Ernie Pyle house restored

By ROGER STANLEY rogerstanley769@yahoo.com
Posted 12/16/19

There was a large brick house built in 1868 on what became the Ocean-to-Ocean Road in Edgar County from which material was salvaged for the restoration of the Ernie Pyle frame farmhouse when it was …

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Ernie Pyle house restored

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There was a large brick house built in 1868 on what became the Ocean-to-Ocean Road in Edgar County from which material was salvaged for the restoration of the Ernie Pyle frame farmhouse when it was moved to Dana, Indiana, from a farm nearby.

Samuel Hill built the brick home for the William Scott family about three miles east of Scottland. Scott was considered the founder of Scottland after constructing a flourmill at the location.

Ozias Riley bought the Scott home in 1900 and three generations of Rileys lived there. Max Riley the great-grandson of the builder, Samuel Hill, had the job of tearing down the 12-room mansion, as it was no longer serviceable.

In the 1970s as the old brick home was being torn down, Max Riley was approached by the Chrisman Courier newspaper to find information about the old house and why it was being torn down. Riley told about the house having four large fireplaces and a winding walnut staircase and a two-story front porch supported by eight columns. It was considered unusual for a mansion on the welcoming prairie to be built with bricks and lumber taken from the nearby countryside.

Some of the supplies were sent up the Wabash River from Clinton, Indiana, to complete the building and to furnish it. The reason behind demolishing the house was partly because it was hard to heat the 12-room house with 11-foot ceilings. The front porch had been repaired, but many of the bricks in the walls were starting to crumble.

In the 1970s the restoration committee for the Ernie Pyle House, which was being moved to Dana from a rural location about four miles away, contacted Mrs. Bert Riley, Max Riley’s mother. She was sympathetic to the cause and offered to let the committee have the unique walnut staircase, old-fashioned floorboards, window frames and some of the old antique glass windows to use for the Pyle House restoration. She knew that was a way her beloved old home would keep living.

Her memories of the house where she lived for 70 years seemed the only tie to her husband, who had died in 1967, to her son and her family. Max Riley realized the sentimental value his mother had for the house, but he knew it was not practical to keep it livable.

Ernie Pyle, the daring war correspondent made a name for himself as a top newsman who traveled the fields and the battlegrounds of World War II. He was born in 1900 on a farm near Dana. He was a shy kid, and his mother knew he would do better in school if he stayed in a rural school setting.

In 1918, Pyle graduated from Bono High School. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve as World War I came to a close in 1919. He attended Indiana University at Bloomington where he found his natural talent for the written word and served as yearbook editor.

He left school just before graduating and got a job at the LaPorte Herald. In 1926, he met and married Geraldine Siebolds.

Pyle became a columnist for Scripps-Howard newspapers during the Great Depression. The couple never had children and his wife, known as Jerry, traveled throughout the country with him as he wrote how the Depression affected so many lives.

In 1940, he went to England and covered the Battle of Britain and became a war correspondent in 1941, after America joined the war effort.

Pyle had a unique approach to covering the war in Europe. He traveled with the troops and told the story of what life was like for the ordinary soldier with everyday struggles. His stories were well received and his column was syndicated in 400 newspapers across the country. Pyle received the Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

When the European war ended in 1945, Pyle moved to the Pacific Theater

to cover the continuing combat. He was killed April 18, 1945, by Japanese fire on the tiny island of  Ie Shima.

Civilians and service members alike mourned Pyle because he put a human face on a dehumanizing war. The people of Indiana had a hero they wanted to remember so they used his birthplace to honor his legacy.

The Friends of Ernie Pyle organization saved his house from being demolished in the mid 1970s by moving it to Dana. It was dedicated as an Indiana State Historic Site in 1976 and operated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

The site was expanded by adding two Quonset huts for a war museum in 1995 and was kept in operation until 2009 when it ran out of funding because of financial restraints of the state.

In 2010, the friends organization was able to reopen the museum through a special arrangement with the state. The house is open again to the public and is owned by the Friends of Ernie Pyle.

The legacy for the Riley House now lives in the house where Ernie Pyle was born. Pyle was born in 1900, when the Riley’s first owned the house.

Pyle’s childhood home can be visited along with the war museum from May through October on weekends, and it is only a few miles from Paris. The Riley additions to the house can be seen during the tour. There are unique scenes and war artifacts in the Quonsets having to do with Pyle’s career as a war correspondent.