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.

22 responses to “HI Mailbag: Mitthoeffer Road and German Church Road”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    You have correctly examined the origins of both the thoroughfare and the church at Cumberland. Noted that even in the last few years there were descendents of this German-origin family still residing along this thoroughfare. Also, names like Barth Avenue on the South Side are indications of the heavy German influence in Indianapolis (that was just ONE name that comes to mind in Indianapolis). The South Side also had German influence, especially German Catholic influence; the North Side had heavy Lutheran and Evangelical influence, especially north of the Atheneum (spelled wrong) in what used to be called “Germantown” (where the northeast interchange of the interstate inner loop is located). Remember several older people telling me about growing up in “Germantown” there). The East and West Sides had a mixture of both German protestant and catholic residents (I grew up on the East Side near what is now Otterbein United Methodist church that was originally Evangelical United Bretheran, or EUB, prior to the consolidation into the Methodist church in 1968). Just trivia!

  2. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I wonder if our paths ever crossed when we were children? My family attended Otterbein Evangelical United Brethren Church from 1949 to 1955. I remember the minister’s name at the time was Alfred Neuerman. The first home my parents owned was on E. 21st Street, near the Naval Ordnance Plant (as Raytheon was called in those days). I attended Mrs. Brown’s Kindergarten and Kenneth Walker School 59 for 1st and 2nd grades. We moved to the north side in 1955.

  3. basil berchekas jr says:

    We grew up a block south of 21st on Emerson, i remember this fine minister’s name as well, an effective preacher. My sister was Peggy Berchekas, now Peggy Berchekas Clark on facebook. Our Dad retired from the Naval Ordnance Plant (Naval Avionics, now Raytheon); my sister and I both attended School 68 (across from Otterbein); i went to Howe and she went to Tech. “Came back” in 2002 as Tech’s principal till 2006 when she retired from IPS.. Remember well when hte Windsor Vilalge shopping center and bowling alley were super active (now this dates me…I barely remember when the land on the north side of 21st across from Naval Avionics was still farmland and all there was on that side of the street was a couple of “country homes”…damn! That really dates me!

  4. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    If your reminiscences date you, then they also date me! One of those two “country homes” across from the Naval Ordnance Plant was ours! My dad bought the house on the GI Bill after serving in the Army Air Corps in WWII, because it felt like it was “out in the country.” It was a great house for a family with three kids. The huge yard provided the space for a lot of outdoor activities.
    Soon, however, our house and the Lytle family’s house next door were surrounded by Windsor Village. The new homes were much smaller and not as well-built as ours. My parents decided to leave the area, because they were concerned about the effect the more modest homes might have on their home’s future value. Also, my mother kept having babies (7 kids in all), so our 3-bedoom, 1-bath Cape Cod home became too small for all of us.
    The Windsor Village Shopping Center on the northeast corner of 21st and Arlington was really nice when it was brand new. We loved to ride our bikes to the dime store, drugstore, and grocery for the latest candy or toy. My older brother (who was born in 1943) had a job for a while as a pinsetter in the bowling alley at Brodey’s Village Inn, in the days before automatic pinsetters. He had to “retire” from his after-school and weekend job at the ripe old age of 11 or 12, when the Brodey brothers installed modern equipment in all of the lanes. My brother then got an Indianapolis Star paper route to earn the money to keep him in comic books.

  5. basil berchekas jr says:

    That was outstanding! My Dad and Mom commented on your house as a “nice one in the country” but my Dad didn’t want to live that close to his workplace…they also looked at houses south of Naval Avionics on East 16th (which was semi-country” back then, but he still felt he would live too close. Going south on Emerson from 21st, one crosses a bridge over Brookside Creek (named so on the Indianapolis East USGS Quadrangle topo map; we just called it the “crick”) after passing several houses on the right. The next house past the creek on the right going south (a 1920s bungalow style) white clapboard house was ours! i used to play in that creek before the city ditched it to improve flow…i was married and living out of town by then, though, in 1974 when the “crick” was straightened and Emerson was “finally” four laned. When I was born my parents lived in an apartment above the Elbow Room tavern on Pennsylvania Street downtown where for decades there was a “7-UP” neon sign. My Mother joined Meridian Street Methodist which was still at Saint Clair Street and Meridian…barely remember going to kindergarten there before meridian Street moved north to where it is today. We then moved east (to be closer to Naval Avionics) to then new doubles in the 1400 block of North Emerson when Grace Rupp still had a ‘country” general store at the southeast corner of 16th and Emerson where Walt’s went in and is now a pawn shop; it was farm fields on the east side of Emerson into the distance; one could see the Irvington water tank at 10th and Arlington from there-the 1400 block. The Rupps still farmed the land from Emerson about to Ritter, and had a beautiful two-story farm house (I think it was in the four-square style) on a little rise in the 1300 block of Emerson, on the east side of the street; the fields started just north of that house. Unfortunately that home was torn down recently (it really should have had historic preservation protection somehow, but I am not familair with how that’s done). In 2006 i was eating at the Waffle House at Post and 21st, and was served by an older lady who knew the story on that stupid demolition. She used to have part ownership in it and when they sold it to this man, they wanted to acquire some of the fixtures and part of the staircase and chandeliers but he had it ALL trashed. That was definitely pathetic! Oh, one last thing…the farm house east on 16th with a patch of timber that sat at 16th and Ritter (where Community Hospital is now) had a roadside fruit stand we used to patronize; Ritter was a gravel road south from 16th to 10th then with fields on both sides. there was another one on East 21st just east of Shadeland, almost next to Old Bethel United Methodist church as well that we patronized, and, believe it or not, one across the street from the Emerson Theater on East 10th; there were two farm remnants still located from about near Bosart west to Linwood that were still farmed by I think the Neurberg family, or something like that. Barely remember a barn on the corner where Payless Shoes is now and horses being pastured there. In other words that family farm (no doubt reduced in size from its original extent) continued to operate from when the area was subdivided in the 1920s into the 1960s, forty years after urbanization! Amazing! Well enough “reminiscence” for now, I guess! Appreciate your history, Sharon!

  6. David Brewer says:

    My folks moved from Kansas City to Indianapolis in the Spring of 1955. Their first place was at Windsor Village on Commodore Drive. They lived there from May to November of 1955. Dad worked at the Allison Plant in Speedway (now demolished) and had quite a commute. Used to stop by Joe Haboush’s on Lafayette Road on the way home. Joe would try out new sandwiches on Dad or play him the latest record on the jukebox.

  7. Carrie O'Brien says:

    I wonder if Joe Haboush could be related to Jeff Haboush?

  8. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Joe Haboush’s sons were named George and Joseph, Jr. I searched the Internet, and it’s possible that Jeff Haboush’s father’s name was Alfred. All of the earlier generations of Haboushes who resided in Indianapolis listed their nationality as Assyrian on censuses and other public records, including Alfred, so perhaps Jeff is a nephew or cousin of Joe’s?
    Joseph Haboush (1924-2002) was the founder of Papa Joe’s, which started out as a small carry-out pizza parlor on Lafayette Road and eventually became a full-service, sit-down Italian restaurant in the late ’50s. Besides its many wonderful homemade recipes, the restaurant was also known for its jukebox and its spinning counter stools, where the kids could entertain themselves while the adults enjoyed their meals and conversation. The restaurant was a west side staple for close to fifty years.
    In 1990, Joe’s son George Haboush (1958-2012) opened Papa Joe’s Jr. in Avon, featuring many of the same dishes that were popular at his father’s place. Papa Joe’s on Lafayette Road closed more than a decade ago. Papa Joe’s Jr. in Avon continues to operate today, although it is now under different management. Sadly, Joe’s son George passed away too, just in the past year.
    It’s a bit coincidental that the subjects of the Haboushes and their restaurants have come up. My brother, pianist John Austin Butsch, was the entertainment at Papa Joe’s Jr., until his untimely death on April 7, 2011. With John’s passing, then George Haboush’s passing, and now the change in management, I don’t know if Papa Joe’s Jr. still has live entertainment.

  9. Gregg Haboush says:

    Hi folks, Alfred is my father, and Jeff is my brother. I also have another brother Dave and a sister Anna. We grew up on the Eastside, a couple blocks north of Ellenberger Park. All four of us went to Howe, our dad went to Tech.
    We are related to the Haboushes on the West Side. Westside Joe and his family were either second or third cousins. (There was also Sothside Joe who was the music director at Lebanon H.S. who was my dad’s first cousin.
    The census records are incorrect in regards to the ethic background. The family originated in Lebanon. In 1940, Lebanon was still considered part of Syria. I honestly think that with my grandparent’s accent, the census enumerator heard Assyrian instead of Syrian which is most likely what the family meant to report.

  10. Bill Laut says:

    Hi Sharon, I’m doing some research on the “genealogy” of the German Lutheran churches in Indy and ran across this older post. As I scrolled down and read “Joe Haboush” it triggered an old memory. When I attended Southport High School and participated in the marching band, the band director – Bill Schmalfeldt – frequently had custom music arrangements prepared for the band by Joe Haboush. I wonder if one and the same?

  11. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    There were two men named Joe Haboush who were contemporaries. Both were born in Indianapolis just after their respective parents immigrated from Lebanon in 1920. Joseph Anthony Haboush (1924-2002) was the restaurateur who owned Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant on the west side of Indianapolis. His father was George D. Haboush (1897-1972). Joseph Arvine Haboush (1926-2001) was the revered Lebanon music teacher whose musical arrangements you have referenced. His father was Abraham Assef Haboush (1896-1983). I would guess that George and Abraham were either brothers or first cousins, making the two Josephs either first cousins or second cousins.

  12. Gregg Haboush says:

    The two Josephs were not first cousins.
    I believe that they were second cousins. The families immigrated from a small village, which today is not in Syria , but is in Lebanon.

  13. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thanks for clearing up the location of the village. My apologies for the mistake, but I was going by what the 1930 and 1940 censuses said.

  14. Gregg Haboush says:

    No problem Sharon. The information on the census was correct for 1940. In 1940, Lebanon was part of the French Mandate of Syria. It was not until 1943 that Lebanon became a sovereign country.

  15. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thanks, Gregg.

  16. Kristen Christiansen says:

    My 2nd great-grandparents, Christian F. Behrmann and Elsa Worttmann were married at this church in 1900. This was a very interesting article. Thank you. 🙂

  17. Bill Laut says:

    Kristen, would be interested in learning more about your side of the family. Christian’s grandfather was my 4th great-grandfather. Thanks, Bill

  18. Rachel Mithoefer says:

    Thanks for finding this information! I am a direct disendent of the original Mithoefers who had settled here. Much of my family never knew this much about the road. We were astonished at finding this information!

  19. Richard Simpson says:

    I have found something interesting about the name of “German Church Road.” Yes, it is named for the church, indirectly.

    The original name of the road was “Franke Road.” It was named after a German family in the area. I have a 1905 map that lists it as “Franke Free Gravel Road.”

    The name “German Church” was actually the name of the interurban stop at that corner. Somewhere along the line, the name of the road changed from “Franke” to “German Church,” after the interurban stop.

    The Germantown that has been made reference to in these responses was actually along Fall Creek right at the Hamilton-Marion County line. Oaklandon Road was, at one point, called Germantown Road. Germantown fell victim to the creation of Geist Reservoir.

  20. Stacy says:

    Looking for any history on the Meek family and home at 25th and Mitthoeffer built in 1930. Were they tomato farmers?

  21. Anonymous says:


  22. Sandra Carol Taylor says:

    Hi, I have a deep connection to this church. My grandparent’s were Herbert Carl and Clara Marie Cook Witte. They and many other family members are buried in the church cemetery. As a child, I lived with my grandparent’s from time-to-time on their farm south of Washington Street on German Church Road. They never owned a vehicle, other than a tractor, so we walked every Sunday to the church. It was always my hope someone would pick us up with a ride. Many happy memories of their farm and my time spent at the church. I remember many Christmas programs, bible school, church picnics out in Greenfield and etc.

    By 1850, the families of Muesing, Koch, Witte, Weesling, Prange and Hartmann, purchased an acre of ground where the German school was held. These same families formed the original church. The Saint John Evangelical and Reformed Church was founded in 1855. Carl Friedrich Witte and Christine Muesing were my 2nd Great-Grandparents. Carl Witte was 31 in 1855 when the church was founded.

    Anyone know when the cemetery was established?

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