(photo by Dawn Olsen)
Harry McClintock wasn’t at all like the affluent of Indianapolis. He was a cowboy, a poet, a boomer, a world-traveler, a professional hobo. But his hobo-ing led to experiences, and the experiences gave him things to talk about, and the things he talked about were eventually formed into a song—one I loudly sang to myself as I cruised down College Avenue.
“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, there’s a land that’s fair and bright …” Within the safe confines of my tried-and-true Oldsmobile, I sang. Exaggerated and loudly, I sang. Really, it was the only way to rid my mind of it; to sing and hum and think of “lemonade springs.”
The song itself, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” was first recorded by McClintock in 1928. The lyrics summarized a sort of hobo paradise—one where “the cops have wooden legs” and “little streams of alcohol come trickling down the rocks.” Not words or descriptions typically associated with historic Circle City. But as I glanced through my car windows—checking the neighborhood, scanning homes—singing to myself about a vagabond utopia, I realized I was driving through the remnants of another paradise.
College Avenue, like other northside neighborhoods, represented “the physical culmination of the turn-of-the-century dream. It was the tangible symbol of having arrived at a state of affluence and ‘a place in the community’” 
Spacious homes with modern plumbing and lighting were constructed on large lots. In fact, “comfortable living” was a theme: homes were built with room to entertain, room to have privacy, and room to grow. These two-story giants were constructed with wood or masonry (depending on the wealth of the homeowner). More money typically meant more brick, more stone. Furthermore, the solid foundation upon which a family made its home was, quite literally, built to last.
Indianapolis Architecture, published in 1975 by the Indiana Architectural Foundation, states that the stability of turn-of-the-century construction allowed homes to “last longer than [their mortgages].” In other words, each northside mansion was constructed with the intent to outlive its first homeowner, its second homeowner, perhaps even its third or fourth. They were built for future generations.
Public transportation also played a part in the construction of homes. As the city stretched northward and on to Broad Ripple, the frequency of streetcars increased. College Avenue was a thoroughfare from downtown to summer retreat. Homes nearest the rails were the most decorated. Only the affluent lived here, close to transportation, near shops. Every four blocks, there was a school, a drug store, a grocery, anything one needed. It was paradise for the homeowners of that age; one, one’s house, one’s family—to be near it all, to be seen.
One family of elegance and affluence was the Harrington family. I first stumbled across their names in the 1914 “Indianapolis Blue Book,” which listed Humphrey P. Harrington as the primary resident of 2110 College Ave., with fellow residents Dennis Harrington, James Harrington, Miss Mary Harrington, and John Bruns also listed. The family, whose history stretches to Ireland, boasted machinists and priests, superintendents and lawyers. In 1904, for example, Dennis held a machinist position, while Humphrey was an assistant superintendent at Ewart Manufacturing Company. Humphrey, however, had already invented, in 1897, a patent for bicycle chains; by 1911, he was the factory superintendent of Marvel Carburetor Company. And, after originally working as a proofreader in the late 1890s, another brother, Timothy, was a member of the printing firm Harrington & Folger. They were, from the very beginning, a family involved with their community.
The Harringtons moved into 2106 College Ave. (as it was known before the 1911 address change) in 1900. The home was new then, and the Harringtons were its first residents. And though it has been decades since the family passed through the home’s doors, it still stands, impressive and looming over the corner of 21st and College. In fact, when I and my car cruised past it that day, I believe I broke from “Big Rock Candy Mountain” just long enough to exclaim “Holy #!*X!”
The three-story tower that caused me to turn my head (and also nickname the property “Castle House”) is the home’s defining feature. Even now, beyond the boarded-up windows, it is impressive and reminiscent of the home’s former glory. Though I do not know if the owner is still working on the property, or if improvements have been abandoned, I can tell you that the roof is new, and that the porch—lopsided and rotted in recent times—is being rebuilt. The home is clearly pegged for a new exterior as well. But the remaining question is, will it come together? Will the property be revitalized, or will it fall prey to the elements, as so many of its neighbors did?
The intersection of 21st and College was a reasonably populated area, according to the 1898 Sanborn map. Located just across the street from the “Oliver P. Morton School” is 2110 College Ave., the largest home in the area. Interestingly, the property did not (and still does not) have a carriage house or garage, which were common additions. Unless the Harringtons borrowed space in their neighbor’s larger garage, it can only be assumed that they traveled to work via the streetcars available on College.
By 1929, the school had expanded to accommodate the children of families who continued to migrate north. The Harringtons, who had lived on College Avenue for nearly 25 years, had already left the home on the hill, the one with the tower and wide-set porch. Humphrey had been the last to move out of the property, after Dennis and brother James (who moved to 3528 College Avenue) were gone. So instead of serving as a one-family residential home, the property was used for Phi Delta Kappa (Rho Chapter). Phi Delta Kappa, chartered in Indianapolis in 1911, was a professional fraternity for men studying education (women were eligible to join starting in 1974) . It had begun to use the College Avenue home for its operations in 1927, but just eight years later, the fraternity had relocated to a Fort Wayne address, and the property had been gutted and turned into a series of apartments. Seven individuals lived in the property in 1935, but, just a year later, there were nine units total.
In the ‘40s, the home survived under the care of three separate individuals, none of whom rented the property to multiple tenants. However, the 1956 Sanborn attaches the “apartments” label to the property, and the city directories show that multiple individuals were living at the home once more.
By the 1970s, homes closer to 22nd street had been demolished and replaced with parking lots. A 1986 aerial view shows that a home south of 2110 College Ave. had been demolished. Other homes and apartment complexes were leveled as well, ones on the same side of the street as the Oliver P. Morton School (which is vacant currently).
The ‘90s and ‘00s show only more empty lots, more overgrown trees and uncared for homes. Even “Castle House,” which had three owners in two years, is shown covered with a tarp in 2013 satellite images.
With such visual demise in the area, College Avenue is far from paradise. “Indianapolis Architecture” attributes the neighborhood’s issues with the decline of school-age children and the “development and bigness … at the city’s four corners.” Indeed, the 1970s were to College Avenue as the 1910s were to Booth Tarkington’s Woodruff Place. Today, College is nothing less than depressing as one cruises past each boarded up house, each blighted alley and vacant store. The lyrics of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” may as well be rewritten.
In expansive Circle City,
all along College Avenue,
where the trash collects on bushes
and you don’t feel safe at night.
Where the houses all are empty
and the trees are overgrown.
And the holes and ruts
and the cigarette butts,
the boarded-up homes
that you can’t call home
all along College Avenue.
True, I cannot name specifically why 2110 College Ave. fell to a less-than-grandeur status. It is something, most likely, that the Harrington family never expected. Luckily, however, their home has survived to the present day, to a time when many structures, especially those on College, have an uncertain future. But, as our dated but still applicable friend “Indianapolis Architecture” says, “The process of ‘keeping house up’ is terribly hard to define, but very easy to point out when it is not done.” I can drive, much like I did that first day, up and down the Avenue, pointing out vacant properties and frowning at the lack of a lively community. But that doesn’t qualify me to formulate a plan to restructure the area and secure value for future generations (things the original settlers of the area intended). However, I can still give my best thoughts to the area, to College Avenue, to 2110. To the homes of the once-affluent. And maybe, just maybe, my prayers will be answered, and the neighborhood will once again be a paradise. And when people drive past it, they will stop and look, stare like I did, and sing to themselves, “That is perfect. That is heaven.”