When I was growing up in the Butler-Tarkington and Meridian-Kessler neighborhoods, there was a home on the northwest corner of 40th and Meridian Streets. It was demolished sometime in the 1960s to make way for the Tarkington Tower Apartments (now Tarkington Tower Condominiums). Do you know anything about the history of that property? ~ Mary Liz Freund, Tucson, Arizona
The home that once stood on the site that is now occupied by Tarkington Tower Condominiums was built in 1898 and 1899, by Francis William Flanner (1854-1912) and his wife Mary Ellen Hockett Flanner (1863-1947). Frank Flanner was the first person in Indiana to be licensed as an embalmer. In 1881, he opened a mortuary at 72 N. Illinois Street, which in later years became the site of the Wm. H. Block Company.
In 1887, Charles Buchanan (1856-1930), the husband of Frank Flanner’s sister Anna, joined Frank as his partner in the business. Within a few years, the brothers-in-law moved their growing establishment to 320 N. Illinois Street (now the parking lot for the OneAmerica Tower). Thus began the organization that is known today as Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Centers.
Frank Flanner wanted only the best for his wife and their three daughters, Mary Emma, Janet, and Hildegarde, so in addition to operating the mortuary business, Frank also made real estate investments in an effort to increase his wealth. He purchased several parcels of land in his lifetime and built several new homes. One of them was at 4020 N. Meridian Street.
In 1899, the family moved from 1009 N. Pennsylvania Street to their new home just outside the city limits. At that time, Maple Road (later also called 38th Street) was the northern boundary of the City of Indianapolis. The Flanners’ new home was situated on about ten acres, surrounded by a cherry orchard. The property had 770 feet of frontage on N. Meridian Street and 600 feet on W. 40th Street. The lot extended from Meridian Street on the east to what was first called Westfield Road and later named Illinois Street, on the west.
In 1905, after living there just six years, Frank and Mary Ellen Flanner sold their home at 4020 N. Meridian Street. The sale included only six of the ten acres surrounding the house. The Flanners retained four acres on the north end of the plat for themselves. Mrs. Flanner would later build a new home on a portion of that land, after Frank Flanner died in 1912. In the meantime, the Flanner family moved to a new home at 1910 N. Capitol Avenue (today, that location is one of the newer buildings in the IU Health Methodist Hospital complex).
The new owner of 4020 N. Meridian Street was Arthur Calvin Newby (1865-1933), one of the four co-founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Born in rural Morgan County, Newby moved north to Indianapolis in 1881 to seek employment. Upon his arrival, he was captivated by the cycling craze. In 1890, Newby started the Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Company, which later became the Diamond Chain Company. Early on, its primary product was bicycle chain, but it went on to provide roller chains for a diverse range of industries. In 1898, Newby built the Newby Oval, a bicycle race track on the northeast corner of 30th and Central Avenue. He and his partners in the velodrome, Carl Fisher, James Allison, and Frank Wheeler, soon turned their interests from bicycles to automobiles, and in 1909, they opened the IMS, primarily as a testing ground for vehicles. Newby founded the National Motor Vehicle Company, which produced automobiles from 1900 to 1924.
In 1928, Newby divided the land on which his home had been built into two parcels and donated the west half of it to the Hoosier Motor Club. Founded as a social club in 1902, its membership had grown steadily as more and more people purchased automobiles. In 1917, the local club affiliated with the national organization, American Automobile Association. The building at 40 W. 40th Street was the home of the AAA Hoosier Motor Club for more than half-a-century. Today the former AAA facility is the Martin Luther King Community Center.
Arthur Newby used his wealth to help others. He often did so behind-the-scenes or anonymously, which gained him the nickname of ”the quiet philanthropist.” He was reported to have cared for countless homeless people by buying homes for them. He paid for the educations of hundreds of students on the condition that they not divulge the source of their scholarships. He contributed a large sum of money to Riley Hospital for Children and made sizable gifts to Butler University and Earlham College. He purchased woodland in Parke County, then donated it to the state for Turkey Run State Park, as well as donated ground for the William and Milton Newby Elementary school in Mooresville, not far from where he was born.
After Newby died in 1933, his cousin, Mary C. Edwards, and her daughter, Bertha M. Edwards, resided in the home at 4020 N. Meridian Street for several years. The property then had a few short-term owners of two or three years each, including Roy W. Brandt, Ernest K. Fisher, and Jameson G. Campaigne (1913-1985). Campaigne was a reporter for The Indianapolis Star from 1946 to 1960 and editor of the newspaper from 1960 to 1969. The final owner of the home at 4020 N. Meridian Street was Charles E. Johnson, president of the National Liquor Corporation (now called National Wine & Spirits). Johnson acquired the property in 1951 and sold it in 1964 to the developers who built Tarkington Tower.
Tarkington Tower was conceived of as an upscale apartment community. The 16-story structure was completed in 1966. In 1979, the apartment building was converted to a condominium complex. It contains 93 units, an attached parking garage, a swimming pool, an exercise room, two guest rooms, and considerable green space for a high-rise multi-family building in an urban setting.
Tarkington Tower was named for Hoosier author Booth Tarkington (1849-1946), whose home was about twelve homes north of the highrise, at 4270 N. Meridian Street. Tarkington Tower sits on the eastern boundary of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association. It is also located within the boundaries of the North Meridian Street Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
All that remains of the original home built by the Flanner family at 4020 N. Meridian Street is the fieldstone wall along the south and east property lines.
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.