Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Stone House on the Corner

One of the most intriguing and unusual homes in Irvington is located at 380 South Emerson Avenue. Likely built in 1907 for Elmer and Luella Gay, the house appears to face Brookville Road, but has an Emerson Avenue address. Mr. Gay worked for the New York Store and Pettis Dry Goods. He was also involved in Republican party politics.  Mrs. Gay was an active club woman and helped to raise their two daughters, Dorothy and Hazel. The 1910 Federal Census reveals that the Gays also had an African-American servant named Kate Tarant living with them along with Mrs. Gay's mother, Ada Smith.

Little is known about the construction of the residence nor why the Gays chose fieldstone, but they did hail from Maine so perhaps they had been inspired by a house in that state. More investigative work will be needed on this topic.

The "Society" sections of the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star reveal that many events and meetings took place in the dwelling. On November 9, 1909, Mrs. Gay hosted the Irvington Tuesday Club and gave a speech on "The Development of the English Novel."  Her daughter, Dorothy, a student at Butler University, hosted a dance at the house on Christmas night, 1913, for the Butler football team and the Pi Beta Phi Sorority. The Indianapolis Star carried a lengthy description of the event. Forty guests attended and found a house decorated for the gala. Mrs. Gay placed clusters of poinsettias and Christmas candles throughout the living room and dining room. Holly dangled from archways and windows.  A small Christmas tree on a large table served as the centerpiece in the dining room. The Gays recruited several adult family members to serve as chaperones.

Perhaps one of the loveliest events to take place in the home occurred on the evening of February 2, 1918, with the wedding of Dorothy Gay to Lt. Clifford R. Wright. Mr. Wright was about to be deployed to Europe during World War One. The Reverend M.L. Haines, a Presbyterian minister, conducted the service.  The couple stood under an archway draped with an American flag as they spoke their vows. A violinist played "The Broken Melody" by August Van Biene and "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert.  Miss Ruby Winders sang "Out of the Mist," while Miss Vera Sweetman played the piano. Guests sat near the fireplace festooned with palms, ferns, and greenery. Pink and white roses donned nearby tables and window ledges. It must have been a beautiful night.

Mr. Gay had a strong interest in Republican-party politics. He served twice on the Indianapolis Board of Pubic Safety. In 1929, seventeen prominent businessmen in the city endorsed him as a mayoral candidate although he later removed his name in favor of another candidate. In 1930, he was appointed to run the Indiana Masonic Home in Franklin. He had been an active Mason his entire adult life so at the age of 65, he took over the responsibility of running the home. He was a widower at that point in his life as Mrs. Gay had passed away in 1926. His daughter Hazel and her husband Justus Paul took over the responsibility for running the property at 380 South Emerson Avenue. They remained until 1932.  Mr. Gay died in Methodist Hospital in 1954.

Elmer Gay's photo appeared in the Indianapolis Star on November 20, 1909, after he was appointed to the Indianapolis Board of Public Safety by Mayor Lew Shanks

Elmer Gay in 1930

Hazel Gay's wedding announcement appeared in the Indianapolis Star on August 5, 1917. Her sister, Dorothy, married six months later.  

380 South Emerson Avenue in 2018

Sources:  "E.F. Gay Seeks Office of Mayor," Indianapolis Star, September 25, 1929, 1; "E.F. Gay on Board of Public Safety," Indianapolis Star, November 15, 1922, 1; "Elmer F. Gay Withdraws," Indianapolis Star, October 5, 1929, 1; "Gay Named Superintendent of Indiana Masonic Home," Indianapolis Star, July 8, 1930, 1; Elmer Gay Obituary, Indianapolis Star, November 27, 1954, 16; "Society" (Butler Dance) Indianapolis Star, December 26, 1913, 7; "Becomes Officer's Bride," Indianapolis Star. February 3, 1918, 28.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Rushville Couple Move to Irvington

     Carl V. Nipp (1876-1939) grew up in Rushville, Indiana. A talented student, he later graduated from Indiana University and the University of Michigan Law School. He returned to his hometown and opened a law practice eventually serving as the Deputy Prosecutor for the Rush-Shelby County Circuit. He married Ethel Fry (1881-1963), who dwelled on a farm near Raleigh in northern Rush County. The popular couple frequently made the news in Rushville for their travels and gatherings. They lived in a fashionable part of the city and attended the Main Street Christian Church. When a train they were riding on near Muncie was robbed on April 5, 1911, the Rushville Republican carried the story on the front page with quotes from Mr. Nipp, who had to turn over his valuables. Mrs. Nipp gave birth to their two sons, Carroll and Francis, and it appeared as if the couple would spend the rest of their lives in that city, but then Mr. Nipp had another idea.

     In 1922, the Nipps bought a home at 27 South Arlington Avenue in Indianapolis from the Campbell family when Mr. Nipp took a job as an agent for the Continental Insurance Company. Their Rushville friends were likely surprised, but the Nipps never returned. In fact, Mrs. Nipp's mother, Mary Fry Clifton, moved with them to Irvington. In 1926, Mr. Nipp submitted a photograph for a publication called Fellow Citizens of Indianapolis. His business was doing well.  Carroll, their oldest son, eventually married and moved around the corner on Dewey Avenue. He also went into the insurance business. Their second son, Francis, moved to Lansing, Michigan where he became an English professor at Michigan State University.

     The family seems to have weathered the Great Depression and the Nipps continued to dwell in their Arts and Crafts bungalow on Arlington Avenue. The couple could easily visit family in Rushville by either catching a train or merely driving down Highway 52. Tragedy struck the family on May 8, 1939, when Mr. Nipp was involved in a terrible auto accident on Highway 37 near Martinsville. He survived the initial crash, but succumbed at age 63 from his injuries a few weeks later. His hometown had not forgotten him and his death made front-page news in the Rushville Republican. Mrs. Nipp continued to dwell in their Irvington home with her mother.  In July of 1943, Mrs. Fry, the mother of Mrs. Nipp, passed away in the house on Arlington Avenue.  Ethel Nipp was not completely alone however, as she eventually went to live with her son and his family on Dewey Avenue.

Source: Indiana University School Yearbook, 1895

Fellow Citizens of Indianapolis, 1926
Building permits reveal that 27 South Arlington Avenue was constructed in the summer of 1915 for James C. Douglas. The Nipps purchased the home in the early 1920s.  (Photo taken on March 27, 2018)

Sources:  Obituary for Mr. Nipp, Indianapolis Star, May 21, 1939, 14; Rushville Republican, May 20, 1939, 1;  Train Robbery--"Local Man Was There," Rushville Republican. April 6, 1911, 1. Obituary for Mary Fry Clifton, National Road Traveler (Cambridge City, Indiana), July 24, 1943, 7. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Who Lived Here? The Polen-Rennoe Families (1905-1944)

Luther Polen began life in log cabin near Azalia, Indiana in Bartholomew County. By the time of his death, he had managed to provide a comfortable life for his family in a fashionable house in Irvington. On October 3, 1894, he married Margaret Goble, who came from a family of printers in Greenfield. He worked at Union Station in downtown Indianapolis at the time and eventually became the stationmaster in 1900.

By 1905, the couple moved into the large American Four Square at 34 North Layman Avenue. Mr. Polen officially left his job with the railroad and became a real estate agent in 1908. His earliest sales seem to have not come from Indiana, but rather from Oklahoma. He led groups of potential investors, mainly from Greenfield, down to Oklahoma so that they could purchase farmland. Several Hancock County families moved to that state. The Daily Reporter and the Hancock Democrat noted that Mr. Polen shepherded at least two separate groups of people to Oklahoma in both 1909 and 1910. One has to wonder what became of these folks and their descendants when the Dust Bowl decimated that state in the 1930s.  Soon, the local Indianapolis newspapers carried ads for Luther Polen for land and real estate closer to home. In fact, Polen sold many houses in the Irvington area.

When he wasn't selling real estate, Mr. Polen also sold used cars. He did not have car lot so he would offer one automobile at a time. For instance, in October of 1918, he attempted to sell a used Ford. In 1919, an ad noted that Mr. Polen had a used newly-painted Oakland for sale complete with a new dome light. In subsequent years, he sold an Auburn and a Pathway. He also sold cocker spaniel puppies at the expensive price of $10 to $15 each. He saw a potential investment even in his own large home on Layman Avenue. In 1924, he turned the house into a double.

Margaret Polen was an accomplished business woman.  She served as the bookkeeper for her family's printing business in Greenfield for many years. Eventually, she managed to convince her husband to join the family operation in 1928. She was an active club woman and newspaper articles from the 1910s and 1920s noted her attendance. On July 29, 1924, she hosted a bridge party along with her daughter, Gertrude, for the Delta Delta Delta Sorority. Women played cards at five separate tables set up in the living and dining rooms.

Neighbors along Layman Avenue must have noted the preparations for a big wedding in the home on October 22, 1919, as Gertrude Polen, the only child of the couple, married Lieutenant Henry Elberg. Flowers filled the residence as the young couple stated their vows. It was not a marriage made in paradise, however, as the couple later divorced. Gertrude remarried her forever partner, Edgar Rennoe, in 1926.

Shock and sadness overwhelmed the family on May 2, 1930. Luther Polen was driving along Emerson Avenue towards Brookville Road. Mrs. Polen sat in the passenger seat while Mrs. S.O, Wiggins, a family friend,  who dwelled in the Maplewood Apartments (#5) on Johnson Avenue, sat in the backseat. Unbeknownst to the group, Henry Sayre, who resided in a hotel, was speeding towards them. Unable to stop in time, Mr. Polen slammed into Sayre's car. Everyone in the Polen car was injured. While Mrs. Polen and Mrs. Wiggins survived, Mr. Polen eventually succumbed from his injuries on June 18, 1930.  Henry Sayre was charged with reckless driving, speeding, and assault and battery.

Although it must have been difficult, Mrs. Polen carried on and worked at the printing business. Her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren also resided with her at 34 North Layman Avenue. The Rennoes, who deserve a separate chapter in this story, dwelled at the home until 1944. Mr. Rennoe worked for Standard Oil.  They eventually moved to 801 North Bolton Avenue. Mrs. Polen passed away in 1946.

Luther Polen submitted this photo in 1926 to Fellow Citizens of Indianapolis.

Gertrude Polen married a World War One veteran, Lieutenant Henry Elberg, in 1919. They later divorced. The Indianapolis Star published this photo of the nineteen-year-old bride.  

Gertrude's second marriage to Edgar Rennoe was covered in the Indianapolis News in 1926. The couple eventually moved into 34 North Layman Avenue and remained there until 1944.  

Gertude Polen Rennoe, the daughter of Luther and Margaret Polen, was very active in numerous clubs. She was President of the School #57 PTA in 1935. Edgar and Gertrude had two children, Edgar, Jr. (Jack) and Margaret Rennoe.  

Mr. Polen frequently sold cars through ads in the Indianapolis newspapers. In 1920, he sold an older Auburn.  (photo credit: 

Luther and Margaret Polen moved into 34 North Layman Avenue in 1905. Their daughter, Gertude, and son-in-law, Edgar Rennoe, later resided in the home until 1944. Mr. Polen converted the home into a double in 1924.  

Sources:  "3 Injured in Car Crash," Indianapolis Star, May 3, 1930, 20; Mr Polen's obituary appeared in the Indianapolis Star, June 19, 1930; Oklahoma references: "Bright Side of Oklahoma," Daily Reporter (Greenfield), January 12, 1910, 1; Daily Reporter, October 16, 1909, 2; "Bridge Party for Delta Delta Delta," Indianapolis Star, July 29, 1924, 4.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Withners of Arlington Avenue

As war raged in Europe, carpenters built the lovely American Foursquare at 26 North Arlington Avenue in the summer of 1915.  The box-shaped home had become very popular for early-twentieth century Hoosiers. Part of the Arts and Crafts movement, the dwellings were generally painted in earthy colors. Carl and Martha Withner, the first owners of the residence, followed the fashion of the time by painting the lower story a different hue from the upper story.  The Withners along with their two sons, Carl and John, lived in the lovely house for decades.  

Carl and Martha married on December 2, 1915, and moved into their brand new home shortly after the wedding. Newspaper accounts indicate that Mr. Withner was a very talented man who arrived in Indianapolis from Danville, Illinois. He appears to have loved tinkering with motorcycles and other machinery.  A practical man, he sold three of his beloved motorcycles so that he could afford to buy his beautiful bride a wedding ring. His first job became his forever job as he worked with the C.P. Lesh Paper Company.  The management soon surmised that he was gifted at building machines so he was soon promoted to a superintendency position.  His obituary indicates that he worked for the company for 43 years and was still working for them when he suddenly died in 1956. Neighbors must have enjoyed his talents as he was also an avid gardener. His son Carl inherited that same love.

Mrs. Withner was also extremely talented and extraordinarily busy. As a soprano, she was in high  demand to sing solos for numerous women's clubs in the neighborhood. She also acted in plays with the Irvington Players and sang in the choir for the Irvington Methodist Church. When she was not singing and raising her two sons, she was member of several clubs.  On April 2, 1927, she hosted sixty members of the Irvington Fortnightly Club in her house. Where did they all sit? She filled her residence with spring flowers. A guest speaker lectured the women on the phases of Applied Psychology. Mrs. Withner provided the music from "Arabian Nights." She also found time to serve as a scout leader and she volunteered in the PTO at her children's schools.  

Both Withner sons grew up in the house and later matriculated to the University Illinois and Wabash College.  Carl Jr., earned a doctorate from Yale University in botany.  On October 6, 1940, the Withners celebrated their twentieth-fifth anniversary in the residence. They held an informal gathering and invited friends and neighbors over for snacks. The Withners moved away from their beloved Foursquare in the early 1950s for a one-story ranch home on Epler Avenue in southern Marion County.  Mr. Withner passed away first.  Mrs. Withner died in 1966 at the age of 72. Several other families have since moved in and out of the Withner home. It still retains many features that were present during the Withner era although vinyl siding and shutters have since been added.  

The Withner family dwelled at 26 North Arlington Avenue from 1915 until the early 1950s.  The photo is undated but judging from the size of the trees, likely dates to the 1920s. (Photo courtesy of the Withner family via

Carl Withner, an avid gardener, might have loved the spruce that now grows in the front yard at 26 North Arlington Avenue. (Photo taken on February 3, 2018)

Carl and Martha Withner proudly posed with their son, Carl Jr.  The occasion was an orchid show in New York City.  Carl Jr, earned his Ph. D. in Botany from Yale University and was an expert on orchids.  (Photo courtesy of the Withner family via 

Sources:  Carl Withner Obituary, Indianapolis News, April 11, 1956, 6; Martha Withner Obituary, Indianapolis Star, October 14, 1966, 18; Irvington Club News involving Mrs. Withner:  Indianapolis News, April 2, 1927, 4; Indianapolis Star, October 5, 1928, 21; Indianapolis News, May 16, 1933, 10;  Indianapolis News, February 3, 1938;

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Mary Pulver Stevenson in the late 1930s

Mary Pulver eloped with Robert Stevenson in 1909. The couple eventually settled in Irvington and dwelled in three separate houses together. In 1915, they adopted Robert's ten-year-old nephew, Edward Lollis. The family dwelled at 275 South Audubon Road, 5698 East Washington Street (demolished), and in their final home together at 56 South Irvington Avenue. Mr. Stevenson died in 1939. We do not know the occasion for this photo, but Mrs. Stevenson posed for the snapshot sometime in the late 1930s. Behind her, you can see Julian Avenue when it was a brick street and also the rear of IPS #57.  If you look closely, you can also see some residences along South Ritter Avenue in the distance.  After her husband's passing, Mrs. Stevenson moved to 112 Johnson Avenue where she remained for many years. She taught Sunday school at the Irvington Presbyterian Church.  You may read more about the Stevenson or Lollis family by clicking on the links below.  

Mary Pulver Stevenson (1884-1969) posed for  this image sometime in the late 1930s in her front yard at 56 South Irvington Avenue. Behind her, you can see School #57 and homes along South Ritter Avenue.  
This photo is courtesy of Ted Lollis.  

Friday, January 5, 2018

Winter Fun in 1943 Along Julian Avenue

Ted Lollis, the only child of Edward and Georgia May Lollis, dwelled at 5866 Julian Avenue in 1943. His parents owned the doubles at 5866-68 and at 5872-74 Julian Avenue. After a snowfall in the winter of 1943, young Ted grabbed his sled and enjoyed a ride down the small hill in his front yard. Behind him, you can see the houses at 5854 and 5848 Julian Avenue.

James and Ruby Baker lived in the two-story white house at 5854 Julian Avenue in 1943 along with their two sons, David and John. Mr. Baker was a switchman for the Indiana Bell Telephone Company. He must have been doing well enough in 1940 for the family to afford a live-in maid named Mary Phelps. Next door, in the smaller bungalow, dwelled Miss Clara Steele, a second grade teacher at IPS #78. She frequently housed a lodger and in the early 1940s, her cousin, Edna Dryson, also lived with her.  Had any of these folks looked outside on this wintry day, they would have seen Ted Lollis enjoying the fresh snowfall.

Ted Lollis enjoyed playing in the snow during the winter of 1943. Behind him, you can see his neighbor's dwellings at 5854 and 5848 Julian Avenue.  

Ted Lollis posed for this image in the winter of 1943 in his front yard at 5866 Julian Avenue. Behind him, you can see residences west of his home.  
The historic images are courtesy of Ted Lollis. Additional information for this post came from the 1940 Federal Census and the obituary of Miss Clara Steele published in the Indianapolis Star in 1991.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Postcards to an Irvington Family

What morsels about our lives do we leave behind? Only a few of us make it into the history books.  So, you can imagine my delight this winter upon finding a treasure trove of crumbs about an Irvington family. Sitting in boxes in a local antique shop and mixed in with hundreds of other families, sat dozens of postcards sent to the Barneys, who dwelled in Irvington for many decades. But what did these notes reveal? Stay tuned! 

In 1907, Ennis and Effie Fink Barney moved into their brand new Dutch Colonial home at 5452 Lowell Avenue (previously numbered as 5556 Lowell Avenue). The couple had been living at 49 South Irvington Avenue. Mr. Barney was the Assistant Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League and he also worked as a salesman for the Mishawaka Rubber Company. Sometimes he served as a part-time minister and usually filled in for small churches around the Indianapolis area whenever there was an unexpected vacancy.  The couple had four children named Chester, Virginia, Marian, and John. They remained in the Lowell Avenue dwelling until 1914 when they moved into a larger home at 41 North Webster Avenue.  By 1920, the entire family relocated to 5351 University Avenue where they resided for years.

Newspaper accounts from the early twentieth century, reveal that Mr. Barney was committed to the temperance movement. Like many other Irvingtonians, he believed that alcohol was the root of many social ills in our nation. He campaigned vehemently for prohibition. His sermons were printed in newspapers throughout the state. In 1907, he spoke to a large crowd in Richmond where he quoted from the Gospel of St. Luke and noted that the destruction of saloons would be the "salvation of these boys and girls." (Richmond Palladium, November 25, 1907)  Audiences in Angola, Muncie, Brazil, Columbus, and Frankton heard similar speeches. In 1910, he appealed to Indianapolis Mayor Samuel Shank to stop the practice of allowing saloons to have electronic pianos. He referred to these businesses as "disorderly houses."  (Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1910, 8) Mr. Barney was particularly thrilled to note the number of dry counties in the southern part of the United States and in Indiana. Irvington, of course, had been founded as a dry community so he must have felt at home on Lowell, Webster, and University Avenues. We have no record of his reaction to the passage of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol nor his likely disappointment at its repeal with the 21st Amendment. 

The only known surviving postcard from Mr. Barney was sent to his oldest child, Chester Fink Barney in the summer of 1911. Chester would have been 13 years old at the time. Mr. Barney sent the card from Blaine, Washington near the Canadian border. He mentioned nothing of the temperance cause, but he does reference the rubber company for whom he also worked. 

Ennis Barney sent this postcard to his son, Chester Barney of 5452 Lowell Avenue in the summer of 1911. 

Mr. Barney mentioned the rubber company that he worked for so perhaps he was in Blaine, Washington on business. He wrote to his son:  
Dear Son    I have boiled or fried salmon for about one meal each day. They are cheep (sic) only 20 ‘cents’ for all you can eat. These men use Ball Rund Rubber boots; That’s why the salmon are so good and catch easily also. Papa

Chester Barney was an avid scout under Francis O. Belzer, the head of the Boy Scouts in Irvington. He  later served the country during World War One. He lived with parents until he was he in his 30s and then married Mildred Avis.  The elder Barneys spent their later years living with the younger Barneys. Chester lived in all of the Barney homes on Irvington, Lowell, Webster, and University Avenues. (Photo: Indianapolis Star, October 28, 1918, 11)

Ennis and Effie Barney lived at 5452 Lowell Avenue from 1907 until 1914. Mr. Barney held a variety of jobs including as a salesman, minister, and as a leader in the Anti-Saloon League. (photo 2017)

Mrs. Barney also traveled. She had family who lived in Colorado so there are several postcards to the family from this state.  In one of her notes, she wrote of a stay in the mountains.  She addressed the card to her husband on August 12, 1911, from the Long's Peak Inn at Estes Park.

Mrs. Barney mailed this postcard from Estes Park, Colorado in the summer of 1911 to her family at 5452 Lowell Avenue

Mrs. Barney wrote:  
We are 9000 ft. above sea level, it is cold, heavy wraps, fires and winter comforts. We will go to Denver tomorrow and I will write you more of this wonderful trip.   Love from Effie

Chester Fink Barney, the oldest child of Ennis and Effie Barney sent at least two postcards back to his mother. He had beautiful cursive writing and would later become president of the Camera Club of Indianapolis. Some of his artistic photography would later be featured in the Indianapolis Star. On August 15, 1915, he sent a brief note home to his parents as he had been attending a scout's camp in upstate New York. His family had only recently moved to the large American Four Square at 41 North Webster Avenue.

Chester Barney traveled to New York in the summer of 1915 and sent this postcard back to his family now living at 41 North Webster Avenue.

Chester Barney wrote this informational blurb to his mother in 1915:  
This is the summer home of the prop. of the Waldorf Astoria hotel at N.Y. Its cost was about $2,000,000. Yours CFB 
Virginia Barney in 1922 (Indianapolis News, June 17, 1922)
Marian Barney in 1931 (Indianapolis Star, June 8, 1931)
John Barney (Indianapolis Star, October 6, 1944)
Chester Barney, a photographer, snapped this image of Culver cadets sailing in 1938. Several of his photos were featured in the Indianapolis Star including this one on September 11, 1938. 

The Barneys dwelled in lovely home at 41 North Webster Avenue from 1915 until 1920. They then moved to 5351 University Avenue.  (photographed in 2017)

Virginia Barney, the second child of Ennis and Effie, graduated from Butler University in 1922. She was later married by her father to William Schumacher at their University Avenue home in 1923. Marian followed suit and graduated form Butler in 1926. She married Theodore Randecker and was also wed in the family home by her father. John Barney, the youngest child married Helen Adams and served the country during WWII.  Ennis Barney died first in 1940. Effie lived to be 91 and passed away in 1970. 

It is unclear of how a collection of 13 postcards ended up in antique store, but there are Barney family descendants living in the United States today. If any of them happen to read this post and are interested in the collection then drop me a note at Otherwise, they will be donated to the Irvington Historical Society. 

Sources not already mentioned:

Federal Census Records; Ennis Barney's obituary, Indianapolis News, March 16, 1940, 20; Virginia Barney's marriage, Indianapolis Star, February 14, 1923; John Barney's obituary, Indianapolis News, November 13, 1997, 50; Effie Barney's obituary, Indianapolis News, June 9, 1970, 38; Ennis Barney's Prohibition articles came from the Stueben Republican, Richmond Palladium, Muncie Press, and many others;