Usually, I gravitate towards the neighborhoods nearest to the Mile Square–the older, the better for this gal; and I assumed all of the longest inhabited areas in the city are only centered around that original mile square. So, how delightful and almost exotic it seemed to find a treasure trove of information on a place so relatively far removed from the epicenter of the city in the area now within Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation. Who doesn’t find it amusing when early reference to Broad Ripple is noted as the location of summer homes of some of the early Indianapolis well-to-do, for example. It’s mind boggling to think that just shy of 4 miles north of the circular-shaped heart of our city, actually wasn’t our city. What today is part of the northern boundary of the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood was, in 1843, a community called Sugar Grove. The area, more specifically, was in the vicinity of modern day 38th & Meridian Streets. A church community existed there as many others would follow in the area’s lengthy history. In the 1850’s, the place was even granted its own post office, rechristened from ‘Sugar Grove’ to ‘Mapleton.’ (Must have been an editor involved there– succinct alteration). Through the 1860’s and 1870’s, some commercial development and homes sprouted around Illinois, Maple (now 38th) and Meridian Streets and an Indianapolis street railway conveyed people up Illinois to Crown Hill Cemetery (incorporated in 1863).
In the 1880’s, the Mapleton area became known as a popular watering place for horses traveling between Broad Ripple and Indianapolis. The area now known as Historic Meridian Park began flourishing in the 1890’s as some well-to-do families of downtown opted to construct their summer homes here. In 1891, the Indiana State Board of Agriculture was looking to relocate the State Fairgrounds from their long-standing home in what is now Herron-Morton Place. A large farm bordering Fall Creek and 38th was purchased to become the permanent home of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where it continues to this day. The city continued sprawling in every direction, and many more homes filled in the land between the old fairgrounds and the new–in-filling a large portion of the Mapleton-Fall Creek area.
Fall Creek Parkway was designed specifically to be a scenic boulevard. As the automobile flourished, so did the fanning out of residences and the roads between the city and those abodes. Beautiful bridges were constructed: College Avenue’s in 1905, with 30th Street following in 1906 and the Capitol Avenue Bridge in 1911. And as automobiles eased the transition between the original mile square and parts far afield, the dealers selling said autos began replacing the beautiful mansions that once dotted Meridian Street, south of 16th. You might have purchased your mechanical horse on Meridian, somewhere below 11th Street, promptly conveying yourself to your new manse on the same street, northwards of Fall Creek. It was known as the place to live–the stretch of Meridian between Fall Creek and Maple (38th) Street, much as the first few blocks of North Meridian had been decades prior. As if the seeds of ‘near north’ Meridian had just blown two or three miles up the road, a new crop of opulent mansions and luxury apartment buildings emerged. It is said that by 1915, there were 78 large single-family dwellings between Fall Creek and Maple Road and that by the time the 1930’s rolled around, there were reportedly 27 luxury apartment buildings between 30th & 38th Streets! Even former vice-president of the United States, Charles Warren Fairbanks was amongst the migrating crowd, moving from his home just south of 16th & Meridian to Meridian at 30th in 1913.
A variety of developments and quick changes occurred in the coming couple of decades. In 1915, the first official governor’s residence was established on 27th Street–fronting Fall Creek and in view from the Marott Hotel, (now apartments) built in 1927. Hard to believe it was as early as 1923 that the Fairbanks Mansion was sold to the Indianapolis Life Insurance Company. In 1929, the Rauh mansion, north of the former Fairbanks mansion was repurposed as a branch library– until the 1970’s when torn down for the Children’s Museum expansion.
Enticements to the area continued as, in 1925, the Indianapolis Parks Department acquired McCord Park at 3600 Watson Road and the Watson Road Bird Preserve at Guilford Street and Watson Road. Noteworthy high school, Shortridge moved into the area in 1928–seems everyone knows Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. attended classes there at 34th & Meridian Streets from 1936-1940.
As any thriving historic neighborhood knows, you don’t get to experience the thrill of renewal and renaissance before enduring a period of decline, or at least apathy. The 1940’s and beyond, introduced the area to decline, as the well-to-do, continued their never-ending northern migration. Leaving in their wake a plethora of large, stylish homes.
Today, a number of neighborhoods are strung together under the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation boundaries and the opportunity for that renaissance has arrived. There is a saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “nothing brings people together more than a common cause.” The area is replete with opportunity and burgeoning redevelopment plans for those interested in becoming part of the solution and a key component in leaving a part of Indianapolis better. I have often heard the stories of the wave of new pioneers who took on properties and neighborhoods like Lockerbie Square and Old Northside when “frightening,” “decrepit,” “run-down,” and other such descriptors were synonymous with the area. Now filled with some of the most expensive and desirable properties in greater downtown, their journey of rejuvenation is legendary. A similar scenario looks to be playing out in Mapleton-Fall Creek area, among others. There are many opportunities to obtain affordable homes of quality and to make a difference to the future, while honoring the past. As with Lockerbie and Old Northside, the opportunity in this area is ripe and attractive. What was run down is going experiencing renewal. In many cases, the renovations have already been completed. There are many homes on Park, Broadway, Ruckle, 30th and 32nd streets, in particular that have been renovated and await. The way to do it is to bring not only your family, but also your friends who believe in community building and moreover, believe in and invest in the city of Indianapolis.
I know it sounds a bit like reverse snobbery, but why live in an antiseptic bedroom community that only embraces homogenization? How is that going to prepare the children of today for the reality of the world of tomorrow? I’m reminded of a plaque my parents had in their entry way throughout my youth. It said “Children learn what they live.”
What wonderful examples your children may learn when you embrace and impact a community. Within this area, there are a variety of housing options, churches, individual neighborhoods and close proximity to downtown, and close access to biking paths like The Monon. There are parks, including a bird sanctuary, and close proximity to the State Fairgrounds, which hosts hundreds of events annually. All residents are eligible for free membership to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and there are a variety of educational options for children including public, private and charter schools. It’s not hard to imagine being a fairly young couple with many friends and collectively buying up blocks of an area–you’d at least be assured you’d like some of your neighbors…it’s been said that this was often the case in those early days in Lockerbie, Old Northside, and the like. If you are interested in being in the new wave of urban pioneers, you can follow any of the links in this story, or contact City Gallery, which is connected to this and a number of other blossoming greater downtown areas–it’s a great resource when starting your search. Of course, the romantic in me can’t help but hope you will adopt a historic home and/or neighborhood. We’ve got a lot of great ones.
Thanks so much for writing this and sharing it. We who live and work in the MApleton Fall Creek area love it and find it to be the perfect location, with wonderful homes and rich institutions to flavotr our lives. Thanks fos spreading the story further. We have great homes for sale at the MFCDC and would love to show folks. Give us a call at 923-5514
This is a WONDERFUL post! We’re one of those younger families currently renting in MFC but purchasing a home around 30th and Broadway. We’d love to see this historic neighborhood thrive again!
Very nice post. I live on Central, very close to 38th Street, in the newly designated Watson Park Historic District. We’ve been there for over 15 years and I do not regret a day of it. Talking about convenience! We feel like we live in the heart of the City with easy access to everywhere. I am going to start a fact binder on my house & will include this as part of that binder. Thanks Tiffany!
Thank you for this post! My husband and I have lived in this neighborhood for 7 years now. I have been trying to find out more information about our home and neighborhood. We now have 7-8 families with young children living on our street. We are hoping to formulate neighborhood watch program and even a petition to pave our streets and sidewalks. We are currently in the heart of what use to be known as Sugar Grove or Mapleton. Our daughter is now 6 and I would love to make this a safer and more pleasant area in which she can grow. This T shaped part of Mapleton we live in is a very small and quiet area. Most people don’t even know this neighborhood exists. We currently only have 1 house for sale on our street hopefully more families will realize the value of a close knit neighborhood like we have.
I love this, Trisha! Best wishes with your burgeoning corner of the world! 😉
By Trisha’s description of the T-shaped location of her little “neighborhood within a neighborhood” in Mapleton-Fall Creek, I’m going to take a wild guess that she and her family live on either the 100 block of Penway Street or the 3600 block of Delaware Street. I had several friends in grade school and high school who lived in this little enclave of wonderful homes. The legal description of these two blocks (plus the west side of the 3600 block of Washington Boulevard and the east side of the 3600 block of Pennsylvania) is Union Park Place. There are about 40 homes altogether, of which about half are on Penway and Delaware Streets (the “T”). The homes on Penway and Delaware were built in the 1920s. A few of the homes on Washington Boulevard and Pennsylvania Street were built in the ‘teens, but most of the homes on those two streets were built in the 1920s too. I can probably put Trisha in touch with a few people who grew up in those houses, if she would like for me to do so.
This is a great article. My mother and her family lived in this area in the early 30s when she was just a baby. It’s nice to see the history of where she lived. I think her grandfather lived in several of the areas that are mentioned in the article as well. Love reading stories about the historical neighborhoods in Indianapolis as my family has strong roots here. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Katrina! Thanks for leaving your comment and your part of the story!
Thanks for the article. We moved to the area three years ago by purchasing a home in an estate. It was modeled after the 1929 model home at the Fairgrounds, and still has all the original interior of the period, being owed by only about three different families. I was able to locate many pictures from the Bass collection. We have great neighbors and have experienced much renovation on just our block since moving here.
I think that what saved that neighborhood was Butler University, other wise it would have gone to crap, glad it is still such a great neighborhood
I love the article! Just bought an old arts and crafts home located in the southern part of Mapleton Fall Creek. I am excited and hope there is someone that will help with the redevelopment of the property on the northwest corner of 28th and delaware. It is a good location and has plenty of land to work with. Tons of traffic passing through every morning and evening. Aswell as the ability to attract the residents in the fall creek place neighborhood. The only retail, restaurant in walking distance is shoefly. Wonderful place but we need and want more on the near north side.
I LOVED this article and am so grateful that you have published it for me to find. I live in and own a home in this neighborhood and I love it — all parts of it.