A friend of mine has asked me about the history of the Rhodius Park area, since she has just moved into a house across from the park. I tried searching the HI website, as well as the HUNI website, and came up with nothing. Does HI have something on the area around Rhodius? ~ Anna B.
Although Rhodius Park did not open until 1924, the area surrounding it began to be settled nearly a century earlier. In 1822, the land that became the city park was purchased from the federal government by James H. McClure and William Myers. A few years later, their properties were purchased by Theodore Johnson and John and Jacob Kohl, respectively.
In the 1830s, the construction of the National Road through the heart of Indianapolis stimulated growth in the previously remote areas of Marion County that were west of the White River. Over the next few decades, many little farming villages were established both north and south of the highway, including Stringtown, Mt. Jackson, Hawthorne, and Haughville. The area around what would one day become Rhodius Park was in the village called Belmont.
With the formation of the Indianapolis Belt Railway and Stock Yard Company in 1877, many new jobs were created. There was a great influx of people from Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Ohio, and southern Indiana seeking work in the companies located along the National Road and the Belt Railway. Some of the early factories that employed area residents were Indianapolis Abbatoir, Parry Manufacturing Company, Piel Brothers Starch Works, Nordyke & Marmon Co., Puritan Bed Spring Co., and Bixby’s Shinola Shoe Polish.
By 1882, the Town of Belmont had grown to several thousand people, and the residents decided to incorporate their village. They renamed Belmont the Town of West Indianapolis. For fifteen years, it was one of the city’s largest suburbs. Many of the surnames of the town’s early landowners’ are still known today, because the streets in West Indianapolis were named for them. They included Samuel Harding, John Kappes, Nicholas McCarty, Dandridge H. Oliver, and Nathan B. Palmer.
In 1897, West Indianapolis was annexed to the City of Indianapolis. In the years after annexation, European immigrants from countries like Germany and Italy added diversity to the residential population. As in earlier decades, it was the factories located on the near southwest side that attracted the new arrivals. A 2011 Historic Indianapolis article related additional details about West Indianapolis, which you can access here.
In 1913, much of the eastern portion of the former Town of West Indianapolis was flooded by the overflowing waters of the White River. The low area to the east gained the nickname of “The Valley,” and the higher area towards the west was henceforth known as “The Hill.” In later years, a portion of the southwest was dubbed “The Hollow” and a portion of the northwest, “The Bottoms.” These terms, as well as the town’s former name of “West Indianapolis,” continue to be used by locals today.
A 33-acre section bounded by Belmont Avenue on the west, Wilkins Street on the south, Reisner Street on the east, and Wyoming Avenue (called Wyoming Street, today) on the north had been platted for residential lots, but because it was a bit swampy, no homes had been built there yet. The City of Indianapolis purchased the lots in 1913, 1914, and 1917, with a bequeath in the will of George Rhodius Jr.George Rhodius Jr. (1865-1909) was the only child of George Rhodius Sr. (1822-1867) and Maria Rhodius (1835-1905). The parents immigrated to the United States from Germany prior to the Civil War. They operated a restaurant at 15 North Meridian Street. That location would later become the site of the Kahn Building (known in more recent years as the King Cole Building). George Sr. died when George Jr. was only two years old.
After her husband’s death, Maria Rhodius built the Circle Park Hotel in the southeast quadrant of Monument Circle. Historic Indianapolis ran a “Sunday Ads” piece in 2011 that discussed the Circle Park Hotel, which you can read here. As a result of her hard work, Mrs. Rhodius became both well-respected and well-to-do. She sent her son to the University of Notre Dame and funded a number of his vacations to Europe.
When Maria Rhodius died in 1905, son George inherited approximately one million dollars from his mother’s estate. Unfortunately, George’s mental health declined rapidly after his mother’s passing. His inability to make sound decisions resulted in his becoming the target of an unscrupulous opportunist.
On January 21, 1907, a woman named Elma Dare kidnapped 41-year-old George Rhodius and took him by train to Louisville, where the two were married. They then boarded another train bound for New York City. During their travels, the new Mrs. Rhodius got her feeble-minded husband to sign a new will, making her the sole beneficiary of his estate. When Rhodius’ Indianapolis attorney, John Wilson Claypool, discovered Rhodius was missing from his home, he notified the authorities. The police caught up with the couple in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where Elma Dare was arrested. For the next few years, a number of court cases ensued. Because there was a great deal of publicity surrounding the situation, the trials had to be moved outside Marion County. Ultimately, the marriage was annuled, and the will in Elma Dare’s possession was thrown out.
To complicate matters, George Rhodius Jr. died somewhat suddenly in 1909. Due to the bizarre circumstances of the various lawsuits, the funds did not become available to the Board of Park Commissioners until 1911. Had Elma Dare prevailed in her plan to inherit George Rhodius’ fortune, Rhodius Park might never have been built.
Ultimately, a judge decided to honor the will prepared by George Rhodius just after his mother’s death in 1905, as well as a 1907 codicil, both of which were executed when he was of a sounder mind. In that document, George Rhodius had planned to leave a sizable sum of money to the Parks Department, as well as to various charities. The bequest to the Board of Park Commissioners was finally made in 1911.The City acquired the land for Rhodius Park during the years it hired landscape architect and city planner George Kessler (1862-1923) as a consultant, so it was Kessler who designed Rhodius Park. The original community center was at 1001 South Belmont Avenue, on the western boundary of the park. It was demolished in the 1990s, and that site is now a parking lot. The building was replaced by the Rhodius Park Family Center, which is located at 1720 Wilkins Street, on the eastern (or opposite) boundary of the park and adjacent to IPS William Penn School # 49.
The original swimming pool was oval-shaped and was built up off the ground on a platform. It was located on the far east end of the park. Today the site of the former swimming pool is the location of the Rhodius Park Family Center and IPS 49.
Some of the organizations serving the Rhodius Park area are West Indianapolis Development Corporation, West Indianapolis Neighborhood Congress, Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center , Southwest Health Center, IPS #46 /Daniel Webster Family Academy, IPS #49 / William Penn Elementary School, Key Learning Community, George Washington Community High School, West Indianapolis Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, Billie’s Food Pantry, and Community Advisory Panel Sponsors (National Starch & Chemical, Lilly Technology Center, and Indianapolis Power and Light Company).
Locals claim that the area still retains the “feel” of a small town. Despite being a working class neighborhood of modest homes and large industrial facilities, people care about their neighbors. They also note that Rhodius Park is one best spots in town for viewing July 4th fireworks.
Historic Indianapolis contributor Joan Hostetler wrote a “Then and Now” piece in 2013 about the corner of West Morris Street and Blaine Avenue, where additional information and photos about the area appear. You can access that article here.
Curiously enough, Maria Rhodius erected a large monument in the northwest quarter of Section 2 in Crown Hill, a black granite base topped by a beautiful marble perpetual mourner type statue of an angel dropping flowers. It’s just north of a European Weeping beech tree. But no one is buried there; she or someone else decided to erect a family mausoleum at the southwest corner of Section 25, easily visible on the northside of the road if you drive from the 34th Street gate to the Gothic Chapel. She and the two Georges are entombed there, along with a bust of George and a stained glass window of St. George fighting the dragon.
My Dad grew up in the neighborhood south of the park in the 20s and 30s, so I would guess that he might have gone swimming in the original pool on occasion. My in-laws also lived in the neighborhood for a while in the 1990s, and it is a good place from which to watch the fireworks if you don’t mind all the firecrackers and small fireworks being set off in close proximity.
The construction of the mausoleum is mentioned at the end of Maria Rhodius’ obituary. The grave in which she was intially buried was intended to be temporary, until such time as the monument was completed. I wonder if her body was never moved because there was no one left to see to it. Son George died only two years after Maria. He was an only child and had no children, so the family ended with his death in 1909. I will send you the newspaper article via e-mail attachment.
Sharon, from this obit and what I can see of Crown Hill’s records online, I would guess that George Sr. was originally buried where the statue is in Sec 2. When the newspaper mentions she would be temporarily in a vault, it almost certainly is referring to one of the vaults in the Waiting Station. There were originally 96 of them used for such purposes. Riley’s body was in one from July 1916 to October 1917. Once the Mausoleum was finished, she and George Sr. and eventually George Jr. were entombed there. They are all in the family mausoleum. Though it does not have any angels, because of its proximity to another angel statue and the fact that we end at the Rhodius Angel in Sec 2, we will look into the window of the mausoleum on the Angels of Crown Hill Tour I will be conducting starting at 7:30 pm on June 7. It gives me a chance to tell a humorous story involving the day my wife had to go inside it to take pictures.
Thanks, Tom. Now this all makes more sense. Since George Sr. died four decades before Maria and George Jr. did, and since Maria didn’t decide to erect a mausoleum until late in her life, George Sr. had to have initially been buried somewhere else. Perhaps there are records at Crown Hill that would indicate his being moved from Section 2 to Section 25.
Correction, The temporary vaults were in the Gothic Chapel, not the Waiting Station.
I almost deleted this without opening, as I am rushed and frankly, no interest in Rhodius Park–but noting the author’s name, I opened and read. It is so well written, creatively researched, that I not only read every word but am printing it out…..this is history with flesh put on the skeleton facts—better than anything I read in local and national publications. (Why not submit it to Ray Boomhower for his wonderful Traces?)
But again, I wish a few of us could prevail to ask Sharon to do the same kind of research on a budding project–inventorying the creative homes and career of late Sol (possibly Saul?) Bodner, attorney apparently with no architectural training who created some of the most elegant upscale homes in primarily the Meridian-Kessler area, but as it turns out also near downtown (apt. bldg. 28th Meridian said to be one of a kind) and those mystery homes tucked side by side at 7777 7775 N. Meridian (said to be expanded version of the home SB was building for himself at 245 E. Westfield (I am 3rd only occupant of this baroque SB fantasy.) A small group, including his grandchildren, have been lobbying to get an “inventory” of what he created, some say primarily for cultured affluent Jewish who were not welcome in many neighborhoods and who turned to Bodner for personalized creations. Sharon is the one who could do him credit.
My dad was on the Garfield Park water polo team. They played against Rhodius Park’s team. He also swam in a number of meets at Rhodius Park. Later when I was about 10 I watched my dad referee water polo matches at the old Garfield Park pool.
Very cool, Louis! I love water polo! Being a California native, my high school had a great team, and I kept score!
Rhodius Park has a lot of fond memories. Being from the west side and using the park even after I was married and until I moved to the south side of Indianapolis. I knew Forrest Higgs who was one of the early PAL Club policemen who was assigned to the city parks around town and managed all of the sports as well as the community house’s. The community house should have been protected by the Historic Society and never destroyed.
Thank you for such a wonderful article. My mother worked as a life guard in the early 50’s. Does anyone know when the original pool was replaced? Her memory is not so good these days, and she was recalling a time when the pool leaked out and flooded the park. Yet, I don’t know if it is a true story. Thank you.
Thank you for posting a comment. The current pool opened on Memorial Day of 1971. I did not come across any information about the original pool leaking, but now that you’ve mentioned this, I will go back and look for an article in a local newspaper in the early ’50s. Since the original pool was built above ground and would have been almost thirty years old when your mother was a lifeguard, it certainly seems possible that it could leak.
Thank you for your timely response Sharon. Not to get too off of topic, do you have any helpful hints on deed searches within Marion County? The time period would be in 1870-1900s. Can this be done at the City-County building? Thank you again.
Nancy, I will send you a private e-mail with some information. ~ Sharon
Sharon, what a wonderful article. I raised 6 kids in that neighborhood, one of whom still lives there, and it was magical. As to Rhodius and the 4th, if you go back to the 80’s and 90’s, there were almost as many fireworks in the park as out of it, not very safe, but a great time. I also remember the shops on Howard Street that included Mr. Shepherd’s shoe shop. In that unlikely place was an old craftsman who not only repaired and refurbished shoes, but one who created specialty shoes for people who needed prescription shoes. I lived at the corner of Howard and Lee, and we had a garage that had been a store and a beauty shop. Our front room was also a beauty shop at one time. We met a lady who had lived in our house in the early 1900’s and learned a few interesting pieces of trivia about the neighborhood. It was home to many people who worked in transportation and kept horses. In many of the back yards there were sheds that housed the horses and it always seemed the garden grew better back there! Her husband drove horses for the trolley downtown. Lastly, before it disbanded, our Scout troop was one of the oldest in the city having started in the early 1900’s. It is a place with a proud history and a very faithful group of neighbors. Thank you for the history!
Dennis, Thank you for your reminiscences. Please write down those stories of magical times gone by, and pass them on to your children and grandchildren. They will be forever grateful for a glimpse of the past through your eyes. ~ Sharon
Wonderful article! My family lived just south of the park on Richland, moving here from Kentucky in the 1920’s, and many stayed there until they passed. I have so many fond memories of that park, Easter egg hunts, picnics and even swimming in first that round pool and even a few times in the newer pool. It’s so interesting to know the history of this area, Thank you!!
Kelly, My dad’s parents also moved to the neighborhood from Kentucky around 1925 and lived in several different houses there (and a few other places around town) until moving to the Cloverdale area around 1945. My Dad, Tom Davis, and his sister Claudene graduated from Washington High School probably 1943. Maybe some our relatives crossed paths. My brother in law’s family moved into the neighborhood in the mid-80s as part of a church whose members moved there hoping to form some kind of community. I think a few of them still live in the area, but most of the ones I knew have moved on.
Tom, Dennis and I probably knew them, as we were part of that church. The community still exists, but smaller than it was in the 80’s. They have built a new church next to their old one, which is still standing on Blaine Street.
I was born at 1418 Blaine Ave, grew up at 1416, til I married in 1956. We were Demoss/ PACE/ TACKETT. My grandfather worked at Stark & Wetzel, and my uncle worked at Bertrams Hardware. We all went to Blaine Ave Methodist Church.
What a wonderful piece of history from the westside of Indy. We were late-comers to the neighborhood but lived north of Washington Street from 1984-2003. Our kids played baseball at Rhodius and took their first swimming lessons there. One year it flooded and looked like a huge pond. Thank you!
There is a very nice article on Rhodius Park on the Indiana Historical Society.
Thanks for sharing. l love the old history of Westside lndy (WI), especially all the little areas with their own nicknames. l grew up close to IPS 50 Nathaniel Hawthorne. Growing up, l didn’t know our area had a name. After reading this l assume our area was called Hawthorne…..Thanks again for sharing this information.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for posting a comment. Glad you enjoyed it. ~ Sharon
My husband Ed Becker and I were lucky to be WI family. He grew up on Hiatt where his home was the first farm home at 1430 Hiatt St. When family moved there it was fields and animals and in the distance Blaine Ave could be seen. His grandfather Arnold built a lot of the home in WI. My family lived in Valley before I was born and then onto Richland. Wiggs/Jones. ..Abraham Freije, my great grandfather had many neighborhood stores and last was on Traub. Rhodius Park was always a treat to go to. Famly spoke of Victory Gardens in Rhodius during war..We grew up at Blaine Ave and Grandma went to the Assumption. Dad grew up in Haughville. Old WI’s are still family even today. Ruble Florist burnt but has relocated on Morris.
I know your husband Ed Becker as he was 1 of my brothers best friends-Dennis Ransdell. I remember going down into Eddys basement and watching him play on his erector set and have many fond memories of sitting on his front porch with Roy Hammer and Tony Vester.This would have been about 1963 .I lived at 2015 Howard St around the corner from Eddy and I remember his parents very well. My grandparents always lived on the west side and I have tracked his address since 1912
Luther Charles was listed in 1912 address was listed as 1755 Morgan St
Luther Charles was listed in 1914 address was listed as 1760 Blaine Ave
Luther Charles was listed in 1916 address was listed as 1332 Lee St
Luther Charles was listed in 1917 address was listed as 1718 Blaine Ave
Luther Charles was listed in 1919 address was listed as 1714 Blaine Ave
Newberry B Collins was listed in a 1917 address was listed at 1555 Blaine Ave
Luther Charles was listed in 1922 address was listed at 1557 or 1557 Blaine Ave
Luther Charles was listed in 1926 address was listed at 1446 Lee St
Luther Charles was listed in 1927 address was listed at 1546 S Harding st
Luther Charles was listed in 1928 address was 1546 S harding St Indianapolis
Luther Charles was listed in 1930 address was 1556 s Blaine Ave
Luther Charles was listed in 1935 address was 2224 Howard St
also I did find that he also lived on Morgan st at 2208 and across the st was his cousin I recall–Morgan Charles before his finally settled on Howard St
tell Ed I said hi :)..even though I live near San Francisco the last 45 years I still consider myself a Hoosier till the end
Great article, my grandparents lived on Nordike street, in the valley region. I my mother and brothers and I lived with them during much of the second world war years. I along with my uncle’s spent many a day hiking up to the park to go swimming and play ball. I learned to swim in the pool there. Great memories from troublesome years.
I was looking for a map of Nordyke Ave and came across this site and got interested when Rhodius Park was mentioned. We swam there as kids and walked from our home at 1401 Nordyke Ave. We went to PS 48. We lived there from around 1957 until approximately 1964-65. The Rice Family
My family lived in the “valley”.Moved there in 1946. We lived on Oliver Ave.Played c and b baseball at Rhodius.John Kennedy was our coach.Spent many an hour running around the park.went to school at Assumption Choir and Altar boy.Loved the pool.Great memories.
Thank you so much for this article. I grew up in the Rhodius Park (or West Indy) neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s. As a child, I remember seeing my first movie at the Morris Street Theater and going to the West Indianapolis Library. I worked at the Rhodius Swimming pool from 1996-2001 as a lifeguard, swim coach, and swimming teacher. On “The Hill” side of the park between Morris Street and Howard Street is a very close church community that has lived in the neighborhood since the late 1970s. While the neighborhood has had its fair share of crime, this special community has helped host clean up days, provide free meals to neighbors, and provide help in any way they can. My parents and many of my childhood friends still call this neighborhood home.