Thursday, December 31, 2009

Small town in the big city.

As an antidote to my previous, text-heavy post, I offer one that focuses almost entirely on images, looking at remnants of small towns and rural communities in Marion County that have long ago been engulfed by the continuous urbanization of the city of Indianapolis. I’m not the first to attempt this. Urban Indy has featured several excellent posts over the past few months where he ventured into small-town enclaves such as New Augusta, Acton, Lawrence, and West Newton. In this feature on other historic enclaves in Marion County, I have tried to avoid those that other blogs have featured, or those that seem to be the most widely known. Instead, I have scrutinized the ones that are the most obscure—those for which only a few vestiges of old buildings, a rail crossing, or some other telltale indicator remain. Therefore these photos won’t offer nearly as much great historic architecture as the posts at Urban Indy, but hopefully they will inform viewers how abundant these rich little corners really are.

Mars Hill

I’ll first begin on the southwest side, with one of the largest and better known enclaves, Mars Hill, centered around the intersection of Kentucky Avenue and Holt Road., with some of the best-maintained commercial structures visible in this hastily taken photo:
According to the timeline provided by The Polis Center, Mars Hill originated as a rural community that a group of Indianapolis businessmen platted and hoped to develop in 1911 into a thriving industrial suburb—a manufacturing center to rival Gary. Even as its population quickly swelled to over 500—then expanded again in the 1940s with the growth of the nearby Alison plant—it remained unincorporated until the 1970 Unigov initiative. Only at this point did the City hoped to improve what had long been a low- to working-class neighborhood through paved streets and fully functional water and sewage systems. Today, the neighborhood is poised in the heart of Indianapolis’ southwest industrial corridor. Close by are plenty of once-mighty properties with the archetypal Rottweilers behind chain link fences:

Mars Hill, though, remains predominantly residential, so that the surviving manufacturing centers are usually a 5 minute car drive away. Within Mars Hill, a handful of corner convenience stores are within walking distance (many vacant):

A number of churches survive in the neighborhood. At one point, Mars Hill was the hub of the city’s Romanian Baptist community.

It seems unlikely that Mars Hill will enjoy a revival any time soon; the employment base in the area has shrunk through deindustrialization. It’s a shame, because the tree canopy is often mature, and both Farnsworth and Troy Avenue (seen in photos above) could offer a viable commercial Main Street.

Some areas of Mars Hill show traces of residential abandonment, but by and large the neighborhood remains occupied. Below is one of the more picturesque blocks:


Only a half mile northwest of Mars Hill along Kentucky Avenue is the much smaller community of Maywood, which predominantly consists of a commercial intersection (at Tibbs Avenue and Maywood Road) and a cluster of houses surrounding it. Here’s the heart of this formerly rural hamlet looking to the northeast:

And here’s the same intersection looking to the southwest:

Unlike Mars Hill, Maywood shows no evidence of being tied to a railway. While it may have served as a bedroom community in the peak days of the interurban, it also could have been a larger agrarian settlement at one point, only to have lost most of its growth options through the establishment of the Rolls Royce plant to the north. A watering hole seems to survive:

The antique market appears to have been less successful:


This largely invisible community a bit north of Mars Hill, approximately centered around the intersection of Lynhurst Drive and Minnesota Street, most likely originated as a large farm plot owned by the Mickley family, perhaps centered around a depot when it evolved into a true settlement. While the railroad still survives, few if any older structures remain, outside of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Most of the homes appear to date from the 1940s and 1950s. It’s likely that the construction if Interstate 465 severed the neighborhood in half. A few older commercial buildings flush with the lot line remain, where the residential local streets meet Washington Street (Highway 40).


Lynhurst Drive remains one of the most prominent north-south arterial streets on the west side, but how did it get its name? The closest approximation of the Lynhurst neighborhood seems to center on the street’s intersection with Rockville Road and the residential community just south of it (and north of Mickleyville), around the area featured in the picture below:

Only a few older structures at that intersection give any hint of an older community.

For such a prominent street, the actual Lynhurst neighborhood is effectively buried. The stable working class area that ramifies from this intersection seems to date from the 1940s:

It directly abuts another small neighborhood called Garden City, for which even less information is available. (The photo above may technically fall into what residents of the area consider the Garden City neighborhood, but beyond this, I have so little information that I could not even begin to document anything with photographs.)


Far to the west of Lynhurst Drive, near the boundary of Marion County, sits a more plainly visible rural enclave, at the point where Washington Street (Highway 40) intersects Bridgeport Road. A few vestiges of an old rail stop remain, including the still operative post office:

The homes themselves evoke early 20th century farming cottages, but the hamlet of only five roads has sacrificed much of its rural character since the streets have been upgraded from local to collectors, accommodating high-speed traffic.

At the eastern edge of the Bridgeport enclave, along Washington Street, is an old public school that appears half vacated and shuttered. On this gray day at the end of December, however, it still had lights in the upper levels and cars were parked in the lot.

The Ryder truck in the background of the second picture suggests that some further loading and unloading was taking place. Perhaps the school authorities are vacating the remainder of the building. According to Google Street View, the property has looked this way for at least a few years, but it is unlikely the Bridgeport environs are going to be growing in population any time soon.


So little of this rural settlement remains that it is impossible to tell if it was ever an organized community. It sits approximately at the intersections of 30th Street, Kessler Boulevard North Drive, and Tibbs Avenue, stretching southward to Lafayette Road. The oldest visible institution is Cardinal Ritter High School and the adjacent St. Michael’s Church.

Most homes here appear to date from the 1950s. The one unquestionable reminder that Flackville was once an identifiable place (if never an incorporated town) is an old school, no doubt shuttered at least twenty years ago, that intermittently has enjoyed relatively recent incarnations as a bingo parlor, among other things.


This community has been erased, for all intents and purposes. What survives is Snacks Crossing Elementary School in Pike Township, at the intersection of Moller Road and 56th Street. About a half mile south, at Moller Road and 52nd Street, is a cluster of homes on broad lots that most likely is all that survives of Snacks.

In the background of this photo, through the trees to the right, is the discernible steeple of the community church, Bethel United Methodist—the closest evidence of any historic architecture in Snacks.

Its cemetery sits across the street from the church, visible on the left of the photo below, while a few more homes from what likely belongs to the Snacks community sit to the right.

Even the historic Bethel United Methodist has been vaguely subsumed by a contemporary alternative; the larger, modern church building sits in the foreground of this photo:

University Heights

The south side of Marion County doesn’t offer quite the array of old rural enclaves that the Westside boasts, but I have featured the classy streetcar suburb of Homecroft in an earlier post. And the Town of Southport is widely known as a separately incorporated enclave, surrounded by the City of Indianapolis. Other bloggers such has M. Heidelberger have documented the town far more capably than I can, but I haven’t seen much coverage of University Heights, the community immediately south of the University of Indianapolis, at Shelby Street, Hanna Avenue, and Madison Avenue, which bears all evidence of an old streetcar suburb. I could find little verifiable history on the neighborhood, but it appears to derive from an agreement between an early 20th century land developer who negotiated with the university’s trustees to establish a residential neighborhood of over 400 lots after donating land and money for the preliminary buildings.

Part of the University spreads south of Hanna Avenue, intermingling with homes nearby:

The point where the railroad crosses Hanna and Shelby simultaneously seems the suitable site for an interurban stop, with a few supporting commercial structures still in operation.

Though shellacked with white acrylic, the Little Shop of Horrors building undoubtedly dates from the time when University Heights was a distant suburban community.


Possibly as far from University Heights as one can get and still be in Marion County, the far northeastern community of Oaklandon retains a considerable number of old commercial buildings, at the intersection of Pendleton Pike and Oaklandon Road. Most of the heart of the community focuses on its intersection of Oaklandon Road with an old Conrail line. It is not a particularly obscure rural enclave, and it’s surrounded by suburbia to the north, east, and west.

The majority of this community appears very well-maintained and preserved—particularly remarkable considering it sacrificed any political autonomy it might have had, after 1970’s Unigov.

Bad weather and the encroaching dusk prevented me from taking more lingering photos.

The community organized itself enough to dedicate and build a pocket park at the foot of the old water tower.

This blurry Unitarian Universalist church is one of several in the area that reference Oaklandon in its name.

The small-town character dissolves rapidly into suburbia on the north side of the railroad tracks, though the heavily-skylighted structure in the background clearly dates from Oaklandon’s origins as an old rail stop.


My favorite of all of these old rural enclaves has to be Julietta, not because it’s visually remarkable but because it’s so obscure. It sits on the eastern edge of town, where Brookville Road (Highway 52) meets Carroll Road, the line between Marion and Hancock Counties. It consists of three streets, each only one block in length, and a railway crossing. Many of the houses are visibly turn-of-the-century.

According to the maps, the street beyond the tracks used to cross and meet with the road on which I am standing; now they form two separate dead ends.

Here’s looking at that same dead end from the perspective of the street itself, Nicolai Road:

Some of the older homes (there are less than a dozen) are impeccably maintained:

What appears to be an old chapel might seem abandoned, but the door on the front isn’t sealed, nor are the windows on the side:

It’s possible that Julietta at one point had more homes, but the ones closest to Brookville Road were razed to make way for this park:

The most provocative aspect of this community are the grounds of what I believe is the former Julietta Home for the Aged, a sprawling structure with a new name and use that seems positively Orwellian:

This concludes my report. Dig a little further and I’m sure there are other rural enclaves within Indianapolis worthy of photo documentation. Here are a few that come to mind:
Wanamaker – old village in the center of Franklin Township along Southeastern Avenue and Northeastern Avenue, it has all the makings of a rail stop without any evidence of a railway
Washington Place – not sure about this, but it could be another streetcar suburb on the east side of town at the intersection of Washington Street and Franklin Road, stretching eastward to Post Road. Much of the south side of Washington Street here has given way to suburban development
Castleton – it was a rail stop before it became a megamall
Nora – a few blocks of old rural homes survive; the rest has been converted to strip malls and the campus of North Central High School
Clermont – an “included town” since Unigov, it retains much of its identity and is widely known on the far west side
Sunshine Gardens – a rural outpost of broadly spaced homes at the intersection of Epler Avenue and Concord Street on the south side
Camby – another rural outpost at the intersection of Camby Road and Kentucky Avenue, widely known among people in Decatur Township

I’m sure I’m forgetting quite a few others and would be happy to take suggestions. Happy New Year!