Reader’s Question:

I have read about the heavy German influence in the city from its start to the turn of the century. I think I read somewhere that at one point 70% of city had German blood. I still see some of this heritage on the east side with the street names Mitthoeffer and German Church. Do you have an insight into these names? Mitthoeffer seems to have no English translation, so was it a person’s name? What was the German Church of German Church Road?   ~ Dennis Goodman, New Palestine

HI’s Answer:

There was a great influx of European immigrants to the United States, beginning in the middle of the 19th century.  German immigrants were among the largest of the groups to seek a better life in this country. Since the eastern states were already somewhat settled by the mid-1800s, many of the new arrivals ventured a little further into the country’s interior and settled in Midwestern states. I’ve never seen statistics on the percentage of German-descended residents of Marion County, but perhaps an organization like the Max Kade German-American Center or the Polis Center at IUPUI would have such information available.

For anyone who may not be familiar with the thoroughfares referenced in the reader’s question, Mitthoeffer Road is a north-south street on the far east side of Marion County, approximately 9 miles east of Meridian Street. It extends from Prospect Street on the south to E. 56th Street on the north, for a distance of almost 7 miles. German Church Road is a north-south street, as well, approximately 10 miles east of Meridian Street. It extends from Brookville Road/US 52 on the south to E. 56th Street on the north, for a total distance of about 8 miles.

Mitthoeffer Road was named for a family who settled in Warren Township in the 1850s. The patriarch of the family was Johann Heinrich Mithoefer, born in Hanover, Germany, in 1825, and died in Marion County, Indiana, in 1894. The road connected his and other Mithoefer-related families’ land to the National Road/US 40.  There were no city directories for the rural and suburban areas of Marion County in the early years, so I am unable to tell you exactly when the name of the road began to be used. It was listed as Mithoefer Road on the 1920, 1930, and 1940 Censuses, but I would guess the locals had called it by that name for many years before 1920.

I don’t know why the City of Indianapolis decided to name the street “Mitthoeffer” with a double “tt” and double “ff,” since the family’s surname has clearly been spelled with only one “t” and only one “f” in records for a century-and-a-half.  The German word “mit” translates to “with” in English, and the German or Dutch word ”hoefer” could be “farmer” or “hoofer.” My search of several online databases – including the Social Security Death Index, U. S. Federal Census Index, and — yielded no one in the entire United States with the Mitthoeffer spelling.

Census enumeration indicates both the family name and the street name were Mithoefer, with one “t” and one “f”

A search of these same databases yielded numerous instances of the surname Mithoefer, most of them in Indiana and Ohio. I mean no offense to the folks at DOT, but my guess is that someone in the City’s Department of Public Works goofed when the street signs were first made, and the misspelled street name has endured. Many of the Mithoefers for whom Mitthoeffer Road was named are buried in the Saint John United Church of Christ Cemetery on German Church Road, and the spelling of their surname as Mithoefer is consistent throughout headstone after headstone after headstone.

Many members of the Mithoefer family are buried in the St. John United Church of Christ Cemetery on German Church Road  (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The fact that the Mithoefers are buried in the Saint John United Church of Christ Cemetery on German Church Road is a nice segué into the subject of the second street name that was mentioned in the reader’s question. German Church Road is in fact named for the church on the northeast corner of E. Washington Street and N. German Church Road. Founded in 1855, it was originally known as Deutsche Evangelische St. Johannes Kirche. The congregation was originally comprised of German immigrants, like the Mithoefer family, who farmed in the surrounding area. Other German surnames buried in the cemetery, who presumably were also members of the church, included Bade, Bakemeier, Brinkman, Buesking, Franke, Hartman, Holzhausen, Kleiman, Koch, Luebking, Meier, Muessing, Prange, Spilker, and Witte.

St. John United Church of Christ is located on the northeast corner of East Washington Street and German Church Road    (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Now called St. John United Church of Christ, the current structure is the church’s third building in its 157 years of existence.  Erected in 1914, it is of Tudor Gothic Revival style and features remarkable stained glass windows. The church is considered the gateway to Cumberland, a town of about 5,000 residents that is located on the Marion County-Hancock County line.  The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC) designated Cumberland a conservation district several years ago, which provided a comprehensive plan for its future.