Thursday, February 18, 2021

Irvington at 150: African-American Residents During the Early Years

 A Call for Scholarship! Graduate students seeking an idea for a thesis or dissertation should consider a thorough study of Irvington's African-American population. This post will be insufficient and is merely an introduction. Work is needed! 

When Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson platted Irvington in 1870 and later chartered the town in 1873 they envisioned a wealthy enclave away from the problems of the nearby city of Indianapolis. In fact, they put in strict covenants banning slaughterhouses, soap factories, and alcohol. They did not add laws regulating who could live in the neighborhood. That would come later. Most of the earliest white residents, who built large homes on expansive lots, were primarily native-born and Protestant. Catholics and immigrants would later move into the neighborhood, but African-Americans have lived in Irvington from day one. So who were these families and what do we know about their lives? 

The 1880 Federal Census reveals that of the 567 residents of Irvington, at least 28 African-Americans or "mulattos" resided in the town. Most are listed as "servants" or "laborers." The vast majority of the black population hailed from Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. Several children were born in Indiana. The census also reveals that Gabriel Boyd, an African-American farmer, was married to a white German woman named Christiana. 

Emma Cook holds Isabelle Layman in 1907. Ms. Cook worked for the Layman family at 5731 East Washington Street. Dozens of other African-Americans moved to Irvington to work for wealthy white families. (photo courtesy of Isabelle Layman Troyer) 

In 1887 the black population in Irvington was large enough to support a church. On July 3, 1887, the Reverend John L. Williams convened the first service at the Irvington Public School. By 1889, the church had a governing board composed of George Armstrong, Gabriel Boyd, and Jeremiah Brooks. The trustees sought funds to erect a structure and achieved that dream on May 17, 1891, when the congregation laid the cornerstone for a building at 5712 University Avenue. Over 1000 people assembled for the big event as African-Americans from other congregations attended the ceremony. Seven street cars full of people stopped at the Irvington Depot where families then walked down to the Irving Circle Park. Several pastors assisted the Reverend Charles Williams that day. Four separate black Masonic lodges sent members to the ceremony to assist with the cornerstone laying led by William T. Boyd and George Knox. Numerous residents donated money for the new church. The culminating moment came when the crowd marched behind a military band one block away to the new site. The Second-Empire style church complete with a mansard roof served until the congregation built a larger structure at 231 Good Avenue in 1910. 

The First Baptist Church opened its doors at 5712 University Avenue in 1891. The congregation outgrew the structure and later moved to 231 Good Avenue in 1910. W. Lee Thomas, a local realtor, appears to have purchased the property and converted it into a home. The front porch was added in the 1910s or 1920s. (photo taken on February 7, 2021 by Wm. Gulde) 

The Indianapolis Recorder, a black-owned publication, provided Hoosier communities an opportunity to submit news. Black reporters from Irvington faithfully sent in dispatches on the comings and goings of the neighborhood especially as it began to grow in the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century The updates reveal a vibrant community centered around church, clubs, and family. In 1899, the Recorder printed that Nellie Harris of the local chapter of the Booker T. Washington Literary Society read a paper titled, "A Message to the Negro Race." After her presentation, the club had the following debate: "Resolved, that the United States is justified in warring against the Natives in the Philippines." Burton Highbaugh stood for the affirmative while M. Garrison was opposed. The club then took a vote and decided that Mr. Garrison made the strongest case that the United States should not be at war with the Philippines. The club was open to both men and women.

Marshall "Major" Taylor, an Indianapolis athlete and an early black pioneer in the world of cycling, influenced thousands of young African-Americans to join the sport. Taylor won several races in North America and Europe despite the racism that he faced both on and off the track. The Indianapolis Recorder noted that several young black athletes in Irvington, inspired by Taylor, built a track near the neighborhood. In the summer of 1899, they held their first race. Participants included Woody Hedgepath, Jack Robinson, James Vincent, Phillip Tyree, and Carter Temple. Unfortunately, the race ended early after Carter Temple crashed and hurt himself. Woody Hedgepath was declared the winner. 

Marshall "Major" Taylor, the world-champion cyclist, did not live in Irvington but he inspired several young black athletes to build a cycling track near the neighborhood in 1899. (public domain)

The black women of Irvington were active in church, clubs, and in the suffrage movement. Most of the reports to the Indianapolis Recorder came from local women like Catherine Evans, Bertha Carpenter, Hattie Webster, Euvilous Jenkins, Anna Billips, Louise Bass and others. They wrote of church picnics, recent passings, and who was on the sick list and who had recovered. In April of 1899, an unidentified Irvington reporter noted that the "Widow Tucker recently purchased a beautiful lot north of Washington Street." The author then went on to announce that the Reverends Harrison and D. Taylor's sermon topic at the Baptist church would be, " Pick the mote out of your own eye." 

One of the most interesting events under the direction of African-America women in the neighborhood occurred in 1915 as a fundraiser for the First Baptist Church. Jennie Brock, who had been born into slavery and who had worked for several white families over the years in Irvington including the Johnsons, Ritters, Wades, and the Butlers came up with a startling idea. She proposed that they put on a "white" minstrel show. Minstrels were popular productions in the early twentieth century that lampooned black people. White actors frequently dressed in black face and mimicked or mocked African-Americans. The women of the church loved the idea and performed the show in early April of 1915. They whitened up their faces and imitated some of the most famous white women in America including Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. Ava Willing Astor, Mrs. Wm. H. Vanderbilt, Mrs. Payne Whitney, Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, and others. The church was packed and a local reporter for the Indianapolis News noted that the women discussed the "servant problem." Years later the white suffragette, Grace Julian Clarke, wrote of the event in one of her columns in the Indianapolis Star, however, she incorrectly reported that the women portrayed various white women in Irvington. There is no evidence of this and they would have likely lost their jobs had they done so. 

The congregation of the First Baptist Church moved to a larger structure at 231 Good Avenue in 1910. (photo taken in 2012)

Several local black women participated in the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. A blurb in the Indianapolis Recorder in 1916 noted that Mrs. Carrie Whallan, Lizzie Compton, and Minnie Highbaugh of Irvington attended the state convention at the Masonic Temple in downtown Indianapolis. They listened as the famous suffragette, Carrie Chapman Catt, delivered a speech titled, "Equal Suffrage: Foreign States." Steve Barnett, the director of the Irvington Historical Society, has been documenting other prominent black women from the neighborhood as well including Gertrude Mahorney, who was the first black woman to graduate from an Indiana college when she accepted her diploma in 1887. 

Some black residents of Irvington attended nearby Butler University, but those numbers were small. Several young men from the neighborhood served their country during World War I but came home to an ungrateful nation. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana sent chills through the community. For Irvington's black population, they faced an ominous future after David Curtis Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the KKK and the most powerful man in the state, moved into the community in the early 1920s. To add insult, most of the newer subdivisions north and west of original plat added racist covenants into their plans. Ethel Shearer's subdivision north of the Pleasant Run Golf Course in 1924 warned that:

(2) The ownership and occupancy of lots and buildings in this addition are forever restricted to the members of the pure white race. No negro, mulatto, Chinese, Japanese or person of any race or mixture of race, except the members of the pure white race, shall acquire title to any lot or building or part of lot or building in this Addition, or acquire the right to occupy any such lot or building or part of lot or building as owners, tenant, roomers or otherwise, except that the white occupant of any lot or lots and residence building thereon, may permit his domestic servant or servants not of the pure white race to occupy a room or rooms in his said residence building or in the second story of his garage apartment to his residence building, during the time of such domestic service

Arthur V. Brown's Ellenberger Park Addition north of Pleasant Run Parkway platted about the same time  added the following racist covenant:

Fourth: That no negro or any person with negro blood shall own the premises or shall live other than as a servant on the same. 

While the original charter of Irvington did not contain racist covenants, later additions to the neighborhood like those located north of Pleasant Run Parkway forbade African-Americans from either building or living in those sections of Irvington. 

Years later when Shirley Rogers, an Indianapolis Star reporter interviewed local black residents, some recorded that they were fearful of the Klan during the 1920s and they felt the need to arm themselves. Despite the hatred leveled towards the community, Mary Leaks, who resided at 132 South Catherwood Avenue, noted that "Irvington used to be known as heaven on Earth until you died and went to heaven." 

In the summer of 1938, members of the First Baptist Church under the leadership of the Reverend Robert H. Noel gathered for a photograph. (photo courtesy of the Wagner family via 

     I would like to thank James Robinson, the historian for the First Baptist Church for his assistance and guidance for this article. Mr. Robinson grew up in Irvington and knew many of the families mentioned in this post. I would also like to thank local historians Steve Barnett, Paul Diebold, and archivist, Paula Schmidt. To peruse digitized copies of the Indianapolis Recorder, click on the link below.

Indianapolis Recorder

Sources:  First Baptist Church: Brandon A. Perry, "Historic Black Church in Irvington Celebrates Legacy," Indianapolis Recorder, July 1, 2005, 11; Trustees in 1889--"Church Officers Elected," Indianapolis News, May 13, 1889, 1; Cornerstone Laying--"A Cornerstone Laid," Indianapolis News, May 18, 1891, 1; Literary Society debates--"Irvington Notes," Indianapolis Recorder, March 18, 1899, 1) Cycling--"From a Wheel," Indianapolis Recorder, June 17, 1899, 2; Irvington news in 1899--"Irvington Notes," Indianapolis Recorder, April 1, 1899, 1. White Minstrel--"Colored Church Women Stage White-Faced Minstrel Show," Indianapolis News, April 3, 1915 and Grace Julian Clarke, "More Early History of Irvington is Related," Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1925, 62. Suffrage--"Irvington Notes," Indianapolis Recorder, June 24, 1916, 2. Racist covenants: Abstract for 943 North Arlington Avenue, courtesy of Anne Hardwick. Abstract for 816 North Audubon Road, courtesy of Emily Jarzen. Later years--Shirley Rogers, "Church Holds History's Echoes," Indianapolis Star, May 17, 1971, 3. 


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Irvington at 150: Street Names S-Z

In part five of five in our series on Irvington streets, three military generals hang out with at least one poet and one lexicographer along with several local families on various street signs throughout the neighborhood. A few street names still elude us. If you happen to have an original abstract of your home and you live along one of these streets, check it out and let us know if more is revealed about your street in that document. We will update and amend information for all of the posts as we get more information. I am especially indebted to Steve Barnett and Larry Muncie for their assistance on this project. I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to find information for some of the streets. 

Sheridan Avenue: Irvington residents of the early twentieth century knew Sheridan Avenue as the last stop on the street car line. In 1903, the Indianapolis City Council officially changed the name from East Street to Sheridan Avenue. Likely named for General Philip Sheridan (1831-1888), a popular Civil War leader. Sheridan helped Grant bring the war to a conclusion with his pursuit of Lee in Virginia. After the war, he participated in various brutal campaigns against the Sioux and other Native American groups. 

General Philip Sheridan (public domain)

Shimer Avenue:
Nearly two hundred years ago, Elias and Mahala Dunn Shimer purchased 240 acres of land along the Brookville Road in 1829. The Shimers had four sons and all of them went into farming with two remaining nearby. The couple built a beautiful brick Italianate home that was later bulldozed for the International Harvester plant. Two sons, Corydon and William, continued to farm into the twentieth century and Shimer descendants eventually platted the area that now bears the street named for them. 

Elias Shimer purchased 240 acres along the Brookville Road in 1829 (photo courtesy of the Geiser family via 

Mahala Shimer lived long enough to see the brand new community called Irvington rise to the north of her home on Brookville Road. (photo courtesy of the Geiser family via 

Corydon, Isaac, William, and Caleb Shimer gathered for a reunion (c1914) at William Shimer's home at 4905 Brookville Road. The brothers grew up along the highway and Corydon still lived in the family home just east of William. (photo courtesy of David Bailey) 

Spencer Avenue:
Sarah J. Pattison, a widow, platted a small section of Irvington south of Washington Street, east of Emerson Avenue, west of Butler Avenue, and north of the Pennsylvania Rail Line. Newspaper accounts indicate that she started to sell lots for future homes as early as 1892. She and her deceased husband, Coleman Pattison, hailed from Rushville, Indiana and had gone into the wholesale business with some of their relatives--the Hibben family. It unclear as to where either Mrs. Pattison or the Irvington Town Board came up with the name of Spencer for her new avenue. Steve Barnett, the director of the Irvington Historical Society, believes that the strongest candidate is Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher popular in the late nineteenth-century for his unfortunate and now-debunked theory on social Darwinism. More research on the origin of this street name is needed. 

St. Clair Street: General Arthur St. Clair, a former Revolutionary War commander, was the first governor of the Northwest Territory of what would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. It is interesting that the city of Indianapolis would choose to name a street after him due to the fact that his punitive raid against Native Americans ended in utter failure for the Americans at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791. 

General Arthur St. Clair (public domain) 

St. Joseph Street:
When Ethel Shearer filed a plat for her new neighborhood north of the Pleasant Run Golf Course in 1924, she originally called what is today St. Joseph Street as Pratt Street. At some point, a city official must have intervened as Pratt Street is the former name of Ninth Street and this street more closely matched in longitude with St. Joseph Street. Historic nineteenth-century maps of Indianapolis reveal that north of St. Joseph Street was St. Mary's Street (now Tenth St.) so there was likely a theme when early developers named those two streets. 

An 1855 map of the city of Indianapolis reveals that St. Joseph Street was just a block south of St. Mary's Street. (courtesy of Indiana State Library online)

Hoyt Fulk designed and built this Tudor-Revival home in Shearer's Pleasant Run Plaza subdivision in 1931. (Indianapolis Star, November 1, 1931)

Wilbur Washburn erected this Tudor cottage in Shearer's Pleasant Run Plaza subdivision in 1932. (Indianapolis Star, June 12, 1932)

Stratford Avenue:
In 1934, Arthur and Kathleen McKay moved into the first residence constructed along a new street called Stratford Avenue. Mr. McKay was a carpenter so it is possible that he built the home or at least worked on the finishing touches. On the evening of March 21, fire trucks raced to the home at 4645 Stratford Avenue just as Mr. McKay managed to rescue his wife and children. Thankfully, the McKays were able to make it out of the house and rebuild. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, dozens of young families moved into brand new homes along the street likely named for William Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon. 

William Shakespeare was possibly born in this house in the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon (public domain) 

Tenth Street: On September 23, 1895, the Indianapolis City Council passed an ordinance whereby east-west streets in the city north of Washington Street would now be numbered. However, those streets in the original Mile Square, like Market Street, would retain the original name. Beginning with Pratt Street (Ninth) and north, all streets would receive a number. An editorial in the Indianapolis News on April 11, 1896 (4) blasted city leaders for this decision: "To our way of thinking, numbered streets are briefly--detestable. We have not very many of them in Indianapolis, and we should abolish them before they increase." Tenth Street had a variety of names prior to 1895, but in the Irvington area it had been called Clifford Avenue. 

University Avenue: This long and winding street has had multiple names in several sections. In 1898, the Irvington Town Board decided to clear up the confusing avenue by renaming it University Avenue for the nearby Butler University campus. The stretch between Audubon Road and Butler Avenue used to be called Spratt Avenue. Thomas B. Spratt was the brother to Susanna Spratt Ohmer. Mr. Spratt and Nicholas Ohmer were both early investors in the new town. Ohmer Avenue remains. Spratt does not. The stretch between Audubon Road and Arlington Avenue used to be called  Grand Avenue prior to 1898. The small stretch west of Emerson Avenue used to be called Lena Street. Who was Lena?! More work is needed. 

Walnut Street: Charming bungalows and early twentieth-century cottages now line Walnut Street in Irvington. The 1910 city directory indicates that the Chasteen, White, Stevenson, Stone, Wilson, Dorsey, and Taylor families were the first to call the street "home." The origin of the name does not originate in Irvington as the historic stretch actually started north of downtown Indianapolis. Many streets in America are named for the majestic walnut trees that grow in abundance in places like Indiana. 

An ad in the Indianapolis Star, June 13, 1909

Washington Street:
When Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson founded Irvington in 1870, they deliberately located their new town near two rail lines and along the National Road, the first federally-funded highway in the United States. At that time, the great road stretched from Cumberland, Maryland (thus, the name for Cumberland, Indiana) to the former Illinois capital at Vandalia. Both Julian and Johnson lived near the road when they resided in Centerville, Indiana. In Marion County, the stretch is named for George Washington. Later, it also became known as Route 40 and it eventually stretched to California. 

Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington (public domain)

Wallace Avenue/Lane: Although often associated with the Emerson Heights neighborhood, Wallace Avenue has its origins in Irvington. The politically prominent Wallace family, who owned many acres along Washington Street, built the beautiful home at 4704 East Washington Street in the early 1860s. By the 1880s, the family had lost almost everything. They sold the house and the land to the Bosart family in 1882. An 1886 map shown below reveals that Rachel Wallace, the sister-in-law to William John Wallace, still possessed 18 acres although news accounts in the Indianapolis newspapers reported that creditors eventually sought this land as well. Wallace Street, as it was called in those days, can be seen on the map. What can not be seen was the troubled financial story of a nineteenth-century family. 

This 1886 map shows "Wallace Street" in pink and next to the Bosart land. Rachel Wallace, the sister-in-law to William John Wallace, still possessed some of the Wallace land although creditors were already knocking on the door. 

William John Wallace placed his beautiful country home at 4704 East Washington Street on the market in 1881. (Indianapolis News. March 31, 1881)

Financial problems plagued the Wallace family and played out in local newspapers. (Indianapolis News, July 31, 1886)

Webster Avenue:
Irvington has had several women who have developed sections of the neighborhood including Sarah J. Pattison and Ethel Shearer. One of the earliest female entrepreneurs was Mrs. Elizabeth A. Cain who platted Cain's addition south of Washington Street and east of Arlington Avenue in 1872. Mrs. Cain was very traditional with her street names. One of her streets was called "Orchard Street." In 1903, the city of Indianapolis changed it to Webster Avenue. To complicate matters, the street kept changing names as it stretched south. Below the Pennsylvania Railroad and north of Oak Avenue, it used to be called Prescott Street. South of Ivanhoe and north of the Brookville Road it was called Jones Street. All of that was consolidated into one name--Webster Avenue. In 1908, the Creighton Realty Company announced that over thirty new lots along North Webster Avenue would be for sale as soon as the city could place a sewer line north of Washington Street. The avenue is presumably named after Noah Webster, who compiled an early dictionary and was responsible for authoring the Copyright Act of 1831. 

An ad for Elizabeth Cain's new addition to Irvington (Indianapolis News, October 22, 1872)

James Herring painted this portrait of Noah Webster in 1833 (public domain)

Wentworth Boulevard:
Although it appears that the city of Indianapolis paved the street in 1928, it took another ten years before contractors erected the first homes along Wentworth Boulevard. Arthur and Hilda Eubank were the first residents to be listed in the 1939 Indianapolis city directory. Dozens of homes were added in the 1940s. Ads from the time period touted that the new homes were near Christian Park, Thomas Carr Howe High School, and IPS #82. The origin of the name is unclear. Were the developers keeping an English theme with Stratford Avenue nearby? Wentworth is a small medieval village in England. There was already an apartment building along Meridian Street named Wentworth so clearly it was a popular name. There appear to be no Wentworth families living in the area so more research will be needed. 

Indianapolis News, January 31, 1941

Indianapolis News, February 7, 1941

Whittier Place:
In 1898 the Irvington Town Board renamed Hunter Street as Whittier Place. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) was an admired American poet who lived in New England. He submitted some of his work to James Russell Lowell, (also a nearby street) who edited the Atlantic Monthly, so when you walk or ride by the intersection of Whittier and Lowell in Irvington, you can tell your friends about the connection. 

John Greenleaf Whittier, an American poet (public domain)

Worcester Avenue:
When James Downey and Charles Brouse platted their new addition in the southwestern Irvington in the mid-1870s, they named one of their streets "Worcester" presumably after the city in England. They also named a nearby street "Auvergne" after a region in France. Thousands of Irvington school children became familiar with Worcester Avenue after the Indianapolis Public School Commissioners approved the construction of IPS #82 near the street in 1930. 

Worcester, England Cathedral (public domain)

Young Avenue:
In the 1870s, John and Clarrissa Young platted at least two subdivisions in southwestern Irvington. The Youngs hailed from Belfast Ireland and Mr. Young had a storied career as a Butler University professor and acting president, real estate developer, and as an attorney. During the Civil War, he served as a consul to Ireland for the Lincoln administration. In Mr. Young's Second Addition to Irvington, you can drive down the street named for him. In some early newspapers articles, the addition is also referred to as University Place. 

Sources: Larry Muncie, Three Windows on Irvington's History, 1989; Spencer Avenue--"Petition for New Loop," Indianapolis News, January 29, 1904, 2; St. Clair Street--"Stamp Would Honor Revolutionary Patriot," Indianapolis Star, September 24, 1933, 49; St. Joseph Street--Abstract from Shearer's Pleasant Run Plaza courtesy of Anne Hardwick; Stratford Avenue--"Wife and Babies Rescued," Indianapolis News, March 21, 1934, 2; Tenth Street--"The Numbered Streets," Indianapolis News, September 25, 1895, 8; Webster Avenue--"New Addition to Irvington," Indianapolis News, May 23, 1908, 23; Wentworth Blvd--"Awards Contracts for Street Work," Indianapolis Star, September 23, 1928, 27; Young Avenue--Indiana Sentinel, February 20, 1878 and George Waller, Butler University: A Sesquicentennial History, 2006; 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Irvington at 150: Street Names N-R

In part four of five in our series on Irvington street names, we continue to explore the history of various avenues throughout the neighborhood. When the city annexed Irvington in 1902 officials consolidated names to reflect the nearby matching street. However, there are several unique names that began in Irvington. A California city, a constellation, a popular tree, local families, and a beloved Hoosier poet all have a home on street signs in the historic suburb.  

New York Street: Formerly called Shank Street after a prominent local family, the city of Indianapolis changed the name in 1909 to coordinate with New York Street, which originates downtown. The Shanks owned several acres at the intersection of Arlington and Washington Streets in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

Norway Drive: William Alexander and Flora McDonald Ketcham, who founded the Irvington neighborhood of Pleasanton, named one of their streets "Norway." Mr. Ketcham, a Civil War veteran and leader in the Grand Army of the Republic, received front page news when he passed away suddenly in 1921. In none of his lengthy biographical profiles is there mentioned a connection to the nation of Norway. Mrs. Ketcham passed away in 1938. She also appears to have no connection to Scandinavia. Since they named the other two streets after trees, perhaps Norway refers to a spruce or maple. 

Oak Avenue: The beautiful winding street known as Oak Avenue was likely named after the majestic trees still present in the 1870s when the neighborhood was platted. Some of those specimen still exist in 2020. Generations of families have resided and played under these ancient trees. East of Arlington Avenue, the city renamed Third Street as Oak Avenue as well. 

Chuck Vogt posed with his sister, Jane, and his new bike under the giant oak tree near 5733 Oak Avenue in 1947.  Behind the siblings, you can also see the residence at  5728 Oak Avenue. (photo courtesy of Chuck and Joyce Vogt)

Ohmer Avenue:
Nicholas Ohmer was a very early investor in Irvington. A resident of Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Ohmer and possibly his brother George Ohmer, built 312 Downey Avenue in 1873. The beautiful Second-Empire style, a French design, was in vogue when the brothers built the elegant brick home. Mr. Ohmer was a horticulturalist and likely became involved in the neighborhood due his connection with Sylvester Johnson, a founder of Irvington. There is little evidence that Mr. Ohmer lived in the house and if he did then it was for a brief period of time. His primary residence was located at 1350 Creighton Avenue in Dayton. Both he and his brother George also operated a series of restaurants throughout the Midwest in or near train stations including one in Union Station in Indianapolis. When Ohmer's Irvington home was restored in 1966 the residents of the neighborhood decided to interpret the house from the Benton family's tenure in the home. A nearby street was named for Mr. Ohmer and local historian, Steve Barnett, has discovered that part of Julian Avenue was also named Ohmer. Both the house in Dayton and his creation in Irvington are on the National Register of Historic places. Not many Americans can claim that honor. Furthermore, Mr. Ohmer built his own suburb around his orchard in Dayton in the 1880s and it also bears his name as Ohmer Park. 

Nicholas and Susanna Spratt Ohmer of Dayton, Ohio: Mr. Ohmer built what would become known as the Benton House at 312 South Downey Avenue in Irvington in 1873. Mrs. Ohmer's brother, Thomas B. Spratt also became an early investor in Irvington. (photo courtesy of Ohmer family via

Nicholas Ohmer built this beautiful home for his very large family at 1350 Creighton Avenue in Dayton, Ohio in 1864. He also founded the suburb of Ohmer Park in Dayton. (Screenshot of home)

Some accounts note that George Ohmer, the brother to Nicholas, helped in the investment of 312 South Downey Avenue (the Benton House). He became quite wealthy as he operated numerous restaurants around train stations in the Midwest. He is given credit for helping both Thomas Taggart, an Indiana politician, and inventor Thomas Edison early in their careers. (photo courtesy of Ohmer descendants via

Named for the Benton family who dwelled here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the house was built by Nicholas and George Ohmer in 1873.  (photo by Wm. Gulde, spring 2020)

Orion Avenue:
The Irvington Town Board reached for the stars in 1898 when they renamed Nora and Water Streets after the constellation. (Indianapolis News, November 8, 1898, 12)

Pasadena Street: At about the same time that the first residents started to build houses in Irvington in the early 1870s, a different group of Hoosiers moved to southern California and founded the city of Pasadena. They wanted to name their new home the Indiana Colony, but that name was rejected by the US Post Office so they settled on the Chippewa name that literally means "crown of the valley." Nearly fifty years later when developers east of Irvington needed a new street name, they chose "Pasadena." By the late 1920s, the Stradley, Thomas, and Goodnough families lived in charming bungalows and Tudor-Revival cottages along the new street just north of Washington Street. 

Pleasant Run Parkway: Noted landscape architect, George Kessler, began his tenure with the city of Indianapolis in 1907 and worked with officials through 1915. He had already designed boulevard systems in Kansas City and Cincinnati. In 1909, he presented a bold plan to the city that linked green spaces with winding boulevards that followed streams or rivers. Irvington became part of that plan when Mr. Kessler proposed Pleasant Run Parkway along the Pleasant Run stream. Although his vision was not completed until the late 1920s, boulevards like Fall Creek Parkway, Brookside Parkway, Kessler Boulevard, and Pleasant Run Parkway are some of the most beautiful in the city of Indianapolis. 

Poplar Road: When William Alexander Ketcham and his wife Flora McDonald Ketcham platted Pleasanton in 1915, they named one of the streets after a genus containing 25-30 species--Poplar. By the early 1920s, middle class families began building along the beautifully planned street. Reflecting the modern era in which the residences were built, several of the families along Poplar had a portre cochere attached to the side of their homes. 

Evelyn Schneider posed with her doll in 1925 in front of her home at 327 Poplar Road. The Schneiders were among many families who moved into new homes in the Pleasanton neighborhood of Irvington. To see more images of this street, click on the "Poplar Road" tab below. (Photo courtesy of Bill Ferling)

Rawles Avenue:
Lycurgus Rawles joined Jacob Julian and several other investors in developing southern Irvington in 1873. His death at age 38 in that year ended his brief tenure in the venture. His father, John Rawles, stepped in and served as the administrator of his estate by selling off lots. More research is needed on this family, who seemed to have more connections to Lafayette than they do to Irvington. To honor the Rawles family, early developers named a street for them connecting South Arlington Avenue to Audubon Road.  In 1903, the city renamed Trislar Avenue west of Audubon Road and east of South Ritter Avenue as Rawles Avenue as well.

John Rawles, the father of Lycurgus Rawles, sold off his son's remaining real estate after Lycurgus passed away in 1873. (Ad in The Indiana Sentinel, March 22, 1876) 

Ridgeview Drive: When the Buckeye Realty Company under the leadership of John Chilcote developed the Irvington Terrace neighborhood in 1913, they originally named this street as Kensington presumably after the palace in England. Several families sought to build their own modest "palaces" along the street. R.L. Castle erected many of the residences. In October of 1916, the city of Indianapolis changed the name to the generic Ridgeview Drive. They also changed nearby Eldridge to Kenmore Road. 

An ad in the Indianapolis News, November 15, 1914, (39) for 319 North Ridgeview Drive, formerly addressed as 95 Kensington Avenue. 

Riley Avenue:
Beloved Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, would have still been alive when the Irvington Town Board honored him by naming a street Riley Avenue sometime around the turn of the century.  While the avenue today is most associated with the Emerson Heights neighborhood, it originated north of Washington Street and began life as Summit Avenue. In 1898, the Irvington Town Board considered calling it Appian Way after the famous the Roman road, but eventually Riley Avenue won the day. We do not know if Mr. Riley ever visited the stretch named for him. Further research is needed! 

James Whitcomb Riley (public domain)

Ritter Avenue:
When Levi Ritter purchased over 80 acres of land in Warren Township in 1869 he had the idea of owning a Jersey cattle farm. His vision changed once he heard that Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson were planning to develop a suburb next to his acreage. Mr. Ritter built a large home for his family on the southwest corner of East Washington Street and what was to become "Ritter Avenue." According to a 1903 Indianapolis Journal article, old growth trees, iron weed, and "red-topped" thistle dominated the landscape around the family. On September 16, 1871, Mr. Ritter platted the first addition to the new suburb of Irvington. He kept the original plan in place with winding streets. Although it is difficult to imagine today, Mr. Ritter, Mr. Julian, and Mr. Johnson kept a fully-stocked horse stagecoach barn on the northeast corner of East Washington Street and Ritter Avenue. After Mr. Ritter's death in 1893, his widow, Caroline Ritter continued to live on the site until she sold the property to the Indianapolis Public Schools in 1903. IPS #57 has operated continuously on the Ritter land since 1904. 

Sources:  Larry Muncie, Three Windows on Irvington History, 1989; George Kessler--Paul Diebold, Greater Irvington II, 2020; Rawles--"Administrator's Sale, Indianapolis News, March 22, 1876, 2; Ridgview Drive--""Taxi Men Oppose Rate Ordinance," Indianapolis News, October 3, 1916, 11; Riley Avenue--"Call it Audubon Road," Indianapolis News, January 17, 1903, 2; Ritter Avenue--"Old Ritter Homestead: First House Built After Establishment of Irvington," Indianapolis Journal, June 28, 1903, 8.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Irvington at 150: Street Names I-M

In part three of our series on street names more historical information has been uncovered. Additional research will be needed as you will see that we don't know the origins for a few of the street names. Thanks to the efforts of historians like Larry Muncie and Steve Barnett, many of the mysteries have been solved. A romantic novel, prominent residents, a poet, a local girl, and the founders of Irvington have streets named for them in this grouping. If you have additional information on any of these avenues please let us know.

Irvington Avenue: On the evening of March 16, 1903, the Indianapolis City Council renamed Elm Avenue as Irvington Avenue. The Indianapolis News reported that the street was nearly named Tennyson Avenue, but local residents objected. It was obvious as to why Elm had to go as there was already another street in the city with that name, but why did this small side street get such a grand name? It wasn't the first time that a street in the town had been named for Irvington. Early maps show that Julian Avenue connecting what is today South Butler (then Lake) and South Hawthorne (then Commercial) as Irvington Avenue. It would seem to have been more appropriate for a major boulevard to have donned the name of the town; however, Elm Street won the day. To further complicate the story, an early plat of neighborhood shows that South Irvington Avenue used to be known as Cherry Avenue. 

Irwin Street: The small street located north of Washington Street did not appear in the Indianapolis city directory until 1941. Likely developed at the same time as nearby Elizabeth Street, the first families to dwell along Irwin included the Shocks, Kaisers, Matthews, and Washburns. Developers were also building homes along Irwin north of Irvington so it is unknown at this time as to the origin of the name. Is Irwin related to nearby Elizabeth? Perhaps someone knows the answer. To view beautiful photographs taken of the street in the 1950s, click on the "Irwin Street" link below. 

Ivanhoe Street:  On November 25, 2019, the BBC named Ivanhoe as one of the most influential novels ever written. Walter Scott, who published his book in 1819, set the fictional tale in 12th-century England complete with Normans, Saxons, jousting tournaments and a witch trial. The popular three-volume set was likely found on the shelves of many Irvington homes. A small street in the South East Irvington Addition, formerly called Fourth Street, was renamed after the popular tale in 1898. 

Ivanhoe was first published in 1819 but was still popular in 1916 when this edition came out.

Jenny Lane: On August 29, 1926, an ad in the Indianapolis Star announced the exciting news that several lots would be for sale for future homes along a brand new street called Jenney Lane. Later, city officials dropped the second "e". The small stretch was named for the Jenney family who resided in a beautiful home at 4603 East Washington Street. Charles D. Jenney (1864-1926) earned a comfortable living managing his own electrical company. Throughout the mid and late-1920s, contractors built charming brick bungalows and doubles along the lane. 

Indianapolis Star, August 29, 1926

Some early articles about homes along the street referred to it as Jenny's Lane. This ad appeared in the Indianapolis Star, November 17, 1929.

Johnson Avenue: Sylvester Johnson founded the town of Irvington along with Jacob Julian. His stunning Second Empire-style home faced Audubon Road. His backyard complete with a beautiful orchard abutted what is today Johnson Avenue. The small street became longer in 1898 when the town board named a stretch from Julian Avenue to the Pennsylvania Railroad after Johnson as well. 

Julian Avenue: The original Julian Avenue stretched from Ritter Avenue to Arlington Avenue (then Line) and is named for the family who made Irvington possible. Jacob Julian arrived first and founded the town. His more famous brother, George Washington Julian, arrived in 1874. George Julian, a retired Congressman, built a beautiful Italianate residence just south of Jacob's home on South Audubon Road (then Central Avenue). Congressman Julian's daughter, Grace Julian Clarke, was an important figure for women's suffrage in Indiana. She lived in the family home at 115 South Audubon Road until her death in 1938. Local historian, Steve Barnett, recently discovered that part of Julian Avenue from South Irvington Avenue to Downey Avenue was originally called Ohmer Avenue in 1871. West of Ritter Avenue, both Houston and Irvington Avenue became Julian Avenue in 1898. East of Arlington Avenue, Chestnut Street also became Julian Avenue in that same year. 

Kenmore Road: When researching homes in the Irvington Terrace Addition, it is important to know that some of the street names have been changed. For instance, Kenmore Road began as Eldridge Street. The Buckeye Realty Company developed much of the area beginning in 1913. Newspaper stories touted beautiful homes constructed by R. L. Castle. The original name of Eldridge (sometimes spelled Eldredge) came from John and Alanson Eldredge, who owned acres of land in the area in the 1840s. ("The Story of a Lot," Indianapolis News, May 16, 1914) The city of Indianapolis changed the name in 1916 to Kenmore Road. (Indianapolis News, October 17, 1916, 19) The origin of the name is unknown at this time. 

Photos of several Irvington Terrace homes developed by the Buckeye Realty Company were featured frequently in the Indianapolis newspapers of the 1910s including this house at 45 Kenmore Road (formerly 51 Eldredge/Eldridge Street). ( Indianapolis Star, December 20, 1914)

Kenyon Street: Sixteen years after the first residents purchased lots along Kenyon Street, the Indianapolis Star paid a visit in 1929 and described the avenue as "one of the most attractive streets in Indianapolis." The author further gushed that it is "lined with beautiful maple trees, well-kept lawns, and attractive new bungalows." First platted in 1913 by the Buckeye Realty Company under the leadership John Chilcote, the street is one of the few in the addition that has not been renamed. But what is the origin? There were Kenyons living in Irvington, but we see no connection just yet. Mr. Chilcote was a native of Ohio and developed numerous housing additions in the Columbus and Lima areas. Could the street be named for the Ohio college? 

From the Indianapolis Star, July 8, 1929

Kitley Avenue: Check any atlas of Warren Township produced in the nineteenth century and you will see the Kitley family name. In fact, John Kitley owned the area of what was to become Irvington Terrace in the 1850s. Other Kitleys continued to farm south of Irvington. Today, the only vestige of the Kitleys in the Irvington area is the street that bears their name. 

Layman Avenue: In the spring of 1896, the Irvington Town Board united Layman Avenue (north of Washington Street) with that of Tilford Street (north of Lowell Avenue) under one name--Layman Avenue. Tilford had been an early investor in the Chambers Addition north of Lowell, but by the late nineteenth-century, the town was more enamored with the wealthy Layman family who lived in the former Jacob Julian home at 29 South Audubon Road. (then Central) James T. Layman, a Civil War veteran, had made his money in the wholesale trade. He and his wife Cora Belle Parks Layman moved into their Second Empire mansion in 1887. At least one son, Theodore, also served on the Irvington Town Board. 

James Townsend Layman and Cora Belle Parks Layman c1910 in front of their home at 29 South Audubon Road (photo courtesy of Isabelle Layman Troyer)

The Layman home at 29 South Audubon Road c1910 (photo courtesy of Isabelle Layman Troyer)

Leland Avenue: This avenue first appears in the Indianapolis newspapers as Leland Street as early as 1905, but no houses were built upon the avenue until the mid-1920s. North of Tenth Street, contractors erected beautiful brick Tudor homes in a development called Emerson Highlands. Later they developed the street south of Tenth Street. So who was Leland? Is it a first name or a last name? Do you have information? The origin of the name eludes us at the moment. 

A sketch of the home of the Harryman family of 1101 Leland Avenue can be seen in an ad in the Indianapolis News, May 14, 1927.

Wayne Harryman helped to develop the Emerson Highlands neighborhood along Leland Avenue. He lived in a beautiful stuccoed English Tudor next to this house at 1101 Leland Avenue. (Indianapolis Star, May 26, 1929)

Lesley Avenue: Formerly called Greene Street, the name appears to have changed to Lesley Avenue in 1903. The street was named after Daniel Lesley, who resided at 5716 Lowell Avenue with his wife and two children. Mr. Lesley was a tax accountant and frequently made the news for exposing government corruption. Both he and his wife Edith Thompson Lesley hailed from Winchester, Indiana. 

Daniel Lesley (with a mustache) posed with his relatives most likely in Randolph County, Indiana c1885. Pictured: Jacob, Amos, Daniel, and Rueben Lesley (photo courtesy of Lesley family descendants via 

Lowell Avenue:  Irvington residents appear to have had love affair with writers from the Romantic era. In 1898, when the town board decided to rename a confusing hodgepodge of streets into one name, they chose to rebrand the long street after the poet and editor of the Atlantic Monthly, James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). Mr. Lowell was good friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Greenleaf Whittier, who also received Irvington street names. Previous names of the street included Elm Avenue (in between North Audubon Road and Irvington Avenue) and Walnut Avenue (in between North Audubon Road and North Arlington Avenue). Larry Muncie in his book, Irvington: Three Windows on Irvington History, 1989, mentions that at one point part of the street was also called Ohio Street. 

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) (public domain)

Maple Lane: William Alexander and Flora McDonald Ketcham filed for a plat for the subdivision of Pleasanton in 1915. This small addition to Irvington emulated the original plan for the area complete with winding streets. Most of the development for the new community, however, did not really take off until the early 1920s. The Ketchams chose Maple Lane as one of their streets although there was already a Maple Road (38th Street) in northern Indianapolis. Trees seem to be a theme for street names in Pleasanton. 

An ad for new homes along Maple Lane in Pleasanton from the Indianapolis News, September 23, 1921

Market Street: A small section of Market Street runs through Irvington. The more famous part of the street begins in downtown Indianapolis and was aptly named for the markets that still operate along that well-known avenue. 

Melvenia Street: Clarence and Josephine Hurst lived in a small cottage along an unnamed lane south of Burgess Avenue in the 1920s. By 1924, the Indianapolis city directory listed the Hursts on Melvenia Street. Melvenia Street? Where did that name come from? Who was Melvenia? It turns out that the answer was right in front of me. The Hursts had one daughter--Melvenia Hurst. She married John Martin and eventually moved to Florida where she passed away in 2005. We are in the process of attempting to track down family members to learn more about her. In 1940, the city of Indianapolis further honored her by naming another section south of Brookville Road as Melvenia. It had formerly been called "Haugh." 

Michigan Street: John Chambers was an early investor in Irvington. He developed land north of Lowell Avenue in between Ritter Avenue and just east of Arlington Avenue. He named one of the streets after himself. Unfortunately, like many early investors, Mr. Chambers went bankrupt. When the city of Indianapolis annexed Irvington, they changed Chambers to Michigan to align with the street that originated in the original mile square of Indianapolis. Mr. Chambers was completely erased from the story of the neighborhood; however, his name lives on in deeds and abstracts. 

John W. Chambers, who developed land north of Lowell Avenue and east of Ritter Avenue, went bankrupt in 1877. Later a street named for him became Michigan Street. (Indianapolis News, February 6, 1877)

Sources:  Larry Muncie, Irvington: Three Windows on Irvington's History. 1989; Irvington Avenue--"Mr. Warweg's Ordinance," Indianapolis Journal, March 17, 1903, 10; Kenyon Street--"Our Street," July 8, 1929, 8; Layman Avenue--"New Town Officers," Indianapolis News, May 12, 1896, 7: Melvenia Street--"Changes Sought in Street Names," Indianapolis Star, February 6, 1940, 5: "Changes in Street Names," Indianapolis Journal, January 18, 1903, 3; "Irvington's New Names," Indianapolis News, November 3, 1898, 7. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Irvington at 150: Street Names E-H

Irvington street names have a complicated history. Many of the avenues have been called by numerous names. In this second part of the series, you will note that some of the meandering paths in the neighborhood were named after local farm families, famous American writers, and investors. We do not know the origin of all of the names, but thanks to the hard work of a local historian, Larry Muncie, we do have precise dates for their naming. Feel free to contact us if you have more information!

Edmondson Avenue: Little is known about the origin of this street. It first appears in the Indianapolis City Directory in 1928. When Warren Park incorporated in the late 1920s, Edmondson Avenue became an eastern boundary for that neighborhood. More research is needed on this street.

Ellenberger Parkway:  In the mid-1920s, city officials began construction on Ellenberger Parkway; however, they did not pave nor link it with Tenth Street, which upset a few local residents. (Indianapolis Star, May 19. 1925) With the availability of federal funds during the Great Depression and working with the WPA, the parkway was completed by the mid-1930s. (Indianapolis Star, December 20, 1935, 18) The avenue was named for the prominent Ellenberger family who also sold the land for the nearby park. 

Members of the Ellenberger family gathered for a reunion at the family home at 5602 East 10th Street in 1914. Both a park and a nearby street are named for the Ellenbergers. 

Elizabeth Street: Although the name of the street is unknown at this time, we do know that many of the homes built along that stretch were developed by the Vogel Company in Wagner's Addition in 1941. The investors invited the public to tour twelve new residences on September 7, 1941. Two months later, the United States entered World War II.

Indianapolis Star, September 7, 1941, 31

Emerson Avenue:
Now a busy thoroughfare, Emerson Avenue began as a quiet street called National Avenue until 1898. The Irvington Town Board changed the name to Emerson after the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1882). Mr. Emerson would have likely been pleased that two of his good friends, George Bancroft and Nathaniel Hawthorne, also had streets named for them in the new college town, but he died before the renaming. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1882) never knew that the little town of Irvington named a street for him. (public domain)

English Avenue: On September 1, 1873, city officials approved the contract to improve the first half mile of a new street in Irvington called "English" Avenue. The street was named after William Hayden English (1822-1896), a prominent banker and politician in Indianapolis. (Indianapolis News, September 2, 1873, 2) 

William Hayden English, a capitalist and politician, built an opera house and hotel on Monument Circle in Indianapolis. (public domain) 

Farrington Avenue:
After World War II, developers scrambled to build houses for the returning veterans who were starting their families. With assistance from the FHA and the GI Bill, families could apply for loans and purchase brand new two or three-bedroom residences along Farrington Avenue in the late 1940s and early 1950s. E. G. Bauer & Son built many of the houses along the new street. 

Fletcher Avenue: While Fletcher Avenue is most often associated with a near south side Indianapolis neighborhood, the street has a short stretch through southwestern Irvington. The street is named after Calvin Fletcher, an early resident of Indianapolis who went on to become a banker, farmer, and a politician. 

Calvin Fletcher (1796-1866) was an early leader in Indianapolis. His multi-volume diary captured life in the young capital and was later published by the Indiana Historical Society (public domain)

Good Avenue:
Walter and Ada Good joined Jacob Julian, Sylvester Johnson, and Lycurgus Rawles in platting most of southern Irvington in January of 1873. As a thank you for his investment, a small street north of Dewey (then East) and south of Bonna (then Railroad) was named Good Avenue. Later in 1903, the city of Indianapolis renamed South Street in between University Avenue and Rawles as Good Avenue as well. 

Graham Avenue: While it is unconfirmed at this moment, it is believed that Graham Avenue was named for William Henry Harrison Graham, a local resident and investor. Mr. Graham and his wife Ellen built a beautiful home on University Avenue. In 1897, he became the American consul at Winnipeg, Canada. He also went into business with Charles Brouse, who helped to develop several sections of Irvington. His widow, Ellen Graham, entered the history books when she sold their beautiful home to D.C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the KKK in Indiana and the Midwest. 

Grand Avenue: The street used to be longer as it stretched from Audubon Road to Brookville Road, but the town board realized that it was a confusing route so the section from Audubon Road to Ritter Avenue was changed to Burgess Avenue. Only a small section of the street remains today. The name appears to be generic. 

Greenfield Avenue: Perhaps when Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson named a small stretch as Greenfield Avenue, they had hoped that one day the path might connect to the nearby Hancock County city. Both men were from Centerville, Indiana and would have passed through Greenfield along the National Road on their way to and from Irvington. Greenfield Avenue, however, never managed to make it out Irvington. 

Hawthorne Lane: In 1898, the Irvington Town Board chose to name both Commercial and Blount Streets after Nathaniel Hawthorne, the popular writer. Mr. Hawthorne died before the founding of the town, but his works like Scarlet Letter and Twice Told Tales would have rested on many bookshelves throughout the neighborhood. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was much admired by many in Irvington.

Hibben Avenue:
In December of 1913, the Irvington Improvement Association announced the exciting news that lots on a new street called Hibben Avenue would now be for sale. (Indianapolis Star, December 4, 1913, 4) The small street stretched from Downey to Ritter Avenue. The Association named the street for the wealthy Hibben family who dwelled in a villa at 5433 University Avenue. Thomas Hibben earned his fortune in the wholesale trade. His children were equally as talented. Paxton Hibben, a brilliant student, went on to become an author and a diplomat. Thomas Hibben, Jr. was an architect who designed buildings on Butler's Fairview campus while James Hibben taught chemistry at Princeton University. His daughter, Helene Hibben, was a prominent sculptor who opened an early kindergarten where the children spoke French. Her sister Hazen assisted her. The house where they lived on University was the previous home to the Downey and Thompson families; thus, three street names came from one house: Downey, Bonna, and Hibben. 

Courtesy of Hibben family descendants via

Courtesy of the Hibben family descendants via

Courtesy of Hibben family descendants via 

Hill Street:
It appears that the small street located in Ritter's Lowell Subdivision was laid out in 1911. Curbs and sidewalks were not added until 1913. (Indianapolis Star, October 4, 1913, 3) Since there is a slight hill on the avenue, it appears that the name is geographical in nature. 

Howe Drive: Named for the nearby high school and a former president of Butler University, the narrow street has served as a conduit for thousands of teenagers over the decades. The residents of Irvington had long wanted a high school so when they finally received one in 1938 they decided to name it after Thomas Carr Howe (1867-1934). Mr. Howe served Butler University as a professor, dean, and as president. His untimely death, after being struck by an auto, shocked the community. 

Thomas Carr Howe, a former president of Butler University (public domain) 

Sources: Larry Muncie, Three Windows on Irvington History, 1989; "Changes in Street Names," Indianapolis Journal, January 18, 1903, 3; "Irvington's New Names," Indianapolis News, November 3, 1898, 7; "Would Change Names of 149 Streets in City," Indianapolis News, December 18, 1916, 8; Interviews with Steve Barnett and Larry Muncie, 2020.