Lilly Playhouse

Evelyn Lilly and the Playhouse

Evelyn (Evie) Lilly was the daughter of Eli Lilly and his first wife Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Born in 1918, Evie was an only child and was doted on by her parents, both before and after their divorce in 1926.

Evie Lilly, for whom the playhouse was built, was Eli Lilly’s child. Her mother was Eli Lilly’s first wife, Evelyn Fortune Lilly.

One example of her father’s affection was the playhouse he had designed and built for her in the late 1920s. The architecture is Greek Revival style, featuring an arched doorway and columns on the porch. The playhouse was originally furnished with child-sized furniture including a leather couch and chair, a table and chairs, a bookcase, and a stove. It even had electricity for an overhead light and a plug! There were white rocking chairs on the porch.

When Mr. Lilly remarried in 1927 he moved from his aunt’s house on North Broadway Avenue in Indianapolis, where he’d been living since his divorce, to a house on Sunset Lane. He took the playhouse, which had been built in the yard of his aunt’s home, to his new residence.

During the nearly 70 years it spent on Sunset Lane, it was used by Evie and her friends as well as several generations of neighborhood children. At one point in the 1950s a neighbor boy commandeered it as his clubhouse and he stored his bug collection there; few girls were allowed inside. The Lillys also had a matching doghouse built in their yard, complete with heat and air conditioning.

Donation to The Children’s Museum, Lilly Playhouse, Indiana, 1930s

Lilly bequeathed his Sunset Lane property to Indiana University, which received it upon his death in 1977. The playhouse was donated to The Children’s Museum by the Indiana University Foundation in 1994, and it moved from the Sunset Laneproperty to The Children’s Museum parking lot in 1996 for restoration. In 2000 it became part of the exhibit Carousel Wishes and Dreams.

Today the playhouse serves as a reminder not only of the love that Lilly had for Evie, but also of the continuing appeal to children of having a place they can call their own. What better place to find it than in a gallery devoted to wishes and dreams?

An interior view of the Lilly Playhouse.