Barnhill Drive
Location:  Downtown, IUPUI campus
Named For: Robert Barnhill, early settler

Robert Barnhill was one of the first white men to settle in Marion County, arriving March 6, 1820.

Barnhill was born February 28, 1769 in Washington County, Pennsylvania to Samuel and Jean Craig Barnhill.  The family moved to Scott County, Kentucky around 1789 or 1790.  He married Sarah Marvis in 1791 and moved to Butler County, Ohio in 1805.

In 1820, Barnhill, his wife and 12 children moved to Indianapolis and settled in the swampy area close to the present area of IUPUI along the banks of the White River.  The accompanied several other families including the Connaroes.

Because of the adverse conditions, most of the early settlers contracted malaria, including Barnhill.  The sickness, which the settlers called “the plague” was spread by a house raising, since all of the men in the era helped.  Barnhill eventually succumbed to the illness and died September 9, 1821 and was buried in a “plague cemetery” in the area.  After his death, the families moved to Wayne Township southeast of Clermont.  His will was the first to entered for probate in Marion County.

Editor’s Note: An alternate theory would make Dr. John Barnhill the namesake. He was a Civil War era doctor in Indianapolis. Considering the proximity to the hospital, it seems a plausible alternative.

All photos courtesy Sergio Bennett

32 responses to “What’s in a Name: Barnhill Drive”

  1. Norm Morford says:

    Thanks. An interesting account of the earliest days of people “on the banks of White River” near the placle Fall Creek blows into it.

    And just what year was it that the group met at the currently existing house at Conner Prairie Farm to decide the location of the state capital?

  2. Tom Davis says:

    I don’t know if he’s your Dr. John Barnhill but John Conarroe Barnhill was buried at Crown Hill in April 1908. His middle name makes me think the Conarroes and Barnhills must have been related.

    In response to Mr. Morford, the commission that picked the site of Indianapolis as the location of the then future state capitol dates to 1820.

  3. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    It would seem to me that the Street Sign in the picture above is a little bit off.

    Michigan St. is an east and west street (growing up 3 blocks north of it, I have obviously known this since childhood). From Google Maps, I see that Barnhill Dr. is a north and south street. Also, from Google Maps, I see that Barnhill Dr. crosses Michigan St. at approximately 1070 W. Michigan St. (since Google Maps is many times off on its addressing, this could actually be 1050 W. Michigan St.).

    So, why does the sign say “1050 W BARNHILL DR” and “500 N MICHIGAN ST”?

  4. Norm Morford says:

    Muchas gracias, Senor!


  5. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    Does your Crown Hill listing indicate when John Conarroe Barnhill was born? He could have very easily have been Robert Barnhill’s grandson (or even son, if he had lived to a very old age).

  6. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    I think the city may be the appropriate entity for this query… 🙂

  7. Tom Davis says:

    I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the numbers on the signs are more like latitude and longitude markings. Michigan St., though an East/West Street, is 5 blocks (thus the 500) north of the 0 point and Barnhill, though a North/South Street is ten and a half blocks (thus 1050) west of the 0 point. I’m inside so I can’t verify this, but I’m pretty sure that every Michigan Street sign will say 500 N all along it’s traverse of the city. So if I’m going north on Illinois St. looking for 700 N. Illinois and I cross Michigan St. and see the 500 N, I know that I have about 2 more blocks to go. And if I’m on Michigan Street looking for 1050 West Michigan and I cross Illinois Street and see 100 W I Illinois, I know I have about 8 blocks to go.

    Is that right?

  8. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    The two men who are generally credited with being the first white settlers in what is now Indianapolis were George Pogue and John Wesley McCormick. Pogue built a cabin near E. Michigan Street on the creek that would later be called Pogue’s Run, in 1818 or 1819. John Wesley McCormick built a cabin on the east banks of the White River, just north of W. Washington Street, in 1819. The city officially became the state capital by an act of the Indiana legislature in 1821.

  9. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I too find the city’s method of marking its street signs to be confusing. The signs were not always that way. Back in the day (okay, I’m showing my age here), the numbers on the street signs indicated what block you were in on that street. That made a lot more sense to me. If you were walking or driving and trying to find an address on a particular street, you were probably already on that street, so what you would want to know is the numbers of the addresses in the block you were in. Knowing the numbers would give you a sense of how far way you were from your destination. You wouldn’t need to know that Michigan Street is approximately 500 North of Washington Street, for example, because you were already on Michigan Street. Before the change in policy, the 1050 W would have been on the Michigan Street sign, and the 500 N would have been on the Barnhill Drive sign. In other words, the street sign would have told you what block of Barnhill Drive or what block of Michigan Street you were in. It was in maybe the 1990s when the city reversed this practice. Now 1050 W means Barnhill is approximately ten-and-a-half blocks west of Meridian Street, and 500 N means Michigan Street is approximately five blocks north of Washington Street. I don’t find it to be as helpful as the previous method of marking street signs.

  10. basil berchekas jr says:

    A very interesting article! “What’s in a name”!

  11. Norm Morford says:

    Muchas gracias, Sharon.

  12. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    Sharon, I agree. I also would not find this new method of marking street signs as helpful as the previous one and I also believe that the previous method made more sense.

    Having been away from Indy (living there) since going off to college, I did not know that they had reversed the orientation of the signs since then. As a result, I simply thought that this sign was in error.

    Thankfully in Kokomo, IN, they have not made this reversal (which is another reason why I thought the Indy sign was wrong).

  13. Tom Davis says:

    Kevin, the online records for Crown Hill ( only list the burial date and the Section and Lot number of the burial site. Sometimes the birthdates can be found in the cemetery records, or lacking that, on the monument itself. But every once in awhile a google search will bring a lot of results, such as this one: So apparently this John was born in 1830 and was a minister.

  14. David Brewer says:

    It’s hard to believe that all of these streets… Barnhill, Beauty, Blackford, Blake, California, Hanson, Agnes, etc. once bisected a neighborhood of hundreds of houses that stretched from Martin Luther King Street to the river. Growing up on the west side, I can remember seeing a lot of these houses when we drove downtown. Nothing remains today except for a few old limestone curbs here and there.

    The last few I remember seeing were by the river, near the old fire station on Michigan Street.

  15. Norm Morford says:

    Well, it may be time now to focus on what replaced those houses — IUPUI — and the various “looks” the area had.

    I went to work for Indiana Civil Rights Commission in 1966 and the office was in the southwest corner of the 10th floor of the State Office Building [there’s a topic for future discussion and research]. At that time to look toward what is now the IUPUI campus, one would see that “sea” of small houses to which David Brewer refers. I wonder how good a record we have of all the people who lived in those houses or who lived in Lockfield Gardens apartments. There were many African-American families, but I have to confess that I do not remember any news items about the previous residents of the area that became IUPUI.

    I worked for ICRC until Sept., 1975, and in that period of time ICRC changed office locations, including being out of the SOB at an address of 219 N. Senate in a building that no longer exists. Lee Crean was the director during some of those years that the office moved twice, including back into the SOB on the third floor. My own desk sat right under the point where a loosened slab of the exterior could have dropped. neatly slicing the desk in two. It never happened and ICRC is now on the ground floor of the building which has been changed, as well as the old Employment SEcurity building that sat to the south, and the street between the two provides access to the two buildings.

    I personally know one young man who lived with a grandfather in a house not very far from the IUPUI — a house, which I believe, still stands. His name is Greg Smith and he is a Shortridge H.S. grad [perhaps class of 1980]. Greg is now a police chief living in Arlington, Texas. He might be an excellent person to interview about the changes that occurred in the IUPUI area.

  16. basil berchekas jr says:

    Even remember an old Governor’s Mansion north of Military Park that was a tenement the last time I remember it in high school…

  17. basil berchekas jr says:

    In the mid 1960s the Metropolitan Planning Department, under F Ross Vogelgesang had a rather insightful report written on the residents and businesses planned to to relocated for IUPUI, called “The People in the Path”, a rather complete analysis of the socioeconomic background and overall relocation requirements on the then-residents of the Near West Side where IUPUI is now, and another, less exhaustive, but nevertheless insightful presentation of the residents to be relocated by the Interstate system…

  18. Norm Morford says:

    A governor’s mansion north of military park? Must be where the governor lived when his wife didn’t want to hang her clothes out on the circle — the house was once there, but never lived in.

    So, what address north of Military Park?

  19. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    There have been only six official governor’s residences since Indiana became a state. There were two governor’s residences before Indiana was a state, i.e., when Indiana was still a territory, one in Vincennes and the other in Corydon.
    The first governor’s residence after statehood was in Corydon, when that city was still the state capital. The original structure no longer exists, but a new structure built on the same foundation as the original one still stands.
    The second governor’s residence was the one that was located in the center of Monument Circle. Because of its lack of privacy, it was never occupied by any governor. It was demolished.
    The third governor’s residence was on the northwest corner of W. Market and N. Illinois Streets. After Governor James Whitcomb’s wife died there, reportedly due to the damp and unhealthy conditions of the property, Governor Oliver Morton abandoned it. It was demolished.
    There was no official governor’s residence from 1861 to 1919. Obviously, the governors during those 58 years lived somewhere, so perhaps one of them lived in the property north of Military Park that Basil has referenced. However, such a residence would have been privately owned and not an “official” governor’s residence. It would take a little research of city directories, property tax records, and/or census enumerations to find out which of Indiana’s governors lived at an address just north of Military Park. With four-year terms of office over nearly six decades, that’s quite a few records to be studied.
    The fourth governor’s residence was at 101 East 27th Street. It was “behind” (immediately east) of the Marott Hotel and faced Fall Creek Parkway. It was demolished.
    The fifth governor’s residence was at 4343 N. Meridian Street. It is still standing and is now privately owned.
    The sixth and current governor’s residence is at 4750 N. Meridian Street.

  20. Norm Morford says:

    Sharon — Good job! NLM

  21. basil berchekas jr says:

    That one was on West New York, versus Monument Circle…know the deal on the clothes washing! That was a good one!

  22. basil berchekas jr says:

    I’d bet that the residence on Military Park was one of those “contract” residences…thanks for the insight! it is appreciated.

  23. ken williams says:

    I dont know why I can not remember Barnhill but what is now New York and Barnhill was New York and Agnas in the 40s. In the 1940s at New York and Agnas there was a tavern( Pick Way INN) on the North East corner ,a horse barn on the South East corner and the Taystee bread bakery on the west side of the rail road tracks. If you walked the rail road track to the South from Agnas St. you could go throught the cotton mill property (Bemis Bros Bag Co) The mill owned a lot of small homes on Minerva St and rented them to mill hands. When the mill closed a lot of our neighbors moved away. I recall the streets David Brewer speaks of and went to school with the children that grew up in that area in the 40s. We all went to #5 on Washington St. ang then to Washington High.

  24. David G. Vanderstel, Ph.D. says:

    The initial meeting of the capital site selection committee was scheduled for 22 May 1820 at William Conner’s home. However, it was NOT the house that currently stands on the property. That structure was completed in 1823. Conner’s cabin was located on the northern end of prairie at the north bend of the White River.

  25. Norm Morford says:

    Thanks, neighbor!

  26. Anita Watts Kopetski says:

    As the great-great-great-granddaughter of Robert Barnhill and a genealogist, I can shed some light on the editor’s comment that Dr. John Barnhill could have been the one the road was named after. Dr. Barnhill is a descendant of Robert Barnhill. In the early twentieth century, when all of the campus was being put together, Dr. Barnhill and other men were walking in the area and found a Barnhill Street among others named for early settlers. He was surprised, not knowing there was such a street. So the street predates Dr. Barnhill. The geography has been changed quite a bit since Robert Barnhill and his family settled there in 1820. At that time it was a swamp, and Robert and his son William were among the victims of the plague caused by mosquitoes — malaria? — in 1821. Indy’s earliest cemetery was also in this area, where the big medical building is now located in front of the main entrance of Riley Hospital, which, incidentally, was where Robert Barnhill’s land was located.

  27. Earl Salisbury says:

    Because of the location and time of the deaths I’m wondering if the plaque may have been the result of “1800 and froze to death” which was 1816.

    Any thoughts?


  28. A.Vez says:

    You can see the residents and street names for this area of town in the 1880 census. Barnhill St was Agnes St before, and Minerva St was nearby. One important resident at 105 Minerva St. was Robert Jefferson, a free black man who was a son of President Thomas Jefferson. He died 1882.

  29. Dwayne Barnhill says:

    The article written by Steve Campbell is basically correct. Robert Barnhill was among the earliest settlers along with his son-in-law, Jerimiah Corbaley, and cousins, Samuel and Henry Davis having arrived at around the same time as John McCormick. Indianapolis had not yet been surveyed, thus there were no streets, and very little of anything else but wilderness. Robert located his cabin where the Riley Hospital (IUPUI) now stands, and was buried in a plot next to a neighbor”s cabin, John Maxwell, where another couple of burials had already taken place due to a sickness now identified as malaria. Another early settler, Isaac Wilson, took position of this cabin and expanded it when he was awarded a land grant for the ground in 1822. Robert Barnhill had helped Isaac Wilson build his first cabin (the first in Indianapolis) in what was known as the “donation” prior to his removal to the Maxwell cabin. While several cabins had already been built in the IUPUI area, they were not considered as being in the city or “donation”. After Wison moved to the Maxwell cabin, he died a couple years later, and was buried in the cemetery next to his home. The cemetery was later named “Patterson Cemetery” as Wilson’s daughter and son-in-law, Samuel J. Patterson, inherited the property. The cemetery, now gone, was located where the Van Nuys Medical Science Building now stands at IUPUI. Robert Barnhill applied for and received a total of 10 land grants of 80 acres each in the Eagle Creek area,. His widow, Sarah, and other family (Conarroe’s, Railsback’s,Corbaley’s) relocated to the area a short time after Robert’s death. The Indianapolis Country Club is now located on a portion of this land. Many in this family identified with the Christian Church, and are buried in the Old Union Cemetery southeast of Clermont. The widow, Sarah, later remarried Jacob Whitinger, for whom established Union Chapel Cemetery in the northern part of the county.. Barnhill Street was specifically named for Robert Barnhill, as were the streets of Maxwell, Wilson, Davis, and Coe for the other early settlers. While the date of the street names is unknown, they are identified as such on an early map of Marion County by C. O Titus in 1866. These streets are all north of North Street, and encompass what is now IUPUI. John Barnhill, a son of settlers Robert & Sarah Barnhill, married a daughter of Joel Conarroe, having a son named John Conarroe Barnhill who became a minister in the Christian Church. Robert Barnhill, another son of settlers Robert & Sarah Barnhill married a daughter of David Stoops, having a son also named Robert Barnhill who married Angeline Amelia Shirts, a sister of Augustus Finch Shirts. Their son, John Finch Barnhill, became a physican, and practiced at the old City Hospital near where IUPUI now stands. Both John Finch Barnhill and John Conarroe Barnhill are buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. Barnhill Street was eventually renamed years later to Barnhill Drive, and while it is very close to the original Barnhill Street, it has been shifted slightly due to expansions at IUPUI. When Barnhill Street was renamed to Barnhill Drive, it may be that those doing the renaming were under the impression that the original Barnhill Street was named for the well-liked and well-known Dr. John F. Barnhill.. Not so!

  30. Anonymous says:


  31. Anita watts kopetski says:

    When some of us Barnhill descendants were doing research on locating the original plague cemetery, we went to the iUPUI library and the Riley Hospital Library. We came across an article about Dr. John Finch Barnhill. When he and others were first looking for a site to locate the hospital, they came across a street named Barnhill, and Dr. John Finch Barnhill was surprised to find a street with his family name. So a contemporary article from Dr. John Finch Barnhill’s time states that the street was in existence before then and he did not know about it. The street was named for the original settler Robert Barnhill.

  32. Michael Barnhill says:

    My grandparents migrated from Marion County to Wenatchee, WA in the late 1800’s. My father, Herbert J. Barnhill was close to a cousin who lived in Seattle, Richard Watts. I knew him when I was young as we visited from Spokane on more than one occasion. I would enjoy hearing from you,

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