Scrapbooks of the Forest
1959: It was a different era, though many readers will remember it well. It was a time before the conveniences of the Internet and social media, when people were social in real space and time — door-to-door and in each other’s homes, a time when folks dressed elegantly for parties, a time when invitations were handmade with care and creativity… a more “cohesive” time.
It was in that year that the Sherwood Forest neighborhood was developed. Situated in far-Northside Indianapolis, in the Nora area, on beautifully-forested grounds and adjacent to farm land, a suburban community sprang forth that would eventually welcome almost 200 families.
My property abstract goes back to pre-statehood. The land was a mixture of swamp and forest, a convergence of the White River and several tributary streams where the Delaware (or Lenape) people hunted and farmed. There’s still ample proof of those inhabitants; a few of the neighbors who are original to the neighborhood have collections of native artifacts unearthed during the construction of their homes, axes and arrowheads, mostly.
Following history books, after wars and “treaties,” native peoples were relocated. Settlers cleared much of the forest and drained the swamps. In 1872, the sleepy hamlet of Nora developed just a few acres to the south. For generations, the location was not much more than a rural stop on the Monon Line. Little information is known about the events or people who lived in the farms or worked in the mills that are now just dots on the platt maps.
However, in the 1950s, the Indianapolis post-war building boom finally subsumed Nora, and suburbs began springing up in the area. Sherwood Forest, bounded by Westfield Boulevard, 91st Street, 96th Street (now called Real Street) and the Monon tracks (now the Monon Trail) slowly appeared from the clay and rubble of a struggling farm.
Today, few of the original owners remain, and at this writing, no one I have interviewed remembers how the neighborhood got its name… but someone must have been a big fan of the Robinhood story! The original development boasts lanes named Sherwood, Marian, Friar and Nottingham. (Indeed, when renovating our home, we discovered the deepest layer of dining room wallpaper was designed with vignettes of the Robinhood story.)
Providentially, those early “settlers” had the forethought to record the social events that were organized between neighbors in the form of three scrapbooks and a host of events folders which are still handed from host-to-host each year. These precious historical materials have been passed between neighbors for safe keeping for over 50 years. A few have been lost, but those that remain give insight into a time, not too long ago, when neighborly celebrations were the center of social life.
Rickie Franz, the original Sherwood Forest historian, wrote in the first scrapbook, “In June of 1959 a group of 17 women, there were only about 22 families in the Forest, decided to get together…” and with this, she chronicled the first three years of community births, deaths, card parties and civic engagement. Many Sherwood Forest traditions began in the very first year and continue to today: the children’s Halloween and Christmas parties, Bridge gatherings, neighborhood sales and the Fourth of July parade.
Flotsam and ephemera from Forest scrapbooks tell significant, inspiring, and even humorous stories like these, among others:
- the much-beloved firefighter who accidentally caught his own house on fire (and his legendary good humor about the whole thing)
- the fancy annual dances
- the time the neighborhood banded together to get a blinking light for the Monon railroad crossing
- the time a tree fell on a neighbors house while she was interviewing a tree service at her front door
- the time Aldo Andretti came to speak at an association meeting
I have a deep feeling of gratitude to the (mostly) ladies who chronicled (and continue to record) our community events, offering physical (sometimes-corrective) proof of the oral histories one sometimes picks up at the annual gatherings.
Friends and neighbors:
– What are your memories of the Nora area or Sherwood Forest neighborhood?
– YOU are living history! How are YOU chronicling the events of your life and your community?
Please add your own details to the Sherwood Forest timeline in comments below!