The Rock House

The striking Rock House on State Road 252 in Morgantown, Indiana catches the eye of many a passer-by. It started life as a home for a local businessman and his very large family. Construction on the house began in 1894 and was completed two years later. James Smith Knight, the builder and owner, used cement blocks more than a decade before they became widely used in construction. He then embedded them not only with rocks and geodes, but also colored glass, keys, coins, dice, pottery, marbles, seashells and even doll heads. Most of the rocks came from nearby Bear Creek. Knight’s name, as well as that of his first wife Isabelle, were embedded into the house using small black stones. A side porch contained a block with a tusk of a wild boar that Knight had killed. The interior of the home included a dumbwaiter, laundry chutes and a bedroom designed for the delivery of Knight’s 22 children born between 1891 and 1932. The second story of the round tower was intended for the upkeep of Isabelle’s plant collection. The total cost of the construction was $9,000 or around $328,000 today.

The Rock House, courtesy of

There are several legends associated with the Rock House. Family lore holds that Knight was friends with the father of John Dillinger, and that Dillinger himself stayed in the house for a night along with a friend. Some of Knight’s children claimed that another man on the run from the law was hidden in the attic for several years. Certain versions of the story state that the man was driven out from his hiding place after he accidentally set a small fire.

James Smith Knight and his first wife Isabelle with their six oldest children: Fred, Regina, Charles, Inez, Nadene and Garnet, in 1903. Pallas Houser Collection, Genealogy Division.

Knight married Myrtle Settles after the death of his wife Isabelle in 1915, and they lived in the Rock House until James’ death in 1943. More information about Knight and his family can be found in the Pallas Houser Collection in the Genealogy Division.

This post was written by Laura Williams, genealogy librarian at the Indiana State Library.