Saturday, September 3, 2022

A Place Once Called Home


Ever have a need to do some in-person research but no excuse to travel to that particular location? In the case of my husband's Stevens ancestors in Lafayette, Indiana, I am now wishing I could see the place once called home by John Stevens' millionaire brother-in-law, James Murdock. But can I find a photo of this Queen Anne style home built in 1890? Not so far.

Taking a two thousand mile trip, just for the purpose of gawking at a century-old home isn't in my budget just now. But that's just about how much I want to see this place. So what do I do? Look even further online. Surely someone has parked a pic of James Murdock's home.

Of course, James himself didn't really help me find the place. Since his wife had died before him, it is possible that he had good reasons for dispensing with the upkeep of such a place. After all, all his children were grown by the time their mother passed away. Then again, realizing Joanna Burke Murdock's date of death was about the same time as the home's completion in 1890, perhaps staying in the home was more than her widowed husband could bear.

Looking for the place became a challenge in its own right. Since I couldn't quite find James Murdock in the 1900 census, I looked for each of his sons. In the 1900 census, Charles, the elder of the two sons, was living on a street labeled only as "B-12." This wasn't much help, as the Murdock home was said to have been located on Columbia Street in the Saint Mary's Historic District.

James' younger son, Samuel, turned out to live on the same street—B-12—along with his own wife and family including, thankfully, his father James.

Fortunately, online references to the historic district include an address for the James Murdock house—1307 Columbia Street—as well as one pertinent detail which might lead to our answer about the homes on B-12 Street. Apparently, the Murdock home was subsequently sold to a man by the name of Ferdinand Dreyfus.

No date was given for this exchange of property, but you know we can use another way to fact check this little detail. After all, a genealogist's first question might be: where was Mr. Dreyfus for the 1900 census enumeration? 

Not such an easy chase, the answer to that question. It turns out that Ferdinand—if that was ever his name to begin with—preferred going by the name Fred. And while Fred Dreyfus and his family did show up in the 1900 census in Lafayette, the address given for his home connected to an equally enigmatic street name: B-14. Luckily, though, we also had the house number—remember, we had found it on another website—and it strangely aligned perfectly with the house number for the former Murdock House: 1307.

Could it be that the road now known as Columbia Street once had the more austere designation of a simple letter and number? After all, many street names have changed over the years—not to mention, house numbering systems, and even the construction of roadways, themselves. 

Since I am, after all, well over two thousand miles from Lafayette at the moment, I can't very well simply scoot on over to take a look for myself. But I have a hunch the Murdock place became the Dreyfus residence not long after it was built. And "B-14" may well have been the street designation for the road we now know as Columbia Street.

While I did find some photographs of historic buildings in James' neighborhood on a virtual walking tour website for the city of Lafayette, and also a possible picture of the home of James' son Charles, I have yet to accomplish my goal of seeing what James Murdock's home looked like. In the process, though, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of melancholy at the realization of the man's loss in the process of bringing that home to life for his family. You know there has got to be more to this story...


  1. There are some pictures on Zillow. It has been split into apartments. There are even some interior photos. You can can tell it was once a beautiful house.

    1. Jan, thanks for the reminder to check that resource. Great idea! Sad to hear it has become apartments, but happy to know the place is still standing. There is something so special about being able to drive by, see the house, and know it is a small part of one's family history.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...