Passions and Pretensions

I did not think much about Breezedale as a child growing up in Indiana. It was not only hard to find but also hard to remember.

The parlor

Sarah Stansbury Sutton’s portrait hangs in the parlor. Photographs of Elkin family members are also displayed throughout the house, and a button and ribbon from John Elkin’s campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination are mounted behind glass in the law library.

Surrounded by Whitmyre, Elkin, and Gordon halls, the old house was lost in my child’s mind within a maze of comparatively unremarkable collegiate-style architecture. When I did happen upon it, riding my bike or roller-skating, all I noticed was its gloom.

When I returned from college, however, Breezedale was like a soul reborn: a model of Victorian antiquity, proudly asserting its presence and now hard to miss. The house, in the process of physical transformations, seemed to have taken on a spirit of its own—not that of its mythical ghost but a spirit of history and herstory that somehow embodies the life of a town and its nearly forgotten people, obscured behind the haze of time. Breezedale speaks to me of these forgotten days and silent people—those who are silent no more,

Breezedale stands upon land originally granted to James Brison by the state of Pennsylvania in 1789. The 365-acre tree plantation was passed through several owners and divided several times before a four-and-a-half-acre portion was sold to James Sutton on February 22, 1868, for $5,000.

James Sutton (1815-1870) was a prominent businessman and financier in nineteenth-century Indiana. With his brother, John, for whom John Sutton Hall is named, James made his first venture into business with the J & J Dry Goods Store, a mercantile establishment which the brothers jointly owned. In 1853, James established the Indiana Strawboard Mill, later known as the Indiana Paper Mill Company. He later became president of the First National Bank of Indiana and helped bring the Pennsylvania Railroad to Indiana from Blairsville in 1856.

Sutton’s new land was located in an area known as West Indiana, somewhat removed from the town and nearest neighbors. Lying between the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, or present-day Eighth Street, and the Pittsburgh Road, a dirt road now called Oakland Avenue, the Sutton estate contained an orchard, gardens, and a solitary two-story wood frame house. Sutton and his wife, Sarah Cook Stansbury Sutton, decided to move the small house and replace it with a large brick home.

The reception room

The clock in the reception room was an heirloom in the family of Virginia Lloyd Kunkle ’36, who donated it for use in Breezedale. Dating to 1808, it was already more than a half-century old when Breezedale was built.

Thus began work on the building that would later be named Breezedale. Meticulously planned, the structure soon became one of the largest and most elegant homes in Indiana. Fashioned according to the popular Italianate style of the late Victorian era, the mansion was heavily papered and carpeted in rich patterns and colors. Internal woodwork and external detailing were also finished with the elaborate ornamentation characteristic of that style.

Mrs. Sutton played a significant role in designing the mansion’s interior. Born in Mercer, Pennsylvania, and educated at Steubenville, Ohio, Sarah Sutton (1816-1899) was a woman of many interests and sophisticated tastes. Even with her eight children, she was a constant companion of her husband in his travels and an extensive traveler in her own right after his death.

A truly passionate shopper, Mrs. Sutton purchased pieces of furniture, household goods, and artwork for her home. These articles included two Louis Quinze chairs from France, a beautiful white marble statue of a young girl from Italy, and a portrait of Mrs. Sutton herself, painted in Germany. All are in Breezedale today.

It was, perhaps, Sarah Sutton’s vision above all that gave the mansion its unique and eclectic elegance. James Sutton’s death came in 1870, after only a year or two in the house. Outliving her husband by almost thirty years, Mrs. Sutton continued to reside in the family mansion and to purchase items for it from around the world.

Take a tour of Breezedale

After the death of Sarah Sutton, the heirs of the Sutton estate sold the mansion to John Pratt Elkin and his wife, Adda Prothero Elkin, on September 12, 1899, for $16,000—quite a sum in turn-of-the-century dollars. In the care of the Elkins, the house was further embellished and finally christened Breezedale.

The law library

The law library, an Elkin addition, was once filled with Mission-style furniture. With its stained-glass skylight and wall-to-wall bookcases, it is the scene today of meetings and receptions.

John Elkin (1860-1915) was born in West Mahoning Township, Indiana County, and educated in Smicksburg, Pa., and in Ohio. He became a schoolteacher in Smicksburg while studying at Indiana Normal School, which would eventually become IUP. He graduated in 1880 and earned a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1884. It was also in 1884 that he married Adda Prothero, whose father was president of the First National bank—the same position once held by James Sutton.

Even from his early days, John Elkin’s future was bright. Not only did he earn a law degree at the age of twenty-four, but he was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature while still a student at Michigan. He began serving immediately after his graduation, in spite of acceptance to the bar, and quickly earned a reputation for integrity and intelligence. In 1895, he was appointed deputy attorney general for the state and in 1899 was named attorney general.

Statue in Breezedale's parlor

The statue in Breezedale’s parlor was purchased in Italy by Sarah Stansbury Sutton in 1875. According to Elinor Gordon Blair, widow of Mrs. Sutton’s great-grandson, Mrs. Sutton sent her five-year-old grandson a postcard, telling him that a little playmate for him named Genevieve was on her way to Indiana. The grandson’s reaction to the arrival of the 400-pound statue was disappointment.

When they came to Breezedale in 1899, the young couple brought with them three children—Helen, Laura, and Stanley—as well as a youthful new vision for their home. As inherently shaped by their turn-of-the-century world as the Suttons were by the Victorian era, the Elkins sought livelier, more modern look for the mansion.

Wide Edwardian verandas on the east and north sides were constructed, replacing the original small porch at the main entrance (which today faces Whitmyre). The law library, which also served as a solarium, and Turkish Room were added. The orchard and gardens were stripped and converted to a more fashionable lawn. John Elkin also built a gymnasium for his personal use.

Elkin’s rise in state government was facilitated by Senator Matthew Stanley Quay of Pennsylvania, a political boss who exerted influence over Republicans throughout the state.

Elkin was Quay’s protege; in fact, Elkin had named his son Matthew Stanley Quay Elkin. The younger man’s popular appeal ensured his political future. When the gubernatorial election of 1902 approached, Elkin saw himself as a natural choice for the Republican nomination, which, at that time, was virtually tantamount to election.

Quay, however, reversed his position and supported instead the nomination of Judge Samuel Pennypacker. Every federal and state officeholder under Quay’s influence was put to work to destroy Elkin’s chances.

Quay’s activities were widely suspected, but Elkin’s support was so overwhelming that few acknowledged a serious threat from Pennypacker. At home, the “Great Elkin Army” was making preparations for the June convention in Harrisburg. The Elkin Sink or Swim Club, for instance, comprised delegates and other Indiana-area supporters. There were other Elkin clubs, some with Elkin hats, Elkin pins, and Elkin banners. There was even an Elkin Glee Club, which performed original and adapted pieces appropriate to the election.

The Turkish Room

The Turkish Room was fashioned by the Elkins from an existing space, but the door leads to the law library, which was an actual adition to the house. Rooms such as this were in vogue at the turn of the century.

The people of Indiana sent Elkin to Harrisburg with a parade and with bands and glee clubs in tow. Elkin clubs from around the state assembled in the capital to celebrate his seemingly imminent nomination. Observers declared that “There was never such a political gathering held at the state capital in the history of the party.”

But something went wrong. Quay’s forces moved into higher gear in the two days before voting, and of Elkin’s 193 supporters on Monday, 41 were bribed or disqualified. Pennypacker was nominated.

It was at Breezedale, then, that John Elkin had his finest hour. Although he arrived home unannounced, he was met by a crowd that gave him three cheers “with a will and spirit that gave evidence of his high esteem in which the attorney general is held,” according to a local newspaper.

On the following night, a number of citizens, led by the Indiana cornet band, marched to Breezedale, where they surprised Elkin and his family. Like editorial writers throughout the state, John Scott, a prominent Indiana attorney, spoke on behalf of the people in complimenting Elkin on the “manly stand he made in the gubernatorial contest against the millionaire combine.”

In response, Elkin said, simply and eloquently, “My neighbors, I assure you that a position of honor among you is enough to satisfy me and is far above a political office.”

When his term as attorney general ended in 1903, Elkin returned to Indiana to practice law. The next year, however, he was nominated to a seat on the State Supreme Court and was elected in November. He retired from political life in 1910 and died in a Philadelphia hospital in 1915 at the age of fifty-five—the same age as James Sutton at his death. Adda Elkin lived in Breezedale until her death in 1934; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired the property from her heirs in 1947.

Breezedale is a microcosm of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century upper-middle-class America. Through its restoration in the 1980s, the tastes, the passions, and the pretensions of that era are preserved.

It reminds us that past is always with us: that under the pavement of Oakland Avenue still lies the old dirt road to Pittsburgh; that ironically beneath Elkin Hall lies the ashes of the original two-story house moved to make way for the new Sutton mansion; and that within our modern university rests the spirit of the tiny Normal School, the site of generations of hopes and dreams.

Katrina Jesick received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her master’s from IUP in December 1992.

Peerless, True, and Fearless

“Go Back and Sit Down” was a song sung by the Elkin Glee Club during Elkin’s fight for the 1902 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Old man Quay
  Had a score one day;
 ‘Twas the worst he ever got.
  By a bolting crowd
  Which his downfall
     vowed
He was hit in a tender spot.
  He foresaw defeat;
  On his senate seat
He had lost his iron hold,
  And the Law came down
   With an ugly frown
And threatened to knock
  him cold.
  But he found a peerless,
  True and fearless
Champion of renown
  To save his fame.
  John Elkin came
From Indiana town;
  And when that was done
  Says he to John,
“For governor you’re my
  choice,”
  But the old man’s vow
  Is forgotten now
And he says with and icy
voice.

  Chorus:
“Go away back and sit
  down.
I need you no more to save
  my crown.
I’ve deals on hand that I
  must put through,
So I’ve changed my slate
  and I won’t back you.
Go away back and sit
  down.”

  Now the people kick
  On this nasty trick
And a warning give to Quay
  That they’ll lie in wait
  For his candidate
And the deuce with him
  they’ll play.
  They will not be fooled,
  They will not be ruled
By a boss who gains his
ends
  By treason black
  And going back
On his best and noblest
  friends.
  Then, hurrah for the
     trusty,
  Staunch and lusty
People’s candidate!
  None better have we
  In the G.O.P.
In the good old Keystone
  state,
  And if old man Quay
  Should block his way
And turn him down should
  try
  We’ll go for Matt
   And we’ll floor him flat,
And he’ll hear the people
   cry,

  Chorus:
“Go away back and sit down.
Your time has come to lose
  your crown.
You’ll soon find out it never
  will do
To play the low down on
  Republicans true.”