HI Mailbag: Broad Ripple Cemetery

Written by on August 20, 2013 in Mailbag - 7 Comments
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Reader’s Question:

Can you confirm or debunk that there used to be a cemetery in Broad Ripple where the firehouse now is, on the northwest corner of Westfield and Guilford? I used to have a business in Broad Ripple and lived on Union Chapel Road, and it wasn’t lost on me during my walks in the cemetery that Mustard, Coil, and other Broad Ripple names appear on headstones there.  I had once heard or read that the bodies buried at the cemetery in Broad Ripple were disinterred and moved to the Union Chapel Cemetery, but I haven’t been able to confirm that online.   (A further detail of that story is that the structure just west of the firehouse — now a restaurant — was the cemetery caretaker’s house.)  ~ Regards,  Mark Finch, Indianapolis  

HI’s Answer: 

The parcel of land in Washington Township that would become the Town of Broad Ripple a decade-and-a-half later was purchased from the federal government by Jesse McKay and Jacob Colip. The land patent was issued by the United States of America on November 13, 1822.

1822 Land Patent issed to McKay and Colip for property in Township 16 Range 3 (document courtesy of Ancestry.com)

1822 Land Patent issued to McKay and Colip for the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 1 of Township 16 Range 3   (document courtesy of Ancestry.com)                                           CLICK TO ENLARGE

When construction of the Indiana Central Canal began in 1836, recent arrival Jacob Coil envisioned the benefits of settling near the commerce that would likely result from the traffic on the canal.  He also knew that the workers would be needing food, clothes, supplies, and other services while the canal was under construction.  Coil purchased some of McKay’s and Colip’s acreage near a wide section of the White River at which a shallow crossing was evidenced by the water that rippled over the rocks.

On April 20, 1837, Coil laid out 48 building lots west of the river and north of the canal.  He named the new community “Broad Ripple,” which was in reference to the ripples in the water of the nearby shallow river crossing.  On May 17, 1837, just four weeks after Coil laid out his Broad Ripple lots, brothers James A. and Adam R. Nelson plotted 32 lots south of the canal. They named their new settlement “Wellington,” in honor of the Duke of Wellington and his 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.

Map showing Broad Ripple lots north of the canal and Wellington lots south of the canal  CLICK TO ENLARGE

Map showing Broad Ripple lots north of the canal and Wellington lots south of the canal CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1836 — the year before Coil founded Broad Ripple and the Nelsons founded Wellington — another early Washington Township settler named Jacob Whitinger decided to open up his family’s cemetery to the broader community.  As a result of Jacob Whitinger’s decision, the 1822 Whitinger Family Cemetery was renamed Union Chapel Cemetery.  Many members of early Broad Ripple and Wellington families were buried in the Union Chapel Cemetery, and their descendants continue to be buried in UCC today.  The cemetery is located alongside the White River, just east of Keystone Avenue and just north of 80th Street.  Union Chapel Cemetery was the subject of a recent Historic Indianapolis article, which you can read here.

Entrance to the Union Chapel Cemetery near 80th Street and Keystone Avenue (photo courtesy of Union Chapel Cemetery website)

Entrance to the 191-year-old Union Chapel Cemetery, which is located at at 8306 Union Chapel Road, as it appears today     (photo courtesy of Union Chapel Cemetery website)

In 1851, less than a decade-and-a-half after the towns of Broad Ripple and Wellington were founded, as well as when Union Chapel Cemetery began burying the deceased residents of those settlements, one of the first churches in the area was built on the northwest corner of Hancock and Morgan Streets. That intersection today is the corner of East Westfield Boulevard and Guilford Avenue. The land for the church was donated by Jacob Coil, Jr., the son of Broad Ripple’s founder, who by mid-century had acquired property south of the canal and west of the Nelsons’ original Wellington lots. Money was raised for the materials to build the church by selling subscriptions. Local carpenters volunteered to build the structure. Over the years, the facility was used by a number of different Protestant denominations.  At times, the building also served as a community house.

The Union Church was built in 1851 on the northwest corner of what are now Westfield Boulevard and Guilford Avenue (photo courtesy of Alan Hague)

The Union Church was built in 1851 on the northwest corner of what is today Westfield Boulevard and Guilford Avenue      (photo courtesy of Alan Hague)

The 1898 Sanborn map shows a Volunteer Fire Department on the corner of East 63rd Street and Bellefontaine Avenue (now E. Westfield Boulevard and Guilford Avenue), as well as a wide drive between the building and the canal.  No cemetery is noted on the map.

1898 Sanborn map shows a Volunteer Fire Department on the property (map courtesy IUPUI Digital Library)

The 1898 Sanborn map shows a Volunteer Fire Department on the property at what was then 63rd Street and Bellefontaine     (map courtesy IUPUI Digital Library)                                  CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1922, the same year that the Town of Broad Ripple was annexed by the City of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Fire Department Station 32 was built on the northwest corner of Westfield and Guilford.  Often referred to by locals as the Broad Ripple Firehouse, it is the oldest IFD station still in operation today.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

Indianapolis Fire Department Station 32, aka the Broad Ripple Firehouse, was built in 1922 (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

IFD Station 32, aka the Broad Ripple Firehouse, was built on the northwest corner of E. Westfield and Guilford Ave in 1922  (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Failing to find any documentation of a cemetery having been on this site, I turned to several persons who are knowledgeable about Broad Ripple history.  They included Alan Hague, publisher of The Broad Ripple Gazette;  Christine Carlson, chair of the Committee for Historic Broad Ripple;  and Connie Zeigler of C.Resources Inc., the historian who prepared the application that placed the Broad Ripple Firehouse on the National Register of Historic Places.  None of the them had any knowledge of a cemetery at this location.

I also consulted Elizabeth Huffman Hague, author of the 120-page book, Readings of Union Chapel Cemetery,  and a past member of the 12-person board that governs Union Chapel Cemetery.  She had never heard of a cemetery on the site of the present day fire station either.  More importantly, perhaps, Elizabeth is not aware of any bodies having been reinterred in the Union Chapel Cemetery after being disinterred from a cemetery in Broad Ripple.

In addition, I contacted Dean Walker, whose family has owned the properties immediately west of IFD Station 32 for many years, as well as Tim Harmon, co-owner of Tim & Julie’s Another Fine Mess and a former occupant of the ramshackle structure that once stood to the west of the firehouse.  According to both Dean and Tim, that small frame building had no foundation, no plumbing, no wiring, no running water, and no insulation until the 1980s.  It had reportedly been moved to the lot west of the firehouse from another lot in Broad Ripple.  Following Tim’s having resided there in the 1980s, the building housed Bazbeaux Pizza for the restaurant’s first 17 years of operation. After the establishment moved across the street in 2003, the old structure was demolished.  The “About” page on the Bazbeaux website is the only mention I can find anywhere of the building’s having once been the gravedigger’s home for the town cemetery.  My e-mail to Bazbeaux, asking for the source of this information, remains unanswered.

Besides not appearing on any map I was able to view, neither a cemetery nor a gravedigger is mentioned in any of the recorded minutes of the Town of Broad Ripple.  The notes taken at the town meetings were very detailed about any expenditures the town government paid for services and supplies.  Those records are available in the Indiana State Archives and cover the years from 1894 to 1922.  If no expenses were ever incurred for maintaining a town cemetery, then it doesn’t really follow that there would have been a gravedigger for a town cemetery. If there was a gravedigger who once lived in Broad Ripple, he must have worked at a cemetery located elsewhere.

As far back as 1836, which was a year before the towns of Broad Ripple and Wellington were founded, area residents were being buried in the Union Chapel Cemetery, about a mile-and-a-half away.  From the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, the piece of land on the corner of Westfield and Guilford has been used for other purposes, namely a church, a community meeting house, a volunteer fire department, and a city-operated fire station.  There do not appear to be any records indicating the maintenance of a cemetery or the reinterment of persons at other cemeteries.  Due to the absence of any evidence to document the existence of a cemetery on the northwest corner of Westfield and Guilford, I think the claim that there was one is questionable.

Nonetheless, there may be a possibility that a cemetery existed on the property, even if only briefly. If any HI readers have additional information on this subject, please leave a comment below.

 

If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis (at) yahoo (dot) com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line, and I will do my best to answer it. ~ Sharon

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About the Author

Sharon Butsch Freeland is a freelance researcher, writer, proofreader, and editor. She's a proud alumna of Shortridge High School and MacMurray College and over the years has also taken courses at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University, University of Colorado, Colorado Academy of Art, and the Indianapolis Art Center. She's been the executive director of a nonprofit association, a newspaper columnist, a residential real estate broker, and a political campaign staff member. Fascinated by Indianapolis history from an early age, Sharon's passion for bygone eras became even more compelling when she discovered that her ancestors had settled in Indiana in 1828. Since learning that she's a seventh generation Hoosier, many details about both the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis have taken on new meaning for her. Sharon enjoys helping others get excited about the history of Indianapolis, as well as the histories of their own families.

7 Comments on "HI Mailbag: Broad Ripple Cemetery"

  1. Norm Morford August 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm · Reply

    Another good job, Sharon. Did you see my comment on giving to someone to do this web site?

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland August 21, 2013 at 11:52 am · Reply

      Norm, I think I have read all of your comments over the past nine months, but I don’t recall one about “. . . giving to someone to do this web site.”
      .
      Are you referring to your preferred practice of donating only to nonprofits (i.e., not to profitable companies?
      .
      I’m not sure exactly what you mean, here.

  2. George Starkey August 22, 2013 at 9:47 am · Reply

    Is it possible that the grave digger lived where he was attributed in Broad Ripple, and worked at Union Chapel Cemetery? That wouldn’t be too crazy of a theory.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland August 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm · Reply

      That’s not a crazy theory. It certainly sounds plausible. However, the folks at Union Chapel Cemetery are not aware of any former employees having lived in a shack in Broad Ripple that had no foundation, no plumbing, no heating, and no water. In addition, Tim Harmon, who lived in the structure before it became Bazbeaux, said that it had been dragged around Broad Ripple over the years and had stood in several different locations. He also said it was not really habitable until he rented it and made improvements to it.

  3. Esther Shir August 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm · Reply

    Hi Sharon–we lived across from BRHS on Compton until I was in the 5th grade (went to #80 and then switched to #66), when we moved south. Anyway, I found a really cute part dalmation puppy wandering around the neighborhood back then. We took him in, got him cleaned up, fed, etc. and then gave him to the BR fire dept!!!

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland August 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm · Reply

      Do you know what became of the puppy? Since he was part-Dalmation, maybe the firemen kept the dog as the firehouse mascot?

  4. Kathleen Shelley Lynch August 28, 2013 at 9:17 am · Reply

    Sharon, I really enjoyed this piece of research! Thanks for sharing the process with us as well as your conclusions.
    .
    Esther Shir’s letter reminded me of the apartments built along Compton after the Second World War. Our home from about 1945-1953 was on Winthrop, and backed up to the Monon tracks between Winthrop and Compton. Previously the land where the apartment houses were built had been an apple orchard. The developers began by burning the orchard: applewood smoke has never had the pleasant associations for me it has for some.

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