Indiana forests and regretted their disappearance.

“Twenty-five years ago,” said Mr. Eggleston, “a commercial man remarked to me upon the beauty of the forests on the Jeffersonville railroad between Indianapolis and Louisville. I said regretfully: ‘Yes. I know that very well now, but I did not fully appreciate it when a boy living in the Hoosier woods.’ Shaler, in his ‘Physiography of America’, ranks Indiana as a prairie state. I saw this in a proof and sent a correction to him, to which he paid no attention, and so the prairie state fiction is perpetuated. It would be a liberal estimate to say that one-eighth of Indiana is prairie.

Indiana “Poor Whites”

            “With the disappearance of the woods has come the disappearance of the Southern poor whites, who once filled up southern Indiana. They have moved on. In fact, they never stayed more than one generation in a place. Their theory is that they are yet semi-nomads. When they bought land they bought the worst, fearing they might be tempted to stay. These were the people that lent picturesqueness to my stories. My pictures an recollections of Indiana (this with a nod to Mr. Riley) are twenty-five years older than yours. Besides I lay claim to what perhaps no other man sixty years old may do, to being a Hoosier of the second generation. And I want to prove my title to being a Hoosier, as some of the young people of the newspapers seem disposed to question it. I first put Indiana into prose literature, and Mr. Riley put it into verse.

“My maternal grandfather, Capt. Geo. Craig, Switzerland county, perpetuates his name in ‘Craig township’, ‘Craig’s Landing’, and ‘Craig’s Bar’. There was no settlement from Kentucky to Indiana until after Wayne’s victory over the Indians in 1794. In 1799 my grandfather built the first block house north of the Ohio river. It was the first settlement of Americans north of the Ohio, as the Vincennes settlement was French.”

"The Hoosier Schoolmaster,: by Edward Eggleston.

“The Hoosier Schoolmaster,: by Edward Eggleston.


A Story of Nye

            The conversation then drifted to various authors, and the name of Bill Nye was mentioned.

Mr. Riley spoke of him as being the most companionable man he had ever met.

“It seems to me,” said Mr. Eggleston, “a pity he should have ever taken the name of ‘Bill’, though doubtless, it proved to be a good trade name.

“It was doubtless quite accidental,” said Mr. Riley. “His name was Edgar Wilson Nye, and he at first signed himself E. W. Nye. This gave some persons the opportunity to conclude that his name was William, and from that to Bill the transition was easy. I think I have a story of Nye that has never been published. He had been introduced to Senator Shirley, of Maine. ‘Knowing you to be a Maine man,’ said Nye, ‘I don’t like to surprise you, but I was born in Maine myself, and, I may add, as a strange coincidence in connection with meeting you here today, that I was born in the town of Shirley.’ ‘Why,’ exclaimed the Senator, ‘that is remarkable, but I did not know there was such a town as Shirley in Maine.’ ‘Neither did I,’ said Nye sadly, ‘until after I was born there.’”

Mr. and Mrs. Eggleston will leave this evening for New York and will go thence to their home at Lake George.


© November 16  2013, Warren County Historical Society



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