Monday, June 6, 2016

Lost Irvington: Downey Avenue Homes

Like many folks after a beautiful snowfall, Dick and Mildred Palmer grabbed their camera in the winter of 1947 to document the lovely moment. The couple resided in a small apartment at 55 South Downey Avenue along with their first child, Janet. Either Mr. or Mrs. Palmer snapped this photo most likely from a second story window. While they knew they were documenting a wintry scene, they had no idea at the time of course, that they were also capturing images of two Irvington homes that have been gone for many years.

The most visible home in the photo is that of 52  South Downey Avenue.  The unusual dwelling hosted some important Indianapolis residents over the years. City directories indicate that the home was built in 1901 for Amos and Mary Reynolds Butler and their five children. Mr. Butler was the Secretary to the Indiana Board of Charities. He was an avid birder and the local chapter of the Audubon Society would be named for him. He was also caught up, like many in his generation, in the eugenics movement. A trained scientist, Butler embraced the view at the time that some people were defective or "degenerate." His position with the Charity Board gave him great power. He believed that people labeled as "feebleminded" must not be allowed to marry or procreate.  Butler was a proponent of Indiana laws that called for the sterilization of women who might have mental illnesses, epilepsy, or mental deficiencies. Hundreds of Hoosier women in the twentieth century were forcibly sterilized. Butler played a strong role in that movement.  

As Mr. and Mrs. Butler began to age and their children started to move away, they started to lease part of their home. Throughout the 1920s, Merritt and Ann Harrison along with their daughter resided in part of the dwelling. Mr. Harrison was a skilled architect and actually designed the "new" Irvington Presbyterian Church in 1927 while living at 52 South Downey Avenue.  Others who dwelled in the home included the Linton, Parsons, and Blaase families. The house was torn down in 1958 to make room for a playground for the Our Lady of Lourdes School.  

The other home visible in the photo was of 28 South Downey Avenue. It was built in 1893 for David K. and Mary Carver. The couple moved to Irvington from Anderson. Mr. Carver, a veteran of the Civil War, had the distinction of being the first Republican ever elected in Madison County, Indiana. He served as sheriff in Anderson for a couple of terms. Mrs. Carver, while dwelling in Irvington, was an active club woman. Both spent the remainder of their lives in the home. They frequently leased rooms to various boarders. In the 1920s, the Marsh family resided in the home. Robert I. Marsh was an attorney for D. C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. To learn more about his role in that episode of history, click on the Marsh family link below.  For most of its tenure, the large old home served as the convent for the Sisters of St. Francis, who taught at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. The house was torn down in 2001 to make room for an addition to the Our Lady of Lourdes School. 

Today, on the former site of the Butler and Carver homes, children play kickball and attend classes at the nearby Catholic school. Most neighbors have forgotten the Butler home and soon the Carver residence/Convent shall also fade from memory. 

52 and 28 South Downey Avenue in 1947 (photo courtesy of Dick Palmer and Janet Chapman)

Amos Butler moved into 52 South Downey Avenue in 1901.(image courtesy of Butler family via

David Carver moved into 28 South Downey Avenue in 1893.  (image courtesy of Carver family via
To learn more about the role of Amos Butler in the eugenics movement read Robert Osgood's article in the Indiana Magazine of History titled, "The Menace of the Feebleminded: George Bliss, Amos Butler, and the Indiana Committee on Mental Defectives." (vol. 97, Issue 4, 253-77)  Information for the Carvers came from "David Carver Funeral to be at Home," Indianapolis News, May 20, 1915, 5; "Mrs. Mary Carver Dead," Indianapolis News, March 30, 1918, 13.  Dick Palmer and Janet Chapman provided the original historic photo for this story.  


  1. Very interesting & informative, as usual. I look forward to reading your next piece of Irvington history.

    1. I will also never think of Amos Butler again without being reminded of your article.

    2. He is most known for his love of birds. He even published the very first state field guide, but he had another side.

  2. Finally birder news! Thank you.