Moravian Church and house at 666 E. 25th Street (The Indiana Album: Loaned by Dortha C. May)
Us local history lovers frequently drive by empty lots in older neighborhoods and wonder what stood there before the current gas station or parking lot. Photographs and postcards help us envision the buildings that have long since disappeared. Thanks to Dortha C. May for sharing this ca. 1920 postcard of the First Moravian Episcopal Church that once stood on the northwest corner of N. College Avenue and E. 25th Street.
Dortha’s mother had saved this undated photographic postcard of a church captioned as “Moravian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.” Someone wrote a pencil notation “this is the Church that Burned down” and she had heard stories about her mother’s family gathering to watch the fire. Unfortunately, the location was not noted and Dortha thought the church was on the south side. Thanks to maps and old newspapers we’ve discovered that this was the First Moravian Episcopal Church, built in 1901 at 2502 N. College Avenue.
Founded in 1894 by the Moravian congregation in Hope, Indiana, the new Indianapolis Moravian Church first met at the Interdenominational Society at 2319 Talbot Avenue and a few other sites before purchasing two lots at 25th Street and College Avenue in 1895 for $3,500. The first temporary frame chapel erected at the back of the site in November 1895 was blown down by a gale nine days after construction began, but was soon rebuilt.
The above view shows the south side of the structure and the adjacent house at 666 E. 25th Street where the pastor lived. The fire that our lender’s family witnessed occurred ninety years ago. According to the December 29, 1924 issue of the Indianapolis Star, a fire of unknown origin (probably caused by an overheated furnace) gutted the stucco church on a frigidly cold morning of 13 degrees below zero. Two firemen, handicapped by the cold and ice, were injured in the blaze that caused $30,000 in damage, completely destroying the building and burning a valuable pipe organ and eight new memorial windows. Members later remembered that the fire hydrants were frozen and nothing was saved, including the silver collection plates that melted beyond recognition. Although it is hard to believe, the paper stated that firemen fought 63 other small fires that night, caused by overheated furnaces, short circuits, and stopped-up chimneys.
Just two weeks before the fire, the congregation of 180 members had celebrated their 30th anniversary.
Neighbors and the Church Federation of Indianapolis contributed funds when it was learned that the church did not have sufficient insurance to rebuild. The congregation temporarily held services in a house at 656 E. 25th Street and in 1926 purchased the former Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church at E. 22nd Street and Broadway Avenue (read about the demolition of this building in 2012). In about 1928 a filling station was constructed on the former site of the church. The American Foursquare house at 666 E. 25th Street survives.
Few known images of this church exist and we’re glad that Dortha May let us scan this and other photos from around the state for the Indiana Album Bicentennial Project. Do you have rare or interesting photographs or postcards of Indianapolis or Indiana? Why not share your photographs? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to contribute.
Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industries, the Institutions, and the People of a City of Homes, v. 1, p. 631, Jacob Dunn, 1910; Indianapolis Star, “Sixty-Four Fires in City Yesterday; Church Destroyed,” 29 December 1924, p. 1; Indianapolis News, “Other Denominations Aid Moravian Church,” 1 January 1925; Indianapolis News, “Moravian Church Formed in Bohemia in 1457, Started in Indianapolis in 1894.” Thanks to Sharon Butsch Freeland for providing leads to the Indianapolis newspaper articles.
Please correct me if I’m incorrect, but I believe there was a second Moravian church near East 34th and Sutherland Avenue, near the former Nickel Plate RR’s Sutherland Yard (along Fall Creek south of 38th…)
You’re correct, Basil, about the Second Moravian Church. It was at 1602 E. 34th, just a couple of blocks east of Sutherland. I’ve read that it later was primarily a black congregation. Shortly after 2000 it shared a minister with the Haverford Moravian Church on 54th Street (which primarily had a white congregation). They had dwindling attendance and both closed within the past 5-10 years. I believe that the First Moravian Church might have been renamed the Haverford Moravian Church, but did not confirm that by the deadline. Does anyone know if that is correct?
Thanks, Joan, for the update. (I worked in Atlanta for several years with a gentleman named Mark Byrd, whose dad was the yard master of the Nickel Plate RR’s Sutherland Yard along Sutherland between 34th and 38th. They lived just a couple of blocks off 34th and Sutherland just west of Orchard Avenue at that time and his two older sisters graduated from Broad Ripple High School. He also had two aunts who sang with a traveling choir group from Second Moravian that crisscrossed the Midwest singing in various Moravian churches. Just before Mark was ready for high school his dad was promoted to manage the Nickel Plate’s yards at Elkhart, so he finished there and at Notre Dame. His mother was retired living in the South Grove area at Beech Grove. Now this was a decade ago, but i just found it interesting. just trivia!)
I was pastor of the Second Moravian congregation and also the Bethany Moravian congregation from 1995-1999. The Second Moravian Church had a plaque hanging on a wall from the Indianapolis Church Federation honoring the congregation as the first integrated congregation in Indianapolis. I’ve talked to some people about the plaque, but I haven’t found anyone who knows what happened to it after the congregation closed.