in the hometown of history's greatest war correspondent

‘As good as new’: OCRA grant, donations fund renovation of Ernie Pyle’s childhood home

By Ruth Witmer

       Visitors to the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum will see that the famed correspondent’s birthplace has more than a new coat of paint. This year, the outside has had substantial renovations to repair and restore the exterior of the historic home.

     “It looks as good as new,” FEP Vice President Phil Hess said. “I suspect the house looks better than it did even in the 1850s.”

     The Elder-Pyle House receives its name from the original owners, the Elder family who built it in 1851. Pyle was born there in 1900. In the 1970s, the structure was moved a few miles to the southern edge of Dana next to the museum. Here, as part of the museum, visitors can tour the home and learn about not only Pyle but the life of Hoosiers in the early 1900s.

“The work being done on the exterior is a physical manifestation of the dedication that the Friends of Ernie Pyle have to preserve the legacy of Ernie Pyle.” — Steve Key, FEP president

Any 170-year-old structure is going to need attention and the Elder-Pyle house was no exception. Among other issues, the damaged wood siding needed to be replaced and the south porch repaired.    

      The Friends of Ernie Pyle have been saving contributions for years to afford the much-needed work. They were greatly helped by a $39,000-plus donation from the Indiana Department of the American Legion, when then-State Commander Rodney Strong made the museum his personal project in office.

     Last year FEP applied for funds from the Historic Renovation Grant Program through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). Eleven historic Indiana properties, including the Elder-Pyle house, received funds.

     The museum was awarded  $26,400 from OCRA for exterior restoration. And with that, FEP had raised enough for the restoration and repair.

      Architect Judith Kleine initially did an assessment in 2020 and produced drawings to help with the application. She periodically checked on progress and will do a final report for the state.

     “I love doing the historicals because I love to save the buildings,” Kleine said.

     Kleine said the Elder-Pyle house is a classic style from Indiana and Iowa called an I-house — a tall, skinny, two-story structure.

     “It’s just a beautiful example of how people lived 100 years ago,” Kleine said.

     A two-person team from Manion Contracting finished the work in October on the house which FEP also successfully worked to have put on the National Register of Historic Places.

     FEP President Steve Key said there are many examples of people working hard to preserve Pyle’s legacy including the guides who take people through the home and museum, the podcasts done by Doug and Drew Hess, the upgraded website and future projects like educational units.

     “The work being done on the house’s exterior is a physical manifestation of the dedication that the Friends of Ernie Pyle have to preserve the legacy of Ernie Pyle,” Key said.