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Ford Indianapolis Assembly Branch, Copyright © Ford Motor Company

To meet America’s insatiable demand and to reduce shipping costs for finished Model T’s, the Ford Motor Company built its Indianapolis Assembly Branch in 1914.  Located near the southwest corner of East Washington and Oriental Streets, the original building measured 141 feet along Washington Street with a 300 foot depth.  The back of the lot had frontage along Southeastern Avenue.

Ford Motor Company opened its four-story assembly branch (known as Plant 215) in the fall of 1914.  The company hosted a grand opening gala for over 5,000 persons on March 9, 1915.

Production of Ford cars and trucks continued unabated for nearly two decades, except for a period during World War I.  War efforts took precedence.  For example, in spring 1918, the Indianapolis branch loaned its giant electric crane to a Detroit, Michigan foundry for war production.  In mid-summer, plant manager A. H. Smith offered the services of 40 factory workers to help harvest crops.  Later in the summer, he suspended branch assembly operations as part of government regulations.

In May 1924, the new Car Delivery Unit was erected at the site’s rear on Southeastern Avenue.  The plant layout was expanded twice in the mid-1920s to allow more space for assembly operations.  These expansions increased the plant’s capacity to 300 assembled cars per day.  With this capacity, the Indianapolis assembly branch had the highest output of any Indiana auto manufacturing site in its era.

Ford Indianapolis Body Drop

Ford Indianapolis Body Drop, Copyright © 1926 Ford Motor Company

Production at the plant rose from a little less than 5,000 cars in 1914, to a peak of almost 85,400 cars and trucks in 1923.  Ford body assembly and finishing operations commenced at this plant in 1929.  The Great Depression, however, also took its toll on Ford.  As a result, Ford discontinued Indianapolis production operations in December 1932, after producing a total of 581,010 cars and trucks.   Limited operations resumed at the site as a Ford parts service and automotive sales branch in July 1934.  The plant operated on this basis into the 1940’s.

Ford Indianapolis Assembly Branch Site Plan 1930

Ford Indianapolis Assembly Branch Site Plan 1930, Copyright © Ford Motor Company

 

The Ford Indianapolis assembly branch operated during Indianapolis’ heyday of automotive manufacturing in the first part of the 20th century.  The year 2014 marks the centennial of the presence of this Indianapolis automotive manufacturing icon.

25 responses to “Ford Indianapolis assembly branch centennial is coming”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    An excellent article! Can’t wait to see more!

  2. krista says:

    Does the building still stand today?

  3. krista says:

    …and if so, what is it now?

  4. Virginia Singer says:

    In the early 60s as a kid I lived on the coroner of East Washington and Oriental streets. We lived in an apartment above Knott’s drug store. There was an old tavern there as well. On the other corners were West baking company, White Castle and the Strand Theatere. Where in the world could this binding have been? All of the buildings there on those four corners were very old.

  5. Jeff Downer says:

    I learned something today. Thank you. As a fellow car nut, I hope I can look forward to reading more about Indianapolis’s automotive heritage.

  6. Brad says:

    It does still stand, there is actually a picture on the site. I think that It is now being used by IVY Tech

  7. David Brewer says:

    Thank you. It’s great to know the history of that particular Ford plant. I had always wondered about its origins. The 1914 construction date is interesting and I wonder if the building of a new automobile plant in the neighborhood sparked an interest in construction/remodeling across the street.

    Please bear with me…

    I was driving down Oriental Street some time back and passed by the old house at 7-9 North Oriental as I turned into Washington Street. Looks like they’ve demolished a lot at that corner.

    The old house has fascinated me for years. Covered with insulbrick siding, it looks like it might have been built in the 1870s-1880s. What’s curious is how it is sitting on top of a couple of small brick businesses. I used to think that they were garages.

    I did some digging in the old Sanborn maps and city directories. The 1898 Sanborn shows only a frame house (similar in footprint) standing on that corner lot (1402 West Washington Street). There’s no Frey block and no Josephine apartments behind the house. Fast forward to 1940, and you see the present layout of buildings–Frey block on the corner, frame house behind it at 7-9 Oriental, and the Josephine behind, right before the alley.

    Going back to the city directories, I found that in 1914, a druggist named Joseph Frey was living at 1402 West Washington Street. The next year, however, that address is the site of his drugstore and he is living at 15 North Oriental (the site of the Josephine).

    My theory is that between 1914-1915, Joseph Frey took the house at 1402 West Washington, jacked it up, and rotated it so it faced west, placing it on top of two newly created stores, which served as the old houses new “basement”. If you compare the house in the 1940 Sanborn map, it looks similar to the 1898 house. He then built a new drugstore (the Frey block) and the Josephine flats behind the old family home. It makes sense, because all of the construction on that corner looks similar in style and date. It is interesting to note that in 1940, the two bottom stores at 7-9 Oriental contained a cleaners and a restaurant. There was also a dentist living there. Also interesting is that there is a Francis Frey living in that house. Perhaps a son? At that time, the American Foundry would have been across the street (Oriental), so I am sure that the neighborhood had become a lot noisier and dirtier.

    If there was a new auto factory going in across the street, it would have made sense for Frey to remodel the old family house and add some apartments and businesses to possibly cater to workers.

    At the present, the Josephine is still standing. Maybe it was named after his wife or a daughter. It was the custom back then to name an apartment after a child that had died as kind of a memorial. The old house is pretty well gutted and I would imagine that it is on the way out. I also found that it was used as a health clinic for the neighborhood in 1971-1972. I think that the Frey block is gone.

  8. Dennis E. Horvath says:

    Hi All:

    The City of Indianapolis is currently using the Ford building as a storage facility for Indianapolis Public Schools.
    Some neighborhood folks would like to see it revitalized. One can hope for a better use for this building.
    Let’s be vigilant in monitoring this site.
    Happy New Year.

    Dennis

  9. basil berchekas jr says:

    An excellent follow up!

  10. basil berchekas jr says:

    Yes! Excellent point, Dennis! It seems (to me, at least, but what do I know?) the city has always had a “fixation” on revitalizing the North Side to the detriment of say, the East Side and so forth…if the City were truly proactive, they’d promote all sides and therefore continue to promote the north Side as well…this has been the case since the first lots were auctioned by the State in 1821 for the then new Indianapolis (thank you for the name, Jeremiah Sullivan at Corydon!) brought the best prices from the north and northeast lot sales in the Mile Square. The topography dictated that sale…the north and northeast lots were less prone to flooding…the other ones were bound by creeks like Pogues Run and branches thereof, thereby being swampy. But the “die was cast” early on…(one last thing…and i’ll be quiet!…the original state capital donation from the Federal Government to the State was four square miles; the planner Samuel Ralston managed to talk the Legislature out of three quarters of the work required in planning the full four square miles by saying the city would never exceed one square mile in extent; the Legislature bought off on that premise, and he got paid his retainer for just planning the central sqaure mile, and we’ve been paying the price since with narrow streets and lack of rights-of-way in what became the “outlots” ever since…). Some of my facts here may be off…they may need correction…

  11. Virginia Swift Singer says:

    Okay, did a google map. Now I remember where it was. It was not right on the corner. It is still there. Not sure waht it is now. The old West Baking building was taken over by Ivy tech many years ago. Not sure what is in this old building. May be part of Ivy Tech as someone said.

  12. Virginia Swift Singer says:

    Hello David Brewer The old drug store in the 50s and 60s was Knott’s drug store. We lived above the drug store in an apartment. We also lived in the Josephine apartment building. When living in the Josephine building my little sister and I would wait for the drunks coming from the taverns on Washington St down Oriental and throw drops of water out on them. Bad kids we were. We always had the aroma of the West baking and the White Castel. Unfortunately, as there was no interstate then, we also had the horrible order of the trucks coming down Washington Street with the squealing stinking pigs and hogs. The dry cleaners when we lived there was Peggy’s cleaners. She also had a small little gift shop in there. There was a beauty salon next to the Josephine. Co not remember the name of the owner but her husband’s name was Ben and he was very grumpy He did not like kids and sometimes would stick his cane out trying to trip us. Of course all of the kids tormented him.

  13. Virginia Swift Singer says:

    We lived all over that neighborhood. South Arsenal, Oriental, Washington, Tacoma, Beville, Pine. Moved often. Probably moved when the rent was due. Went to schools 9, 14, 2, 3 and 101

  14. GUY MAGER says:

    Dennis –you are right lets make the old ford building a place for people to come and see history.
    Have you ever been inside if not go to the back and ask bill and the others to see it .
    Dennis it has a good look from the roof and the 4 floor is open now for car display.
    I have been over there cleaning up the area to look good for the party

  15. basil berchekas jr says:

    wish to stay with this one!

  16. GUY MAGER says:

    Dennis —ips is working with me on the clean up i need help from the MAYOR AND GOVERNOR to fix up the building and get ready for the 100 year centennial party.I want FORD MOTOR COMPANY-FORD DEARLERS AND THE CITY TO HELP.
    Get all the model t- a we can get to show FORD AND THE CITY —WE DO CARE.
    2014 THE MUSTANG IS 50 YEARS OLD TOO.

  17. David Brewer says:

    Thanks, Virginia! Would the dry cleaners and the gift shop have been in the basement of the old house between the drugstore and the Josephine?

  18. GUY MAGER says:

    Dennis how are you doing
    HAVE YOU BEEN AT THE OLD FORD BUILDING YET?
    LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE TALKED WITH YOUR FRIENDS .
    WE WILL GO SEE IT ONE DAY AND SHOW YOU AROUND.

  19. Dana Hubbard says:

    http://www.nps.gov/NR/travel/atlanta/for.htm

    Look what Atlanta has done with essentially the same building.

  20. GUY MAGER says:

    DANA–THIS IS COOL TO SEE WHAT ATLANTA HAS DONE WITH THE OLD FORD BUILDING-I HOPE WE CAN DO THE SAME WITH OUR FORD BUILDING IT LOOKS THE SAME.
    THANK YOU FOR THE PICTURE THIS IS WHAT YOU CALL HISTORY-FORD-FORD-FORD.

  21. Jean knarr says:

    In the basement, going south on Oriental, was the beauty shop. My Uncle, Bill Jarboe, worked in the Ford plant during the 1920’s, but later, perhaps when it closed, he worked for Ford in Louisville, KY. and retired from there when he was in his sixties. His children still live in Louisville, I must contact them and see if they know what years he worked there and why he left. Interestingly, my family moved to E. Market St. in 1959, a block away, and lived there in a house built in 1906, until we moved in 2015. My uncle remembered just where we lived and even talked about walking down Oriental to Holy Cross Church which was two blocks away. Also, when Western Electric owned the plant in the 1960’s, my husband transferred from his job on Shadeland Ave., and worked for Western Electric at the old Ford plant as a tool and die maker. Thanks for the history of the building.

  22. Steve Koepper says:

    Immediately west of the West Baking Company.

  23. Steve Koepper says:

    Any idea of the date of the first photo–the one of the building?

  24. Steve Koepper says:

    I have a panoramic photo of the 1921 employee picnic, taken in front of the left half of the building. My grandfather worked there and is in the photo. There was a fairly substantial tree in front of the windows in the second “bay” from the left of the building. I would guess that the photo at the beginning of this article was taken after that.

  25. Herb says:

    East Washington st not west

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