110 S. Cross Street
Waveland, IN 47989 – USA
Latitude: 39.87620°N, Longitude: 87.04457°W
A Childhood in the Rolling Hills
In 1852, Samuel Hamilton Steele moved his family to Waveland, Indiana in southwestern Montgomery Country, about fifty miles to the north of Gosport. T.C. Steele was 4 at the time of the move.
It is not clear what influenced the family to settle in Waveland, but undoubtedly the high character of the little town, particularly its schools, was a major consideration in their decision to do so. Steele’s parents had good education, as good as the frontier schools provided, and wanted their children to have them as well. Additionally, the Steeles had relatives in the surrounding area that may have provided motivation and support for the move.
T.C. Steele had warm memories of his Waveland years, which had a population of about 500 at the time.
“It is with pleasure and thankfulness that I recall this little town, a village of five or six hundred inhabitants, where my childhood and youth were spent.”T.C. Steele1
Steele’s Boyhood Home
T.C. Steele’s boyhood home (Greek Revival, circa 1852) is fully renovated and in the private ownership of Tim & Meg Shelly, Elkhart, Indiana. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located just around the corner from the Carnegie Library at 110 S. Cross Street.
T.C. Steele enrolled at the Waveland Academy (later renamed Waveland Collegiate Institute) at the age of 12, where his course load included spelling, reading, penmanship, oral geography and composition and oral music. It was here that he first became interested in painting.
By his second year, he was teaching classmates how to draw and eventually taught drawing and painting in the preparatory department.4 He graduated in 1868.
Steele went on to teach at Waveland Academy. The academy became widely respected, drawing students from several states outside of Indiana. The name was changed to Waveland Collegiate Institute in 1859.
Steele met his wife Mary Elizabeth “Libbie” Lakin at the Institute (probably in 1867). They married on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1870 after they both completed their studies.
“It had the usual village stores and blacksmith’s and wagon and carriage shops typical of the period, but it was a community of more than ordinary intelligence and situated in a charming and pleasant country of prosperous farms.“T.C. Steele1
Waveland’s first settlers came to the vicinity from Kentucky seeking homes and a livelihood in this new territory in the 1820’s. The land on which Waveland was laid out was entered before 1830 by Hiram Heddleston who sold it to a Mr. Morgan, who then transferred it to John Milligan in 1834. In 1835, John Milligan built a small store room, the first building on the ground of the town plat at the northwest corner of Cross and Green streets.
John Milligan platted Waveland in 1835, and also served as the towns first postmaster. Milligan gave the name of Waveland to the town in honor of a friend’s country estate in Kentucky and due to the gently rolling countryside. T.C. Steele’s father, Samuel, rented a shop from John Milligan at the corner of Cross and Howard streets and continued his as a saddle maker there.
Shortly after their wedding, Steele and Libbie ventured to Battle Creek, Michigan, driven by the prospects of commissioned portrait orders. During his time there, Steele’s fascination with landscapes and nature began to take root, as evident from his journal entries in July 1870. Operating a photographic portraiture studio in Battle Creek, Steele explored his photography skills, although it remained his sole attempt at making a livelihood in that field. Some newspaper advertisements and a few photographs in the American Archives of Art archives serve as remnants of this venture. Notably, Steele completed portraits of George Peters, his wife, and other members of their family, which garnered more requests from the locals. Additionally, Steele initiated drawing classes solely focused on nature and landscapes. It was during their time in Battle Creek that two of their children, Rembrandt “Brandt” Steele in November 1870 and Margaret “Daisy” Steele in July 1872, were born.8
Related Steele Works
1888, Oil on Canvas
By Permission, Collection of the Haan Museum of Indiana Art, Lafayette, Indiana
The landscape of Montgomery County remains virtually unchanged since T.C. Steele and his family lived in this area. He painted in nearby Shades, what is now Shades State Park and includes Pine Hills Nature Preserve. Shades totals 3,082 acres.
1888, Oil on Canvas
“This painting interprets The Creek as Sugar Creek near Yountsville and Waveland, in southern Montgomery Country, Indiana. The Steele family camped in this area in the summer of 1888, which is only four miles from the town of Waveland, Indiana where T.C. Steele grew up.”Martin Krause, The Passage9
In Harvest Time
1914, Oil on Canvas
Carnegie Library in Waveland
T.C. Steele donated the painting “In Harvest Time” in honor of the opening of the Carnegie Library in Waveland in 1915. It still remains in the intended spot above the fireplace.
The Carnegie Library in Waveland, Indiana was opened on April 17, 1915 and a bronze tablet in the entryway reads “Gift from Andrew Carnegie”. There is still much of the original golden oak in the main room and the first reading tables are still being used for various activities. 164 Carnegie libraries were built in Indiana – more than in any other state.
Waveland Methodist Cemetery
Several of T.C. Steele’s family who are buried in the Waveland Methodist Cemetery. These include:
- James Armstrong Steele (1784 – 1855)
T.C. Steele’s grandfather was born in Rowan County, North Carolina. He died at age 71.
- Samuel Hamilton Steele (1823-1861)
T.C. Steele’s father died at 38 years of age. After becoming ill, he was taken to family in Bainbridge, Indiana for care and died while there.
- Ida Belle Steele (1857-1859)
T.C. Steele’s sister, who died as a child.
- Mary W. Steele (1859 – 1859)
TC. Steele’s sister, who died in infancy.
The graveyard is located in the Waveland Methodist Cemetery, behind the present day vacant church (referred to as The Baptist Church) located at 121 Green Street, just east of the library on the north side of Green Street. The cemetery is cared for by Brown Township Trustee, and does not belong to the former Baptist Church in front of the cemetery, which is in private ownership.
Shades State Park
T.C. Steele painted in nearby Shades (now a State Park which includes Pine Hills Nature Preserve), and Yountsville which traverses Sugar Creek. If you have time, be sure to take a hike in the park, canoe Sugar Creek, or visit the old Yountsville Mill and be sure to stay the night at the Yountsville Mill Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Courtesy Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Turkey Run Inn to Turkey Run Inn & Cabins
Time permitting, spend the night at either a cabin or the park inn and enjoy the landscape near T.C. Steele’s boyhood home.
Turkey Run State Park is located a short 9 miles from the T.C. Steele Boyhood Home. The trails inside the park are legendary. Crossing a suspension bridge over Sugar Creek, you will be in the Rock Hollow-Falls Canyon Nature Preserve. Hiking options provide over 14 miles of easy to very rugged hiking. Natural features are Box Canyon, Gypsy Gulch, Bear Hollow, Punch Bowl, Wedge rock, Narrows Covered Bridge, Sunset Point, Turkey Run Hollow, Falls Canyon, boulder Canyon, Crevice Rock, Camel’s Back. Be sure to take a hike to one of these beautiful natural features.
Yountsville Mill & Inn
Yountsville, a charming area, is located near the T.C. Steele Boyhood Home and Shades State Park, both of which were subjects of Steele’s paintings. We suggest taking a leisurely drive through this picturesque countryside when visiting the area.
The town gets its name from the Yount family, who were early settlers in the region. Daniel Yount, a member of the family, established several mills along Sugar Creek. These mills utilized the creek’s water to power their turbines. The Younts brought their knowledge of woolen mills from Germany. The Younts Mill operated until 1905, and while only one building remains today—a Greek Revival brick structure from 1864—it is a testament to its past as a woolen mill, located on the banks of Sugar Creek.
Close by, there is an elegant Federal-style house from 1851 situated above Sugar Creek. This house once served as a dormitory for the mill workers. During the Civil War, the mill produced uniforms for soldiers, employing around 300 people, mostly women, many of whom lived in this very dormitory.
Nowadays, this former mill worker dormitory has been transformed into a delightful bed and breakfast called Yountville Mill & Inn. We highly recommend staying overnight to fully appreciate the beauty of the gardens, grounds, and the tranquil Sugar Creek that flows through the property.
301 W Wabash Ave
Crawfordsville, IN 47933
In 1900, T.C. Steele received an Honorary Degree of Master of Arts from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He later returned to paint and warmly praised the little town:
“Crawfordsville is one of the prettiest towns in the state, and with the distinction that comes from an old college life, its traditions and spirit of scholarship”T.C. Steele 11
Today, Wabash College has a collection of seven T.C. Steele paintings (not on public display), including the notable portrait of Colonel Elston II, a friend of Steele. The portrait was initially attributed to an unknown artist but was later identified as a work by Steele when conservation efforts revealed the signature of T.C. Steele buried under the old, dark varnish.12
Crawfordsville is 14 miles from T.C. Steele’s boyhood home and is a very easy stop after visiting the Waveland, Shades, and Yountsville areas where T.C. Steele painted.
- Stamp your digital passport at T.C. Steele Boyhood Home.
- View In Harvest Time at the nearby Carnegie Library in Waveland.
- Find the Steele family headstones at Waveland Methodist Cemetery.
- Visit Shades State Park and enjoy the same landscapes that inspired Steele.
- Stay overnight at Turkey Run State Park or nearby Yountville Mill & Inn Take a driving tour of Wabash College Campus in nearby Crawfordsville.
- Visit the Narrows Covered Bridge, which crossed Sugar Creek, built in 1875, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places
- Attend the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, which is held each October over a 10-day period. The festival features over 31 Covered Bridges.
1 Perry, Rachel Berenson, Selma N. Steele, Theodore L. Steele, and Wilbur David Peat. Essay. In The House of the Singing Winds: The Life and Work of T.C. Steele, 4-5. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2016.
2 A.R. Wise’s Fine Art Gallery. T.C. Steele. Indiana Historical Society Digital Images. Indiana Historical Society, 2011. https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/V0002/id/2618/rec/4.
3 Friends of T.C. Steele website. https://tcsteele.org/portfolio/waveland.
4 The House of the Singing Winds, pg. 84, Selma N. Steele, Theodore L. Steele, Wilbur D. Peat, 1966, Indiana Historical Society, Lakeside Press, Chicago, Illinois and Crawfordsville, Indiana.
5 Elizabeth “Libbie” Lakin. Photograph. Crown Hill Heritage Foundation.
7 Businesses on Cross Street, Waveland, Indiana, circa 1910. The Indiana Album. The Indiana Album, Inc. , Mar. 29, 2017. https://indianaalbum.pastperfectonline.com/photo/E979BEDD-2D5E-40E8-9520-133111402745.
9 The Passage, Return of Indiana Painters from Germany: 1880-1905, Martin Krause, Indiana University Press, 1990, p.99.
11 Perry, Rachel Berenson, Selma N. Steele, Theodore L. Steele, and Wilbur David Peat. Essay. In The House of the Singing Winds: The Life and Work of T.C. Steele, 87. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2016.
12 Society of Indiana Archivists Newsletter, Fall, 2015, Beth Swift, Archivist, Wabash College.