James Allison Mansion

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A strong-willed spirit with organizational
skills has a hands-on approach in “helping” the living.

The old pool area in the basement was the cause of tragedy and hauntings.

A mischievous entity gets its entertainment and chuckles from teasing.


The James Allison Mansion exterior is described as being a combination of an early Prairie School Art & crafts Country Era Estate and an European Lombardy Villa. WOW! What a glorious display of wealth, that knocks the visitor’s socks off! Tom and I walked around the first floor, peeking into the various rooms. The lavishly designed large open rooms, elegant wood and marble carvings, and magnificent examples of “old-world craftsmanship”, done by craftsmen imported by Allison from “the old country”, reminded us very much of The Breakers Mansion in Bellevue, Rhode Island, but on a smaller scale.

Though James at first hired Herbert Bass, he finished the interior with the designer, William Price, who did an outstanding job for his neighbor, Frank Wheeler, so impressed was James with Wheeler’s mansion. When James Allison’s mansion was done, it was his dream home, done in the grand design and style that James felt exhibited his wealth and importance. Of course, many amenities were included as well. Allison had an elevator, billiard room, an indoor pool in the basement, a breakfast room, sleeping porches, automatic lighting closet, a grand kitchen, and even pumped in ice water.

Here are some of its outstanding features that wowed the friends and neighbors of the Allisons, and today’s visitor as well.

Entering the mansion, via the bronze entry doors, the visitor is blown away with the high Renaissance style, two story, 40 by 40 ft. impressive foyer, featuring hand-carved Circassian walnut walls in a leaf and berry motif.

The grand staircase, is indeed grand, made of solid, hand-carved walnut.

The music room is 42 by 18 feet, decorated with carved mahogany paneling and plaster, with a musical instrument theme. The prominent feature though in this room is the 2 story pipe organ; an item not normally found in most mansions.

The library is done in a Gothic architectural style, and the reception/parlor room is inspired by the French era of Louis the XVI.

The Allison Mansion also has a one-ton German silver Chandelier; something you don’t see everyday!

Most impressive is the marble aviary. The “breathtaking aviary with white Italian marble beneath a Tiffany stained glass ceiling” is the perfect place for the swankiest event, and is my favorite room in the mansion! I can see a large wedding reception or gala event for 200 guests fitting nicely, as well as any other special party.



James Allison was a mover and a shaker in the auto and plane industry, greatly helping in the development of both cars and airplanes. He founded “The Prest-O-Lite Company”, which produced the first efficient headlight for early automobiles, and helped develop the Indianapolis suburb of Speedway, designed for the people employed by Prest-O-Lite. Allison was a founding partner in Carl Fisher’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He also started Allison Engineering Company, which evolved and transformed into an aircraft engine maker, known today as the Allison Division of Rolls-Royce.

Needless to say, Allison’s brilliance was put to good use and he benefited financially from his efforts, as did the other notable developers in the auto and plane industry. Allison and fellow auto industry leaders Carl Fisher, Frank Wheeler, and Henry Campbell all selected property sites in the country, along Cold Spring Road for their new estates.

James Allison bought a 65 acre estate, Riverdale. He and his first wife, Sarah, built this truly glorious mansion, starting construction in 1911, and finishing it in 1913. The mansion and the grounds as well reflected his great wealth and status in the community.

Only the very best would do; from the garden and grounds landscaping, by master landscape architect Jens Jensen, to the Prairie School arts and crafts exterior and European interior of the mansion by Herbert Bass and William Price of Price & McLanahan, Philadelphia. The result was a truly wonderful showplace for his events and for his family life as well, called by one and all, “THE HOUSE OF WONDERS.” Costing 2 million dollars in 1911, it was built to last the ages, a memorial to what is beautiful and pleasing to the eye.

While James had great financial success, his personal life was not so smooth. Fifteen years after the Allisons’ built their marvelous mansion, James fell in love with his secretary, and he divorced his wife, Sarah in 1928. One month later, James married this former employee, Lucile Musset. However, James had the bad luck to contract a fatal case of pneumonia, and died shortly after marrying his second wife, at the young age of 56.

In 1936, the Allison family put the whole 65 acre estate and the mansion up for sale. In November 1936, the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg bought the entire estate, and Frank Wheeler’s Stokely Mansion down the hill as well. The Allison Mansion was put to great use, becoming the new home for the college’s library, administrative offices, classrooms, and sleeping quarters for the Sisters. The college started out with a full time enrollment of 24 students.

As the college grew over the years into a full university, the mansion was used for a variety of things, and has been well-maintained by the Catholic hierarchy, looking as good as it did when the Allison family lived there, which must be pleasing to the entities who claim the mansion as their afterlife residence.



Entities often let the living know of their presence by moving objects around, putting them in different places, or just borrowing objects for awhile, and then returning them.

Sometimes entities will try to help the living by rearranging furniture themselves, or by making suggestions on how furniture and decor should be arranged and planned.

The activity in the library suggests that this entity who is responsible has other ideas on how the library should be arranged, perhaps having been in charge of it at some point in the mansion’s history when the mansion was a family home or a college.

People who die through a sudden accident or bout with illness, sometimes hang around, perhaps unaware that they have died, or not wanting to accept their death, or afraid to pass over, still looking for help in their desperate situation.

A little girl who was visiting Riverdale drowned in the pool in the basement. James Allison died from a disease at the young age of 56, at a time when he was so looking forward to his new life with his new wife.



Entity of little girl

Strange cries from the basement have been reported. Voices in the attic have been heard.

Objects seem to move by themselves, and can disappear from rooms as well.

Multiple Entities

They like to take Keys and objects and move them to odd places

The library room has been completely rearranged – furniture and books.


Probably so, though no hard evidence has been shared in the form of an EVP or other paranormal proof captured scientifically. Except for the child in the basement, no one knows yet what other spirit or spirits live in this mansion.

It would be enlightening to find out what the attic was used for during the history of the mansion.

It would be interesting to also find out who in the mansion’s history had a strong love for books, and perhaps had strong ideas on how the library should be run.

Not much has been captured, due to the fact that not many investigators can afford to rent out the entire mansion.

Students/staff/guests who have been there for various reasons have reported their experiences throughout the years.

A pair of investigators got a tour and a chance to take pictures when they pretended that they were looking for a wedding venue. They captured a rather interesting ball of light/orb on the grand staircase.



3200 Cold Springs Road
Indianapolis, Indiana 46222

James Allison Mansion can be found on the near-northwest side of Indianapolis, on the campus of Marian University; a Catholic and Franciscan school of higher learning.


Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Our Photos are copyrighted by Tom Carr

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  • The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide
    by Rich Newman
    pg. 98
    Llewellyn Productions
  • James Allison Mansion page on National Park Service web site
  • Indiana Ghost Hunters Board – James Allison Mansion thread
  • Marian University History web page

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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