Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you
–Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel
Boxes of family photographs for sale in flea markets and antique shops both excite and sadden me. As a collector and archivist I’m happy to rummage through and buy the discarded images, yet sad to know that they somehow slipped out of family hands. I wonder: Did the family die out with no descendants to claim the pictures? Did someone who doesn’t appreciate history rush to settle an estate? Are there grandchildren or cousins who did not have a chance to acquire them? It’s particularly sad to see shaky older handwritten captions indicating that someone lovingly took the time to share their memories with hopes that future generations will come to know them through the faded snapshots.
Recently, with the convenience of sharing digital images, a network of like-minded folks have found ways to return or share images with their families. One such “photo rescuer” is Don Johnson, a reporter for Antique Weekly. This week he attended The Indiana Album’s Historic Photograph Scan-A-Thon at the Irvington Branch Library and loaned a wonderful album found at an antique store. Typical of the mid-1930s, photo corners hold the snapshots onto black pages. Identification in old albums varies from no writing, to vague and nearly worthless captions (“Yours truly at our second house”), or if you’re lucky, detailed captions with full names, dates, and addresses. Johnson’s album is in the latter category with neat pencil-written captions giving complete details.
While we have not yet put together a complete history of the album, we believe that the photographer was a teenager named Lee Wayne Dickey who lived in a neighborhood on the southwest side of Indianapolis near Rhodius Park. He was a better-than-average snapshot photographer who took his craft seriously, sometimes noting exposure times or lighting experiments. Between 1935 and 1938 he filled over one half of the album with images of his nearby neighborhood, a few downtown views, trips to South Bend and other Indiana towns, and many of the Dickey family. At first glance the album seems to show a typical happy family, but research on ancestry.com reveals that just five years earlier Lee’s parents and his ten-year-old sister died within four days of each other and the three surviving children went to live with relatives. Lee moved in with his Uncle Marshall and Aunt Barbara, whose children were already grown.
Central to Lee’s world was the Dickey IRGA (Independent Retail Grocers’ Association) Food Market, operated by Marshall and Barbara (Werner) Dickey. The two-story wood structure, located on the southwest corner of W. Morris Street and Blaine Avenue, housed a crowded grocery store on the first level, with an apartment above rented by the Dickey’s. The Dickeys first occupied this corner in about 1914 and continued through the early 1940s. Lee’s many snapshots show the exterior and the interior of the store, as well as the adjacent shoe and mower repair shop.
Often amateur photographers took vacation and people photographs, but failed to capture their immediate surroundings. Fortunately, Lee documented many buildings on or near W. Morris Street just west of Harding Street (today this is a few blocks south of I-70). This area was a separate town first named Belmont, and renamed West Indianapolis (often abbreviated W.I.). In the late 1890s the town was annexed to Indianapolis.
The Masonic Hall, located northeast of the grocery on W. Morris St., is visible in the background of several photographs. Recently the lodge was renovated by Halstead Architects and since 2010 has been home to the Southwest Health and Dental Center.
West of the Masonic Lodge stood the Morris Street Christian Church. Today the site is a parking lot for the Health Center.
Located at 1604 W. Morris Street was a house converted into the Farley Funeral Home. Currently the house is occupied by Legacy Creamation and Funeral Services.
The IPS William Penn School #49, photographed on 2 November 1938, was located on the eastern end of Rhodius Park. A modern K-6th grade school is on the same site now and shares facilities with IndyParks.
The art deco Fire Station Number 19 stood at 1445 W. Morris Street and was replaced in 1992 by a new station on South White River Parkway.
Bixby-Shinola Factory (The Indiana Album: Loaned by Don Johnson)The large Bixby Factory in the 1400 block of W. Morris Street was best known for making Shinola Shoe Polish, but during the late 1940s the second and third floors produced RIT dyes. The industrial building survived until this month and is currently being demolished.
Lee Dickey stopped filling his album with snapshots when he turned nineteen and soon served his country in World War II. Other than working for Eli Lilly and Company for thirty-two years, his life is hard to trace from the comfort of my computer as he lived in a pre-Internet age. His obituary states that he died March 30, 2003 and does not mention a wife or children. If anyone knows his surviving family members (sister-in-law Kathryn Dickey, niece Karen Moore, or nephew Robert Stutsman), please let them know that we have great scans of their family that we would like to share. (Thanks to Don Johnson for loaning this gem of an album!)