Saturday, November 16, 2019

404 W 9th--the Dillion House

404 W. Ninth—the Dillon House
                The after nearly a century the stone lions still stand guard to greet visitors at the Dillion House, at 404 W. Ninth.  The House, once billed by newspapers as “Topeka's first SuperHome” sits empty except for the occasional legislative function, and waits for something to happen. 
                The State of Kansas became the owner of the House in 1998, trading a  parking lot in exchange for the House to the then owner, the First Presbyterian Church.  Shortly after it's acquisition a committee was formed to evaluate and restore the House for State entertaining, but this never got off the ground as the Governor's Mansion restoration was a higher priority.  At this time it was thought that approximately $1.2million would be needed to restore the House. 
                The Dillon House was the dream home of Hiram Price and Susie Dillon. Hiram Price Dillon was educated as an attorney but retired early upon the inheritance a comfortable fortune from his father, a corporate attorney whose clients included the robber baron Jay Gould.  Susie Finley Brown Dillon was  the daughter of a United States Senator from Illinois.  Susie came to Topeka in 1873 to live with her sister Annie Sweet (the Sweet Hotel chain, their mansion was at 4th and Topeka Blvd, remains of which can be seen at the Topeka Room at the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library).  Hiram came to Topeka 1874 to practice law.  Susie and Hiram were married in 1878.  They had one son, John Forrest (Jack) who was born in Topeka in 1880.
                In 1910, the Dillon's traded their house at 919 Harrison and an undisclosed amount of cash to Topeka publisher George Crane for his house which stood upon two lots at 404 W. 9th---directly across from the Capital.  Crane's house was razed in1911 and the building of the 12,360 square foot, yellow brick, Italian Renaissance Revival that was to be Susie Dillon's entree to Topeka society commenced. An architect from New York was hired to design the House and Henry Bennett (the builder of the Landon State Office Building, the Devon Apartments and the original builder/owner of the Governor's Mansion at 8th and Lincoln)was the builder.  The House cost $90,000 to build, at a time when the average wage earner was making $40 to $50 per month.
                The House has 10 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, a reception hall, a main library on the 2nd floor and a gentleman's law library on the third floor, a music room,   a glass enclosed summer parlour, and a kitchen.  It was the first private home in Topeka to have a  private elevator and in-house telephone system.  Some of the House's outstanding features were:  8 fireplaces (6 of which remain), a 12-foot wide grand stairway, multiple Tiffany windows depicting British authors and scenes from poetry, a highly carved gesso (gesso is a technique in which intricate reliefs are been built by applying mulitpule layers of gypsum)ceiling in the main library, a two-story portecochere and solarium with fountain that faced the Capital building (which has been enclosed) and of course the two stone lions which came from Hiram Dillon's parents house at Fall Hills, New Jersey. 
                A matching four-car garage was at the back of the property.  It housed Mr. Dillon's 7-seat Packard sedan, and Mrs. Dillon's Thomas Flyer landou sedan, and had a turntable.   The turntable was necessary for backing because of space constraints.  The garage has been torn down, but Mrs. Dillon's landau with backseat passenger controls was donated to the Kansas State Historical Museum. 
                The Dillon's had the best of everything, the walls were paneled in quartersawn oak and adorned with tapestries, the grand piano that was imported from France was gold-leafed rosewood, there were multiple sets of antique crystal, china and silver,  and linen bedsheets that measured 15'x7'.  Lavish parties were held at the house often featuring famous out-of-town musicians and the motto of the house “None come too early, None stay too late” is carved above the entry fireplace.  At it's peak it took 10 employees, 7 women and 3 men to run the House.  (One, a nurse/secretary/nanny, Emma Ward,  remained in the Dillon family employ until her death in the 1960s). 
                Hiram Dillon died in 1918, but Susie and their son Jack and his family continued to live in the House until 1941.  Upon Susie's death in 1941 the house was sold to American Home Life Insurance Co..   At this time whatever heirlooms the family did not want were sold at auction.  A large number of the library's collection is said to have been bought by the former Kansas Governor Chester Woodring, and the gold-leafed piano was purchased by the City of Topeka and used for many years at the Municipal Auditorium.  Susie's Thomas Flyer, several paintings, sculptures, china, a silver tea service and a collection of Native American artifacts are part of the permanent collection of the Kansas State Historical Society. 
                American Home Life Insurance owned the house until 1970, when it was purchased by the First Presbyterian Church for use as a communtiy house, Sunday school and day care.  During American Home's ownership the portecochere and the solarium were enclosed, and during First Presbyterian's tenure a fireplace was removed and the garage was razed in 1994, but fundamentally the house is still the same as when it was built.

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