The Burwell Building was constructed in 1880. This is a three-story structure with two commercial units on the street level and living quarters on the top two levels. The center of the building is pierced by a skylight that provides exterior light and air to each interior room. The large bay windows with carved decorative trim have an excellent southern exposure for studio purposes. The Italianate and High Victorian influence is accented by the detailed tin work on the exterior.
John Burwell designed and erected this building especially for his wife and son, Ralph, an artist-photographer who was an 1899 Tippecanoe High School graduate. The Burwells were the only residents of the upper floors and the interior remained unchanged through 1950s.
The building was occupied by the Burwell family from 1880 to 1950. The upper two stories were used as the Burwell home and the street level was originally used as a studio by Ralph. The East Room of the street level was occupied by grocery stores from at least 1898 to 1956, including Gibson’s Confectionary in 1908, M.B. Hines Grocery in 1921, and Van Cleve Grocery from at least 1941 though 1956. This portion was also occupied by Miami Budget from circa late 1930s to 1940 and City Loan and Savings Company from approximately 1940 to at least 1965.
The West Room of the street level was occupied by a millinery in 1898. In 1911, it was a music store owned by Preston Miller where young folks gathered around his player piano to sing songs or listen to him play the violin. The West Room was later occupied by beauty shops including Colonial Shoppe Coiffures (1965), Ruby’s Beauty Salon and The Hair Designers. Other businesses known to have occupied the commercial spaces include Floyd Cunningham’s Barber Shop, a chiropractor’s office, Underwood’s Custom Electronics, and Miami County Communications. The Tin Peddler has been the occupant of the commercial space for at least the last 25 years.
Personal History of Ralph Burwell
Ralph was an only child. His mother didn’t allow him to play with other children for fear he would get dirty or hurt. A cancelled check of July 9, 1911, shows that he served as Treasurer of Miami County during that year.
A favorite pastime of his was to design and draw Christmas cards, which he sent to his few acquaintances. In the winter, Ralph could be found daily at the public library (which was then located on the second floor of the City Building) as his apartment had little heat and no toilet facilities.
Ralph passed away in the 1950’s as a bachelor. He is remembered as an elegant gentleman, usually dressed in a dark vested suit with a watch and chain. A tall, thin man with wire glasses, he was thought of as being from an earlier, more genteel age. By some he was known as a lonely and distant man, remembered for his strange walk, black suits, solitary ways, and fondness of maple nut candy.
Most of the photographic records of Tipp City during his life span were taken by Ralph and are available at the Tippecanoe Historical Society.