Editor's Note: After a hiatus of several months, I have returned to Vintage Irvington. I hope to add many more stories and historic photographs in the coming year.
William and Delphia Hammons along with their six children would be among the very first residents of Irvington when they moved into a cottage near the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1870s. The path for the couple had not been an easy one as they had both been born into slavery in North Carolina. Less than a decade after the Civil War, they moved north to Indiana and into the new community of Irvington. Mr. Hammons found work in a variety of laboring jobs. Journalist Elizabeth Carlyle noted in an Indianapolis Star article in 1929, that he helped to build some of the structures on Butler's Irvington campus in the mid-1870s. Grace Julian Clarke, a prominent white resident and suffragist, noted in one of her columns in the Indianapolis Star in 1938 that the name of William Hammons appeared in the ledger of Shank's Store in 1877. The Hammons family would have been known by most of the earliest people to settle in the area.
The 1880 Federal Census and city directories indicate that William and "Delphey" Hammons lived in a small house located at 240 Good Avenue. Today, Mr. Hammons would be noted as biracial, but in 1880 the census taker noted that he was "mulatto." His occupation was simply listed as a laborer and that he could read and write. He was 47. Others noted in the 1880 enumeration included his thirty-four-year-old wife, Delphey; his sons, Rufus, age 12; William Wade, age 1, and a daughter, Vandora, age 6. The census taker marked out the name of Judge, who was less than a year old. This action indicated that he had recently died. His homemade tombstone along with numerous other members of the family rests in the Anderson Cemetery on East 10th Street. They would later have two additional children, Elmer and Carrie.
|In 1929, journalist Elizabeth Carlyle interviewed Rufus Hammons, the son of William and Hammons, for the Indianapolis Star. |
|The Hammons' plots are located north of East Tenth Street in the Anderson Cemetery. The tombstones have been recently cleaned. Many of the stones were hand carved. (photo snapped on January 24, 2023)|
|Judge or "Judgy" died before his first birthday. Someone hand-carved his name into the tombstone.|
|The census taker marked out Judge's name to indicate that he was deceased. I had never encountered this before but it was a common practice used at the time. |
Rufus Hammons (1862-1945), the oldest son of William and Delphey Hammons, lived all but ten years of his life on Good Avenue in Irvington. At the age of 34 years old in 1896, he made history when he became the first African-American to run for political office from the neighborhood. In the mid to late 1890s, a group of Irvington men tried to purge "party politics" from the town offices. Irvington had not yet been annexed by the city of Indianapolis so the community still elected trustee, clerk, and marshal positions. Not everyone in the neighborhood went along with the plan including many in the Republican Party. Mr. Hammons won the nomination to serve as the Republican candidate for Town Marshal against Samuel Smith, who aligned with the non-party faction. In the late 1890s, the Republican party was still known as the party of Lincoln and most African-American men in the nation supported Republicans on the ballot. For Rufus Hammons it must have been an incredible milestone in his life as he had been born into slavery.
When the votes were counted, Samuel Smith soundly defeated Rufus Hammons 178 to 90. Even though Mr. Hammons lost the election, numerous white people in the community still voted for him. He made history on that day. He went on to remain active in organizations throughout his life. He was a leader in the Frederick Douglas Lodge No. 7 of the Knights of Pythias. The black-owned Indianapolis Recorder noted meetings and celebrations held at his Good Avenue home. On August 20, 1903, he hosted a lawn fete complete with a brass band. Admission to the event was free. He and his wife, Susie, raised their children in Irvington and attended the nearby First Baptist Church. His father and mother lived next door at 240 Good Avenue for many years. He earned his living working at the Layman & Carey Hardware Store. Some of his children went on to remain actively involved in Irvington as well.
In 1929 and the age of 57, Rufus Hammons told the journalist Elizabeth Carlyle, as he stood next to his bicycle, "I can turn a summersault backwards today." He had been a gifted athlete and acrobat in his younger days. He even auditioned for the P.T. Barnum Circus as a young man. When she inquired why he preferred riding his bike he told her, "I've walked, rode stage coaches, mule cars, dummies, battery storage cars, trollies and automobiles, but people are traveling too fast today to suit me." He lived until he was 82 years and died at his home on Good Avenue in 1945.
|A Baist map shows Good Avenue north of Dewey Avenue and south of Bonna Avenue in 1908. You will note that the First Baptist Church had not yet built their new structure on the block yet. That happened in 1910. (IUPUI Digital Collections) |
I wish to thank James Robinson, Anne Hardwick, and Steve Barnett for their help with this post. We would love to know more about this talented family. If you are a descendant, drop me an email at email@example.com.
Sources: William Hammons--Grace Julian Clarke, "Geometrical Flower Beds of Olden Times Recalled," Indianapolis Star, November 1, 1925, 65; 1880 Federal Census; William and Rufus Hammons--Elizabeth Carlyle, "Son of Slaves, Resident Here 57 Years, Still Good Acrobat," Indianapolis Star, June 21, 1929, 72; Rufus Hammons--Election of 1896-"At Irvington," Indianapolis Journal, May 5, 1896, 8; Knights of Pythias--"Notice," Indianapolis Recorder, August 15, 1903; Obituary--"Hammons Burial Friday," Indianapolis News, January 14, 1945, 34.