12 Aug S. O. Levinson: Noblesville’s Forgotten Benefactor
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
I’ve talked about the Levinson family before, here, here, and here. Now I would like to focus on the most notable member of the family – Ironically a person who is almost forgotten today – Salmon Oliver Levinson (1865-1941).
He was the eldest son of the family and was known as “Sol” when he lived here. He excelled in the local schools, graduating at the age of 16. There is an anecdote about him as a young boy watching his father play chess. When it looked like this father was about to be beaten, Sol whispered three moves to him. Everyone found this funny until his father tried the moves and won. Sol was also a leading member of the local baseball team in the 1880’s. After he crashed through the outfield fence while catching a ball, the local newspaper said that “Sol is a knocker, both at the bat and at the fence”.
He married his first wife Helen Haire (1866-1904) in 1884. He graduated from Yale in 1888, received his LLB from Lake Forest University in 1891, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar that same year. He practiced law in Chicago and did quite well. His family had always been involved in charitable work in Noblesville and he continued. He began giving an annual award to the Ladies Aid Society in memory of his mother who had been an important member of the group. In 1906, he began the Levinson Award at Noblesville High School, which began as $50 in gold.
After his wife died, he established the Helen Haire Levinson Award in Poetry Magazine in 1914. The first winner was Carl Sandburg for his book “Chicago Poems”. Sandburg said the $200 prize “octupled” his bank account. The present amount of the award is $500 and it has been won by some very notable poets.
Levinson married his second wife, Ruth Langworthy (1878-1963), in 1914 and continued his Noblesville charitable work. He and his brother Harry contributed money in memory of their father to construct the Noblesville Masonic Lodge in 1915. Their father had been a long time member of the organization. Sol’s most generous gift to the city was in 1917, when he gave $10,000 towards the construction of a new high school gymnasium. The gym was finished in 1924 and is still in use today as a part of the Boys and Girls Club. For many years after this, the high school newspaper was called the “Levin Sun”. Another of his gifts still in use today is the Forest Park Golf Course. He gave $1000 for its construction in 1927.
Levinson was most famous nationally for his work in the concept of outlawing war. He had written most of the text of the document known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact or Pact of Paris. For this, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929. He also received the Rosenberger Medal from the University of Chicago in 1931 and the French Legion of Honor in 1934. The story of his life can be found in the book “S. O. Levinson and the Pact of Paris: a study in the techniques of influence” by John E. Stoner (University of Chicago Press, 1943) available in the Indiana Room of HEPL.