By Heather Lusk
Bonnie Knoll was built in downtown Zionsville in 1861.
It’s a story that began nearly a century ago and wasn’t shared for more than 60 years.
“Bonnie Knoll: The Tale of a Home That Grew” chronicles the life of Grace Monroe, who passed through Zionsville with her husband after World War I, purchased a house at the corner of Sixth and Pine Streets and named it Bonnie Knoll.
The story could easily have remained unknown. The Monroes never had children, but doted upon a young girl next door. When Grace and Charles Monroe died within three days of each other in 1963, the neighbor girl and her family inherited several of their possessions, including Grace’s memoir.
When those neighbors returned to Zionsville seven years ago, stopping by their old house to reminisce, they were curious to also see Bonnie Knoll. They contacted Marianne and Guinn Doyle, who purchased the home in 1999, and were given a tour. Before leaving, they mentioned Grace Monroe’s memoir and asked if Marianne Doyle would like to see a copy. She responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”
Doyle said she received it a few months later dropped everything.
“I walked around the house reading it,” she said, recognizing certain areas of the home being described.
“It’s a charming little book,” Doyle said, who added that she shared it with friends, who insisted that it would be interesting to others.
Doyle worked through the necessary paperwork to obtain the copyright and began trying to find a publisher.
There was some interest in the manuscript, but as Doyle was asked to change the words or to add sections, she protested.
“This is her book, not our book,” she said. “We can’t lose Mrs. Monroe’s voice.”
Eventually, Doyle opted to have the book self-published to ensure the content was preserved.
“It’s been a real adventure for me, and I’ve protected Mrs. Monroe’s voice,” she said.
She worked closely with a local editor, illustrator and font specialist who used examples of Grace Monroe’s handwriting to create the font on the book’s cover and the chapter headings.
“They had a very homey, warm, comforting vision for this book,” said Mike Ficarra, who created the book design. “I tried to carry that through.”
“I had no clue what this process was like,” Doyle said. “It’s been really interesting.”
Throughout the book, Monroe never mentions Zionsville by name and keeps the identity of the town’s citizens quiet as well.
“When you read it, she makes sure it’s not personal,” Doyle said.
“I know all those names, because I did the research for it,” said Doyle, such as a person who recalled the house’s foundation being laid in 1862 and the doctor who sold the house to the Monroes.
Some of the sketches in the book are original art by Charles Monroe. His studio was in the back of Bonnie Knoll, where he also forged metal pieces such as lanterns and hardware. Much of his handiwork remains in the house.
“It was clearly something she wanted to have published,” said Doyle, who also acquired Grace Monroe’s diary in which she mentions “her book.”
“I had it; it was here. It couldn’t sit another 60-some odd years,” Doyle said. “It was the stray cat that we took in that we then had to take care of. We got it done for her.”
The book is available at Black Dog Books on Main Street.
About Grace Lane Monroe
“The story of how we found our ‘house beautiful’ – Charles’s and mine – begins in the early 1900s in the heart of the Hoosier state,” so begins Grace Lane Monroe’s memoir about Bonnie Knoll.
Charles and Grace Monroe were on their way to Indianapolis in 1922 to look at a lot on which to build their dream home. Road construction detoured them through Zionsville, taking them past an empty house. Inquiring at the bank whether it was for sale, they happened upon the physician who had very recently purchased the home but hadn’t yet moved in. “I’ve never had anything I wouldn’t sell,” he said according to the memoir.
Soon after the purchase, the Monroes discovered, with some shock, that they had purchased nearly four acres of land. The book describes their home improvements, raising chickens, leaving their home during the Great Depression so that Charles could find work in Virginia, and their life during World War II.
Grace Monroe wrote the memoir in 1947. According to the book, she and her husband spent later winters in Florida but always returned to their “labor of love,” Bonnie Knoll.