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HISTORY OF FOXCLIFF
by Henrietta A. Gaudzels
The purpose of the following article is to present a concise historical account of Foxcliff. The material provided is intended to be informative and of interest to the homeowners of this residential community.
Frank Brown Shields, founder of Foxcliff, was born August 2, 1884. He was a native of Seymour, Indiana, where his boyhood was spent. He graduated from Franklin College and from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He taught chemistry at MIT prior to participating in chemical research at General Electric Company. He moved to Smithport Extract Company and then to National Processing Company, where he became treasurer and general manager. In 1921, at the age of 37 years, he founded the Barbasol Company in Indianapolis, Indiana. He held the office of company president until his death at the age of 62 years, on October 15, 1946. The product of Sheilds’ company, Barbasol, was the first brushless shaving cream. This coupled with the advertising excellence of “Singing Sam, the Barbasol Man”, resulted in great wealth for Shields.
Sheilds purchased sixteen tracts of land from farmers in Washington Township, Morgan County, Indiana. Total acreage amounted to 727 acres. On this land, he built his permanent residence, Foxcliff. According to legend, this name was chosen following Shields observation of numerous red foxes in the beautiful scenic bluffs and cliffs located north of the estate along the White River.
Foxcliff was constructed in 1934-1935 at an estimated cost of $350,000. The type of architecture used is the eclectic style known as Tudor Revival. The Tudor style or Tudor Gothic, distinguishable by its Tudor arch was widely used in early twentieth century architecture (especially in educational buildings). A characteristic of this style is the somewhat free application of carefully studied detail.
Foxcliff was built as a massive three story stone structure. It contained twenty-two spacious rooms. Features of the home included nine bedrooms, eleven bathrooms, and five separate fireplaces. Many of the interior walls were covered with massive oak and walnut paneling. A spiral staircase of limestone, which spans three stories of Foxcliff, was a significant detail of the interior of Foxcliff. Although exact circumstances of Shields’ death remain uncertain, he apparently died following a fall from this staircase (official cause of death is recorded as cerebral hemorrhage).
Following Shields’ death in 1946, the dwelling remained vacant for two years. Shields had willed the estate to the State of Indiana. According to Shields’ will, Foxcliff was to be utilized as the governor’s summer executive mansion and the grounds were to be converted to a state park/game preserve.
In 1947, the State of Indiana declined the gift. One reason cited was that the property was located outside of Marion County and therefore could not be used as a summer residence for the governor. Another factor was that large quantities of state funds would be required to operate and maintain the vast estate.
Shields’ will provided the property be restored to the heir’s estate if declined by the State of Indiana. Shields heirs included three children: James R. Shields, Judith Shields, and Madeline Shields Powell. (Shields was not married at the time of his death).
Since the state of Indiana could not accept Foxcliff, the property was sold in 1948 to oilman Arthur Vandenbark, a native of Martinsville. Price paid for the residence, 727 acres, and personal property including crops, livestock, and partial home furnishings, was $110,000. Vandenbark, his wife Marie, and their three children: James, Thomas and Janet resided in the house for approximately twenty years.
In July 1968, Summit City Development Corporation of Fort Wayne, Indiana, obtained the property from Arthur Vandenbark. The house was significantly remodeled and became the clubhouse for the recently developed private residential community, Foxcliff Estates. Over a period of several years, a number of transfers of the original 727 acres were made to various entities, including Foxcliff, Inc., Foxcliff South, Inc., and Newcorp, Inc.
On August 9, 1985, the Clubhouse and 9.15 acres (the grounds on which it is situated), were transferred to Foxcliff Estates Community Association (FECA) from Newcorp, Inc. Prior to its reopening in 1985, additional restoration on the structure was completed by volunteers of FECA. Since then, it has served as a clubhouse and is utilized by the homeowners of Foxcliff Estates.