Well, it became official a few weeks ago....the Terrell Jacobs Circus Winter Quarters along U.S. 31 near Peru has achieved National Register status. And it literally became a 3-ring circus.
Circus wagon and "Modoc" the legendary elephant
I don’t know how many kids who ran away to join the circus have left a legacy worthy to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but Miami County native Terrell Jacobs did just that. At 13 Jacobs, having been fascinated with the Wallace Circus Quarters, followed his heart which led to his ultimate distinction of being known nationally as The Lion King. Jacobs continues to hold the record of having the most big cats at one time in a single cage under his whip. 52 snarling lions and tigers….oh my!
Terrell Jacobs the "Lion King"
In 1939 his heart called him back to his beloved circus city in hope that he could renew Peru’s place in the world of circus entertainment. He and his wife purchased several acres along Pipe Creek. He set out to develop what he called Jungleland; a place where the public could see the animals of the circus first hand. The cat barn, complete with training ring and beautifully painted cages, was the first building Jacobs constructed. A bunkhouse, slaughterhouse, elephant barn, and grotto to Ben Wallace followed. The development became the winter home to some of the country’s leading circuses.
The Lion & Tiger Barn and Elephant Barn on U.S. 31
Jacobs died rather suddenly on Christmas Eve morning in 1957, but not before his dream of returning the great circus tradition to Peru came true. His winter quarters ensures the city’s continued title as Circus City.
When Paul and Dorothy Kelly purchased the winter quarters in 1955, they had similar aspirations as Terrell Jacobs. They envisioned a sort of kiddie-land to continue to provide the magic of the circus to the public, as well as continue the wintering tradition of circuses in Peru. The Kellys were no strangers to circus life. Paul Kelly’s family traces their roots to the original Ringling Brothers Circus and Shrine Circus in 1898. Dorothy Kelly was one of the leading elephant trainers of her time and was frequently called upon to make performances with various circuses.
Painted cages in the Lion Barn
When it looked certain that a highway project would eliminate this historic circus quarters from the landscape, Paul Kelly intervened and persuaded the state to preserve this landmark. And now, almost 50 years later, state officials formally presented a certificate to Mrs. Kelly certifying its landmark status at a circus-worthy event held in Peru last Friday afternoon. Mrs. Kelly and her son Ed continue as guardians and ardent storytellers of this uniquely Hoosier landmark on U.S. 31. Mrs. Kelly hopes to see another big event in October when she will turn 100 on the 13th. Best wishes ahead of time!