Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Buried Path to the Past

Editor's Note:  Guest history sleuth and writer, Paula Schmidt, noticed the start of a sidewalk that seemed to go nowhere along South Butler Avenue.  Or did the path at one time go to a building long gone? Her investigations led to the unraveling of an interesting tale!  
A Buried Path to the Past
By Paula Schmidt

Do you remember reading the Shel Silverstein book, Where the Sidewalk Ends?  I know where it ends. It ends at my neighbor's house near a lovely four square double on the corner of South Butler and Julian Avenues.  Along Butler Avenue, my neighbor’s sidewalk used to be edged with tilted bricks similar to how my grandmother used to line her flowerbeds.  The mysterious walkway followed the sidewalk and then gracefully curved into what should be steps leading up to a house, but there are no steps!  What's the deal?
Look for the gaps in the bricks along the main sidewalk and you will see the start of a path that used to lead to a previous home at 105 or 107 South Butler Avenue.
It appears that an earlier home was here.  At the moment, I cannot locate a picture, but I do know the shape of this early structure thanks to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  In the 1898 map, the house is shown as a smaller single family dwelling on Lot # 58 with Lot# 57 vacant. By 1915, the map indicates that there is a larger multi-family dwelling that straddles both lots. Another mystery is that the records at the Assessor's Office indicate that the brick four square was erected in 1919.  Even without a picture of the original house, I hope you enjoy this tale.  It is full of irony, drama, love and tragedy.
In 1910, a single home sat on these two lots and faced Butler Avenue.  The address was either 107 or 105 South Butler Avenue.  Based on the book Irvington in 1910, a family by the name of Newby lived there: James M., his wife Elizabeth, and their child.  It appears that they lived at this residence for two years.
The 1898 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the previous home on the southeast corner of South Butler Avenue and Julian Avenue. Paula Schmidt has superimposed the current home over the previous dwelling. (look for blue thumbtack.)
Mr. Newby was in real estate. The 1907 city directory shows he was in business with George E. Wallace (Wallace & Newby).  In 1908, he partnered with Perry F. Carr  (Newby & Carr).  Both businesses had offices at the Baldwin Building in downtown Indianapolis.  In 1910, it appears that the bottom dropped out for the Newbys.  Mr. Newby purchased a piano in 1907 from a dealer by the name of Currens as a Christmas present for his child and he provided a deed as collateral.  The owner of the piano shop discovered that the deed was bogus and sued.  There was a jury trial and James M. Newby was convicted of theft on April 27, 1910.  His wife was frantic and actively sought the release of her husband…even after the judgment was affirmed (175 Ind. 515).  By 1913, James M. Newby was out of the Michigan City Prison and back in Indianapolis working in real estate.  Again he was involved in, or at least accused of, a shady real estate deal ("Men Accused of Real Estate Swindle", Indianapolis Star, March 4, 1913, 7).  His trial was delayed because his child was ill (March 13, 1913).  By September 9, 1913, the Indianapolis Star stated that the victims admitted that there was no swindle. ("Land Fraud Cases Dropped by State," Indianapolis Star, September 9, 1913,18)  I know you are getting weary of all this drama, but alas, there is more.  On August 1, 1914, a train struck a car carrying Mr. Newby at a railroad crossing on East Market Street killing him. ("Coroner Will Fix Blame for Fatal Crossing Crash," Indianapolis Star, August 1, 1913, pg 16).   A lawsuit in 1915 filed by his widow, Elizabeth resulted in a verdict against Lake Erie & Western RR and the flagman.  Elizabeth was awarded $5,000 ("City News," Indianapolis Star, January 29, 1915, 9). Elizabeth died in 1939.

The Newby family is long gone from the neighborhood as is their home, but if you look closely as you walk along South Butler Avenue you might imagine the start of a sidewalk that used to lead somewhere.  I wonder how many more interesting tales of Irvington are yet to be uncovered and how many have disappeared?   

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