421 S. Park Ave. (left) and 423 S. Park Ave. (right) are currently for sale. They were built in 1865 by William H. Loomis. (photo by Dawn )
We’re curious beings, humans. The “air of mystery” is what attracts us but, ultimately, we prefer answers. Solutions. The backstory. We spend hours searching the details, combing references, and talking to locals. And we curse time and ourselves, especially on the second floor of the Indiana State Library, where we quickly rewind microfilm with increased frustration. Nope, not this one. Nope, not here, either. Damn, my half-hour lunch is already over. Curses.
It’s hard to find answers when you’re young and have no idea what you’re doing. And research can get left behind during those 60-hour workweeks. Because who’s going to answer the phone at 10:00 at night? So you take what you can, call who you can, and attempt an “educated” guess. Perhaps, someday, you’ll find the missing puzzle piece, the lost sock, the forgotten buried treasure. But, for now, you know only bits and pieces.
You know that South Park Avenue, where these two homes are located, was originally called “School Street.” (You guess this name stems from the fact that “High School No. 2” was located just down the street, at the intersection of School and Huron—now Lexington.) You know that, by 1898, School Street had been renamed to “Irving Place.” And you know that the street was finally named “Park Avenue” by 1940. In fact, in the 1940 city directory, the entry for “Irving Place” has been crossed out and replaced with a handwritten “PARK AVE.”
You know that 421 S. Park Ave. (the yellow home) was, in 1887, listed as 25 School St. And you know that its neighbor, 423 S. Park Ave., was listed as 27 School St. And you know—according to the homes’ shared owner—that they were built in 1865. “Some of the oldest homes in the city,” he tells you. “Here in Fletcher are some of the oldest.”
You’re not fully sure who the original owner of the homes is, so you ask the current owner. “Loomis,” he tells you, after thinking for a moment. “L-o-o-m-i-s. Looks like he built both of them, starting in 1865. Might not have been finished until 1869, though.” Loomis. Loomis. You do a quick Google search. You find an ad in the 1858-1859 city directory. The ad encourages individuals to “patronize reliable nurserymen in your own state.” It advertises evergreens, flowering shrubs, fruit trees, and shade trees, and lists Martin Williams, Calvin Fletcher, Jr., and W.H. Loomis. You also know that this same Loomis was mentioned in an 1851 pamphlet titled “The Indiana farmer: the advocate of educated labor.” And from 1862-1866, he was the secretary for the state board of agriculture. A prominent Indiana farmer, you guess.
How you wish you knew more. How you want for more time, less mystery.
Some answers appear in the Fletcher Place Historic Area Preservation Plan sent to you by an area resident. The plan, prepared and printed in 1980, tells you that both 421 and 423 S. Park Ave. were purchased by William H. and Emilie Loomis in 1865. In 1869, however, the properties were sold for double the original purchase price. (The directories list Loomis at 425 S. Park Ave.) According to the plan, 421 was “always rental property in the nineteenth century. No resident owners appear for either house until after the turn of the century.”
Tracing the residents of 421 and 423 S. Park Ave. are easier in later years, you find. In the few stolen moments you have between reading documents at work, you scan the directories. 1915: 421—Nora Fletcher, Cora Daugherty. 423—Squire A. Clark, Louise Kocher. 1916: 421—Squire A. Clark. 423—Louise Kocher. In 1917, 421 is vacant but, by the next year, it has been divided into four units. By 1920, however, the occupancy of the homes has switched. 421 is now the residence of William Kocher, while 423 is home to four residents, including—once more—Louise Kocher. By 1930, a woman named Bertha W. Kocher offered furnished rooms in both homes. William Kocher, you note, has moved across the street, to 426 S. Park Ave. (That particular house no longer stands; a parking lot is in its place.)
The furnished rooms, you see, are a theme; Bertha Kocher is not the only individual who offers them. The 1940 directory (pictured above) lists Julius Waldvogel furnished rooms at 421 and William Kocher furnished rooms at 423. You have to wonder if all those Kochers are related and, if they are, how. You wonder the same thing when you get to 1951, when you compare that resident’s name with the name of the current owner.
“Yep, that was my father,” the current owner tells you over the phone. “My mom, dad, and brother bought the house together. Moved there in 1951 and bought it on contract in either ’52 or ’53.”
You ask a few more questions, which he answers without complaint.
“Has anyone been living there in recent years?” You think back to an email you received, one that suggested a man had been living in 423—despite its condition—in 2000.
“Oh no, ma’am,” the owner tells you. “No, I shook hands with a guy back in 1999. He promised to take them over and fix ‘em up and, well, you know what happened. I took ‘em back and he let ‘em go. I just got ‘em back this past August.”
You press your phone to your ear, carefully listening. You type out his responses. Listen more. You don’t want to miss a word, a detail, a puzzle piece, the treasure. “What d’you not want to have happen to them?” you sputter. “What is your worst fear?”
“I’d hate to see ‘em tore down,” he says. “Anyone interested in ‘em want to tear ‘em down. It is going to cost a lot to fix ‘em up. To make ‘em better. But it’d still be a bit cheaper than to build from the ground up.” The owner is quiet for a moment. Then he sighs, laughs a little laugh to himself. “I’m too old to work on ‘em.”
You smile with him, and sympathize, though he most likely can’t sense it over the phone. There’s always two sides to the story, you remind yourself. Everyone has their own perspective. Even you, you tell yourself. There is someone who thinks the lots are too expensive, and there is bound to be someone who finds the properties’ condition disappointing. But there is always someone who can see their potential as well. A way to make them family homes once more. So accept the missing pieces. Learn what you can. Don’t guess, and just tell.
Sometimes, the pieces belong to double-sided puzzles. And, sometimes, you don’t have time to snap them together and create a fluid depiction of truth. Sometimes, there is just going to be an “air of mystery.” And really, when it comes to 421 and 423 S. Park Ave., there’s only one mystery that needs solved: Who is going to call them home?