My great-grandparents lived first at 411, then at 417, Downey. I have a picture of my grandfather, perhaps 6-8 years old, standing in front of the home with his sister and mother. On the back is written “411 Downey.” Once married, my grandparents lived at 425 Downey. My mother was born in 1916 at 411 Downey; it’s written in her baby book. The listing of births in The Star the following day noted the parents resided at 425 Downey.
I can understand possible confusion of 411 and 417 appearing at varying times, because handwriting and the copying of old original documents can mislead. But do a Google search or an on-foot walk like I did today, and Downey (which is located in Irvington, south of Washington Street) stops after the 300’s. At that intersection Downey disappears and Burgess Avenue takes over.
There seem to be a multitude of questions here, starting with where the heck the 400 block went. My grandfather’s sister married into a family who lived at 516 Downey. When did the city or postal folks make these changes? How and why? ~ Lyle M., Indianapolis
Researching the locations of ancestors’ homes can be challenging. Although the center of Indianapolis was carefully laid out in 1821 by architect-surveyor Alexander Ralston, the rest of the city grew in a less systematic and more organic fashion. New streets with different names from those within the Mile Square were added in every direction. Small settlements sprang up in all nine townships of Marion County. Some were officially organized, so as to enable them to have post offices established in them. Others were never independent municipalities but were anointed with descriptive names by local residents. The streets in these villages were sometimes named the same names as the streets in Indianapolis, although they did not necessarily connect to one another.
As the city limits extended farther and farther from the core, and as these once remote places began to adjoin one another, it became evident that more consistency was needed in both the naming of streets and the numbering of addresses. Indianapolis began to grapple with this issue in the late 1890s, adopting conventions for both the naming of streets and the numbering of properties. For several years at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, street names were changed and house numbers were adjusted, so as to fall into line. Nonetheless, each time the city’s boundaries changed, name duplications and/or numbering irregularities arose.
Such was the case when the City of Indianapolis annexed the Town of Irvington on February 17, 1902. One of the streets in Irvington was named Downey Avenue. Downey was the married name of Mary Julian, the daughter of Jacob Julian. Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson were the men who conceived of Irvington and laid out the original streets and building lots. James and Mary Julian Downey were among the people who built homes in Irvington.
However, Downey was already the name of a street on the south side of Indianapolis. This earlier Downey first appeared in an Indianapolis City Directory in 1867. It was about a mile-and-a-half south of Monument Circle. It started as a short, three-block stretch between the Madison Gravel Road (now Madison Avenue) and Japan (now S. East Street), but it ultimately ran from Bluff Road (now Meridian Street) on the west to Edgewood (now Leonard Street) on the east. There was no Interstate to truncate Downey in those days.
For several years after Irvington’s annexation, both thoroughfares named Downey existed simultaneously. The winding north-south Downey in Irvington was called “Avenue” from its inception. The east-west Downey in Indianapolis did not have a type indicator following Downey when it was originally named, but “Street” was often added to the in-town Downey in the years after Irvington was annexed, so as to differentiate between the two.
The address that is today 417 E. Orange Street was originally 411 E. Downey and later renumbered to 417 E. Downey. There is no 400 block of Downey Avenue in Irvington, nor was there ever one. The highest address on South Downey Avenue in Irvington is 392.
In 1916, Downey Street’s name was changed to Orange Street by an ordinance of the City of Indianapolis. Even though the Downey south of Downtown existed before the Downey in Irvington did, the Indianapolis Board of Public Works gave in to public pressure not to change the latter.
The street called Downey on which earlier generations of the Jasper and Wallman families lived was not the Downey Avenue that’s in Irvington. It was the Downey Street that was renamed Orange Street in 1916. It is located a few blocks south of the Eli Lilly and Company Corporate Center in what today is known as the Bates-Hendricks Neighborhood.
All three of the homes referenced in the question still exist today, although they are now on Orange Street, rather than on Downey. They are today known as 417 E. Orange Street, 425 E. Orange Street, and 516 Orange Street. All three have been remodeled over the years. Doors have been deleted, windows replaced, decorative trim removed, and aluminum siding installed over the original clapboard.
If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line. I will do my best to answer it. If you would like to see features on specific properties, please consider becoming an HI sponsor. ~ Sharon