HI Mailbag: Indianapolis’ First Public Schools, Part Two

Written by on September 15, 2015 in Mailbag - 6 Comments
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Reader’s Question: 

In your recent article on schools, I did not see any information about the Calvin Fletcher School.  Wasn’t it one of IPS’s earliest grade schools?  ~ Peggy H., Indianapolis

HI’s Answer:

In the previous Mailbag column that discussed Indianapolis’ first public schools, only the seven primary schools that opened immediately upon the establishment of a school system were featured.  There were seven wards in the city at that time, and one school was located in each ward.  As it turns out, the school about which you have asked was the very next school to open after the first seven were in operation.

By 1857, the city had expanded south and east of downtown.  Another ward was created, so another grammar school was needed. In the beginning, the school that would later be named the Calvin Fletcher School was simply called School 8, as it was the grade school for the children who lived in the Eighth Ward.

Class picture taken outside the Calvin Fletcher School 8  (image courtesy of Georgia Cravey)

Class picture taken outside Calvin Fletcher School Number 8.  The year is estimated to have been in 1913 or 1914.      (photo courtesy of Georgia Cravey)

The first structure to house School 8 no longer exists, but it was apparently on or very close to the same spot as the building that survives today.  Park Avenue, the north-south street that ends on the north side of the extant building, was previously called School Street.  The east-west street alongside the school, which was called Huron in the 1800s, is now known as Lexington Avenue.  Virginia Avenue, of course, remains Virginia Avenue to the present.

The 1864 Indianapolis City Directory was the first one in which Indianapolis' public schools were listed  (scan courtesy of Ancestry.com)

The 1864 Indianapolis City Directory was the first one in which Indianapolis’ public schools were listed (scan courtesy of Ancestry.com)

By 1870, just thirteen years after School 8 had opened its doors, a larger school was needed to accommodate its ever-increasing enrollment.  After a couple of years of discussion and planning, a new School 8 was built.  The original portion of the new building was completed in 1872.  That same structure still exists today, 143 years later.

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

A fairly detailed description of the proposed Eighth Ward School was provided in the newspaper after the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners adopted the design for it.

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

The costs for the various components of the Eighth Ward schoolhouse were listed in the newspaper, as well.  The architect, D. A. Bohlen, was also announced.

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

Over the years, some additions were made, and some features were removed.  The turret over the original entry and the dormers on the top floor no longer exist.

The original portion of School 8 was built in 1857 (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

A 1916 photo shows the original portion of Calvin Fletcher School 8 that was built in 1872 plus a later addition to the side     (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

In 1884, Indianapolis High School (later renamed Shortridge High School) was strained to its limits in the former Baptist Female Seminary at Michigan and Pennsylvania Streets.  In addition, the building was determined to be unsafe.  As the School Board contemplated the construction of a new high school to replace the crumbling one, it also had to deal with the growing population on the south side of town.  The decision was made to convert the grade school that had been School 8 into Indianapolis High School #2.  The city’s second high school would not have a real home of its own until February of 1895.

The 1887 Sanborn map identifies the building on Virginia Avenue as Indianapolis High School #2 (map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

The 1887 Sanborn map identifies the building on Virginia Avenue as Indianapolis High School #2       (map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)              CLICK TO ENLARGE

During the years that School 8 was used as Indianapolis High School #2, School 8 was located in the Oak Hill area, northeast of Atlas Engine Works.  The “suburb” was developed by Calvin Fletcher’s son, Ingram Fletcher, and was in the vicinity of what is today 25th Street and Keystone Avenue.

During the years that the original School 8 was used as a high school, School 8 was relocated to Oak Hill, near 25th and Keystone  (scan courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)

During the years the original School 8 was used as a high school, School 8 was located in Oak Hill   (scan courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)

After Manual Training High School was built in the triangular block of land surrounded by South Meridian Street, West Merrill Street, and Madison Avenue, the former School 8 became a grade school once again.  Upon its return to its original site, School 8 was also given the name Calvin Fletcher, in honor of the man on whose farmland the school had been built.

The former Calvin Fletcher School 8 serves as an apartment building today  (2015 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The former Calvin Fletcher School 8 at 520 Virginia Avenue has been adapted for use today as an apartment building      (2015 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

By the end of the 19th Century, the Indianapolis Public School system was composed of well over fifty elementary schools.  Images of a few other schools that were built soon after Calvin Fletcher School 8 was built appear below.  Readers who remember any of these schools — or the schools discussed in the earlier HI Mailbag article — are encouraged to share their memories by leaving a comment below this article.

Clemens Vonnegut School 9 (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Clemens Vonnegut School 9 was at the corner of Vermont and Fulton.  Today the building is owned by an advertising agency.        (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Lew Wallace School 11 (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Lew Wallace School 11 was located at the corner of West 13th Street and Capitol Avenue.  The building no longer exists.       (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Robert Dale Owen School 12   (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Robert Dale Owen School 12 was located at the corner of S. West and W. McCarty Streets.  The building no longer exists.      (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Horace Mann School 13   (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Horace Mann School 13 was at E. Buchanan and S. Noble Streets.  The building still exists and has been turned into condos.     (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Thomas D. Gregg School 15   (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Thomas D. Gregg School 15 was on the corner of Michigan St. and Beville Ave. School 15 still exists but is in a newer building.  (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Booker T. Washington School 17 was on the northwest corner of  11th and West Streets.  It no longer exists today.  (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Booker T. Washington School 17 was on the corner of 11th and West, southeast of Crispus Attucks H.S.  It no longer exists.   (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

 

If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line.  We will do our best to answer it.  Sponsors and Subscribers are given preference for extensive research on specific properties or families featured in HI Mailbag articles.  ~ 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.

6 Comments on "HI Mailbag: Indianapolis’ First Public Schools, Part Two"

  1. Basil Berchekas Jr September 15, 2015 at 9:45 am · Reply

    Very interesting! My mother’s first teaching job with IPS was at School 8.

  2. sammy September 22, 2015 at 8:03 am · Reply

    why did you decide to do an article on this even though it isn’t one of the first seven ips schools?

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland September 23, 2015 at 7:41 am · Reply

      I wrote this article because a reader sent in a question asking about it. Since her question was the result of having read the previous article about Indianapolis’ first public schools, it was a good way to highlight a few more of the schools that opened in the 1800s. The school about which the reader asked was the very next grade school to be opened after the initial seven just a few years earlier. As Calvin Fletcher School 8 was built in 1857, it still qualifies as one of Indianapolis’ earliest places of learning, as do the schools whose images I included at the end of the article. There were eventually 114 elementary schools in the IPS system, and a single article on all of them would be too long for this space.

  3. sammy September 23, 2015 at 8:06 am · Reply

    how do you send a question?

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland September 23, 2015 at 8:35 am · Reply

      The instructions for submitting a question are at the end of every HI Mailbag article (82 of them, so far).

      • sammy September 23, 2015 at 10:06 am · Reply

        sorry for not paying attention

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