The Herald Bulletin

May 18, 2013

Bed and breakfast with a gangster past

By Emma Bowen Meyer
The Herald Bulletin

FORTVILLE, Ind. — When Jim and Linda Nolte purchased their historic home in 1980, they didn’t expect to transform it into a bed and breakfast — much less discover ties to an underground casino and Al Capone.

Capone, of course, was the Prohibition-era gangster whose Chicago-based enterprise was mostly involved with bootlegging liquor. He died in 1947.

“The history of the house came together like a puzzle,” said Linda, retired from her work with special needs children at Mount Vernon. “We only got a little piece at a time.”

“It takes a while for people around here to accept you into town,” said Jim, retired industrial engineer from Naval Avionics. “Little by little they did. Our neighbor grew up in the house behind us and can remember as a child he was told to stay out of the basement and garage of this house. He said there were always long black limousines pulling up to the house.”

Being a curious boy, he couldn’t resist sneaking a peek in the garage and found one-armed bandits waiting for players. More pieces of the puzzle came from the grandson of the man who built the house in 1921. The well-respected doctor, Jess E. Ferrell, was later able to welcome his own son into his local practice.

Diplomas for each of them hang on the living room wall as calling cards to the past. By the fireplace is a black bag with the doctor’s name stamped on it and the door to his office, complete with his name stenciled on the glass, is in the garage. These were all gifts from Ferrell’s grandson.

“If you look in the garage behind the particle board, you can see gambling punch boards,” said Linda. “And I received an e-mail from the daughter of a neighbor who said her father (as a boy) met Al Capone when he came here to gamble.”

“There is a clique in town that doesn’t want any part of this history discussed,” said Jim, Vernon  Township trustee. “But there used to be five speakeasies between here and the T in the road. The sulky track was nearby and the rumor is that the doctor supplied horses and that’s how he got involved with Al Capone.”

Visitors from foreign lands

While antiques may adorn the house, the feeling of ill repute was washed away many years ago. When the Noltes first moved into the space, they added a bathroom to accommodate life with three children. When the youngest child left for college, the couple became serious about their dream of a bed and breakfast.

“We had thought about it for a long time,” said Linda. “It was the perfect place, the perfect location and the perfect house.”

“It was a good way to avoid empty nesting,” added Jim.

Guests hail from Canada, England, France and Italy — along with those from all over the United States. Reasons for their stay range from interest in car races, Conner Prairie, wedding parties, girlfriend getaways, and family reunions.

“Bed and breakfast people are their own group — they don’t like hotels or big cities,” said Linda. “We meet some very interesting people. One lady brought her dog for the dog show, and she was friends with the empress of Japan. We are close enough to Indianapolis, Fishers, and Noblesville to attract a lot of different people.”

With an eye on style and sophistication, the couple has perfectly appointed the house for its purpose. Jim has even collected and restored many interesting antique doors, the oldest of which is 142 years old.

“When we saw this house we fell in love with it and knew we had to have it,” said Linda. “We knew it was just for us.”

Each week, Emma Bowen Meyer features a Madison County home. If you know of a home that should be showcased, send an e-mail to


Ivy House Bed and Breakfast

304 N. Merrill Street

Fortville, In 46040

(317) 485-4800