Ray Street
Named for: James Ray, early settler, First Marion County Clerk

James Ray was born in Caldwell, New Jersey in 1800. He studied at Columbia University before moving to Lawrenceburg in 1818 and later Connersville. He served as a deputy clerk in both towns. The job of clerk of public land auctions brought him to Indianapolis in October 1821. In that role he was the clerk at the original sale of lots in the new town of Indianapolis. In 1822, he was elected as the first Marion County Clerk. He ran against another early leader, Morris Morris. Both men represented early political factions in Indianapolis; Ray was a member of the “Whitewater Faction” and Morris represented the “Kentucky Faction.”

He was later reelected as clerk and held the position until 1834. He also was elected as Marion County Recorder and served from 1829 to 1834. He resigned both public offices when the State Bank of Indiana was organized and he was elected cashier. He served in that position from 1834 to 1855. He later was appointed cashier, and later president, of the Bank of the State of Indiana from 1857 to 1865. He also worked in Washington DC for the Internal Revenue Department from 1871 to 1875 before retiring and moving back to Indianapolis.

Aside from his business dealings, he was active in the civic affairs of early Indianapolis. A Presbyterian, Ray helped organize the city’s first Sabbath School in 1822. He also helped organize the city’s first Temperance Society, Colonization Society, and the Indianapolis Benevolent Society, the Indianapolis Female Institute, and the city’s first School for the Blind. He also was one of the early proponents and organizers of Crown Hill Cemetery and served as president of its board of trustees at his death. He died in 1881.

Photos courtesy Sergio Bennett

2 responses to “What’s in a Name: Ray Street”

  1. Virginia Swift Singer says:

    Okay, what street is this that is renamed?

  2. Tom Davis says:

    Ray, James M. (1800 – February 22, 1881) Buried in Section 1 Lot 70 of Crown Hill Cemetery

    One day in 1863, James Ray struck up a conversation with his friend Hugh McCulloch, one time director of the State Bank and Lincoln’s comptroller of the currency, about the need for a new cemetery in town. McCulloch told Ray of the help Mr. John Chislett, a Pittsburgh architect who ran Allegheny Cemetery, had given to a similar effort in Fort Wayne. So Ray invited Chislett to town, organized other leaders behind the cause, and the rest is Crown Hill history.

    It was but one of his many contributions to Indianapolis. A native of New Jersey, who spent his youth in Kentucky, Ray moved here in the very beginning, way back in 1821, and took an active part in the life of the city, even in the planning of its original cemetery and eventually serving as the secretary of pretty much every organization in the growing town, often along side his friend James Blake, who provided the flair and hype while Ray provided the organizing skill that really made the venture a success. “Never idle, vigilant, never careless, his word was as good as any other man’s oath and his aid in any good cause was confidently expected. His character brought him public trust and responsibility.” (The Story of Crown Hill, Anna Nicholas, p. 55)

    Ray had presided over the original land sales on October 9, 1821 and was the first Marion County Clerk. In 1823 he became the first superintendent of the Indianapolis Sabbath School Union, started by his father-in-law Dr. Isaac Coe. He held superintendent post until his death almost sixty years later. He was elected secretary of the Marion County Bible Society in 1825 and of a local temperance society in 1828. In 1836 he joined with Blake in the Indianapolis Benevolent Society and was its faithful treasurer for over forty years. He was a commissioner of the State Blind School and helped charter the Indianapolis Female Institute in 1837. During the Civil War, he served as Secretary of the Sanitary Commission (Blake was president) and charged with looking out for the health and welfare of the state’s Civil War soldiers. He was also one of Governor Morton’s most trusted agents during the war years, managing all of the state’s external finances according to Berry Sulgrove, and held a post in the Treasury Department in Washington later in his life.

    With Blake and Nicolas McCarty (senior), Ray had started the first local saw mill in 1830. It was just one of his successful business ventures, so successful that in 1863 he was assessed for $135,772 in taxes, second only to Calvin Fletcher’s $137,155. (McCarty’s heirs were assessed for $132,670 and Stoughton A. Fletcher, Calvin’s brother for $132,824.)
    His ventures included banks, insurance, and railroads.

    Residing for many years at the northwest corner of Ohio and Meridian, Ray was a founding member and an elder at First Presbyterian Church for over fifty years. Ever generous, he used his fortune to help build churches of other denominations as well. Once he took his son to the circus and later, having had time to “reflect on the character of the entertainment, on the following Sunday he went to two Sunday Schools and publicly apologized for his folly.” (Dunn, p. 494) He was serving as president of Crown Hill’s board when, to quote his own words describing some former Sunday school teachers, he joined those who “are living, but not on earth” on February 22, 1881. (Centennial Memorial of the First Presbyterian Church Indianapolis, p.212)

    This is from material written about the founders of Crown Hill Cemetery.

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