Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Story of a Brick Bungalow

Irvington resident, Paula Schmidt has done it again.  With her second post for Vintage Irvington, Ms. Schmidt explores the history of her own home at 50 South Butler Avenue. She also offers tips for how to research the story of your own home.  Thank you, Paula Schmidt for this wonderful post and the illustrative photos.  

The Story of an Brick Bungalow
By Paula Schmidt 

Old houses show traces of the people who built them and of those who called them home.    

In 1917, Mr. William Schnorr moved from Detroit and lived with his family in a house at 5818 Oak Avenue, awaiting the completion of a new house at 50 South Butler Avenue.  This new home, based on a notice in the May 25, 1920 issue of the Indianapolis Commercial, cost $7,000.  Mr. Schnorr built a sturdy brick Prairie-style bungalow with a two-car brick garage. Based on the description in Paul Diebold's book, Greater Irvington, it was possibly customized from a Sear's style called the Avalon. It also resembles the Plaza, a model found in the Aladdin catalog.  

Mr. Schnorr was a specialty glass manufacturer who moved his business, the Detroit Medical Glass Works, to Indianapolis at the invitation of Mr. Eli Lilly. His business was described in an article in a July 1925 publication by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. (see link below)

In 1925, Mr. William Schnorr's two young sons, Ray and William Jr. posed in their dress suits in front of the house with their backs toward Washington Street.  The Schnorr family moved to West Hampton Drive (northwest Indianapolis) the next year.

Ray and William Schnorr standing in front of 50 South Butler Avenue in 1925.

Standing in front of 50 South Butler Avenue in 2013 (looking north)

The house and Irvington remained fond memories for Ray.  In 2005, a gentleman knocked at our door and said that his father "had grown up in this house.  Would we mind if they looked around?"  Wow…it was Ray Schnorr and his son, Ray Jr. I am so glad that I was home, because I was able to invite them in and the house was as he remembered.  One surprising bit of history was that Mr. Schnorr recalled a fire in the dining room (above the coal furnace) and a hole in the floor.  Therefore, the family has no pictures of their time in this house. The photo of the two little boys is the only one they could find.

The Schnorr Home at 50 South Butler Avenue in 2012

The Plaza from the Aladdin Catalogue in 1916.  

Raymond Schnorr visits his childhood home at 50 South Butler Avenue in 2005.  

Based on research done by the Irvington Historical Society, there was a procession of residents between 1927 and 1968, approximately 18 different families, either as renters or failed purchasers.  In 1968, the John Flanagan family purchased the home and resided here until selling to Steven and Paula Schmidt in 1982. The Schmidts found traces left by all those other families both inside and outside the house. In the yard, there were marbles--lots of marbles, modern toy soldiers, a length of gold chain, and medicine bottles as well as Butler University bricks and paving bricks from the street.  Inside the rafters of the basement was hidden a Greek icon of St. Jerome.  The overall look of the house has been unchanged since 1920, however, the double doors from the living room were replaced with a single door to create a third bedroom.  The top panel of the bathroom door may have been frosted glass and replaced with wood and a closet has been enlarged. And of course the damage from the fire was repaired! At one time the casement windows at the south entrance were replaced with double hung (the casement style has since been restored) and the center pillar was removed in the garage. 

Found Artifact:  Icon of St. Jerome discovered in the rafters of 50 South Butler Avenue

Beautiful flower gardens of 50 South Butler in 2012.  

If you are interested in the history of your home, you would be amazed at what you can find. I used the online resources from the Indianapolis Public Library (city directories and Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce materials), on-line newspapers, and resources from the Irvington Historical Society and the Indiana State Library.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cinderella's Path--Butler Campus c1928

This lovely walkway meandered through Butler University's Irvington campus. It was dubbed "Cinderella's Path" by some because it ended at South Emerson Avenue near the home of two very beautiful sisters. The stately beech trees and the pathway are now a distant memory as developers added housing onto the site in the early 1940s.  But what became of the sisters?  I suppose I shall leave that up to our budding novelists and poets.

The historic image is courtesy of David Bailey.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Summer House on Butler's Campus--c1928

One of the iconic structures on Butler's Irvington campus was the Summer House. Reflective of the Arts and Crafts era with its boulders and wood shake, the site became a frequent place for meetings among coeds and people who lived in the neighborhood. Located in a grove of trees, the site was a perfect place for a picnic or clandestine meeting.  Note the giant beech tree to the right of the shelter. The Summer House and the trees were removed in the early 1940s for new housing.  This historic image is courtesy of David Bailey. You may see another view of the Summer House by clicking on the link below.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Johnson Family of 252 South Emerson Avenue

Some Irvington families dwelled in the same house for decades.  Harry P. and Mabel E. Johnson of 252 South Emerson would be among that group.  The Johnsons moved into their modest home across from the Butler campus in 1916 and remained for many years. Mr. Johnson was a postal carrier much like his neighbor Charles Sammis (256 S. Emerson).  In fact, the 1930 Census reveals that several postal clerks lived in the vicinity.  Mrs. Johnson remained at home and raised the couple's daughter, Maxine, who was born in 1920.  How many of us dwell in homes that still bear the names of previous occupants?  It is likely that many along Emerson referred to 252 as the "Johnson Home" long after their departure.

Mabel Johnson holds her daughter Maxine in 1921.  The Johnsons dwelled at 252 S. Emerson Avenue

Along Emerson Avenue:  The Sammis Home (256 S) and the Johnson Home (252 S.) are the first two homes pictured.  This photo was likely taken around 1916.

In the top photo, likely taken in 1921,  Mabel Johnson holds her daughter Maxine.  The other child identified on the photo is "Emma Jean."  We are still trying to sort out who she might belong to.  The photo was taken on the front porch of either 256 or 252 S. Emerson. (I am leaning towards 252!)  Both of the houses had similar porches and the same number of steps!  In the second photo, taken around 1916, you can see the Johnson home.  It is second house from the left with the large hipped roof.  I have also included a photo of the home 2013.  The front porch has been changed and vinyl siding now covers the historic clapboard, but the original windows remain intact.

This 2013 photo shows 252 S. Emerson Avenue on a gray wintry day.  
The historic photographs are courtesy of David Bailey.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Removal of Siding Reveals Original Features of an Irvington Cottage

Bonna Avenue is a small street that runs next to the former Pennsylvania Railroad.  Light industry and small cottages sprouted along the once busy corridor.  The street offered none of the charm of the rest of Irvington.  No grand home ever emerged along the street, but many hardworking people once called Bonna Avenue home.

Recently, work has begun at 5623 Bonna Avenue.  Contractors first ripped off aluminum siding and then Insul-brick (tar siding made to look like brick) to reveal the early twentieth-century historic wood clapboard.  Original window sizes can also now be viewed as various owners replaced the bays with smaller windows over the years.  With a little imagination, we can now see what passengers of the various train cars would have seen as they made their way east or west through the country.

Work has been commencing at 5623 Bonna Avenue throughout the winter of 2013.

Original window sizes were revealed as layers of siding was removed from the home at 5623 Bonna Avenue in the winter of 2013.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Irvington Cub Scouts--1943

Scouting for both boys and girls remained very popular in Irvington throughout the twentieth century.  Most local groups were supported by churches.  The Girl Scouts in Indianapolis actually first started in the neighborhood at the Irvington Presbyterian Church.  Local resident, Francis Belzer (320 South Audubon Road), was a major leader of the Boy Scouts.  Mr. Belzer, a teacher at Manual High School, was later honored when the Scouts named a camp for him in Lawrence Township.

In this photo, taken in 1943, members of a local Cub Scout troop (Pack 31) gathered for their formal portrait.  If you recognize anyone in this photo, then drop me a note at or comment below.  This historic photo is courtesy of a grown-up Cub Scout and former member of this troop, David Bailey.

Newly identified Scouts courtesy of Ann Stewart:

Front Row (left to right):  Second boy from left--Frank Robertson (before his illness)

Middle Row (left to right):  Gary Roberts, Don Ross, ?, Jim Hueston, Scout Leader, Bob Routh, Dan Meininger, Joe Messing, Jack Young,?

Top Row (left to right):  Martin Bruce (Boy Scout), Bob Craig, and  ???? Jim Boles, David Bailey, ?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Abandoned Butler University Campus--1936

Charles and Myrtle Sammis built their dream home at 256 South Emerson Avenue across from Butler University's campus in 1908.  The couple raised their two children in the home and likely never envisioned that one day the college would leave Irvington.  In 1928, officials closed the Irvington location and moved north to the Fairview campus. Throughout the 1930s, the neighborhood suffered two insults with the combination of the loss of this important neighborhood institution and with the arrival of the Great Depression.  It would be a double hit to the community.  During this turbulent time, the college did little with the remaining structures now plagued by vandalism and decay. While the adults in the neighborhood lamented on the poor maintenance of the abandoned structures, nearby children found an entirely new playground!

David and Mildred Bailey frequently visited their grandparents at 256 South Emerson and spent some quality time roaming the grounds of the now ghostly quiet campus.  Mr. Bailey remembered that many of the windows had been broken out and the once manicured lawns became weed-choked.  He chuckled, nearly 75 years after playing on the campus, that he managed to acquire a "good case of poison ivy" from his time there.

By the late 1930s, Butler officials tore down most of the buildings and sold off the land for housing.  In 1941, David and sister Mildred moved into 256 South Emerson with their grandparents and watched as developers built brick apartments on the site of the old campus.

In this incredible photograph, likely taken in 1936, the Sammis-Bailey family posed for a photograph.  Although they are the subject of the picture, behind them you can see two abandoned Butler buildings. You will even note a cupola over the shoulder of the ladies in the image.  Pictured in the photo from left to right are:  Willa Sammis Bailey, Myrtle Shimer Sammis, and Charles Sammis.  The two children are Mildred and David Bailey. The contemporary shot shows the exact view in 2013.  The historic photo and stories are courtesy of David Bailey.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Charles Sammis and Babe the Horse

Charles and Myrtle Sammis built their dream home at 256 South Emerson Avenue in 1908.  Mr. Sammis worked for the Post Office as a substitute carrier.  Each day he would report to work at the central office in downtown Indianapolis to see who was absent for the day and then he would walk or drive their route.  He built a barn at the rear of the lot to house his traveling companion "Babe" as horses were used throughout the early twentieth century along postal routes even after the arrival of the automobile.

The Sammises welcomed their daughter Willa back home in 1941 along with two grandchildren.  The family remained in the house until the 1950s.  In these historic images, you can see Charles Sammis and Babe parked in front of 256 South Emerson around 1915.  If you look closely you can see "Parcel Post" on the carriage.  The other two historic images show Charles Sammis next to his daughter Willa in the back and side yard around 1948.  These historic images are courtesy of David Bailey.

Charles Sammis and "Babe" standing in front of 256 South Emerson Avenue c.1915

Charles Sammis and his daughter Willa,  June 1948

256 South Emerson (foreground) in 2013.  The house to the south of it was moved to the site in the mid-twentieth century.