Hamilton County’s best known Asian resident in the late 19th and early 20 centuries was the Chinese laundryman, Tie Loy.

At least that’s the name he generally went by. On his marriage license he was Chan Tie Loy and his real Chinese name was said to be Chan Yin Sun.
It’s unclear exactly when Tie Loy arrived in Hamilton County.

He could have been the “Chinaman, the first on record” to visit Noblesville who is mentioned in the December 14, 1883 Republican-Ledger. He might also have been the person who opened a Chinese laundry in Noblesville in 1884. Unfortunately, neither of those individuals was identified.

What is certain is that Tie Loy was doing business here by 1888. That February he advertised “Cuffs 4 cents, 10 cents a shirt, collars 2 cents, Underwear 6 cents” in the Noblesville Independent.

A couple of months later, he sold his laundry to Yee or Lee Wah (the name appears both ways) and moved to Bloomington, Illinois, but he returned to Noblesville some time during the next two years. In January of 1890 it was noted that he gave a reporter some Chinese “plumbs,” a “peculiar appearing fruit.”

If you can look past the cringe-worthy attempts to reproduce Tie Loy’s accent in the old newspapers (remember, it was a different time with different standards,) you can tell that, although the local townsfolk considered him a rather exotic curiosity, he was well liked.

That may be because Tie Loy made an effort to blend into the community. In 1893, he pledged $20 toward the construction of the new Presbyterian Church on Conner Street and in 1894, he married an American woman 22 years his junior, Lydia J. Kilde.

Theirs wasn’t the most tranquil of marriages — one of their fights made the Ledger’s front page (“hot irons, rice pots and wooden-shoes flew in all directions”) — yet they remained together and produced two children, Frank, born in 1895, and Ethel, born in 1899.

In October 1898, during President McKinley’s visit to Noblesville, Tie Loy took the nearly three year-old Frank to see President and Mrs. McKinley. When he boosted the boy up so he could look into the window of the president’s railcar, little Frankie drew a smile from Mrs. McKinley.

A month later, Frank was dead from kidney disease. That seems to have been the beginning of Tie Loy’s downslide.

In July of 1900 Tie Loy opened a laundry in Arcadia and moved his family there, but his deteriorating health prevented him from earning an adequate living. By the middle of August the family was forced to depend on donations to keep from starving and in 1901 they moved into the “poor farm” (the County Farm/Home.)

Things only got worse from there.

According to a January 22, 1904 Hamilton County Ledger article, Lydia and Ethel were both dead by 1904 and had been buried in Crownland Cemetery. 

I did discover Ethel listed among Crownland’s 1902 burials in the January 13, 1903 Hamilton County Ledger, but the details of Lydia’s fate are a mystery. I couldn’t find any mention of her death in the old newspapers and the Crownland Cemetery books at the library only show Frank’s burial. There’s no record for either Lydia or Ethel.

In 1904 Tie Loy was in his mid-50s, nearly blind and unable to work, so Chinese friends in Indianapolis took up a collection to enable him to return home to China to die.

The Ledger article ends by noting that when Tie Loy left, he took with him a picture of his child (Ethel?) and a branch from the tree that shaded his wife’s grave.

Nancy Massey and Sherry Faust helped research this column.

-Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com