Joel Roberts Ninde, a native of Alabama, was born in 1874 to Mr. and Mrs. Willis Roberts. Joel did not have any formal training or education in architecture. She had grown up in the Deep South which still had not fully recovered from the Civil War. She married her husband Lee J. Ninde, a Fort Wayne native, in Indianapolis in October 1900. Soon after marriage the newlywed couple moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Joel refused to move into her husband’s in-laws’ estate for several reasons and she decided to design her own home. Joel managed to design her dream house despite no formal training and no architecture apprenticeship. She believed “house of convenience” designs needed to be a blend of economical building materials, construction durability and eye appeal for the homemaker. The success of her first design became popular enough she went on to design and build several more houses for friends and family. Her philosophy that the cost of a house and landscaping should be priced so that more people in the both upper income levels as well as the more average homeowner could afford was an important component of her success. She did study the popular styles of the day which drove her to develop her own unique design style. Her preferred building styles were Craftsman and Colonial Revival. She managed to fill a niche with her individualism in house design in a housing market which was dominated by men.

After her success among her family and friends, her husband Lee Ninde gave up his law practice and in 1910 and with his wife Joel formed a real estate and construction firm called the Wildwood Builders Company. Another woman joined her, Grace E. Crosby who partnered with Joel in the design department and as construction supervisors.

A newspaper article listed in August, 1914 stated that the Joel Ninde and Grace Crosby had opened their own firm. Their new firm included both architecture and interior design, the article also stated that the two would continue their work at Wildwood Builders. Joel in her own words wanted her designs to be “pleasing to the eye, economical, convenient, and efficient”. Unfortunately the partnership between Grace Crosby and Joel Roberts Ninde was short lived when it ended abruptly when Joel Roberts Ninde died from a stroke in 1916 at age 42. Joel Ninde before her abrupt early death had been one of the most popular early twentieth century architects in Fort Wayne. In 1914 news article by the Indianapolis News stated Joel had designed and built over 300 houses. Her company published its own magazine under the name “The Wildwood Magazine”, published from 1913 to 1917, which was a nationally known publication on the subjects of architecture, city planning, and interior design was quite popular. The magazine also promoted the Wildwood Builders own design by Jill and her fellow coworker architects.

Joel Roberts Ninde, 1874-1916


Notable Structures Designed by Joel Roberts Ninde,

  1. Joel Ninde house (her first house design). 3031 So. Wayne Ave. Fort Wayne, Indiana.
  2. Lee & Joel Roberts Ninde House. 902 West Wildwood Avenue Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1910
  3. A.P. Richard-May W. Daugherty House. 706 West Wildwood Avenue Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1912
  4. Edwin H. Redding-James M. Barrett, Jr. House. 710 West Wildwood Avenue Fort Wayne, Indiana c.192
  5. Peter A. Dittoe-Raplh A. Iammarino House. 2912 Shawnee Drive. Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1913
  6. Frank B. Taylor-Ernest S. Myers House. 2919 Shawnee Drive Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1913
  7. William N. Balowin- John T. Short House. 2908 Shawnee Drive. Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1914
  8. Earl J. Dewy Ernest E. Briegel House. 2911 Shawnee Drive. Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1915
  9. Jesse H, Young-George W. Kierspe House. 805 West Wildwood Avenue Fort Wayne, Indiana c.1915

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Further Reading

  1. Allaback, Sarah. The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press, 2008. Pp. 204-205.
  2. Grace E. Crosby House, 413 West DeWald Street, City of Fort Wayne Historic Preservation Commission Staff Review, July 23, 2007.
  3. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “Ft. Wayne Women Form New Architect Firm.” August 30, 1914.
  4. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “Grace E. Crosby.” May 18, 1962.
  5. Indianapolis Star, “Mrs. Joel Roberts Ninde of Ft. Wayne Broadened Her Womanly Sphere By Becoming an Architect and the Creator of Fair ‘Honeymoon Row’.” November 7, 1914
  6. Nancy Venderely, “Ninde Homes a Vision of Turn-of-Century,” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, People Section, Southwest, October 21, 1997, n.p.
  7. Harter, Randolph L., and Craig S. Leonard. Legendary Locals of Fort Wayne Indiana. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishers, 2015.

Do you live in or know of a historic Joel Roberts Ninde house or building? Let us know. Send us your photo