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Don’t blink as you drive north on Westfield Boulevard from 86th street or you will miss Al Wood Place.

The Curious Case of Al Wood Place (and other Washington Township Mini-Miracles)

Occasionally history isn’t about what a place is… or was. Occasionally, history is about what a place ISN’T. Such is the case with my (Friday) favorite spot in my hometown(ship): Al Wood Place.

If you pass the intersection of 86th Street and Westfield Boulevard, you might (or might not) notice a curious sign on the northeast quadrant of the intersection, between the BP and CVS pharmacy. And if you drive by any faster than the speed limit, you might wonder to yourself, “What did that sign say?”

What you definitely will NOT notice is the public health and safety concern that once inhabited that corner: a slimy, mosquito-infested swamp.

This humble micropark is the namesake of Mr. Al Wood, Nora-Northside Community Council (NCC) director emeritus, and the everyday superhero who fought to have the unsightly and hazardous “Nora Branch open ditch” piped and covered. Since the park’s creation, NCC Board members have planted flower beds and trees and now, as a covenant of membership, patrol it monthly to keep it litter-free.

Historically an eyesore and public health menace... now an unobtrusive (if quaint) micropark.

Historically an eyesore and public health menace… now an unobtrusive (if quaint) micropark.

Indeed, Washington Township resdients have the all-volunteer Nora-Northside Community Council and it’s nearly 50 years of community “watch dogging,” to thank for this and many other minor miracles. The organization’s legend is rich with stories of grassroots struggles to secure what the area would NOT become: over-advertised, over-commercialized, industrialized, unlivable.

NCC boundaries: A nearly-50-year-old community stronghold, the Nora Community Council has presided over a portion of Washington Township and fought (sometimes tooth and nail) for livability.

NCC boundaries: A nearly-50-year-old community stronghold, the Nora Community Council has presided over a portion of Washington Township and fought (sometimes tooth and nail) for livability.

 

So…who gets the credit for starting the Monon Trail? Or for developing 86th Street as a divided road with a grassy median instead of as an express route? Those landmark features can be directly attributed to NCC influence coupled with the leadership William H. Hudnut showed during 16 years as former Indianapolis mayor.  These are just a couple of examples of how the organization, acting as liaison for over 60 historic neighborhood associations, has kept the Nora area homey — a counter to urban sprawl.

Of course, everyone loves the Monon Trail – now.  But it took NCC’s leadership to convince the City-County Council to save the right-of-way when the rail line was abandoned in 1987.  NCC members also served on greenways committees and planning groups to promote linear parks in the Indianapolis community — long before the public even knew there was such an issue. The first section of the trail, from Nora to Broad Ripple, opened in 1996. Since then, as you know, the trail has grown in popularity and size, now connecting with Fall Creek Trail, the Monon Greenway of Carmel and the Central Canal Towpath, which leads to the White River Wapahani Trail.

NCC volunteers (with no paid staff) also helped to found the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations; started the first newspaper recycling center on the north side; have given over 9000 free trees to anyone who promised to plant them; and served on numerous City task forces and committees. As they say, “special communities don’t just happen.”

So, Al Wood Place, though not an edifice of grand imposing beauty, is a beautiful example of how history is also… what ISN’T.

Want to learn more about what history IS, in Washington Township?

Check out these articles:

What Exactly is…Nora?

Mustard Family Properties in Washington Township

Broad Ripple Cemetery

Hammond’s Grove

Union Chapel Cemetery

Millersville Memories

… and a little bit of history DID happen right across the street from Al Wood Place, The Accidental Fireworks Show of 1926.

Did you know Al? Know a neighborhood champion? Do you have a favorite #HiddenIndy spot in Washington Township, or any other? DO TELL! (In the comment box below…)

3 responses to “Friday Favorite Spot in Washington Township”

  1. Joan Hostetler says:

    Here’s another one from yesterday: the fantastic Hammond-Wright house at 4150 Central Avenue. Rezin Hammond was the brother of Thomas C. Hammond who owned Hammond’s Grove. http://historicindianapolis.com/indianapolis-then-and-now-the-hammond-wright-house-4150-central-avenue/

  2. Bob Kerr says:

    I remember the nasty old ditch behind the old Gas station on the NE Corner. It was full of shopping carts and junk from the old A&P Grocery store where Marsh is now. The ditch went North and south in front of the grocery store parking lot. A&P installed pipes in the parking lot to catch runaway carts, but some still made it to the ditch!

  3. Richard Tornes says:

    The Woods family and my family were good friends. We spent many days and holidays at their house back in the neighborhood behind where the CVS is located. I grew up just down Westfield Blvd just north of 75th street. Nora was such a great small town community when I was little before it exploded in growth in the mid sixties and early seventies. My fathers animal hospital was located at 86th and Dean Road which at the time was farm land.

    I used to play on the stacks of things they had in front of the A&P store and rode the little house ride located at the doors there. Many fond memories of that time and place.

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