Meredith Nicholson House39.787921, -86.154431

Meredith Nicholson

Meredith Nicholson wrote The House of a Thousand Candles in the third-floor study of his Old Northside residence. The historic house is now the home of Indiana Humanities.


Meredith Nicholson
b. 1866 – d. 1947

Literary Inspiration

The House of a Thousand Candles

Published 1905


1500 North Delaware Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202

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The House of a Thousand Candles

Meredith Nicholson

A single candle made a little pool of light in what I felt to be a large room. I was prepared for a disclosure of barren ugliness, and waited, in heartsick foreboding, for the silent guide to reveal a dreary prison.

“Please sit here, sir,” said Bates, “while I make a better light.”

He moved through the dark room with perfect ease, struck a match, lighted a taper and went swiftly and softly about. He touched the taper to one candle after another,—they seemed to be everywhere,—and won from the dark a faint twilight, that yielded slowly to a growing mellow splendor of light. I have often watched the acolytes in dim cathedrals of the Old World set countless candles ablaze on magnificent altars,—always with awe for the beauty of the spectacle; but in this unknown house the austere serving-man summoned from the shadows a lovelier and more bewildering enchantment. Youth alone, of beautiful things, is lovelier than light.

The lines of the walls receded as the light increased, and the raftered ceiling drew away, luring the eyes upward. I rose with a smothered exclamation on my lips and stared about, snatching off my hat in reverence as the spirit of the place wove its spell about me. Everywhere there were books; they covered the walls to the ceiling, with only long French windows and an enormous fireplace breaking the line. Above the fireplace a massive dark oak chimney-breast further emphasized the grand scale of the room. From every conceivable place—from shelves built for the purpose, from brackets that thrust out long arms among the books, from a great crystal chandelier suspended from the ceiling, and from the breast of the chimney—innumerable candles blazed with dazzling brilliancy. I exclaimed in wonder and pleasure as Bates paused, his sorcerer’s wand in hand.

“Mr. Glenarm was very fond of candle-light; he liked to gather up candlesticks, and his collection is very fine. He called his place ‘The House of a Thousand Candles.’ There’s only about a hundred here; but it was one of his conceits that when the house was finished there would be a thousand lights. He had quite a joking way, your grandfather. It suited his humor to call it a thousand. He enjoyed his own pleasantries, sir.”


Indianapolis greatly influenced Meredith Nicholson. He came of age in the city in the 1870s and 1880s, a time when it was beginning to blossom culturally and was earning a reputation as a literary center. Although he dropped out of high school, his mother instilled in him a thirst for learning, taking him often to lectures, plays and concerts. Nicholson loved to read and spent much time at the newly established Indianapolis Public Library. As a young man he took a job in the law office of William Wallace, where he met his boss’s brother Lew Wallace, famed author of Ben-Hur and other novels, and the renowned Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley, who bec­­ame a mentor and a lifelong friend. With his friends’ and family’s encouragement, Nicholson began a career as a journalist.

Although Nicholson moved to Denver and took a corporate job after marriage, Indiana drew him back to writing. The editor of a book series on the cultural history of U.S. states asked Nicholson to write the volume on Indiana, and Nicholson spent much time researching, often traveling back home to do so. His book, The Hoosiers, published in 1900, earned him favorable notice and changed the course of his life. His work on the book and its strong reviews convinced him to forgo his business career, return to Indiana and work full time as a writer.

—George Hanlin, Director of Grants
Indiana Humanities

What Nicholson served up was a particular viewpoint of middle-class life in the middle of the country at the beginning of the 20th century. It fit well into the idealized Indiana presented by Nicholson’s mentor, James Whitcomb Riley—a land of “old swimmin’-holes” and frost on the pumpkin. His characters were friendly and neighborly, and while of course they faced challenges (conflict being an essential part of storytelling), in the end everything always got resolved rather tidily. Nicholson’s work exuded optimism, confidence and a belief in progress, ideas common in this era of American ascendancy.

—George Hanlin, Director of Grants
Indiana Humanities

“I can prove almost anything in the whole range of human experience by the history of Center Township, Marion County, Indiana.”

—Meredith Nicholson, “Stay in Your Own Home Town” in Old Familiar Faces


Meredith Nicholson was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and moved at age five to Indianapolis. He began his writing career working for the Indianapolis Sentinel and the Indianapolis News. Nicholson released his first book, a collection of poems, in 1891, but did not become well known until he was asked to write The Hoosiers, a cultural history of Indiana, as part of a book series highlighting the American states. His most famous work was the novel The House of Thousand Candlespublished in 1905. Nicholson, along with James Whitcomb Riley, George Ade and Booth Tarkington, was a leading figure during the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. 



(Now Indiana Humanities)

1500 North Delaware Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202


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