Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Historic Photos of the Benton House Emerge

   Several years ago, the  Irvington Historical Society acquired the glass negatives that belonged to Osbert Sumner of 68 North Ritter Avenue. Mr. Sumner, a Canadian by birth, loved photography. As a young man, he documented his life. Most of the images are from his time as a member of the Indianapolis Canoe Club. His photographs are gorgeous and show beautiful river and stream scenes along with many male and female friends who floated down local waterways with him. Some of the photographs also show his hometown in Oakville, Ontario. The Irvington Historical Society will be exhibiting images from his collection in 2021.

   Hiding in plain sight in the Sumner collection were images of the Benton house at 312 South Downey Avenue. Nothing in the photographs made sense however, as the aging Professor Allen R. Benton, a widower after 1900, lived alone in the beautiful Second Empire home. So, who were all of these young people hanging out at his residence on a summer day?

    The answer required some detective work, that I must say, is still ongoing. Thanks to a subscription to, I was able to find some morsels to assist with the mystery. On May 25, 1901, the Indianapolis News carried this society bit on page 22:

      Mr. and Mrs. F. C. Gardner have taken the residence of Dr. Allen R. Benton at Irvington for the summer and will go there on Wednesday.

     F. C. Gardner? Who was this? My research led me further to Fred C. Gardner, the future secretary-treasurer of the Atkins Saw Company. The rising business star was very active with the Disciples of Christ where he might have met Allen R. Benton. He later replaced Dr. Benton as the treasure for Butler University in 1903. Mr. Gardner was 39 years old in 1901 as was his wife Cara Davis Gardner. They had two children, four-year-old Mary and two-year-old, Margaret. They lived at 1318 North Broadway in 1901.

     The Gardners likely found the Benton house  as a quiet retreat away from the city. But where did Professor Benton go? Society snippets in both the Indianapolis Journal and News indicated that he traveled to visit relatives for part of the summer although he was occasionally home. Did the Gardners remain in his house during those times?

      Then, I found this amazing blurb published on page three in the Indianapolis Journal on July 3, 1901:

      Mr. and Mrs. Fred C. Gardner have taken Professor Benton's home in Irvington for the summer and have invited a number of friends out to spend the Fourth with them.  

     Did I just uncover the exact day and year as to when these amazing photographs were snapped? Osbert Sumner was 29 years old and single at the time. What was his connection to Fred C. Gardner? They were both active members of the Republican Party and in the Masons. Was Mr. Gardner also a member of the Canoe Club? In one of the photographs, a young man is wearing patriotic-striped socks. Wouldn't one do that on the Fourth of July?

      By examining photos of Mr. Gardner in the Indianapolis newspapers, I am able to determine that he is in these historic images along with Osbert Sumner, of whom we already knew what he looked like. The women in the photos still need more research. One of them might be Cara Davis Gardner. Another might be her sister Hazel Bird Davis, who never married, and lived with the Gardners at the time. Two of the younger girls in the photos might be Mary and Margaret Gardner.

    On the day that the photographs were snapped, it appears to be late in the afternoon or early evening as the sun is in the western sky. Mr. Gardner, who has a beard and is wearing a dark suit, can be seen holding the shutter release cable in a few of the images. You will note that the address of the house prior to the neighborhood's annexation as 364 Downey Avenue. This fact also tripped me up in the beginning.

      More work is needed, but this exciting find adds new imagery about one of the neighborhood's most important landmarks. You will note that there were no immediate neighbors and that there used to be a carriage house or a barn nearby. The photos were taken before the brick was painted and it appears that Professor Benton used planks as a front sidewalk.

Fred C. Gardner, in the center, posed with three ladies, one of whom might have been his wife, Cara Davis Gardner, and one of whom might have been his sister-in-law, Hazel Davis, along with a young man on the stoop of the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue most likely on July 4, 1901.

An unidentified young girl sat along the stairs leading to the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue on July 4, 1901. A carriage house or barn can be seen in the distance. Note that the sidewalk leading up to Professor Benton's home used to be wooden planks. 

Children posed on the lawn of the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue on July 4, 1901. Two of the young girls in the photo are perhaps Mary and Margaret Gardner, the children of Fred and Cara Davis Gardner.

A group of younger adults gathered at the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue most likely on July 4, 1901. We only know the name of Fred Gardner, who is seated second from the right. His wife, Cara Davis Gardner, and his sister-in-law, Hazel Davis, might be seated nearby. 

Osbert Sumner, an amateur photographer and member of the Indianapolis Canoe Club, posed on the lawn at the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue with several other younger people including Fred C. Gardner, seated in the chair, on July 4, 1901. Mr. Sumner, who is seated on the ground, later moved to 68 North Ritter Avenue. 

A woman watches over the children at a lawn fete on the grounds of the Benton home at 312 South Downey Avenue on July 4, 1901. 

Fred C. Gardner as he appeared on March 1, 1906, in the Indianapolis Star
The Benton House at 312 South Downey Avenue in the spring of 2020 (photo by Wm. Gulde) 

Scans of these historic images are courtesy of the Irvington Historical Society. I also wish to thank Deedee Davis and Paula Schmidt for their assistance with this post. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Bittle's Tourist Court East of Irvington Along the National Road

With the advent of the automobile and the paving of state and federal highways, thousands of Americans began to travel across the country. Many of them pulled into roadside cabins on their way through the state of Indiana. A recent Smithsonian magazine article, penned by Andrew Wood, noted that entrepreneurs constructed many of these sites along busy routes with 1964 as the peak year with 61,000 tourist camps or courts in the United States. Travelers merely had to pull into the court and they could park next to their cabin. The demise of the roadside inn came with the construction of the interstate system along with the rise of the corporate hotel chain. Many mom and pop places like Bittle's Court at 7628 East Washington Street did not survive those movements.

Located two miles east of Irvington along the National Road, Bittle's Court opened sometime in the mid or late 1930s. James E. and Cora Bittle built the cabins near a tourist trailer camp along the busy National Road. Mr. Bittle's obituary indicates that he might have opened the court as early as 1935. An ad in a 1938 Indianapolis Star, touted Bittle's Cabin-Trailer Court, Sandwich, candies, soft drinks. 

The tourist camp was a family affair as Mr. Bittle sons, Keith and James, Jr., eventually operated the site. In an obituary, reporter Bess Watson described James E. Bittle, Sr. as an "active man" and a "smart dresser" who had a "dynamic personality." He died in 1955 at the age of 89.

In 1953, Henry Wood, a journalist for the Indianapolis Star Magazine, interviewed Keith Bittle for a story on the roadside attraction. Mr. Bittle told the reporter many stories that had occurred on the site including the birth of a few babies, the desertion of a bride, and of a suicide by a local nurse. He also noted that many young honeymooners paid a visit to Bittle's Court.  In 1939, bandits arrived in the middle of the night and forced the manager at gun point to open the cash register. The thieves fled the scene with twelve more dollars.  In 1961, the FBI tracked down a woman from Erie, Pennsylvania to the court. She had rented a car for the day in that town but kept it for several months and put nearly 8,000 miles on the car!

Th 7500-7800 block of East Washington Street saw a lot of development in the 1940s. Next door to the Bittle Court, at 7712 E. Washington Street, investors opened a bowling alley designed by R.C. Lennox and J. C. Matthews. Across the street, Frank Andrews opened the Golden Pheasant Restaurant in 1946. (see link)

Much of the area changed dramatically when the federal government decided to build a segment of Interstate 465 in eastern Marion County in 1965.  The Bittles sold their property to the federal government. A public notice placed in the Indianapolis Star on December 31, 1964, described each structure to be removed.  Tourist court consisting of brick veneer house, garage, stucco apartment building, frame apartment building, concrete block boiler building, and 22 frame tourist cabins. Formerly known as Bittle's Tourist Court... 

Aerial photo of Bittle's Court at 7628 East Washington Street along with the Pritchett-Hunt-O'Grady Bowling Alley at 7712 East Washington Street c1947. Across the street, you can see the recently constructed Golden Pheasant Restaurant. (postcard courtesy of Don Flick) 

Rear of the postcard for Bittle's Tourist Court at 7628 East Washington Street (Postcard courtesy of Don Flick)

Bittle's Tourist Cabins at 7623 East Washington Street (formerly 7608 East Washington Street) c1940 (postcard courtesy of Evan Finch and the Indiana Album) 

I wish to thank Don Flick for the use of the postcard and for the information for this post.

Sources: Bess Watson, "James Bittle Opened First Motel Here," Indianapolis News, July 8, 1955, 18; "James W. Bittle Dies; Former Owner of Motel," Indianapolis Star, May 18, 1972, 37; Henry Wood, "Anything Can Happen," Indianapolis Star Magazine, February 22, 1953, 6-7; Andrew Wood, "Rise and Fall of the Great American Motel," Smithsonian Magazine, June 30, 2017; "Kidnapped, Robbed By Masked Bandits," Indianapolis Star, November 20, 1939, 13; "Woman Held in Theft," Indianapolis News, September 18, 1961, 1; "Public Notices," Indianapolis Star, December 31, 1964, 28.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Building for Sale East of Irvington--1958

After World War II, many families began to move further east of Irvington and into the rural parts of Warren Township. Entrepreneurs developed housing subdivisions while others built Eastgate Shopping Mall and other commercial endeavors along East Washington Street.

In 1946, Frank E. Adams opened the Golden Pheasant Restaurant at 7803 East Washington Street. Mr. Andrews already owned a restaurant at 1606 North Illinois Street so he might have overextended himself as he soon ran into financial trouble. Although the restaurant was located just a few miles east of Irvington, it was largely still out in the country. Within a year, Mr. Andrews ran into another road block when he applied for a liquor license as he wanted to open the Flamingo Bar in the basement of the new structure, but residents of Warren Township fought him due to the proximity of a school that used to sit along East Washington Street and Franklin Road. By 1948, he was out of business and out of money.

In 1948, Marvin L. Jones purchased the site and opened Jones Restaurant and Drive-In. Local east side organizations frequently rented out rooms in the facility for banquets or meetings. The restaurant remained opened for ten years. Mr. Jones placed the building and grounds on the market in December of 1958. Postcards of 7803 East Washington Street were mailed out to several realtors including Van's Realty Company located at 1333 North College Avenue. Potential buyers just needed to ring up Fleetwood 6-5544 to get information.

In 1959, the site became home to a Rambler automobile dealership which last until the 1970s when the entire property was redeveloped for what would become Service Merchandise. There is a building on the site of the former Art Modern structure, but it is unclear if any of the original structure remains.

In December of 1958, cards advertising the sale of 7803 East Washington Street were sent out to various realtors in the city of Indianapolis. (card courtesy of Glory June Greiff) 

Van's Realty Co. received the card advertising the sale of 7803 East Washington Street in December of 1958. (card courtesy of Glory June Greiff) 

Frank Andrews opened the Golden Pheasant Restaurant at 7803 East Washington Street in December of 1946. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

The Golden Pheasant Restaurant at 7803 East Washington Street, operated by Frank Andrews, reflected the racial codes of the day. African-Americans who wanted a job at the restaurant could only apply for certain positions. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

In 1948, Marvin Jones opened Jones Restaurant and Drive-In at 7803 East Washington Street and remained in business for ten years. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

In 1959, the property became the site of Rambler auto dealership. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

Bill Grawemeyer operated the Rambler auto dealership at 7803 East Washington Street in 1959. Mr. Graweyer's map is not quite accurate, but he wanted to show how close the business was to the new Eastgate Mall. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

Ramblers were for sale at 7803 East Washington Street in 1959. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

A Warren Township School, formerly located at 7935 East Washington Street, can be seen in this newspaper photo from 1959. (courtesy of Indianapolis Star)
Sources: "Club Drops Liquor Plea," Indianapolis Star, November 11, 1947, 10; "Restaurant Owner Broke, Suit Says," November 15, 1947, 15; "Jones Interests Plan Restaurant," Indianapolis Star, April 29, 1948, 4;

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

South Arlington Avenue--1965

On Friday, June 4, 1965, a member of the Indianapolis Police Department arrived in Irvington to document some of the larger potholes around the neighborhood and found a sizable crater at the intersection of South Arlington and Beechwood Avenues.  The photographer snapped the image before the street was widened as residents on the eastern side of Arlington Avenue used to have more of a front yard. So who might have been home on that sunny day?  Likely no one as most of the folks along that block had full-time jobs.

The front porch, visible in the foreground of the photo, is that of 429 South Arlington Avenue on the southeast corner of Arlington and Beechwood Avenues. Bernice H. Bunner, the widow of Gale Bunner, lived in that house and was most likely at her job at a Sears Department Store where she was an office worker. Next door at 431 South Arlington Avenue, lived Ralph and Florence Brokenhamer. They were a busy couple as they ran the Dog N Suds Drive-In at 6020 Brookville Road. Mr. Brokenhamer made headlines in the Indianapolis News in 1961 when he found a wallet containing $1000 at his drive-in. He called the police and they successfully found the grateful owner.

Living in the bungalow at 437 South Arlington Avenue, was James F. and Sherron Skaggs. Were they home when the photo was snapped? Mr. Skaggs was most likely at work where he was the assistant manager for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Louis T. and Marguerite Mertz resided next door at 439 South Arlington Avenue. Mr. Mertz managed the Anchor Inn Restaurant at 1616 North Arlington Avenue while his wife worked in the office at St. Francis Hospital.

In the only two-story home visible in the photo, resided Aaron and Eura York and their family at 443 South Arlington Avenue.  Mr. York at the time worked as a distributer for the Schilling Chilling Company. He worked in the heating and cooling industry for decades.  The only other home that can be seen this image is that of 451 South Arlington Avenue as the small house at 447 South Arlington had not yet been built. Arthur L. and Naomi P. Burns lived in the bungalow at 451 South Arlington. Mr. Burns served as an accountant for the Real Silk Company located on Massachusetts Avenue.

400 block of South Arlington Avenue on June 4, 1965 (photo courtesy of Patrick Pearsey)
400 block of South Arlington Avenue on April 7, 2020
I wish to thank Patrick Pearsey, who chronicles the history of the Indianapolis Police Department. 

Sources: Polk's Indianapolis City Directory, 1965; "Drive-in Owner Finds $1000.06," Indianapolis News, June 3, 1961, 13.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Burck Family Moves Near Golf Course

George and Clara Burck along with their two sons, Richard and James, moved into their beautiful Tudor-Revival home at 6120 East Ninth Street in 1937. Previous owners had struggled to sell the residence as it was at the height of the Great Depression. Perhaps the Burcks had attended one of the many realtor open houses held in the home throughout 1935. The entire family had a wonderful view of the Pleasant Run Golf Course from their front porch once they settled into their new life in the house.

The 1940 Federal Census reveals that the Burck family home was worth $9000 in that year. Both Mr. and Mrs. Burck were 39 years old while Richard was five and James was three. The couple had previously lived in a cottage on Villa Avenue near Mrs. Burck's family, the Bades.

Mr. Burck had become quite successful after going into business with his brothers. They first opened the Grand Central Garage, an auto repair shop on Central Avenue. By the 1920s, the Burck brothers formed the Tempest Manufacturing Company, a small factory that offered die-making, metal stamping along with screw machine parts and pumps. He was still involved in the business until May 18, 1962, when at age 62 he fell down the stairs in his home. His untimely death was followed shortly thereafter by Mrs. Burck's death at age 65 in 1965.

To see images of the Bade family home on Villa Avenue or images of the garage or the factory, click on the Indiana Album links below.

6120 East 9th Street in 2020

Arthur Lockwood, a golf enthusiast who managed many of the city courses, was perhaps the first to live at 6120 East 9th Street. The house sat on the open market for at least two years during the Great Depression. (ad courtesy of the Indianapolis Star, August 25, 1935)

Jim Burck shoveled his driveway at 6120 East 9th Street in the winter of 1943. Behind him, you can see the Oliver Perry and Elnora Ghere residence at 6126 East 9th Street. Mr. Ghere collected antique music boxes from all over the world, so the Ghere home was constantly filled with unusual sounds! (photo courtesy of Christina Burck) 

To see an image of Mrs. Burck's childhood home on Villa Avenue, click on the Indiana Album link below:

To see an image of the Grand Central Garage on Central Avenue, click on the Indiana Album link below:

To see an image of the Tempest Manufacturing Company, click on the Indiana Album link below:

I wish to thank Christina L. Burck for stories and photos about her family. 

Sources:  Obituary of George Burck, Indianapolis Star, May 27, 1962, 53; Information on the Ghere family:  "Oliver Ghere Made Hobby of Music Boxes," Indianapolis News, March 191, 1954, 13.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Early Photos of an Irvington Avenue Home

Florence and Marcia Doan, who grew up at 47 North Irvington Avenue, frequently played in the lot north of their home. Their father, Wilson Doan, was a prominent attorney who later sold one of his lots to his law partner, Charles Orbison around 1906. Before the sale of the lot, the Doans enjoyed the use of the wide open space. Photographs from 1903-05 show the girls playing in the lot with other neighborhood children and even enjoying a horse-driven wagon ride. Behind the kids in most of the photos, you can see the home of Jesse and Sarah Josephine Stuart Lowes at 59 North Irvington Avenue.

Jesse Lowes and Sarah Stuart married on November 23, 1892. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved into their Irvington home around 1895. It is not known at this time if they built the house or if they are the second owners. The Indianapolis Journal noted in a "Society" snip in 1896 that the couple hosted some of Sarah's family from Acton, Indiana on Elm Avenue, the former name of Irvington Avenue. The couple had one daughter, Eunice Isabella, who likely played with Florence and Marcia next door.

Mr. Lowes first tried his luck as a grocer at 203 South Audubon Road along with Arthur L. Porter, but that partnership dissolved in 1900. He also became active in Republican Party politics and was one of the founders of the Irvington Republican Party Club. He worked for various Senators and even sold his Irvington Avenue home and moved to Washington DC with his family around 1905 to work in the US Senate. Upon his return to Indianapolis, the voters of Warren Township elected him as their Assessor in the 1920s.

Mrs. Lowes made headlines years later in 1925 when she testified at the murder trial of D.C. Stephenson, who was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. At the time, the Lowes lived on Hibben Avenue just behind the Stephenson home. Mrs. Lowes testified that she heard the screams of Madge Oberholtzer in the middle of night on March 17, 1925, along with the sounds of barking dogs, which belonged to Stephenson. Her testimony along with many others helped to convict the Klansman of murder.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Lowes passed away in 1945 while their daughter, Eunice, who married Kenneth Johnson, died in 1990 at the age of 97. Their former home at 59 North Irvington Avenue was later enlarged and cut into apartments. To learn about another family, who lived in the house from the 1920s to the 1940s, click on "Adams Family" link below.

Marcia and Florence Doan gathered on the front porch at 59 North Irvington Avenue c1904. The older lady is possibly Sarah Lowes and the young girl next to her is possibly Eunice Isabella Lowes.
(Photo courtesy of Jim and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

Florence Doan, who is standing barefooted in the tall grass next to her home at 47 North Irvington Avenue pulls her sister Marcia and an unidentified boy in a wagon. Behind the kids, you can see an empty lot and the Lowes family home at 59 North Irvington Avenue in June of 1903. (Photo courtesy of Jim and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

Marcia and Florence Doan, who lived at 47 North Irvington Avenue, posed in their side yard c1904. Behind the girls, you can see the Lowes home at 59 North Irvington Avenue complete with a windmill under construction in the backyard. In the far distance you can see the Ingersoll residence that used to stand at 5408 Lowell Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Jim and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

Florence Doan pushes her sister Marcia in a wheelbarrow next to their family's home at 47 North Irvington Avenue (then called 27 North Elm Avenue) c1903. Behind the girls, you can 59 North Irvington Avenue (then called 37 North Elm Avenue). Jessse and Sarah Lowes lived in that house along with their daughter Eunice. Across the street, you can see the cottage located at 72 North Irvington Avenue. That house has been greatly modified over the years. (Photo courtesy of Jim and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

Tall grass and weeds stands on an empty lot behind the Doan sisters on a summer's day most likely in 1903. The house most visible in the photo is that of 59 North Irvington Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Jim and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

On a wintry day, the Doan sisters posed for a photograph near their front porch at 47 North Irvington Avenue c1903. Behind the sisters, you can see the house at 59 North Irvington Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Jim and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

59 North Irvington has been enlarged over the years and converted into apartments. (photo taken in the winter of 2020)
    To see more images from the Indiana Album, click on the link below:

I wish to thank Jim and Ann Brown for their wonderful hospitality and assistance with these posts and the Indiana Album, a digital museum dedicated to capturing images from throughout the state including Irvington.

Sources:  1900 Federal Census; Obituary for Jesse Lowes, Indianapolis News, March 3, 1945, 14; Early house--Indianapolis Journal, July 19, 1896, 13; Mr. Lowes jobs--Indianapolis News, February 3, 1900, 13; Indianapolis News, December 15, 1903, 3; Mrs. Lowes and DC Stephenson Trial--Noblesville Ledger, November 3, 1925, 2.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Hill Family Residence in the Early 20th Century

The Reverend Harry G. Hill and his wife Katherine Ralston Hill likely moved into 52 North Irvington Avenue around 1904. Affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, Dr. Hill worked in the administration of that organization and later served as a minister of the Third Christian Church. The 1910 Federal Census reveals that the Hills, who were both 35 at the time, had three children, Herbert R. who was nine years old, Paul G., who was seven years old, and Dorothy, who was four years old. A thirty-five-year-old servant named Ella White lived in the house as did another minister named Granville Powers, who was 31 years old.

Living across the street from the Hill family was the Doan family at 47 North Irvington Avenue. Sometime around 1905, a Doan family member snapped photos of children in front of their home. Behind the kids, you can see the double at 38-40 North Irvington Avenue as well as the Hill home at 52 North Irvington Avenue.

The Hills lived in the house until 1927. Reverend Hill seems to have gotten into a spat with the leadership and perhaps the congregation at Third Christian Church. He left there in 1912 and became active in other churches as well as the Chautauqua movement. Mrs. Hill was an active club woman. The Doans and Hills were close as neighbors. Reverend Hill officiated the wedding of Florence Doan when she married Richard Power of Milroy, Indiana  in her childhood home at  47 North Irvington Avenue on August 25, 1925.

At some point during their tenure of the home, the Hills added the large stone porch across the front of the house, but that was clearly after these photos were snapped.

Unidentified children posed along Irvington Avenue. Behind the kids, you can see the double at 38-40 North Irvington Avenue on the left and the Hill home at 52 North Irvington Avenue on the right c1905.
 (photo courtesy of Jim and and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

Unidentified children walk up the Doan family sidewalk c1906. Behind the two small kids, you can see both the double at 38-40 North Irvington Avenue and the Hill home at 52 North Irvington Avenue. You can also see that the Hill children have set up camp in the side yard of their home. (photo courtesy of Jim and and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

Harry Granison Hill, who resided at 52 North Irvington Avenue, was still the minister of the Third Christian Church in 1912 when the photo appeared in the Indianapolis News on January 29, 1912. 

A small child stood on the Doan family sidewalk at 47 North Irvington Avenue c1905. Behind the toddler, you can see the Harry and Katherine Hill residence at 52 North Irvington Avenue. (photo courtesy of Jim and and Ann Brown; Indiana Album)

52 North Irvington Avenue in the winter of 2020. 
To see more historic images of the state of Indiana, click on the Indiana Album link below

I wish to thank Jim and Ann Brown for their hospitality and information regarding the homes along Irvington Avenue.

Sources:  Obituary for Harry G. Hill, Indianapolis Star, February 16, 1951, 16; Obituary for Katherine Ralston Hill, Indianapolis News, November 26, 1958, 14; 1910 Federal Census.