The Town of Ulen Has a Small Footprint, but a Substantial History
Writer / Julie Yates
Photographer / Krystal Dailey
Nestled in the City of Lebanon, Ulen is a little gem of a town. It was incorporated in 1929, yet many Boone County residents don’t realize it exists. The architecture of the 50 or so houses on its four streets is a throwback in time, and the Ulen Country Club anchoring it has one of the best-kept-secret golf courses found anywhere in Indiana. Due to the efforts of the Henry C. Ulen Foundation, the town and country club are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ulen was founded and named after Henry C. Ulen, a successful industrialist during the first half of the 1900s. Today, historians marvel that as a successful owner of a world-class company based in New York, he first built a country club and then a town to entice his executives and engineers to move back home with him to Indiana. From recorded accounts of those who knew him, Ulen was a savvy businessman but never forgot his roots, and later in his life, he humbly and quietly supported many Boone County causes.
Ulen was born in 1871 and until he passed away in 1963, he lived an extremely interesting life. His father was Lebanon’s postmaster, yet Ulen dropped out of school when he was in the fifth grade. During his teenage years, he explored cities all over the country by jumping on trains and hopping off when he got to a destination he wanted to see. In between his travels, he always returned to Lebanon and worked odd jobs.
“It’s amazing he stayed alive during the time he was riding the trains like that,” says Sally Tanselle, secretary of the Henry C. Ulen Foundation. “He eventually married his first wife, Mary, a girl from nearby Thorntown. He ‘read law,’ as they called it back then, from books in his father-in-law’s office, and passed the Indiana bar exam in 1897.”
Later he gravitated toward infrastructure projects, especially those that involved waterworks, electricity and railroads. In 1901, he cofounded the American Water and Light Company based in Indianapolis. His partner bowed out, and the business became Ulen and Company as it took on international projects such as a waterworks system in Greece and railway infrastructure improvements in Bolivia, Argentina and even Persia (now Iran). Before eventually going out of business sometime in the late 1950s, the company built what was billed at the time as the longest tunnel in the world. The 1924 project, Shandaken Tunnel, ran through the Catskill Mountains and provided New York City with water.
Mary Ann Henry, clerk and treasurer for the town, and her husband were looking for a place farther out of the city when they stumbled on Ulen. Charmed by the neighborhood and impressed by the golf course, they moved to Ulen close to six years ago. They joined their other neighbors, some of whom have lived there for decades, and other new residents such as themselves, in being stewards dedicated to preserving the historic homes.
“Most of the houses were built in the late 1920s and early 1930s,” Henry says. “Each is different and very sturdy. They were built by Ulen and Company’s engineers and have steel I-beams in the basement. All the utilities were underground, which was very forward-thinking for that time. The town has a big livability factor. It’s centrally located and not far from downtown Lebanon.”
“Ulen’s own home, which is still standing today, was built inside a big barn,” Tanselle says. “It was completed in 1929 and when it was revealed, it was something like the christening of a ship. It was covered by the Indianapolis News and there is a photo of a woman smashing a bottle of champagne. My feeling is that Ulen was a practical man, and he knew Indiana winters were rough to deal with when building a home.”
Ulen hired golf course architect William “Bill” Diddel to design the country club’s golf course. Diddel went on to plan over 300 golf courses in the United States. Words such as immaculate and pristine have been used to describe the Ulen course, and it’s been the site for many golf tournaments. Construction for the course began in 1922 and was completed in 1924. This year marks the start of its 100th year in existence.
“The golf course is wonderful and people just rave about it,” Tanselle says. “It’s very affordable compared to other clubs and it’s very open to new members. Special promotions are run from time to time, and there are both social and golf memberships. Members come from all over central Indiana.”
In 2010, the Henry C. Ulen Foundation began, with the purpose to preserve, maintain and enhance the history of the town, country club and golf course. In 2015, the 501(c)(3) was able to get all three listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The young foundation is looking forward to the future as people rediscover all Ulen has to offer.
“What Lebanon looks like now will change with the upcoming LEAP industrial park and new Eli Lilly industrial project,” Henry says. “It will be a huge shot in the arm for Lebanon. It will be interesting to see what that will mean for the future of the golf course.”
Newcomers are sure to be welcomed to the country club with the Hoosier hospitality that Ulen was known for. The clubhouse of the country club was often the site of parties Ulen hosted for his many friends. The residents of Ulen and members of the Ulen Country Club plan to continue that spirit for years to come.
Visit the town of Ulen’s website at ulen.town, and Ulen Country Club’s website at ulencc.com. Donations to the Henry C. Ulen Foundation can be mailed to: The Henry C. Ulen Foundation, 100 Country Club Drive, Lebanon, IN 46052.