When considering today’s date, the Ides of March, two events in Indianapolis history are of noteworthy. The first was the annexation of the city of West Indianapolis, Brightwood, Haughville, Mount Jackson, and Eastside Terrace into the city of Indianapolis in 1897.
The second event on this date was the abduction, rape, and murder of Madge Oberholtzer by DC Stephenson in 1925, which eventually led to the indictment of the governor and the downfall of the KKK in Indiana. Needless to say, that is one heck of a story, and far more detailed than what I can research right now. So we will most definitely cover it in detail at a future date. If you can’t wait, here’s a timeline of the trial.
In the meantime, I’ll give a little history of West Indianapolis. The town began as an outgrowth of the opening of the Union Stockyards at Harding and Kentucky Ave in 1877, as well as the development of several large plants (including Nordyke & Marmon, Jenney Electric Co., Parry Manufacturing Co., and Indianapolis Abbatoir) located along the Belt Railway. At the time, the White River was a natural obstacle to the expansion of Indianapolis proper.
The village was originally known as Belmont, and was generally located east of Harding St, south of Oliver Ave, and bounded by the Stockyards on Kentucky Ave and the White River. Settlers and landowners in the area before the start of the town included the Hardings, Reuters, Beckers, and McCartys. With the construction of the Belt railroad and stockyards, the area began rapid growth. In 1881, the residents of Belmont built a school at the corner of Reisner and Howard Streets called West Indianapolis No. One. Eventually, there would be five public schools and a Catholic school in the town.
Belmont residents decided to incorporate as the town of West Indianapolis in March 1882, with a referendum scheduled in April. Of the 471 residents of the village, 400 did not vote (which meant only 15% turned out), and the remaining 71 were overwhelmingly in favor of the incorporation.
By the time of the 1890 Census, the town had grown to 3527 residents, some 750% growth in just eight years. With such a size, the town realized the benefits of becoming a city, so in May 1894, the town elected its first mayor, A.B. Tolin. According the 1910 History of Indianapolis, “It was claimed on both sides that ‘boodle’ was freely used, and it is not recorded that anybody demanded proof.” So, one can conclude that there were some shady characters in the city’s government.
As Indianapolis itself grew westward across the river, the city of West Indianapolis was annexed just three years later. I am not certain what services West Indianapolis was providing, but presumably Indianapolis could offer the citizens more services, likely city water and sewers. Indianapolis assumed $79,000 in debts, the largest debt of any town annexed (up to 1910).
The area was heavily damaged in the 1913 flood, owing to being lower in elevation and less built-up than the east bank. The Union Stockyards lasted until Eli Lilly bought the site for its Kentucky Ave. plant in the 1970’s. The Stockyards of course is yet another story…