Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Sammis of 256 South Emerson Avenue

Myrtle Sammis came to the construction site nearly everyday to check on the progress of the building of her new home at 256 South Emerson Avenue.  She and her husband, Charles, a substitute carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, purchased their narrow but long lot in 1908 for the price of $100.  Because it was below grade level, they had to add dirt before construction of their two-story Arts and Crafts era home could begin.  Mrs. Sammis was quite familiar with Irvington because her family, the Shimers, owned large farms along Brookville Road.  She eventually became very involved with the details of the house by personally staining the beautiful oak woodwork throughout the first story of the dwelling while Mr. Sammis worked the late shift for the Post Office.  The home's location across from Butler University and along the newly bricked Emerson Avenue made this a very attractive area in which to live.

The Sammis Home at 256 South Emerson in 1910

The Sammis Home at 256 South Emerson Avenue c.1915.  Note the brick street and the homes to the north.

The Sammis reared their two children, Willa and Frederick (Fritz) in the house.  The children walked to School #57 as it was the closest school at that time.  Grandchildren who dwelled in the house in the 1930s and 40s attended School #82.  Their daughter Willa wrote a memoir of her life and much of it involved Irvington.  This wonderful narrative, recently donated to the Irvington Historical Society by her son David Bailey, contains much about the family home.  She recalled her childhood days in the house with its airy rooms, "light hardwood floors," and "dark colonnades" separating the large reception hall from the living room.  She noted that her parents took a long time to pay off the mortgage because they added hot water, wallpaper, lovely draperies, built-in cabinets in the kitchen, and eventually the very modern extravagance of a..... telephone.

Charles, Willa, Frederick (Fritz), and Myrtle Sammis in 1910

The exterior of the Sammis home was the epitome of the Arts and Crafts period.  Most houses of this era had two colors.  The upper story was generally painted darker than the lower story.  The Sammis' second story was clad in dark stained wood shakes.  The lower story, sheathed in clapboard, was painted a lighter color with matching trim. You will note the porch columns were perched atop concrete block.  The historic photos show the home in 1910 and most likely in 1915.  In the top photo, taken just two years after construction, you can see that the Sammis have planted a tree along the street.  You can also see their fashionable porch furniture.  In the second photo, taken just a few years later, you can see the beautiful brick street and the two houses north of 256 South Emerson.  David Bailey, the grandchild of the Sammis remembers the grassy median that used to be on the street.  The third photo shows the family in 1910.  Finally, I have included a photo of the home today.  Much of the charm has been covered up and in some cases removed, however, the original paneled entryway still exists.  The stories and photos for this post are courtesy of David Bailey.  More posts will be forthcoming on this interesting Irvington family.

256 South Emerson Avenue in 2013:  The home has been significantly altered over the years including the removal of some windows and porch columns.  

Source:  Unpublished Memoir of Willa Sammis Bailey Smith (1896-1974)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ready for High School: The 8th Grade Class of 1946 from School #82

Look how nice they all look!  These well-scrubbed eighth graders gathered for their class photo in the spring of 1946 at School #82 at 4700 E. English Avenue.  The youngsters had to endure shortages from World War II and many of them had older siblings who fought in both the Pacific and European theaters.  With the war now over, they had much to look forward to.  Of course, they had no way of knowing that in four years some of them would be shipped off to fight another war in Korea.  However, on this glorious day, with the sunlight filtering through the tall tree above them, all of the possibilities of life awaited them.  We are particularly fortunate with this photo because we have the names of almost every child in it.  This wonderful image is courtesy of David Bailey, the dapper young man in a suit and tie in the top row.  (Be sure to click on it to enlarge the photo!)

Front Row (left to right):  Jim Boles (passed away from leukemia on November 16, 1947), Barbara White, Evelyn Rule, JoAnn Morell, Marilyn Waltz, Dick Silvers, Bobby Bryant, Mary Alice Spoon, Norman Wise, Joan Strupp, Barbara Phillips, Lucky Turner

Middle Row (left or right):  Don Brents, Nancy Denham, Janice Huston, David Dyar, Marilyn Brown, Jean Garinger, Barbara Brickham, Loren Potter, Newell Hall, Jane Lynch, Jeanne McGannon, Mary Catherine Susanke, JoAnn Minnis, Gary Betchel

Top Row (left to right):  Jack Young, Irene Brant, Billy Oaks, Janet Thompson, ??, Joyce McLaughlin, Eleanor Roach, Robert Horn, Jerry Druley, Don Ross, Billy Ruckersfeldt, David Bailey, Buddy Horton

Not Pictured:  Marilyn Hudson

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rejuvenation of a 1930s Era Cottage on Julian Avenue

The Story of the Tanselle Cottage at 5246 Julian Avenue
By Paula Schmidt

Certain houses are noticed.  They maybe unusual in their design, or in their setting, or somehow have charming personalities.   The little cottage at 5246 Julian Avenue survived because of that charm.  Located in the corner of a large plot owned by the Thormyer family, the house was built in 1938 by Clara B. Thormyer either to sell or as a residence. Miss Thormyer was the principal of Cumberland High School and owned her family home at 93 South Butler Avenue.  The building permit recorded in the  Indianapolis Commercial (November, 1938) shows the owner as Charles B Schormeyer, a name so suspiciously similar to Clara B Thormyer that it has to be the same person.* 

5246 Julian Avenue in 1940

Although the building permit was granted in 1938, the address does not appear in the city directory until 1940, when it was purchased by the John Tanselle family who loved the house and gardens for fifty years. They ultimately purchased the adjoining property when Clara Thormyer died in 1955, but continued to reside on Julian. 

Mrs. Helen Tanselle and her daughter, Nancy, at 5246 Julian Avenue c1948

Mr. Tanselle was a salesman who loved to garden and he filled his side yard with over 150 roses, peony bushes and spring flowers. That side yard runs from the house along Julian Avenue to Butler Avenue.  The large spruce tree in the front of the house was planted in 1961 at the birth of the first Tanselle grandchild.

The house was sold in the 1990's and fell on hard times with holes in the roof, collapsed ceilings, a rotted porch, an overgrown yard, and ultimately foreclosure.

Hard Times:  By the 1990s, the Tanselle Cottage at 5246 Julian had fallen into disrepair.  

The cottage is still being restored.  The porch was rebuilt based on pictures provided by the Tanselles. Uncovering the house's original grey shakes and reviving the garden are future projects. 

A Phoenix:  By 2013, the current owners have renovated most of the cottage. (Photo--Spring, 2012) 
Editor's Note:  I am indebted to local sleuth, Paula Schmidt for her work in uncovering the story of this lovely cottage.  

*I completely agree with Ms. Schmidt's assessment on this point as there was no Charles B. Shormeyer listed in the Indianapolis directories of 1938.  Her conclusion is that the editors of the Commercial could not read the handwriting.  The names are very similar! I believe her detective work on the name is spot on.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Norris Family of Ritter and Graham Avenues

Clarence Norris of Clark County, Indiana pulled a few too many pranks upon his newly married friends as a young man. When he decided to marry Edith Hodson of Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1912, the couple eloped to avoid any payback.  They continued to live in southern Indiana and saw to the birth of their first child, Mary Alice in 1914. When the flu epidemic swept the world in 1918, Mrs. Norris, who suffered from a heart condition, nearly died.  She would eventually regain her strength although her heart problems continued to plague her for the remainder of her life.  The couple settled in Irvington in the 1920s and rented a double at 51 N. Ritter Avenue.  Mr. Norris sold life insurance throughout most of his adult life.  Another child, John Norris, arrived in 1920.

1920s image of Edith Norris with her two children, Mary Alice and John, in the rear of 51 North Ritter Avenue

51-53 North Ritter Avenue in January, 2013

Mary Alice Norris was a very serious student.  Each school day, she left her home at 51 North Ritter Avenue and caught the streetcar along East Washington Street.  She then took another streetcar to Shortridge High School.  A brilliant child, she graduated at the age of sixteen and at number one in her class in 1930.  She would later go on to university and to medical school.  She became an ophthalmologist, one of the few females in the state of Indiana to pursue such a career.  At the age of 36, she met a World War II veteran and widower, Joe Surratt.  He had two children from his previous marriage and the couple would have two children together.  Mr. Surratt, a West Point graduate, fought along side General Patton during the war.

Mary Alice Norris was Valedictorian of her Shortridge High School class in 1930.  She was only 16 years old.

Eventually, Clarence and Edith Norris saved up enough money to buy their first home in the early 1940s at 906 North Graham.  The historic photos are courtesy of Cate Surratt Delaney.  The contemporary photos, taken on January 20, 2013, show both homes on a bitterly cold day.

Clarence and Edith Norris in their later years.  This photo was likely taken in the early 1940s perhaps in the backyard of  906 North Graham Avenue.  

906 North Graham Avenue in January of 2013.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thick Canopy of Trees Along University Avenue--1942

By the mid-twentieth century, trees planted in the late 1800s and early 1900s towered over the meandering pathways of Irvington.  Children who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1920s through the 1960s spoke of streets in deep shade.  In this photo, taken in 1942, Shirley Custer (5515 University Avenue) played with a neighboring dog who dwelled with the Moffat family at 5511 University.  With the sun radiating off her golden hair, she and the pooch seem to be the only subjects in sunlight.  Notice the allĂ©e of trees behind her.  Most of the houses are not easily seen this photo, but you can see the front porches of 5511 and 5515 University Avenue.  The facade of 5527 University Avenue, an American Four Square, is also visible.  I have included a photo of that home in 2013. The historic image is courtesy of Custer family.

Shirley Custer in the front yard of 5511 University Avenue in 1942

5527 University Avenue in 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Children Play Along University Avenue--1940

In these wonderful shots, taken in 1940, a very young Shirley Custer (5515 University Avenue) played with her friends. In the top photo, she posed with her beloved dog, Taffy. Behind her you can see a bricked University Avenue and part of 5514-16 University Avenue. In the middle photo, Shirley Custer and her friend Beverly Stevenson rode a new bike. Behind the girls, you can see nearly all of the very large Arts and Crafts double at 5514-16 University Avenue. In the bottom photo, likely taken in 1939, Shirley Custer posed with her friends and neighbors, Betty Carol and Beverly Stevenson. The photographer is facing west towards the intersection of University and Ritter Avenues. These historic images are courtesy of the Custer family.

Shirley Custer (5515 University Avenue) posed with her dog Taffy in 1940

Shirley Custer and Beverly Stevenson played along the 5500 block of University Avenue in 1940

Shirley Custer, Betty Carol, and Beverly Stevenson posed for this photo in the yard of 5515 University Avenue in 1939.

5514-16 University Avenue in the summer of 2012

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Custers of University Avenue

Walter and Katherine Custer and their children lived at 5515 University Avenue in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Their modest bungalow was first built in 1912 and had served as a rental for many Irvington families.  It would not be until the second half of the twentieth century that the dwelling would become owner occupied. The Custers leased the house while Mr. Custer worked as a salesman for the National Biscuit Company.  Their three children, Lyle, Don, and Shirley, spent their formative years in the neighborhood riding their bikes, playing with friends, and attending nearby School 57.

In these candid photos, taken on Easter Day in 1942, the Custer children posed in the backyard in their Sunday finest.  Of course, no picture was complete without their beloved dog Taffy.  She appeared in many other photos as well.  The contemporary photo shows the home on an unusually warm winter morning in 2013.  Note the classic knee braces along the roofline.  More photos will be coming from this interesting family.

Shirley Custer and Taffy (1942) of 5515 University Avenue

Lyle, Don,  and Shirley Custer with Taffy at 5515 University Avenue (1942)

Do, Shirley, and Lyle Custer on Easter Sunday in 1942 at 5515 University Avenue

5515 University Avenue in 2013

The historic images are courtesy of the Custer family.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vibrant Color Photo Along Hawthorne Lane--1959

This candid and vibrant colorful photograph was taken of "Frank and Mamie" on their anniversary in 1959.  The photographer is standing in the front yard at 25 N. Hawthorne Lane and is facing west.  Behind the couple, you can see 22 N. Hawthorne Lane.  This is the kind of photograph that you can stare at for quite sometime because there is so much detail.  Notice the amazing cars parked along the street for the celebration.  Thomas F. Daily and his wife Mary dwelled at 25 N. Hawthorne Lane in 1959. Mr. Daily worked for the Indianapolis Police Department.  The white house (22 N. Hawthorne Lane) across the street from the Dailys looks very similar in 2013 although the porch columns have been changed and the home has been clad with vinyl.  This historic image is courtesy of the descendants of the Daily family via

22 North Hawthorne Lane in 1959

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ritter Avenue Was Once Narrow and Bricked

Although it is difficult to imagine today, as Ritter Avenue is a major thoroughfare in Irvington, the now busy artery used to be a quiet street.  In this image, taken shortly after the city laid brick c. 1907, you can see that homeowners used to have a tree lawn. (grassy area between the sidewalk and the street)  Notice the thick canopy of trees.  The photo was likely taken near 34 North Ritter Avenue.  Someone has dropped something in the street, and you will note the power lines on one side of the street.  If you look closely on the left side of the photograph, you will also see a hitching post.  In the late 1930s, the city contracted with Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency, to widen the street. Workers removed the tree lawns and paved over the brick.  This historic image is courtesy of Larry Muncie.

Ritter Avenue looking north c1907 (near 34 N. Ritter)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Stroll Down Burgess Avenue c1900 and Today

The small, but winding, street was one of the most beautiful in Irvington.  Part of Burgess Avenue curves from South Ritter up to University Avenue.  All along the meandering pathway, families built large and modest Queen Anne-era homes and planted trees to outlive their stay.  The 1900 Federal Census reveals that dentists, printers, carpenters, widows, and engineers all called the street home.  They painted their dwellings in lively Victorian colors and kept up with the times by trading in their carriages for an automobile or taking the streetcar.  They added electricity and telephones.  Eventually, a canopy of trees completely shaded the cool street.   Later families would build Arts and Crafts-era homes in the few lots remaining and some even moved houses from University Avenue along the street.

Like many avenues in other neighborhoods, the end of World War II changed everything. Desperate for housing, entrepreneurial homeowners carved the once beautiful structures into several apartment units. During the 1950s and 60s, many fled the neighborhood for ranch homes on large lots in the newer suburbs leaving Burgess Avenue to fall victim to neglect and absentee landlords.  Recently, however, many exciting developments have taken place along the small street including the renovation of some of the dwellings. Many more await rejuvenation.

In the top photo, taken around 1900 along Burgess Avenue, you can almost walk into the image.  The inviting and wandering sidewalk next to tall trees make this a most enchanting place.  Notice the pristine shape of the homes.  If you look closely (be sure to click on the photo to make it larger) you can see a distant street lamp.  How  many of us would like to go back in time and walk down this sidewalk?  I, for one, would most certainly volunteer.

In the bottom photos, you can see 307, 323, and 329 Burgess Avenue in the final days of 2012.  You will note that 307 (the home closest to both photographers) has been drastically changed over the years, including the alteration of the roofline.  The other two homes still possess many late nineteenth and early twentieth-century features. The large oak tree seen in the second photo is visible in the historic photo!

307, 323, and 329 Burgess Avenue c.1900

307, 323, and 329 Burgess Avenue after a winter snowstorm in 2012

Queen Anne homes of 323 and 329 Burgess Avenue in 2012

The stunning historic image is courtesy of Larry Muncie.