Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Book Recommendation

      If you are looking for a great book to read that involves an Irvington family, then I can absolutely recommend Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic by David Howard. This true story centers around the Shotwell family, who first moved to Irvington in 1892.  Charles A. Shotwell and his wife, Clara, lived at both 104 Johnson Avenue and later at 55 South Downey Avenue. Mr. Shotwell worked for the Board of Trade in downtown Indianapolis. As a young man, he purchased a looted historic document from an Ohio Civil War veteran. As Sherman's army marched to the sea, members of his regiments stole many artifacts including North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights. The early founders of the Republic commissioned one copy per colony and one for the federal government. Charles Shotwell purchased an original copy of the Bill of Rights.

     David Howard takes us on a journey from Irvington to California to Broad Ripple and to the East Coast. The book reads like a thriller and I could not put it down. What happened to that original Bill of Rights? I will not spoil the story. You can find Mr. Howard's book online or at the Indianapolis Public Library. While Mr. Shotwell primarily displayed the Bill of Rights at his downtown office, the document was also likely stored in the two houses featured below. 

The Shotwells moved to Irvington in 1892 and lived in this house at 104 Johnson Avenue as early as 1900. (photo snapped in the spring of 2024)

Charles and Clara Shotwell moved from their Johnson Avenue home to this American Foursquare located at 55 South Downey Avenue. (photo snapped in the spring of 2024)

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Historic Horner House Visible in Shimer Family Photos

      The Horner House located at 410 South Emerson Avenue has intrigued residents for years primarily because of its condition. No one has lived in the Second Empire residence for many decades and it has deteriorated rapidly over time. Built in 1875 as part of the Downey and Brouse Addition to Irvington, Abraham and Emma Horner were the first people to live in the home although they did not stay for long. The land upon which the house was built used to belong to the Shimer family. One Shimer descendant, Nelson and his wife Mila Murphy Shimer, also lived in the Downey and Brouse Addition at 422 South Emerson Avenue. Shimer children and grandchildren grew up next door to the grand old house and it appeared in many of their family photos in the early twentieth century. 

     Steve Barnett, the Director of the Irvington Historical Society, discovered that numerous people owned or leased the house after the Horners including the Shoemakers, Turrills, Thompsons, Risleys, Sloughs, Fleeces, Terrills, McMillans, and Minors. In the mid-twentieth century the residence served as a VFW post and was carved into several apartments. Agnes M'Culloch Hanna wrote about the elegance of the home in a 1932 Indianapolis Star article. She noted the tower and the narrow spiral walnut staircase. 

     While families moved in and out of the beautiful brick home, the Shimers who lived next door, however, remained. In the photos below, various members of their family can be seen with the Horner House in the distance. Most likely, either the Fleece or Terrill family would have lived in the grand old brick house at that time in history.  At some point in the early twentieth century, someone painted over the brick and added a more modern front porch. 

An older woman who might be Mila Murphy Shimer (left) chatted with either Francis Fleece or Mary Terrill. The young girl might be Lula Mae Shimer. The photo was likely taken c1915. Behind the women you can see the Horner House at 410 South Emerson Avenue. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Elizabeth Shimer c1910; Behind her you can see the Horner House at 410 South Emerson Avenue. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Thomas Shimer, Sr. of 422 South Emerson Avenue, posed in the family yard c1918. Behind him you can see the Horner House at 410 South Emerson Avenue. An abstract for the Horner property reveals that it was built by New Albany contractors, John F. and Henry M. Cooper. Steve Barnett believes that there is a strong possibility that George Cooper might have been the architect. If you look closely, you can see some ornamental ironwork atop the tower. The Irvington Historical Society located at 5350 University Avenue has some of the iron work on display in a case. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Elizabeth Shimer of 422 South Emerson Avenue with her bobbed hair posed near the Horner House at 410 South Emerson Avenue c1922 (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Alfred H. Johnson, the husband of Clara Belle Shimer Johnson, parked his vehicle along the Shimer driveway at 422 South Emerson Avenue c1925. Behind him you can see the Horner House at 410 South Emerson Avenue. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

     From 2011 to 2016, Amanda Browning, who owned the Horner House at the time, wrote an amazing blog on the story of the residence. You can see incredible interior and exterior photos along with historic images on her site. Her mother, Mary Williams, also contributed to the blog. 

Horner House Project

Special thanks to Steve Barnett, Amanda Browning, Anne Hardwick, Ron Huggler, and Chris Shimer

Sources:  Steve Barnett, "410 South Emerson--Horner House," Unpublished history of the home, Irvington Historical Society; Agnes M'Culloch Hanna, "Old Houses With Towers Examples of Dignified Style of Architecture," Indianapolis Star, February 14, 1932; Amanda Browning, "Horner House Project," Blog, 2011-2016; Indianapolis City Directories; Federal Census Records. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Ladies Gathered on Former Church Steps

      In 1909, the Presbyterians of Irvington worshipped in their newly-constructed brick church located at the intersection of Johnson and Julian Avenues. The congregation eventually outgrew the structure and erected a Gothic-inspired building in 1928. Long before that, however, a group of smartly-dressed young women gathered on the steps for a group photo. We do not know the names of the young ladies, but the image came from the Shimer family. The shadow of the leafless tree on the church indicates that this might have been an Easter Day c1918. 

Young ladies posed on the steps of the Irvington Presbyterian Church c1918. (Courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Emerson Avenue Home Then and Now

      Little has changed over the decades of the home located at 246 South Emerson Avenue. Likely built around 1909, the first residents were Willis and Alfretta (Etta) Porter along with their son, Cap Harold and Myrtle.  The 1910 and 1920 Federal Census records indicated that Mr. Porter worked as a pressman for a local printer. The couple also appeared to have rented a room to a married Butler University couple, Elvin and Alice Daniels. The pair had a short commute to classes as Butler was just across the street from the Porter home. At some point, a member of the Shimer family, who lived a couple of houses away, snapped two images of the relatively-new home sometime around 1915. The Porters would easily recognize their former home today. 

246 South Emerson Avenue c1915 (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

246 South Emerson along with the neighboring houses c1915 (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

246 South Emerson Avenue in the winter of 2024. 

Information for this post came from Indianapolis city directories, federal census records. Regarding the Daniels family: Tipton Daily Tribune, February 3, 1914, 6. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

John T. Mahorney: Political Candidate, Businessman, Writer, and Inventor

      Over the past several years, a few local historians have been researching Gertrude Mahorney, the first African-American in the state of Indiana to graduate from an Indiana college. She made state-wide news in 1887 when she received her diploma from Butler University and again two years later when she earned her Masters Degree. She later taught German in the public schools. She now has a Wikipedia page. (see below) But how did Gertrude achieve this opportunity? The answer can be partially found in her talented family. 

John T. Mahorney Married Ann Gray in Chicago

     The Chicago Tribune reported that Saturday, July 23, 1859, was a sunny day with a high of near 80 degrees. It would be a perfect Saturday for a wedding. Sometime on that date, Ann Gray, whose father, Jared Gray, operated a highly successful wig-making business, married John T. Mahorney, a bricklayer, from Chambersburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was 19 and he was 29. For the next several decades, the couple built a business, raised a family, and traveled together throughout the United States and to the British Isles. Eventually, they settled in Irvington. 

A Successful Wig-Making Business

     Although he had been apprenticed as a brick mason, John T. Mahorney moved into the Gray family business of manufacturing wigs and toupees. Mrs. Mahorney joined in on the business adventure. Within a few years, the couple was ready to strike out on their own. By 1862 the couple had opened a shop in downtown Indianapolis on Illinois Street near the popular Bates Hotel. Ads placed in local Indianapolis newspapers indicated that the couple manufactured wigs and toupees along with other nineteenth-century hair pieces like poufs, braids, curls, and frizzles. They also opened another business selling the same products in Leavenworth, Kansas. The expansion of their base of operations took place during the middle of the Civil War. If they were not busy enough, John and Ann welcomed their first child to live into adulthood, Gertrude, in the early 1860s. They resided in a cottage at 235 Blake Street near the White River in Indianapolis. 

John T. Mahorney advertised his business in both newspapers and city directories. This ad appeared in Buell and Williams' Indianapolis City Directory and Business Mirror for 1864.

The earliest known ad thus far for J.T. Mahorney's wig and toupee business appeared in the Indianapolis Daily Journal, July 19, 1862, 3.

John T. Mahorney and Senators Charles Sumner and Hiram Revels

     After the Civil War, the Mahorneys continued to expand their hair product business. John T. Mahorney gravitated towards politics. In 1870, he corresponded with Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Mr. Mahorney likely admired the Senator's strong abolitionist views along with his stance on Civil Rights. On June 2, 1870, he sat down in his Blake Street home and penned a letter to the famed Senator.

     Honorable Chas. Sumner, Sir

     Allow me to congratulate you upon the bill called "Supplemental Civil Rights Bill" it is just what we want. May success attend your efforts, and the Prayers of the People go up for you and the cause you advocate. I have the honor to be your obedient servant. 

J.T. Mahorney

PS Senator Revels is an intimate friend of mine. J.T. Mahorney

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts (Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress)

A letter from John T. Mahorney is now housed at Harvard University in the papers of Charles Sumner. (Courtesy of the Houghton Library at Harvard University)

John T. Mahorney mentioned to Charles Sumner that he knew Senator Hiram Revels, a newly-elected Senator from Mississippi in 1870 (Courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University) 

     Hiram Revels was the first black senator to be elected in the United States. During Reconstruction, many African-Americans were elected to both federal and state offices although that window closed once the Reconstruction-era ended. Mr. Mahorney may have known Revels from his work in Leavenworth, Kansas as the Reverend Hiram Revels also served as a minister in that community. There were also Revels family members living in Indianapolis. We do not have Senator Sumner's response to John T. Mahorney, but later Mr. Mahorney penned a biography of the Senator. No copy of that book has been found, but Harvard University, where the Charles Sumner papers are housed, contains the above letter from John T. Mahorney.

Hiram Revels was the first African-American to serve in Congress. John T. Mahorney and he likely crossed paths in Leavenworth, Kansas in the 1860s as both men had ties to that city at the same time. (photo courtesy of Levi-Corbin-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress)

     The following year, John and Ann Mahorney welcomed a baby boy they named John Joseph Mahorney. He, along with his older sister Gertrude, would be the only children to survive into adulthood. 

A Turn into Politics 

     As early as 1866, John T. Mahorney attended various conventions and frequently spoke at these events. In November of that year, he was elected the corresponding secretary of the Colored Men's Convention of Indiana. Two years later, he sponsored at least two resolutions at another convention held in Masonic Hall in Indianapolis. In one resolution, he called the members to thank the recently-departed US Representative Thaddeus Stevens for his support of equal rights among all people. He also proposed a resolution honoring Senator Benjamin F. Randolph, a newly-elected black Senator from South Carolina, who had been assassinated. Both resolutions passed at the convention.

     Two major laws propelled John T. Mahorney into action. The first was the ratification of the 15th Amendment, giving African American men the right to vote, initially passed by Congress in 1869, and ratified by the country in 1870. On May 26, 1870, a group of African-Americans invited John Mahorney to participate in a reading of the new Amendment in Princeton, Indiana. In a "clear voice," he read President Grant's proclamation and the 15th Amendment. Brass bands, a parade, and picnic created a celebratory atmosphere. On August 25, he spoke for over an hour about the 15th Amendment to people in Lebanon, Indiana and on September 11, he and J.S. Hinton spoke to Black Republicans in Thorntown, Indiana. 

     The second law was closer to home. In 1869, the Indiana legislature, with the Common School Act, mandated that local school districts provide education for African-American children. Throughout his life, education had been near to Mr. Mahorney's heart. He made sure that his own family received a proper schooling in local institutions and later with college degrees. So, in August of 1869, the Colored Baptist Association of Indiana passed a resolution asking John T. Mahorney, J.S. Hinton, and I. M. Williams to travel around the state to educate local African-Americans about getting their children into the local schools.  In 1871, he attended another black convention this time in New Orleans. He authored a resolution calling for the education of ALL children from the ages of 7 to 15. His motion passed. Many people throughout the state of Indiana and the nation knew John T. Mahorney's name, and then he did something very surprising. 

A New Democrat

     After the Civil War most African American men who could vote either joined or supported the Republican party. The Democratic party became the party of oppression especially in the southern United States during the Reconstruction era. Horrible violence against African-Americans ran unchecked and often had the support of southern Democrats. Jim Crow laws had already started to emerge and would only get worse as the decade wore on. So, it likely came as a shock to his friends and associates when John T. Mahorney announced in 1872 that he was supporting Horace Greeley, a former Republican and now Democrat, for President of the United States against the re-election of Ulysses S. Grant. Just one year earlier, he had been part of a delegation that welcomed President Grant into the city of Indianapolis. He had given speeches about Lincoln, but in July of 1872 the members of the Greeley-Brown Club elected him as one of the Vice Presidents. His decision to join with Democrats did not go down well. Besides being physically assaulted, someone threw bricks through the windows of his Blake Street home. Perhaps some thought that he would return to the Republican party; however, he remained a Democrat for the rest of his life. His decision hurt his reputation but also helped his career.

     The 1870 Federal Census noted that the Mahorneys earned a comfortable living in the wig-making business and that they also owned real estate. At some point they shuttered the operation in both Indianapolis and in Leavenworth. With his involvement in the Democratic party, John T. Mahorney received job opportunities. In 1874, local Democrats appointed him as the turnkey at the city jail. Later, he would be employed as the watchman for the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. In the 1880s, he would be appointed as one of three library commissioners.

     His rift with fellow black Republicans did not stop him from participating in a local commemoration of Senator Charles Sumner in 1874. He also participated in a protest with fellow Black Masons, who were upset with Lawrence Township officials in Marion County who refused to allow a black family into their school system in the same year. However, the good will soon ended as Mahorney participated in a debate on June 24, 1877, with a "Mr. Taylor" in Masonic Hall as to whether African-Americans should join the Democratic Party. One person who attended that night, P.W.H. Johnson was so outraged that he penned a letter to the Indianapolis News reminding black people that the Democratic party had done nothing to help African-Americans. The white Republican media was not much kinder to him as they frequently used racist language and sometimes called him "O'Mahorney." 

In 1874, John T. Mahorney was appointed as the "turnkey" at the city jail in Indianapolis. It is possible that he is in this 1874 image of the Indianapolis police department, but we can't be sure. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Pearsey) 

The Mahorneys Travel to the British Isles 

     In August of 1877, the Mahorney family applied for travel documents to sail to Great Britain. It was the trip of a lifetime. The application described 47-year-old John T. Mahorney as 5'9" with a broad forehead, straight nose, brown complexion, and a small mouth with a mustache. His chin was round with a gray and brown goatee. Incredibly the Mahorneys would be gone for four months. They lived in London's East End. They toured historic sites including the Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral. They attended plays and visited both Ireland and Wales. For young Gertrude and John Joseph, the trip must have been fascinating. Mrs. Mahorney became so enamored with the journey that she wrote an unpublished account of the event called Our Rambles in London. It also appears that Mr. Mahorney was there on business as he had invented a new kind of switching frog to be used for railroads. His invention did not appear to get any takers. In December, the family boarded the R.M.S. China at Liverpool and sailed home. Their travels were covered in the Indianapolis News. 

A Stereoscopic view of the Tower of London in 1877 (public domain)

The Mahorneys Move to Irvington

     We do not know the exact moment that the family located to Irvington, but they might have been in the town as early as 1878. They were clearly in the community by 1880 as the Federal Census from that year lists them living near the Strawns and Tibbots. Unfortunately, the census from that year does not enumerate households by address and Indianapolis city directories did not bother with addresses, but merely placed an "I" next to Irvington families well into the 1890s. We do know that Gertrude Mahorney later possessed a lot in Chamber's First Subdivision which could have placed the family near the intersection of East Michigan Street and North Bolton, but we are not sure. 

     The Mahorneys wrote that they moved to the neighborhood so that their children could obtain an excellent education. They also expected both kids to attend Butler University. Both Gertrude and John Joseph excelled in school. Gertrude became the first black collegiate graduate in the state of Indiana. She later taught German in both Indianapolis and Rockville, Indiana. Her brother, John Joseph, majored in engineering and math. During his senior year in 1889 at Butler, he faced an ugly moment. He was named one of the presidents of the Mathesian Literary Society along with other seniors. Two Kentuckians in the club objected and demanded that he resign. Their families had enslaved people prior to the Civil War. The other members of the society refused to bow to the demands of the southerners and the two young men not only left the club, but they also dropped out of the college. 

John and Ann Gray Mahorney moved to Irvington in the late 1870s so that their children, Gertrude and John Joseph, could attend Butler University. 

Gertrude Mahorney was the first African-American to graduate from college in Indiana. You can read more about her in the link at the end of this post. (Photo courtesy of Butler University and the Irvington Historical Society)

The Final Years

     While living in Irvington, John Mahorney attempted to run for political office. In the summer of 1878 he traveled around the state giving speeches on behalf of the Indiana Democratic party; however he appears to have not been nominated for any office. He kept his job as watchman at the Deaf and Dumb Institute and remained in demand as a political speaker. In 1882, the Muncie Morning News reported on his speech and referred to him as a "talented colored orator." The Indianapolis News, whose writers had been extraordinarily hard on Mahorney since his conversion to the Democratic party, opined that he was "not an orator and not talented."

     In 1884, John T. Mahorney traveled to Louisville to participate in the Colored Men's Convention. The keynote speaker was the beloved black orator and Civil Rights champion, Frederick Douglass. With his shock of white hair, Douglass spoke firmly to the assembled crowd. He despaired over the fact that there were black Democrats present. He reminded the audience that they were stronger together. Was he speaking to John Mahorney? Three years later, Mahorney penned a letter to the Indianapolis News blasting Douglass for his critique of Europeans who participated in minstrels. Douglass spent much of 1887 abroad and had despaired seeing white people portray racist caricatures. The Washington Bee in the nation's capital also published Mahorney's rebuke so it is possible that the great orator read the letter. 

     Tuberculosis, known as consumption in the late nineteenth century, killed thousands of Americans each year. In 1890, John T. Mahorney started to have "lung trouble." He struggled for months and passed away in his Irvington home on June 24. He had lived long enough to see both of his children graduate from college. His death was reported all over the state of Indiana. The Shelbyville Democrat recorded that he "was a man of more than ordinary intelligence, a fine speaker, and well-informed of the great questions of the day." The Evansville Journal opined that he "was formerly a Republican, but we notice that since he changed his politics, a curse seems to have followed him." The Indianapolis News referred to his intelligence and integrity. They noted that he "had advanced notions about education." They also referred to him as "erratic" and a "reader." He was not a man who could be easily classified. 

     His son, John Joseph Mahorney, followed him to the grave in 1892 after an appendicitis attack. Ann and Gertrude moved out of Irvington around this time and relocated to the near west side of Indianapolis. The two traveled together and lived briefly in other towns while Gertrude taught in various schools. Mrs. Mahorney died in the autumn of 1904. More scholarship is needed on her as she also contributed to this highly successful family.  As of this writing, we do not know what became of Gertrude Mahorney after 1915. She seems to have vanished into the records. 

     I wish to thank Anne Hardwick, Don Flick, Steve Barnett, and Marvin Mason for their assistance with this story.

Gertrude Mahorney


Politics--Colored Men's Conventions--"Convention," Indianapolis Daily Journal, November 12, 1866, 8; "Colored Men's State Convention," Indianapolis Journal, December 31, 1868; 15th Amendment--"Ratification," Evansville Daily Journal, September 11, 1870, 8; Lebanon and Thorntown--Indianapolis Journal, August 26, 1870, 8; Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1870, 8; Schools--"Colored Baptist Association," Indianapolis Journal, August 31, 1868, 4; "The Colored Convention," New Orleans Republican, October 1, 1871, 2; Democrat--Grant in Indpls-"Grant!" Indianapolis People, April 23, 1871, 10; Assault--Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1872; Greeley Club--Indianapolis News,  July 30, 1872; Bricks in house--Indianapolis News, August 17, 1872;  Appointments--Indianapolis News, May 19, 1874; Indianapolis City Directories; Debate in Masonic Hall--Indianapolis News, June 24, 1877; Racist press coverage--Indianapolis News, September 4, 1876) Travel to England--United States of American, Native Citizen form; "Additional City News," Indianapolis News, November 2, 1877; Indianapolis News, December 17, 1877, 3;  Mrs. Mahorney's travel writing--Anne E. Mahorney, "John T. Mahorney," Western Association of Writers, 1891, 232; Move to Irvington--Mathesian Society--"Civil Rights in College," Indianapolis News, June 15, 1889; Student papers--"Great Times at Butler," Indianapolis News, June 14, 1889, 4; Butler Collegian, June 1, 1889, 19. Final Years, Run for Office--"Pioneering Black Democrat," Indianapolis News, August 8, 1878, 4; "Political Notes," Indianapolis People, September 7, 1878; Indianapolis News, August 19, 1878, 3; Indianapolis News, September 24, 1878; Muncie Morning News, October 26, 1882, 1; Indianapolis News, October 26, 1882, 2; Louisville Convention, 1884--David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, New York, 2018, 643-645; Columbus Herald (IN), October 24, 1884, 8; Letter to Editor--"Race Prejudice From Abroad," The Washington Bee, February 5, 1887, 1; Obituaries--Shelbyville Democrat (IN), June 25, 1890, 4; Evansville Journal, June 29, 1890, 2; "The Death of John T. Mahorney," Indianapolis News, June 25, 1890, 2; Obituary for Mrs. Mahorney-Indianapolis News, October 12, 1904

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Who Lived Here? The Schoenholtz Family

      John Jacob Schoenholtz and his wife, Alma Glore Schoenholtz, moved into their beautiful Arts-and-Crafts-era home at 240 South Emerson Avenue in 1911 and remained for decades. Mr. Schoenholtz immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1897 along with his family when he was fifteen years old. The talented young man graduated from Purdue University in 1901 with a degree in chemistry. Two years later, he founded the Indiana Chemical Company. In 1906, he married Alma Glore of Rushville, Indiana. 

     The couple's new home on the southwest corner of Emerson and University Avenues was ideally situated across from Butler College (later University). In 1915, they took out a building permit for a garage. It appeared that their lives were going smoothly and then World War I broke out.

      Anti-German feelings swept the nation and was especially strong in Indiana after the Americans joined the side of the British and French. Some schools outlawed the teaching of German and one Indiana town changed its name from East Germantown to Pershing. In 1917, many local newspapers published the names of Germans, who were not citizens. Local Germans were ordered to be photographed and fingerprinted by local police departments as they were all considered as "enemy aliens." 

     John Jacob Schoenholtz, who had come to his country with his parents, was published on one of those lists in the Indianapolis Star. He was so mortified that he purchased an ad in the Indianapolis Star on December 9, 1917, announcing his loyalty to the United States. He at least had the money to purchase an ad as most Germans living in the United States had to live under a cloud of suspicion. 

     At some point while the couple resided in the house, a member of the Shimer family took a couple of photographs of the Schoenholtz house likely before World War I. Mr. Schoenholtz died in 1956 while Mrs. Schoenholtz passed away in 1969. Both lived most of their lives on that particular corner in Irvington. 

John Jacob Schoenholtz graduated from Purdue University in 1901 with a degree in chemistry. 

Alma Glore Schoenholtz grew up in Rushville, Indiana and married John Jacob Schoenholtz in 1906. She was an active Irvington club woman. Her photo appeared in the Indianapolis Star on September 1, 1929.

John Jacob Schoenholtz published his loyalty to the United States in the Indianapolis Star on December 9, 1917. He was one of many German residents of the city who had been placed on an "enemy alien" list. 

Ralph Shimer and his beloved dog posed in front of 240 South Emerson Avenue c1911. John and Alma Schoenholtz resided in the house at the time. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Members of the Shimer family posed in the side yard of their home at 230 South Emerson Avenue. We believe that the older gentleman seated in a chair on the left might be Charles O. Shimer. We do not know the name of the younger man seated in the chair. The boy seated on the ground was Ralph Shimer. Behind the men, you can see the Schoenholtz home at 240 South Emerson Avenue c1912. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

240 South Emerson Avenue on January 16, 2024

Sources:  Polk's Indianapolis City Directories; Garage Building Permit--Indianapolis News, September 28, 1915; World War One--"729 Registered Here as Aliens," Indianapolis Star, February 7, 1918, 2; Mr. Schoenholtz obituary--"Chemical Firm Founder is Dead," Indianapolis News, August 4, 1956, 22

Monday, January 1, 2024

Many Changes to Emerson Avenue Home Over the Years

      In the spring of 1903, Charles O. and Jessie Pearl Shimer sold several lots on Auvergne Avenue in southwestern Irvington for $5000. Mr. Shimer grew up on land nearby along Brookville Road. The couple then purchased lots 3 and 4 on the northwest corner of South Emerson and University Avenues from Dr. Richard Stone for $1,210. It is unclear if the Queen Anne cottage was already on the lot or if the Shimers had it built. Dr. Stone, whose address was on Alabama Street, operated out of an office at 222 South Emerson Avenue. The Shimers had a fantastic view of the Butler campus across the street. Mr. Shimer worked as a postal clerk for the Railway Mail Service. An article in the Indianapolis News in 1905 noted that he received a pay raise and earned $1000 a year. 

     The Shimers had two children, Edna Rae and William Ralph. It appears that both kids went by their middle name like their mother. The city of Indianapolis had already annexed Irvington by 1903 so the Shimers were likely hoping for improvements along Emerson Avenue. In the summer of 1906, the city awarded a contract to brick Emerson Avenue. Street workers began the process, but something happened and for over one year no one could get up or down the street. Frustrated residents who could not get their fuel or groceries delivered met at the Shimer home on July 5, 1907, to plan a course of action. The city eventually got its act together and finished the street. 

    Both Charles and his son, Ralph, witnessed two separate tragedies while living in the cottage. On the night of October 3, 1913, Charles Shimer noticed a light on at Dr. Richard F. Stone's office next door at 222 South Emerson Avenue. The Shimers had purchased the land for their home from Dr. Stone. Charles looked into the window and could see Dr. Stone's lifeless body on the floor. He summoned another neighbor, Joseph Ostrander, who lived at 216 South Emerson Avenue, to help pry open a window. The men were overcome by gas fumes and nearly passed out. Authorities who arrived on the scene could not save the elderly physician. A debate then ensued in the local press. Some thought that because the doctor had received some bad health and financial news that he deliberately turned on the gas to commit suicide, but his family maintained that he likely left the gas on as he was cooking his dinner. The doctor's office had four rooms and he sometimes spent the night there instead of at his Alabama Street home. We shall never know the truth. 

     Two years later, seventeen-year-old Ralph Shimer along with his cousin Thomas Shimer, and their friend Richard Rubush were hanging out along a fence row near the intersection of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Downey Avenue. While they were there, a slow moving freight train passed along one of the tracks. Ralph happened to notice Butler University student, Harold Howe Higbee, pacing along the train. Then, much to his surprise, he saw Higbee deliberately dive under the fourth car. The young man instantly died. Ralph testified to what he saw to authorities. Once again a debate emerged. Did Harold Higbee commit suicide? The general consensus from most people at the time was that he was trying to cross under the slow-moving train and made a costly error. 

     During the decades that the Shimers resided in the home, they did make some changes. In the autumn of 1915, the Shimers took out a building permit for a garage and they would need it as they purchased a Hudson Super-Six one year later. An ad in the Indianapolis News that year listed several people who purchased the same car in the city including the well-known author, Booth Tarkington. In the summer of 1921, the Shimers took out a building permit for an addition to the home. They may have also added the wrap-around porch at this time as well. 

     Mrs. Shimer died in 1934. Mr. Shimer lived another nine years before passing away in 1943. Their children sold the house to Lee Roy and Velma Smith. The Smiths dramatically altered the residence as Mr. Smith worked for the Stonekote Company. He placed ads in the local newspapers touting the veneer product and he completely sheathed the older home with the product. The house reflects the Smith era, but the photographs below show what the home used to look like prior to the remodeling. 

Edna Rae and William Ralph Shimer along with a family dog posed on the front porch of 230 South Emerson Avenue c1915 after a significant snowstorm. Both children went by their middle names. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

The Shimer home at 230 South Emerson Avenue, c1915, sat across the street from Butler University. The empty lot next door was not developed until the spring of 1925 when Frederick Mertz built the double at 224-226 South Emerson Avenue. (Indianapolis Times, April 21, 1925, 11) The small structure in the photograph served as a doctor's office for Richard Stone at 222 South Emerson Avenue. You can also see the two-story home at 218 South Emerson Avenue. 

Ralph Shimer c1910 standing in the backyard of 230 South Emerson Avenue (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer) 

Edna Rae Shimer posed with two other young women c1915 at 230 South Emerson Avenue. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

Edna Rae, William Ralph, and Jessie Pearl Shimer c1910 at 230 South Emerson Avenue. (photo courtesy of Chris Shimer)

On April 12, 1940, a member of the Shimer family snapped an image of 230 South Emerson Avenue after a spring snowstorm. You can see that the porch had been changed and that the double at 224-226 South Emerson Avenue had been constructed on the formerly empty lot. The Shimers witnessed many changes along the street including the closing of Butler University and the redevelopment of the site. 

Lee Roy Smith worked for the Stonekote Corporation out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He clad 230 South Emerson Avenue in the veneer "stone" material. (Indianapolis Star, April 3, 1949)

Google Streetview of 230 South Emerson Avenue with the veneer "stone-like" material on the home. (August, 2019) 

     I wish to thank Chris Shimer and Anne Hardwick for their help with this post. 

Sources:  Land sales and purchases--Indiana Tribune, May 22, 1903, 4 and May 28, 1904, 4; Obituary for Jessie Pearl Shimer--Indianapolis Star, May 31, 1934, 3; Obituary for Charles O. Shimer--Indianapolis News, September 25, 1943, 9; Charles Shimer pay raise--Indianapolis News, July 24, 1905, 7; Emerson Avenue problems--Emerson Avenue Meeting," Indianapolis News, July 3, 1907, 5; Dr. Richard Stone death--"Doctor Dies in Gas-Filled Room," Indianapolis Star, October 4, 1913, 3; Building permits--Indianapolis Star, September 25, 1915 and Indianapolis Star, July 3, 1921, 26; Harold Howe Higbee Death--"Ralph Shimer Tells How Higbee Met Death," Indianapolis News, October 28, 1915, 3.