close

Reader’s Question: 

On the northwest corner of North Meridian Street and Meridian Hills Boulevard, there is a wooded lot surrounded by a fence.  There were maybe two buildings on an aerial photo from 1962, but a 1971 aerial photo showed the land to be vacant.  I’d love to know who lived there and why the property remains vacant and fenced in to this day.  ~ Becki H., Indianapolis

HI’s Answer:

Every day, thousands of cars pass through the intersection where Meridian Street, Meridian Hills Boulevard, and 71st Street come together.  The wooded property in the northwest quadrant of that corner has been an enigma to passersby for decades.

Wooded property on the northeast corner of Meridian Street, Meridian Hills Boulevard, and 71st Street has long intrigued motorists

Heavily wooded property on the northwest corner of North Meridian Street, Meridian Hills Boulevard, and E. 71st Street   (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The land that’s bounded by Meridian Street, Meridian Hills Boulevard, and West 72nd Street consists of about 3.6 acres.  From an aerial view, the plot resembles a piece of pie.  The property is just north of the golf course at the Meridian Hills Country Club.  At some point, the acreage was divided into nine separate parcels of approximately one-third of an acre each, suggesting that at one time someone had intended to develop this site into residential building lots.

From an aerial view, the acreage at 71st and Meridian Streets resembles a piece of pie (map courtesy of bing maps)

From an aerial view, the acreage bounded by Meridian Hills Boulevard, Meridian St., and 72nd St. resembles a piece of pie   (map courtesy of bing)

My repeated attempts to contact the owner of the property over the past several weeks have not been successful.  I had hoped to confirm the information I’d found on my own, as well as obtain additional details on the history of the site and any plans being contemplated for its future.  Failing any first-hand accounts, I will tell you what I know.

The property was purchased from the federal government in 1834 by Thomas Jackson.  By the time of the 1855 Marion County Atlas, the owner was listed as J. C. Mahan.  On the 1889 Atlas of Indianapolis and Marion County, the owner was listed as John H. Ditman.

1834 Land Patent shows the purchase from the United States Government

1834 Land Patent shows the purchase by Thomas Jackson from the U.S. of A.  (Ancestry.com)

Because there are few records available for the areas of Marion County that were outside the city limits of Indianapolis until more recent times, I am not able to report who owned the property between 1889 and the 1930s.  I can, however, provide information on the owners for the last three-quarters of a century, as members of the same family have continuously owned the property since then.

Fieldstone pillars are spaced regularly around the perimeter of the property (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Fieldstone pillars are spaced at regular intervals around the perimeter of the property at Meridian and Meridian Hills Blvd.   (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

By the time of the 1940 Census, a residence on the property was the home of three of the four adult children of Lafayette Andrew Jackson (1863-1931), the founder of the Standard Grocery Store chain.  The residents included Jackson’s daughter Charlotte and her husband, Carl Baldwin, and Jackson’s sons, Chester and Howard.  I feel certain the home was already built, when the Jackson family moved there in the 1930s, but at this time I do not know who built it.

On the 1940 Census, three of Lafayette Jackson's children lived somewhere on the property at Meridian and Meridian Hills Boulevard (image courtesy of Ancestry.com)

On the 1940 Census, three of Lafayette Jackson’s children lived on the property at Meridian Street and Meridian Hills Boulevard (image courtesy of Ancestry.com)

L. A. Jackson owned 226 grocery stores at the time he was killed by gunfire in a robbery attempt at the main Standard Grocery Store office at 419 E. Washington Street.  Lafayette’s children carried on the operation of the chain after his untimely demise at the age of 68.  Older son Chester became president of Standard Grocery in 1931.  He married Marguerite “Marjorie” O’Connell in 1952.  The couple built their own home a few blocks away, on a large corner lot at 6490 Spring Mill Road.  In 1977, Chester Jackson’s eccentric widow, Marjorie Jackson, also lost her life in a highly publicized robbery, murder, and house fire.

Carl and Charlotte (Jackson) Baldwin continued to live in the property until their deaths in 1951 and 1959, respectively.  Indianapolis city directories in the early 1960s listed “No Return” for 7102 N. Meridian Street, so the home may have been vacant or tenant-occupied for a time.  Around 1962 or 1963, there was a fire on the property, presumably at the house in which the Jackson siblings had all formerly resided together.  I searched newspapers of the period, but I was not able to find any information about the fire.

Fieldstone bridge over a gully on the property

A fieldstone bridge over a gully on the property led to a single-family residence that once stood on this prominent corner     (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The property was then deeded to Charlotte Baldwin’s nephew (and Lafayette A. Jackson’s grandson), Edward J. Wiest.  Edward’s father, Edward H. Wiest, was the husband of Lafayette Jackson’s fourth child, daughter Marguerite.  Upon the death of the younger Edward Wiest, the property was then deeded to his sister, Elizabeth (Wiest) Johnson (Mrs. Sylvester Johnson III).  She is the chairperson of the annual Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show.  In recent years, Mrs. Johnson has turned the property over to her son, John Johnson, who owns the Meridian Hills properties under the name Eagle Standard LLC.

As I could not reach the Johnsons, I do not know what their future plans for the property might be, if any.  My sense is that they merely wish to keep the property in the family and maintain the land in as natural a state as possible for such a prominent corner.  I’m sure the wildlife in the area enjoy having a haven on one of the main streets of the city.

SaveSave

29 responses to “HI Mailbag: North Meridian Street and Meridian Hills Boulevard”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Must stay with this article…always wondered myself about that lot; friends of the family who lived near 85th and Illinois tried to find out, as well as friends at 77th and Spring Mill Road (whose parents used to farm that area west of Spring Mill Road) also tried to find out, but to no avail.

  2. Norm Morford says:

    Sharon — Wow! Think of how many times I’ve passed that patch of woods and always assumed that some benevolent owner kept it that way to enhance the neighborhood!

    Thanks!

    Norm

  3. Gary Lowe says:

    Sharon – Is it fair to assume then that all taxes are current, which is why the city/state has allowed this property to sit unchanged for so long? I think it’s cool to have “local legend” spots in the city. But at the same time, this is prime real estate in the heart of Washington Township, Marion County, Indianapolis.

  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    This would be an excellent spot to have a vest pocket park with some type of “gateway design” for entering the immediate Indianapolis area, given the distinctive features in the surrounding area, such as Historic Meridian Street, some blocks ahead, the distinctive Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation closer, Holliday Park nearby, as well as the Meridian Hills Country Club, and other distinctive features such as other religious buildings (like Meridian Street United Methodist Church and so forth) further down Meridian… plus similar distinctive features north on Meridian…even a small welcome center at this site would be good, designed in a semi-rustic manner befitting the woods on this site. Surely there must be a hefty tax write-off available to the owner for donating this land as park…just a suggestion..

  5. Evan Finch says:

    Thanks to Becki Heusel for asking this question, and thanks to Sharon for answering it!

  6. Kevin Martin says:

    Great article! Thanks for this. I drive by it every day.

  7. Mike says:

    I would like to have back the time I have spent stopped at that light on 71st heading east and looked over there and wondered about that piece of land. I won’t get back the time or the time I will spend there, but at least my mind can be at rest about it now. lol. It is obvious that it was once an improved property.

  8. Louis Mahern says:

    In the late 1950’s my brothers and I caddied at Meridians Hill Country Club. We hitchhiked to and from the course. At the end of the day we positioned ourselves on the North West corner of what we always referred to as 71st and Meridian. That position allowed us to look particularly helpless and non threatening to the motorists stopped by the traffic light. I often wondered why such a prime piece of real estate did not have a house on it.

  9. Nora says:

    Thanks, Sharon!

  10. Brad King says:

    Thanks Sharon! I’ve always admired that lonely stone bridge to nowhere!

  11. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thanks, Basil. I hope to piece together more information on this property, as time goes by. However, the question from Becki Heusel had been languishing “in the queue” for several weeks, so I thought I’d better go ahead and answer it with the information available to me at the moment. Stay tuned!

  12. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Norm, I think a lot of us have passed by that corner and wondered about its mysterious past. It’s obvious by the remaining manmade structures on the property that there was something more substantial there, at some time in the past. I do think the owners are intentionally keeping it in a somewhat natural state.

  13. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Gary, Yes, all taxes on the property are current. Since the land is privately owned, the city and state really have no “say” in whether or not it gets developed. The parcel has been owned by members of the same family for nearly eight decades, so I would imagine their hanging on to it is to some extent for emotional or sentimental reasons. They can do whatever they want to (or don’t want to) with it, as long as they don’t violate any ordinances or zoning guidelines.

  14. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Basil, I don’t know if there is a hefty tax write-off for donating land for a park, or not. Even if there is, I am not sure that the City would necessarily accept the property. From my experience in working for a nonprofit neighborhood association for several years, the IndyParks Department does not have adequate funds to maintain the parks that it already owns. The City’s not having to pay acquisition costs would not necessarily be that attractive, if it did not have the means to build a welcome center and/or erect a gateway on the land, not to mention if it did not have the money to maintain the property for the foreseeable future.

  15. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thanks, Evan.

  16. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I wish I had thought to look into it sooner!

  17. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Mike, I’ve sat at that intersection more times than I can remember, too. I hope as a result of this article, either someone who knows more about the property will come forward, OR I will get some ideas about new sources I can research. Judging by the stonework that survives today, the home that it originally enhanced was a nice one.

  18. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I can just see the Mahern brothers, standing on the corner, trying to look harmless enough to catch a ride with a southbound motorist. Hitchhiking was a common practice when we were growing up. I wouldn’t have thought twice about picking you up in the ’60s and ’70s. I wouldn’t even consider it today. That I wouldn’t is a sad commentary on the state of our world.

  19. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    You’re welcome, Nora. Hope all is well in Noraland.

  20. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Brad, Originally, the bridge did not lead to nowhere, of course. If you look at early aerial view maps of the property on the IndyGov site, you can make out the driveways and structures. It looks as if there were entrances to the property on both Meridian Street and Meridian Hills Boulevard, with a semi-circular drive connecting the two entrances. Then there was another section of driveway that went west of the semi-circular portion and over the stone bridge to the house. Here’s the link: http://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/Index.html?theme=Zoning/ . Use the address of 7110 N. Meridian St. Click on “Streets & Aerials” at the top right of your screen. There are three bars you can slide — the vertical one on the left is the one that selects the year.

  21. basil berchekas jr says:

    FYI: Maybe there is a “Central Indiana” or “Hoosier Heartland” Land Trust available that would accept the land. They wouldn’t develop it save for a quick day visit, if at all, and would only maintain the property in a natural setting (skipping the welcome center concept…land trusts don’t traditionally build facilities on their properties save signage). I know the North Alabama Land Trust, for instance, has been used extensively to acquire acres of open space that would otherwise have been developed, especially steep slope land, and land for greenways in floodplains, and the traditional method of acquisition has been through tax writeoffs. How that works I don’t know, but it has worked in both urban and rural settings “down here”. Just an idea, Sharon. Appreciate your comment about the City. The North Alabama Land Trust has been used in lieu of the City of Huntsville here, also due to funding issues.

  22. Holly Lambert says:

    The stone pillar and possibly the bridge look like the work of my great-grandfather, Edward T. Shaefer, a stonemason born 1855. There is an article in the Indianapolis News (now Star) about all the stonemason work he did in Indianapolis.
    Holly Lambert

  23. Sheila says:

    Hi…I read this article with interest, as I grew up across the street from this property. I just wanted to clarify the fire time-period though. We moved across the street from the property when I was 4 years old (which would be 1966) and I remember the fire like it was yesterday…scared me for years! I was about 8 or 9 when the fire occurred, which would put the fire time period around 1970 or 1971. Thanks for the article!

  24. Jody D Loney says:

    I’ve been driving past this lot for the last two weeks. Today 8/9/18 there is a for sale sign…
    Cushman & Wakefield Realty

  25. Steven Pettinga says:

    COMMENT Absolutely do not trust the Indianapolis Parks Department. A 12 acre plot south of the David Wolf Bridge and west of the White River was recently donated with the expressed demand that it remain a wildlife refuge. Despite that, a couple months ago, representatives from the Parks Department presented a plan to expand the existing parking lot which can hold 12 cars at most, into a 20 or 30 car parking lot with a boat dock. They planned to develop trails and combine it with a pedestrian bridge to the cross country bike trail on the east side of the river…something I had never noticed. It would turn a wildlife refuge into a park full of people and pets; and probably be vandalized at night by the bikers. I have some friends who live in Union Chapel about a half mile or mile south of this donated land. The outrage in the room was evident and to their credit, the Nora Community Council denied the request. They also gave the two representatives from the Park’s Department a real tongue lashing for ignoring this gentleman’s final wishes such disregard. So many rare species (for Marion County) live along the river there. At best only canoers or kaiakers should be allowed that far up the river, otherwise, these rare animals will not feel safe and they will either stop breeding or move away to safer territory. The development north of 82nd is a good indication of how destructive developers and the city can be, Hamilton County is even worse.

  26. steven pettinga says:

    COMMENT Dear basil berchekas jr. What in the world do you mean by “hefty tax write-offs? The Indiana Wildlife Federation operates on donations and sales of Indiana license plates. Yes, you can write a portion off-if you itemize …but their are extensive limits on how much you can write off. You can not eliminate your tax responsibility. The Indiana Wildlife Foundation is a very worthy charity and has done much to preserve the wild areas of Indiana. It does more good than the Sierra Club or many other national organizations. I urge everyone to support their efforts. Here are the specifics of donating to charitable or religious organizations: https://www.indianalegalservices.org/tax-tips-charitable-contributions.

  27. Phil says:

    Property is up for sale. So far I haven’t been able to find and asking price. The home on the north side of the property on 75th St? Is not part of the sale according to the map I found on line. Hope they don’t build condos or something.

  28. Susan Hoff says:

    I’v come to this item quite late;my spouse and I had wondered about Meridian Hills (Town of), and I stumbled onto this. Fascinating reading. And I hope the owners have the wherewithal to keep it natural.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *