Month: January 2015

At Your Leisure: The Downfall of a Landmark

You won’t see any hotels advertising that “so-and-so died here.” When tragedies occur, though, the general public tends to have a long memory. Perhaps such distressing events contributed to the decline and eventual downfall of the Claypool Hotel. Beginning in 1943, a series of high-profile crimes and a large fire occurred in the hotel, casting a dark shadow over the massive property. The first incident took place on August 28th, 1943, during the height of World War II. Maoma L. Ridings, a 33-year-old woman from Warm Springs, Georgia, was serving in the Women’s Army Corps at Camp Atterbury, leaving that evening to travel to Indianapolis on...

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Indianapolis Collected: Paging Dr. Coe

Dr. Isaac Coe turned up unexpectedly in Oregon last month.  Not the actual Dr. Coe — he’s buried at Crown Hill cemetery — but an antique photograph of an even older portrait of the pioneer physician who helped save the citizens of Indianapolis during the great epidemic of 1821. I found Dr. Coe in the same place where I once ran into his good friend James Blake – on ebay.  Not the actual James Blake, of course, but a pencil sketch of the rustic house built by the man who deserves a fair share of credit for building our city.    If not...

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In the Park: Hawthorne Park

The Near Westside neighborhood is one of Indianapolis’s oldest and most well-established communities.  In its early days, it was largely a rural area, separated from the “big city” of Indianapolis by the White River.  After the arrival of the Big Four Railroad in the mid-1800s and the Indianapolis Belt Railway in the 1870s, family farms gave way to industry.  Foundries, mills, meat-packing plants, and other factories sprang up around the railroads.  Plentiful jobs initially attracted immigrants from across Europe, followed by migrants looking to escape the Jim Crow South. This working-class community saw many changes over the years, some good and some...

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At Your Leisure: Businesses That Called The Claypool “Home”

Today’s modern downtown convention hotels tend to be imposing structures. Often entrances are set back from the street, and sweeping porte-cochères cover guests as they step from their vehicles, almost directly into the lobby.  This was not the case with the Claypool Hotel. People walking down either Washington or Illinois Streets would hardly realize they were passing a 600-room hotel, as the ground floor featured numerous storefronts contributing to the active commerce of the day. Let’s look at some of the businesses that called The Claypool “home.” Looking at the 1905 Indianapolis City Directory, most of the businesses on the street level...

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Indianapolis Then and Now Revisited: The Empire Theatre, 126 Wabash Street

With at least three active burlesque troupes in Indianapolis, we seem to be in the midst of a burlesque revival. While the average person equates burlesque with strippers, the art form started in the late 17th century as a form of parody with humorous dramatic, musical, or literary works mocking and caricaturing more serious works. By the 1860s burlesque came to America and during the height of popularity (1890s through the 1940s) the popular performances were often presented in a variety show format in clubs and theaters. The shows featured bawdy humor, two-person acts, comedians, musical acts, and seductive dances and teases...

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HI Mailbag: Boulders Alongside Fall Creek

Reader’s Question: There once were two large boulders on the shore of Fall Creek, just west of College Avenue.  Bronze plaques were embedded in the boulders, commemorating two drowning victims.  Was there once a swimming beach at this location? ~ Jay H., Indianapolis   HI’s Answer: After checking old maps, early city directories, and historical newspaper archives, I could find no indication that a swimming beach ever existed on Fall Creek near College Avenue.  As that location is only a couple of miles from downtown, it was probably not far enough out in the country to have as much appeal as other more remote recreational...

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Sunday Adverts: Bank On It

A great little piece of advertising history: House-shaped coin bank form People’s State Bank, Indianapolis. The back says, “Prompt attention will be given mortgage applications.” The front says, “The Peoples State Bank Felix T. McWhirter, founder —  Indianapolis, Indiana.” (Item sold recently on eBay.) Do You Remember Peoples Bank? The oldest state bank in Indianapolis, Peoples Bank & Trust Company, was founded by a professor, businessman, and politician. They just happened to be the same man. Felix Tony McWhirter was born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 1853. McWhirter was a man of wide-ranging talents and ambitions. While attending East Tennessee Wesleyan University, he met Luella...

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At Your Leisure: A Look at Indy’s Grandest Hotel

The Claypool Hotel served as both a famous and an infamous landmark in Indianapolis history, from its construction in 1903 until it faced the wrecking ball in 1969. In the coming weeks, we will look at the development of the hotel, some of the businesses that called it home, and the ultimate demise of a structure so legendary that the name remains in the everyday vernacular of the citizens of Indianapolis. The northwest corner of Washington and Illinois Streets has been welcoming visitors since the early days of the city. The first large-scale hotel, Bates House, opened there in...

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Indianapolis Then and Now: The Other Benjamin Harrison House, 223 E. Vermont Street

Most everyone in Indianapolis is aware of the Benjamin Harrison’s Delaware Street home, known today as the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, but did you know that he once lived in the Lockerbie Neighborhood? Born into a prominent Virginia family (his grandfather William Henry Harrison served as president, albeit for only 30 days), young Benjamin Harrison was raised in North Bend in southwestern Ohio. After attending Farmer’s College in 1847 (where he first met his future wife Caroline Lavinia Scott, the daughter of a professor) and graduating from Miami University in 1852, he became a law apprentice in Cincinnati. The following...

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Penny Post: Mass Ave at Night

Postmarked: INDIANAPOLIS, IND. – AUG 1-, 1913 – 6-PM Message: 230 South Illinois St. Indianapolis, Ind Hello Everything fine. will write in a few days. Am going to stay a few days Orrine (?) L Addressed to: Mrs. Joe Watkins Britton, Mich Lenawee Co. A penny for your thoughts … Share your favorite Mass Ave. night scene with us on...

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Sunday Adverts: Haag Drugs

  If you’ve lived in Indiana long (and you’re older than 20) you likely have fond memories of the late Haag Drug Stores. Within our lifetime, Haag’s was your average drug store — the kind of place where you could get pills, potions and practical advice from the pharmacist who lived right down the street. What you probably didn’t realize, as you perused the aisles for acne creams and candy buttons, was how far back the company’s history went. Haag Drug Stores: A National Chain with Roots in Indianapolis The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis reveals that German-born brothers Louis and Julius Haag opened...

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In The Park: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park

On Monday, January 19, our nation will pause to commemorate the work of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Though Indianapolis is hundreds of miles from Montgomery, Alabama where Reverend King and his fellow Freedom Riders staged the first bus boycotts and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Circle City played a unique role in King’s story. On April 4, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy (New York) made a routine campaign stop in Indiana during his bid for the Democratic nomination.  Shortly before he was to address...

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At Your Leisure: Key West Shrimp House

The view driving down South Madison Avenue would never be mistaken for being particularly scenic. Acres of post-war housing yielded to many discount stores, payday loan outlets, and used car dealerships, and then, of course, a barnacle-encrusted steam ship that towers over the buildings surrounding it. Both out of place and still surprisingly at home, the building, situated just after Manual High School, was once one of the area’s top destination restaurants where land-locked Hoosiers satisfied cravings for treats from the sea for many years. The Key West Shrimp House is an iconic name in Indianapolis restaurant lore. Opened...

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Sunday Adverts: The Postcard From Nowhere

A “Postcard from Nowhere,” side one: found in Indianapolis Marion County Public Library Digital Indy Collection A Vintage Advertising Curiosity Researching old advertisements can bring on a serious case of the “WhatTheHecks!?” Take, for example, this early advertisement by the Indianapolis Polar Ice & Fuel Company, featuring illustrations of three buildings that bear no relation to the company… nor to ice… or fuel, and it doesn’t list the advertiser’s contact information. The designers left virtually no space for correspondence on the back, so though it is clearly labeled as such, it’s hardly a functional postcard. Trade cards and postal cards were...

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Indianapolis Then and Now Revisited: Brenneke Dancing Academy Building, 602-606 N. Illinois Street

During the Victorian era when many of Indianapolis’s social elite had ballrooms in their homes, the city’s most popular dance instructor was David B. Brenneke (1855-1918). The German native lived for over a decade in Evansville where he took business classes, but was brought to Indianapolis in 1882 due to the influence of Mrs. Horace Allen, wife of Dr. Allen who ran the National Surgical Institute. Brenneke’s first dancing class in Indianapolis was taught to fifty people in the ballroom of the Allen’s house at 1305 North Delaware Street [the Bates-McGowen-Allen house]. His genial personality won over the upper-class residents, and...

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Penny Post: Riverside Bathing Beach

Postmarked: INDIANAPOLIS, IND., FEB 1911 – 12:30 PM Message: Dear Annie – Rec’d card after you were home I guess. Why didn’t you call us up. I would have broken my neck to go to train any way. Was too busy to get to Zabels before Fri. Had business to attend to and it was always too late for a call when I was there & anyway I had no idea of your going home so soon. Have you been busy getting ready to get settled? Love  Laura Should like to hear demo you & Herman. How about the...

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HI Mailbag: Union Park Place

Reader’s Question:  Since moving into my home two years ago, I have occasionally heard the neighborhood referred to as Union Park Place.  It was my understanding when I bought the property that it was in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood.  Can you provide any information about Union Park Place and its relationship to Mapleton-Fall Creek?    ~ Keith B., Indianapolis      HI’s Answer:     I am pleased to inform you that you live in both Mapleton-Fall Creek and Union Park Place!  Mapleton-Fall Creek is the name of the neighborhood association that was founded by local residents in the 1960s to address the challenges that arose after many...

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Sunday Adverts: Geisendorff… Just Milling Around

This postcard, found recently on eBay, was from Geisendorff & Co. woolens factory, a 19th century manufacturer once located on the near-west side of downtown Indianapolis on land that is now the White River State Park. All that remains of this once-vibrant business: random ephemera like this postcard and remnants of a street bearing the name. In 1847 two brothers, Christian E. and George W. Geisendorff, took over an abandoned building once occupied by the Indianapolis Steam Mill Company. At that time the area was called “Cotton Town” and it was located on the canal. Woolen milling was not a promising...

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At Your Leisure: Ringing in the New Year

Another year has quickly found its way into the history books and we now greet 2015. As the clock struck midnight, Indianapolis celebrated the end of 2014 in great spirit with the inaugural outdoor celebration along Georgia Street. The evening featured live music, food trucks, a beer garden and an ”Indycar Drop” that replaced the more typical New Year’s Eve ball. But how did Indianapolis celebrate the new year in years past? The first New Year’s celebration in Indianapolis occurred in 1822. Descriptions paint a rather primitive picture of the young state capital, featuring a population of less than 2,000 people....

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