Sunday Prayers: 2110 College Ave.

Written by on March 17, 2013 in Sunday Prayers - 12 Comments
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(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

Harry McClintock wasn’t at all like the affluent of Indianapolis. He was a cowboy, a poet, a boomer, a world-traveler, a professional hobo. But his hobo-ing led to experiences, and the experiences gave him things to talk about, and the things he talked about were eventually formed into a song—one I loudly sang to myself as I cruised down College Avenue.

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, there’s a land that’s fair and bright …” Within the safe confines of my tried-and-true Oldsmobile, I sang. Exaggerated and loudly, I sang. Really, it was the only way to rid my mind of it; to sing and hum and think of “lemonade springs.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYGCpGzFWh0]

The song itself, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” was first recorded by McClintock in 1928. The lyrics summarized a sort of hobo paradise—one where “the cops have wooden legs” and “little streams of alcohol come trickling down the rocks.” Not words or descriptions typically associated with historic Circle City. But as I glanced through my car windows—checking the neighborhood, scanning homes—singing to myself about a vagabond utopia, I realized I was driving through the remnants of another paradise.

College Avenue, like other northside neighborhoods, represented “the physical culmination of the turn-of-the-century dream. It was the tangible symbol of having arrived at a state of affluence and ‘a place in the community’” [1]

Spacious homes with modern plumbing and lighting were constructed on large lots. In fact, “comfortable living” was a theme: homes were built with room to entertain, room to have privacy, and room to grow. These two-story giants were constructed with wood or masonry (depending on the wealth of the homeowner). More money typically meant more brick, more stone. Furthermore, the solid foundation upon which a family made its home was, quite literally, built to last.

Indianapolis Architecture, published in 1975 by the Indiana Architectural Foundation, states that the stability of turn-of-the-century construction allowed homes to “last longer than [their mortgages].” In other words, each northside mansion was constructed with the intent to outlive its first homeowner, its second homeowner, perhaps even its third or fourth. They were built for future generations.

Public transportation also played a part in the construction of homes. As the city stretched northward and on to Broad Ripple, the frequency of streetcars increased. College Avenue was a thoroughfare from downtown to summer retreat. Homes nearest the rails were the most decorated. Only the affluent lived here, close to transportation, near shops. Every four blocks, there was a school, a drug store, a grocery, anything one needed. It was paradise for the homeowners of that age; one, one’s house, one’s family—to be near it all, to be seen.

One family of elegance and affluence was the Harrington family. I first stumbled across their names in the 1914 “Indianapolis Blue Book,” which listed Humphrey P. Harrington as the primary resident of 2110 College Ave., with fellow residents Dennis Harrington, James Harrington, Miss Mary Harrington, and John Bruns also listed. The family, whose history stretches to Ireland, boasted machinists and priests, superintendents and lawyers. In 1904, for example, Dennis held a machinist position, while Humphrey was an assistant superintendent at Ewart Manufacturing Company. Humphrey, however, had already invented, in 1897, a patent for bicycle chains; by 1911, he was the factory superintendent of Marvel Carburetor Company. And, after originally working as a proofreader in the late 1890s, another brother, Timothy, was a member of the printing firm Harrington & Folger. They were, from the very beginning, a family involved with their community.

Humphrey Harrington invented, in 1897, a patent for bicycle chains. Humphrey was the factory superintendent of Marvel Carburetor Company.

Humphrey Harrington invented, in 1897, a patent for bicycle chains. Humphrey was the factory superintendent of Marvel Carburetor Company. (made available through Google Patents)

An obituary for James Harrington appeared in The Indianapolis Star on Jan. 1, 1930.

An obituary for James Harrington appeared in The Indianapolis Star on Jan. 1, 1930.

The Harringtons moved into 2106 College Ave. (as it was known before the 1911 address change) in 1900. The home was new then, and the Harringtons were its first residents. And though it has been decades since the family passed through the home’s doors, it still stands, impressive and looming over the corner of 21st and College. In fact, when I and my car cruised past it that day, I believe I broke from “Big Rock Candy Mountain” just long enough to exclaim “Holy #!*X!”

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

IMG_7889a

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

The three-story tower that caused me to turn my head (and also nickname the property “Castle House”) is the home’s defining feature. Even now, beyond the boarded-up windows, it is impressive and reminiscent of the home’s former glory. Though I do not know if the owner is still working on the property, or if improvements have been abandoned, I can tell you that the roof is new, and that the porch—lopsided and rotted in recent times—is being rebuilt. The home is clearly pegged for a new exterior as well. But the remaining question is, will it come together? Will the property be revitalized, or will it fall prey to the elements, as so many of its neighbors did?

The intersection of 21st and College was a reasonably populated area, according to the 1898 Sanborn map. Located just across the street from the “Oliver P. Morton School” is 2110 College Ave., the largest home in the area. Interestingly, the property did not (and still does not) have a carriage house or garage, which were common additions. Unless the Harringtons borrowed space in their neighbor’s larger garage, it can only be assumed that they traveled to work via the streetcars available on College.

1898 Sanborn

1898 Sanborn

By 1929, the school had expanded to accommodate the children of families who continued to migrate north. The Harringtons, who had lived on College Avenue for nearly 25 years, had already left the home on the hill, the one with the tower and wide-set porch. Humphrey had been the last to move out of the property, after Dennis and brother James (who moved to 3528 College Avenue) were gone. So instead of serving as a one-family residential home, the property was used for Phi Delta Kappa (Rho Chapter). Phi Delta Kappa, chartered in Indianapolis in 1911, was a professional fraternity for men studying education (women were eligible to join starting in 1974) [2]. It had begun to use the College Avenue home for its operations in 1927, but just eight years later, the fraternity had relocated to a Fort Wayne address, and the property had been gutted and turned into a series of apartments. Seven individuals lived in the property in 1935, but, just a year later, there were nine units total.

1927 Baist

1927 Baist

In the ‘40s, the home survived under the care of three separate individuals, none of whom rented the property to multiple tenants. However, the 1956 Sanborn attaches the “apartments” label to the property, and the city directories show that multiple individuals were living at the home once more.

1956 Sanborn

1956 Sanborn

By the 1970s, homes closer to 22nd street had been demolished and replaced with parking lots. A 1986 aerial view shows that a home south of 2110 College Ave. had been demolished. Other homes and apartment complexes were leveled as well, ones on the same side of the street as the Oliver P. Morton School (which is vacant currently).

1986 aerial view (courtesy MapIndy)

1986 aerial view (made available through MapIndy)

The ‘90s and ‘00s show only more empty lots, more overgrown trees and uncared for homes. Even “Castle House,” which had three owners in two years, is shown covered with a tarp in 2013 satellite images.

(© Google Maps 2013)

(© Google Maps 2013)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

With such visual demise in the area, College Avenue is far from paradise. “Indianapolis Architecture” attributes the neighborhood’s issues with the decline of school-age children and the “development and bigness … at the city’s four corners.” Indeed, the 1970s were to College Avenue as the 1910s were to Booth Tarkington’s Woodruff Place. Today, College is nothing less than depressing as one cruises past each boarded up house, each blighted alley and vacant store. The lyrics of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” may as well be rewritten.

In expansive Circle City,
all along College Avenue,
where the trash collects on bushes
and you don’t feel safe at night.
Where the houses all are empty
and the trees are overgrown.
And the holes and ruts
and the cigarette butts,
the boarded-up homes
that you can’t call home
all along College Avenue.

2110 College Ave, as seen in June 2011. ( © Google Maps 2011)

2110 College Ave., as seen in June 2011. ( © Google Maps 2013)

2110 College Ave., as seen in March 2013. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

2110 College Ave., as seen in March 2013. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

The back of the property, as seen in June 2011. (© Google Maps 2013)

The back of the property, as seen in June 2011. (© Google Maps 2013)

The back of the property, as seen in March 2013. The original brick in the alleyway is visible, but 2110 College Ave. has never had a carriage house or garage. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

The back of the property, as seen in March 2013. The original brick in the alleyway is visible, but 2110 College Ave. has never had a carriage house or garage. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

True, I cannot name specifically why 2110 College Ave. fell to a less-than-grandeur status. It is something, most likely, that the Harrington family never expected. Luckily, however, their home has survived to the present day, to a time when many structures, especially those on College, have an uncertain future. But, as our dated but still applicable friend “Indianapolis Architecture” says, “The process of ‘keeping house up’ is terribly hard to define, but very easy to point out when it is not done.” I can drive, much like I did that first day, up and down the Avenue, pointing out vacant properties and frowning at the lack of a lively community. But that doesn’t qualify me to formulate a plan to restructure the area and secure value for future generations (things the original settlers of the area intended). However, I can still give my best thoughts to the area, to College Avenue, to 2110. To the homes of the once-affluent. And maybe, just maybe, my prayers will be answered, and the neighborhood will once again be a paradise. And when people drive past it, they will stop and look, stare like I did, and sing to themselves, “That is perfect. That is heaven.”

[1] Ball, Rick A., et al. Indianapolis Architecture. Indianapolis: Indiana Architectural Foundation. 1975. Print.
[2] History of Phi Delta Kappa. Phi Delta Kappa International. Web. 17 Mar. 2013

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About the Author

Dawn Olsen is a Midwestern nomad addicted to ChapStick, parallel sentences, books, and old buildings. She was born in Iowa and grew up in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area. After graduating from Purdue University, she took a job as an editorial assistant for the Indiana General Assembly and sub sequently transplanted herself to Indianapolis. She lives in the Holy Rosary district in an old brick building with a 90-foot smokestack. She shares creative non-fiction and photos on her blog, Candidly Clyde.

12 Comments on "Sunday Prayers: 2110 College Ave."

  1. Jim March 17, 2013 at 8:15 am · Reply

    What a delightful writeup of this once-grand old home! You really made this home’s story come alive.

  2. Suzanna Johnson March 17, 2013 at 10:57 am · Reply

    Such a great article! THIS is the heart of what we house historians do – reveal the true intent of what life was SUPPOSED to mean in these huge old Grande Dames that LITTER the Indiana landscapes now.
    Some of these old houses are the backbone of what we used to call old money. If generations could be secured a palace in which to entertain and live there would be a huge expense lifted from the dwindling inherited riches, leaving financial freedom for further investments in the local community. However, many of succeeding generations did NOT want to follow that plan of thought, and took the money and ran. When one of these monstrosities of heat and maintenance also needs a mortgage it becomes a labor of community love to just START undertaking a SOS project. First usually there is a period of preservation (where the structure is just saved from further deterioration), then is one of rehab (where the structure’s maintenance, safety and code issues are addressed), then at last, MAYBE – if the Old Lady is lucky enough to have a fan with the bank roll to do this – the period of bringing her back to her days of glory and splendor can be tackled. A house’s restoration these days is riding on a big pile of maybes in order to bring it around to what it deserves – AND what our neighborhoods deserve.
    Again great article! Thank you for writing this! And thank you for adding more family histories to my Whitewater Valley researches with the Harrington’s and Cambridge City.

    • basil berchekas jr March 17, 2013 at 3:06 pm · Reply

      VERY GOOD! A realistic appraisal of what it takes to do “historic preservation”…

    • Dawn March 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Suzanna! As we all know, older homes are always hard to take of. Personally, the newest home I have ever lived in was built in 1920. (Asbestos, ahoy!) There have always been things that have needed replaced or updated, or needed to be brought up to code (I’m looking at you, lead-based paint). But I have loved every home I have ever lived in. Each had character … and memories. Decades of memories before I even existed. As time goes on, homes–every home–is bound to have a problem or two. (Or twelve.) Homes that are constructed now are still going to need new roofs or foundation work someday. Theoretically, since historic homes have existed for longer, they are going to have more problems–especially if the owner can’t keep up with maintainence or afford to. The historic homes that do populate this area of the city are in need of love … and money. I can’t deny it would be a lot of work to fix one up. However, there are a growing number of programs that aid individuals who are interested in revitalizing a property. (Of course, you can always argue that it is similarly difficult for said local/state/government program to fund the projects in the first place.) I do hope, however, that this area will be an area of family homes once more. Speaking of families, there are several news articles about the Harringtons at the State Library. I believe the obituaries for Humphrey, Dennis, and Timothy are also available.

  3. basil berchekas jr March 17, 2013 at 11:41 am · Reply

    dawn, this article is highly impressive! Would love to see more articles on inner city neighborhoods which were more “solid and established” at one time…(the near east side would be a good area to explore too…east of Highland Park, for instance, Windsor Park, and so forth…just suggestions!)

    • Dawn March 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm · Reply

      Thank you for your suggestions, Basil!

  4. Libby Cierzniak March 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm · Reply

    One of the reasons that College Avenue went downhill so quickly is because Union Traction Company ran heavy, fast-traveling interurban cars along the street. While I was researching caselaw for my real job, I happened to run across the Indiana Supreme Court’s 1907 decision in Kinsey v. Union Traction Co., in which Mrs. Kinsey sued the street railway company because the noise, dust and vibration from the interurban cars had rendered her 15-room home at the southwest corner of 15th & College virtually uninhabitable. By the time the decision was rendered, the home had been demolished and apartments built on the site. In her complaint, she alleged that “interurban cars and trains over and along said College avenue, in front of the plaintiff’s premises, causes the ground to vibrate and shake the houses situated thereon, and thereby has caused the plastering and ceilings of plaintiff’s said dwelling house to crack and fall off, and has caused the picture frames hanging upon the walls of the house to become displaced and fall to the floor. That said noise and vibration disturbs the rest and breaks the sleep of herself and family, etc. That by reason of the large size of the cars and the noise made by them in running over said road, horses hitched in front of her dwelling become frightened and break loose, and the street is thereby rendered dangerous to all persons crossing or traveling thereon. That, in addition to the cars creating a great noise, they also stir up “whirlwinds of dust,” which are carried or borne into plaintiff’s house, and other houses situated along said street, and damage and injure the furniture and carpets of her said house, and cause much additional labor to be expended in order to keep her said dwelling clean.”

    • basil berchekas jr March 17, 2013 at 6:43 pm · Reply

      Interesting! Never knew this! Too bad there wasn’t another R-O-W the interurbans could have used…too bad they couldn’t have used a R-O-W adjacent to the Monon and Nickel Plate Road R-O-Ws…

    • Dawn March 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm · Reply

      Libby, thank you so much for enlightening me! I had no prior knowledge of this case, so it was incredibly interesting to learn about. The complaints Mrs. Kinsey brought against the Union Traction Company are unsurprising and believable. You’re right–the interurban cars are just one of the reasons College has deteriorated. That said, it was brought to my attention that King Park Area Development Corporation fronts the revitalization of the area with the aid of partnerships, government programs, and neighborhood residents. Their website has links to a neighborhood crime watch program, and also advertises lots that are currently for sale. It is my hope that these spots–most of which are located on Broadway–will be purchased and built up. There are countless programs (both local and state) that aid individuals in rehabiltating historic property and/or homes.

  5. Norm Morford March 18, 2013 at 1:52 am · Reply

    Dawn — quite an extensive write up. College Avenue today is a bit of a paradox — greatly used by commuters from Broad Ripple, Nora, and Hamilton County as those folks go downtown. However, while some neighborhood streets have been resurfaced, College Ave. is long overdue.

    Also, with all the traffic of cement trucks carrying ready-mix to the new garage and commercial space in Broad Ripple for the last few months, the street has not improved.

    Take the block from 45th to 44th — there are places where the curb has vanished entirely. There are a number of places where the attempts to patch holes has not been successful.

    The difficulty of south bound traffic to pass slower cars or cars attempting a left turn prompts some drivers to try to pass on the right once they are south of 46th Street.. There have been numerous accidents with cars parked south bound nearer 44th. Cars attempting to pass and being unsuccessful crash into the parked cars or into other south bound traffic.

    The last city council person was made aware of the problems, but was unsuccessful in getting the city to deal with the problems.

    • basil berchekas jr March 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm · Reply

      Unfortunately for a city of this size, Indianapolis is not proactive in maintaining its infrastructure and is a poor landlord of its own property….this is disgusting for a city of this size that has pretensions of being a “world class city”…when basic inrastructure cannot even be maintained…and I feel confident the city knows it, as well as what streets need to be multilaned in a continuous manner with no two lane “gaps”…but apprently whoever “rules the roost” downtown just doesn’t care…

  6. Christine DePriest December 3, 2016 at 10:38 am · Reply

    I was saddened to see this home destroyed by fire in recent weeks. Not sure about when or the details, but I remembered this article. I was excited to see progress on it after this was published, and then saddened to see it seem to stall. Now she’s gone.

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