Businesses at 301
Irwin's Dry Goods, 1850-1891
Joseph I. Irwin's first business was his own dry goods store, which he started after working at Alden and Snyder dry goods for four years. Initially, Irwin's Dry Goods was located on the southwest corner of Washington and Fourth streets, and it occupied a few different locations before Irwin built a new building at 301 Washington Street. Irwin remained in the dry goods business until 1891 when he sold the store to Fred J. Meyer and Oscar Fiegenbaum.
Driftwood Valley Turnpike, 1868-1890
To enable and encourage people living in areas surrounding the city to travel to Columbus (and to do business in his store), Joseph I. Irwin built toll roads. Within Bartholomew County, he financed more than 40 miles of gravel roads including the Driftwood Valley Turnpike and the Columbus & Burnsville Turnpike. Making use of these road systems, he installed Columbus’s first telephone in 1878.
Irwin's Bank, 1871-1928
As the local story has it, Joseph I. Irwin did not intentionally become a banker. He had safe in his dry goods store, and people began to leave their money with him. In 1871, he formally established Irwin’s Bank. The bank grew, and in 1928 merged with Union Trust to become Irwin-Union Trust Company. With the merger came a move out of 301 Washington Street to the southwest corner of Fifth and Washington. As the banking portion of the business expanded, the name was changed to Irwin Union Bank & Trust. In 2009, Irwin Union Bank was one of the many small banks that failed during the national financial crisis.
Meyer's Dry Goods, 1891-1907
When Joseph I. Irwin sold his dry goods business to Fred J. Meyer and Oscar Fiegenbaum, the store remained at 301 Washington Street but changed its name to Meyer's Dry Goods. Meyer and Fiegenbaum dissolved their partnership in 1898. Meyer then entered a new partnership with Henry Bruning for just one year before operating it as sole owner. Meyer's Dry Goods remained at 301 until 1906 or 1907 when he partnered with H. L. Rost and moved the store to Fifth and Washington streets.
Indianapolis, Columbus, & Southern Traction Company, 1899-1942
William G. Irwin, who worked closely with his father at Irwin's Bank, convinced him to invest in an interurban transit system. The first run of what would come to be called the Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern Traction Company occurred on January 1, 1900. Eventually, the line connected Louisville, Seymour, Columbus, Greenwood, Franklin, and Indianapolis. In 1912, the Irwins leased the Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern Traction Company lines to the Interstate Public Service for 999 years. After a fatal crash in 1941, Interstate Public Service abandoned the interurban the following year.
Union Starch and Refining Company, 1912-1966
The same year the Irwins leased the Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern Traction Company lines to the Interstate Public Service, they founded Union Starch and Refining Company. Union Starch made corn-based products including syrups, sugars, corn oil, and caramel color. The company's manufacturing facilities were in Edinburgh, Indiana and Granite City, Illinois, and some of its general offices were located in Columbus at 301 Washington. J. Irwin Miller oversaw the sale of Union Starch to Miles Laboratory in 1966.
Irwin Management Company, 1958-2010
The family began Irwin Management Company (IMCo) in 1958 to oversee its investments and to manage its wealth. After the sale of Union Starch and Refining Company, Irwin Management moved to 301 Washington.
One IMCo project that was part investment and part philanthropy was Courthouse Center and Commons. Courthouse Center, completed in 1973 and designed by architect Cesar Pelli (who at that time was with Gruen Associates), was a downtown mall meant to maintain the city's historic commercial core. Connected to the mall was the Commons, a combination performance space, children's playground, and community gathering spot. The Commons was a gift to the city from J. Irwin Miller, Xenia Miller, and Clementine Tangeman. For the Commons' focal point, they commissioned Swiss artist Jean Tinguely to create Chaos I, a kinetic sculpture. By the early 2000s, the business model of the mall was no longer profitable. Pelli's building was partially demolished in 2009. A new Commons building designed by Koetter Kim and CSO Architects and using the internal structure of Pelli's Commons opened in 2011.
Not every IMCo project rivalled the scope of the Courthouse Center and Commons. When the owner of the Irwin's Block building wanted to paint it in 1974, he asked IMCo if Alexander Girard might have recommendations for a new color scheme. Girard had completed his Storefront Improvement project for Columbus in 1965, and IMCo enlisted his assistance for this new project. In later years, IMCo staff organized tours of 301 Washington and the Miller House, and generally worked to present the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller family's patronage of art and architecture.