James W Kern’s Bicycle and Motorcycle Repair Shop at 1921 Howard Street, ca. 1915-1920. (Can anyone date these motorcycles?) This view looks southwest toward the intersection of Hiatt Street. James W. Kern is 2nd from the right. (The Indiana Album: Loaned by Nancy Netter)
Strict zoning laws, while necessary to protect residential districts from incompatible businesses, have perhaps deprived us of one aspect what makes neighborhoods interesting and walkable…the corner store. In the early part of the 20th century, most neighborhoods were dotted with drug stores, taverns, house parlors converted into restaurants and shops, and small grocery stores.
Reader Nancy J. (Postlewaite) Netter shared these circa 1920 snapshots of her family’s two neighborhood businesses on Howard Street in “The Hill” section of West Indianapolis. Originally named Belmont, West Indianapolis was incorporated as a town in 1882 and annexed to the city of Indianapolis in 1897. The neighborhood, located southwest of Indianapolis, is bound by Holt Avenue (west), Raymond Street (south), White River (east), and the CSX Railroad (north). By 1890 West Indianapolis was the city’s largest suburb with a population of 3,527. Although most of the residents in West Indianapolis were working class, a social distinction existed between “The Hill” area west of Harding Street and the low land east of Harding Street, known as “The Valley.” Lower property values, likely due to flooding, made the Valley less desirable and an older resident interviewed in the 1970s recalled, “When I was young, eyebrows would be raised if a girl or boy from the ‘Hill’ dated someone from the ‘Valley.’”
A century ago, the houses on the southeast corner of Howard and Hiatt Streets not only served as homes for the Crayton and Kern families, but also contained businesses for the occupants when what today’s urban planners call “live-work” buildings were common. With the streetcar line in front and many nearby employers such as the Indianapolis Stockyards and the Nordyke & Marmon Company (milling equipment manufacturers), the corner must have been bustling and Nancy’s family took advantage of their location. James Wilber Kern (1884-1959) bought his home at 1921 Howard Street in about 1910 and built a small store in front to house a bicycle repair and accessories business (probably in September 1914 when he applied for a building permit for an addition). The Kern bicycle repair shop first appeared in city directories in 1915. Eventually James also painted “motor cycle repairing” on his window sign and by 1924 he added automobile accessories. In the late 1920s Kern took employment as superintendent of maintenance at the Sinclair Refining Company and his repair shop was no longer advertised in directories. For a few years in the mid-1930s James and his wife Daisy, along with their son Wayne, operated Kern’s Market from the shop.
Seen in this late 1910s snapshot is (to the left) a Harley Davidson motorcycle and (right) an odd contraption marked “Thor.” Thor motorcycles, made by the Aurora Machine and Tool Company, ceased production in 1920. Can anyone identify the Thor machine shown above?
Two doors west at 1929 Howard Street, James Kern’s mother-in-law Margaret “Maggie” (Cruzan) Crayton (1863-1948) managed a candy and cigar store in the front room of the double that she and her husband William D. Crayton rented. Maggie was listed as a confectioner in city directories as early as 1913 through 1919 and also a confectionery store manager in the 1920 census. In 1922 the house is listed as William D. Crayton’s grocery store.
Maggie Crayton poses in her one-room shop in the front parlor of her rented home. Display cases are filled with cigars, cookies, and homemade candy. Signs advertise Pay Car Scrap (cigars), Coca-Cola, Furnas Ice Cream, and a free moving picture ticket for 12 Bryce Bread wrappers.
1900 Block of Howard Street Now: In the 1950s, the addition that housed Kern’s Bicycle and Motorcycle Repair shop was removed from the front of 1921 Howard Street, but the one-story house in back remains (the tan house to the left). The Kerns moved to Plainfield in the mid-1950s. The double that formerly housed the confectionery (cream house with brown roof) still stands on the corner. In the 1920s, the Craytons moved to Belmont Street to live with their recently widowed daughter, Goldie (Crayton) Stringer, whose railroad detective husband Orthello Lee Stringer was murdered while investigating the theft of coal from train cars in 1919. Note the raised areas of pavement, hinting at the old streetcars tracks beneath the street.
Recently, some cities have taken measures to relax zoning to resurrect the corner store. With cars and discounted prices at the big box stores, perhaps these mom-and-pop shops couldn’t successfully exist today, but it sure would be nice to walk to the corner to buy a piece of homemade chocolate candy, sip a cold soda, and learn the latest neighborhood gossip.
Learn more about West Indianapolis
West Indianapolis web page (West Indianapolis Development Corporation)
A View of the Valley: The 1913 Flood in West Indianapolis, Nancy M. Germano’s Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Indiana University, 2009
Social History of the “West Indianapolis” Section of Indianapolis, Margaret Wolfer, 1970s
Indianapolis Then and Now: West Indianapolis at W. Morris Street and Blaine Avenue, Historic Indianapolis, Joan Hostetler, September 26, 2013
HI Mailbag: Rhodius Park Area, Historic Indianapolis, Sharon Butsch Freeland, May 27, 2014
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Thank you Joan!!
I have always thought that these photos and negatives would make a good article for your series.
Thanks so much for sharing, Nancy! I’m convinced that some of our city’s best photographs can be found in attics and family albums. Many people will enjoy seeing your family snapshots and negatives.
I would like to see exterior and interior pictures of a corner drugstore located at 27th Street and College. It was the Ambrose Pharmacy.
I remember Mr. Ambrose from the 50’s when I would visit my grandparents and go to the drugstore. I would buy bean shooters and beans,
as well as other child-interest items. The store had a wooden floor, a soda fountain, etc. The building still stands on that corner, but appears
About 1982, I had a pharmacist named Ambrose at Osco fill a prescription. I mentioned the Ambrose pharmacy to her, and she replied that
the owner was her relative. I would like to think that somewhere people from the family have snapshots or other pictures that would
answer my interest. I was a pro photographer most of my life. I regret that I did not take pictures of more buildings and things that
are no longer around. I could have done it easily.
Coincidentally, I’ve been seeking photos of that building, located at 2705 College Avenue. Nancy Netter’s husband’s family had a store there in the late 1940s (Herbert Netter’s Market). If anyone has photos of that building, we’d be glad to scan them. (Nancy: I corresponded with your sister-in-law and she didn’t have any photos of the Netter Market; do you?)
No, I don’t, but I will see if a cousin does.
I have mentioned Ambrose Pharmacy in the past. It was in the corner of the abandoned building in a picture I captured several years ago. I am amazed the building still stands because it has a flat roof. That roof would be Swiss cheese after all these years much like the Rivoli building that was long neglected. See my picture here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/35613416@N07/3626366431/in/album-72157619698417226/
I believe people have pictures of inside and outside the Ambrose Pharmacy, and other family members continued in the pharmacy trade long after this store closed. Imagine a wooden-floor building with a soda fountain much like the historic pharmacy at the Fairgrounds. Another upscale pharmacy building was at 42nd and College. The Uptown Theatre was across the street. My mother made a special point of taking me to cowboy movies at the Uptown in the 1950’s, even though we lived 6500 South.
Really cool photos of the early Indianapolis motorcycles. The motorcycles in the first photo are from left to right: the second, third, and fourth motorcycles are pre-1915 Harley-Davidson motorcycles; the fifth and sixth motorcycles are Indian motorcycles; the motorcycle on the far right with the sidecar is a mid teens Harley-Davidson motorcycle; the first, seventh, and eighth motorcycles are unknown. Note that many of the motorcycles have acetylene tanks for lighting mounted on their handlebars. The acetylene tanks were made by Presto-lite of Speedway, Indiana. Electric lighting did not evolve until the late teens and early twenties. A good close up of the license plate on the fifth motorcycle might yield the license plate year. It appears to be a 1916 plate.
The motorcycles in the second photo are: on the left is an early teens Harley-Davidson; the motorcycle on the right that is adapted for snow sled outfit is a mid teens Thor motorcycle made by the Aurora Machine Company of Aurora, Illinois. The sled apparatus was common adaptation for motorcycles in the winter months.
The photos and provenance are an interesting and integral part of early Indianapolis motorcycle history.
Thanks to Nancy Netter for sharing the photos.
This type of knowledge is invaluable when cataloging and dating the photos. Thanks, Les! I’ve zoomed-in on the license plate and can see that it is plate C9339 but the year is too fuzzy. Is there a chart or guide to Indiana motorcycle plates? Actually, it looks like the regular automobile plate (http://www.in.gov/bmv/2825.htm), so I think you’re right that this is 1916.
Les is the man. We are so very fortunate to have his wisdom. He has some amazing motorcycles himself.
I was fortunate enough to have his motorcycles in our MotoGP booth at IMS this year.
Very, very special fella.
In that photo with the motorcycles I grew up in the house on the far right–2015 Howard St back in the 50’s and early 60’s my grandfather lived there in the 30’s and it’s great too see how it looked like. When I went to PS 46 Daniel Webster I would walk by that house that use to be a bicycle shop I always wondered why the front door was so close to the sidewalk and now I know. Thanks for sharing those photos Danny
I have lived in California for the past 35 years but I will always be a Hoosier at heart
Danny…If you have any other photos of the area from the 1930s or the 1950s/60s, we’d love to scan them. Was the bicycle store still there in the 1960s? I’m trying to determine when it was demolished.
only photos I have are from the late 40’s and early 50 of the family–a couple photos are from the westside gospel tabernacle on the corner of Belmont and Miller ave and I do have a photo of my mom from the early 50’s standing in the alley across the st from 2015 Howrd sT. I can email you a couple photos that were takin in front of those places to get an idea
I would love to see them. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
The Hammer family had a grocery store in the bicycle shop house in the 50″s. A man robbed the Hammer lady and hit her in the head. The man lived on Kappes and was caught. I grew up on Hiatt 50’s and 60,s. Was paper boy with 75 dailys and 130 Sundays…
Joan & Danny, our family lived at 2005 Howard St. from 1979-1988. We understood from the couple we purchased the house from that we were only the 3rd owners. I was so surprised to notice it in the background of this photo of 1929-1931 Howard, the former double on the southeast corner. Loved seeing the photos of Howard St. and hearing the history. Thanks!
I remember your house at 2005 Howard–I lived 2 doors down at 2015 . Mrs Smith or Mrs Green lived in your house–I get Green and Smith mixed up after all thses years. One lived on the corner and the other lived in your house and Carla Day lived in the house.I remmeber when I was about 10 I helped my uncle Lucien paint the outside of your house–this would be about 1962. I have some old photto that shows the house across the st from your and I think I have a couple photos that show the back of your house if you want to see them–the photos are late 40’s I think or early 50’s just send me your email
Hey Danny its Ed Becker. Mrs Green lived on the corner and Mrs Smith lived next door. I talk to Carla Day .
Thanks for writing, Linda. We like it when people make connections like this.
My husbands family moved to 1400 block of Hiatt about 1909…have lots of pics…even blueprints for homes to be built…my family lived in WI, on hill, in valley and off Belmont north of Washington St about that time…Just sold family home built in 1909….
My grandfather, Albert Fischer, is the second man on a motorcycle from the left!