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A History of Wild Times at the Bellevue Roadhouse and Resort on Michigan Road

Several months ago, I did blog posts about the often-wild times at the “resorts” or "roadhouses" located at Brighton Beach and Shannon's Lake in Indianapolis and Marion County. I also did an episode of Hoosier History Live about both of these locations, and the gambling, drinking, and at times, violence, which was common at both sites. Continuing with this tradition is the Bellevue Resort and Roadhouse on the northside of Indianapolis near the intersection of the Central Canal and Michigan Road. Located on the far western edge of Butler-Tarkington, and across the street from present day Newfield's, I had run across a few mentions of this resort in the past, but while fishing in the White River near the Michigan Road bridge over this past weekend, I recalled the limited references I had seen and decided to do a deeper dive.

Not much has been written about Bellevue, although in 2021 the Indiana Historical Society published a blog post written by Stephen Good, which discusses Bellevue, and a notable crime which involved the resort. The location of the resort is usually referenced as Michigan Road and the canal, which is on the northwest side of Crown Hill Cemetery, and as noted, next to the present day Newfields. I have not found any maps which identify the roadhouse/resort, except for an illustrated map in a 1906 newspaper (pictured later in this post), although the 1901 Baist Map does show a complex of three buildings located on the eastside of Michigan Road at the point it crosses the canal which represents the resort. This location (identified with a red arrow below) was on the edge of the bluff overlooking the canal and river, and along the cut for the Michigan Road as it descended into the White River valley.

1901 Baist Atlas, #4, IUPUI Library Sanborn and Baist Collection

When the resort first began is not clear. Most early references for the property are from newspapers, and suggest it opened in the early 1890s, and it was often billed as club, catering towards those of German heritage. The Indiana Tribune, a German newspaper published in Indianapolis, often carried advertisements for Bellevue in those early years. An example of one of the ads from August 28, 1892 edition of the paper appears below:

Perhaps someone who can read German can provide an exact translation, but according to Google translate, the ad roughly reads as follows:

"5 miles from town on Michigan Road. The most beautiful place in the county for Fishing, boating. Now is the perfect time to join the club because only members have access. The Clubhouse is for jamming set up. There is also a bowling alley, ice cream stand there, and all kinds of drinks are available always fresh and of the best quality. Anyone who wants to join can either in the Club Haus or in the office of the "Indiana Tribune."

The resort, or roadhouse as it was often, and interchangeably, called, initially advertised providing the Kneipp Cure, a naturopathic healing system which used hydrotherapy for healing and therapeutic purposes. The cure, developed by a German priest named Sebastian Kneipp, was offered at various "association" locations, including at hospitals, sanitariums, and clinics in the latter part of the 19th century, and is still practiced today. The resort was owned by Charles Truemper, and in addition to the “Kneipp Cure,” Bellevue offered various refreshments and a chance for relaxation for travelers, or those on day trips. Located along the canal, the resort gained many visitors who were on day trips walking or bicycling along the Canal Towpath. The resort was also a stop for those taking the towpath up to Fairview Park, just a mile upstream on canal. As noted in the ad above, a bowling alley was also on site.

The image below from the Indiana Historical Society, likely taken in the 1890s, shows the resort, with two, and possibly all three, of the buildings on the site in the frame. The image is taken from across the canal looking east. The canal is in the foreground, and the grade of Michigan Road can also be seen, as can the bridge over the canal. The Kneipp Cure is advertised on the multi-storied building on the left, closest to the canal. Note the Bible verse written on the side of the building, listed as Kings 4:10, although when I looked it up, it was identified as 2 Kings 5:10. "Camping Supplies & Groceries" are also advertised on the side of the building, indicative of the resort's inter-disciplinary character. A full-size version of the photo can be accessed here.

Credit: Indiana Historical Society

In the center of the above image is a wooden entrance arch, with the name 'Bellevue'. The following images show closer views of the entrance, as well as of what is captioned as the "Bellevue Clubhouse & Kneippe Association Springs No. 1.

Credit: Indiana Historical Society

Below is a closer view of the clubhouse which provides a huge amount of detail of a rather haphazard structure. The larger file, which allows you to zoom in on the detail is available here. Note the tower on the right, with the "Ladies Entrance" (partially obscured by a tree), the breezeway underneath the building, and the sign above the door on the left which reads "Bellevue's Hunters & Fishers Retreat." A painted sign on the side of the building advertises the clubhouse's restaurant, as well as ice cream and butter milk by the gallon, quart and dish. The photo also shows several individuals, some who appear to be patrons, others likely employees. If you look at the large image linked above, you can see three individuals, two men and the only woman in the image, in a second-floor window.

Credit: Indiana Historical Society

The image below from the property shows a water feature including a creek like structure, with a waterfall in the background. On the left side of the image, behind the tree is a large outdoor dining table. A strange contraption is seen in the middle of the water, being tended to by a man, while a boy holds on to a dog as the image is being taken. The location of this photo is not clear, although I suspect it was an area set behind the buildings in the images above. Whether the waterfall was fed by a spring, or was installed from a well is not clear, and I think this image is looking to the east, with the canal out of frame to the left, and Michigan Road out of frame to the right. A larger version of this image can be viewed at the Indiana Historical Society's website.

Credit: Indiana Historical Society

The roadhouse and resort seemed to have its share of respectable visitors, and notices of day trips and cycling excursions stopping at the site for refreshment are common. However, like many other resorts and roadhouses, gambling was often present, and alcohol was liberally served. And with the alcohol came trouble. In 1895 Truemper applied for a liquor license with the county and was faced with a "big remonstrance" from local residents regarding the activities at Bellevue. In response, Truemper was "attempting to show that his place is patronized by the best class of Germans, who are quiet and orderly." At times, outright violence was connected with the roadhouse resort, including fights and robberies of patrons. One such incident occurred on the evening of June 14, 1897 and took a deadly turn. James Thatcher, an ad salesman, was at Bellevue with three companions, one man and two women, drinking and bowling until around midnight. As reported by the Indianapolis News, the group discovered it was too late to take the Fairview Park streetcar (the closest streetcar line) back downtown, so they began to walk south to North Indianapolis in order to get a ride back home. The News also noted that Thatcher's wife was away, visiting friends in South Dakota.

As the group moved south, towards the future intersection of Michigan Road and 38th Street, they somehow came into possession of a horse. How the horse was obtained was unclear. The group said they found it in the road. Harvey Leonard, a farmer who lived on the northwest corner of intersection of 38th and Michigan (present day Newfields property, marked by the blue arrow on the Baist map above) was alerted by his son that the group had removed the horse from his barn as they passed his nearby farm. Leonard and his son confronted the group about the horse, a struggle ensued, and Leonard shot Thatcher in the back with a shotgun, killing him. Thatcher's companions retreated back to Bellevue to report the incident and the police were called. While the Leonard’s and the surviving members of Thatcher’s group were later arrested, Leonard was found to have acted in self-defense, and no charges were pursued against the farmer.

However, Leonard was not done, and he filed suit against Truemper, since the group had been drinking and became intoxicated at his Bellevue property. Leonard’s suit sought an injunction to the operation of Bellevue and the case went to trial in January of 1898. Truemper presented witnesses who spoke of the family nature of the resort, and “that respectable German people visited the place in families,” although several witnesses admitted to drinking alcohol while at the resort. Eventually, in February, the court ruled in favor of Leonard and enjoined Truemper from selling alcohol at Bellevue on Sundays, or after 11 pm on other days. Despite the court order, Truemper still managed to find himself in trouble with the law. On March 26, the Indianapolis News reported that Truemper had been arrested for selling alcohol on a Sunday. In October, Leonard renewed his lawsuit against Truemper, claiming that the resort owner had "disregarded the order of the court, is selling liquor again illegally; is allowing his premises to be used for immoral purposes.”

Bellevue continued to maintain its wild reputation at the turn of the century despite the excitement of the Thatcher killing and related lawsuit dying down. Truemper was reported to no longer be in direct control of the property, although he allegedly leased it others, who maintained the drinking and gambling, and a general party like atmosphere. The big news was sale of Bellevue in 1901. As reported by the Indianapolis Journal, Anna Truemper, who was the legal owner of the property, sold the land and resort to the Pabst Brewing Company for $3,000. At the time Pabst had several operations in downtown Indianapolis. In 1903 Bellevue was under the control of a John Heinlein, although it was still owned by Pabst. A brief note in the November 28, 1903 Indianapolis Journal indicated that Bellevue was closed following an inspection by a "license inspector," despite the resort being outside city limits, but still inside a two mile "district" subject to city inspections.

Even temporary closures did not dampen the mood at Bellevue, and the continued frivolities at the resort and roadhouse (as well as similar issues in Broad Ripple) triggered another remonstrance in 1905, this one by citizens of Washington Township, which resulted in the township becoming “dry.” At the time, much of the township was outside city limits. While the Bellevue was reportedly closed as a result, drinking and other activities continued on the down-low, although the property was certainly not as active as its flamboyant past. However, whether through efforts of the roadhouse’s management, or elected officials themselves, the roadhouse was about to get new life.

In 1906, Bellevue became an issue in the city’s planned annexation of a large section of land on the city’s northside. At the time the city’s limited reached to 38th Street, at that time known as Maple Road, and the small sliver of land where Bellevue sat was proposed to be a part of this annexation. The annexation was primarily contemplated to bring all of Crown Hill into the city, and so that the managing body of the cemetery would be required to assist with the cost of improvements in the area around the cemetery. However, there was some legal uncertainty about whether the remonstrance imposed by the township would be nullified if Bellevue was annexed. Some believed that the resort would likely continue to operate under a license once it was within city limits, and free of the township-imposed limitations.

The technical description of the annexation included a provision which, in the words of the Indianapolis News resulted in the annexation “barely taking in the Bellevue roadhouse.” The change which included Bellevue was recommended by the ordinance committee of the city' Common Council, although the chair of the committee claimed he had no knowledge of the location of Bellevue and had not taken its location into consideration when developing the annexation proposal.

Indianapolis Star, August 23, 1906

The Indianapolis Star reported that one reason given for the annexation of. Bellevue was to allow Indianapolis Police more authority in dealing with complaints. The Star did not identify who provided this explanation but noted that the police had already exercised jurisdiction over the roadhouse under a so called “four-mile clause” which permitted Indianapolis police authority for a limited distance outside city limits.

While the annexation was approved by the Common Council, the ordinance was later vetoed by Mayor Charles Bookwalter, who in an August 24, 1906, letter to the council, explained that “serious doubt arises as to the intent of your honorable body,” based on the description of the land to be annexed. No mention was made of Bellevue by Bookwalter, although newspaper reports indicated that the inclusion of the Bellevue property in the annexation was a significant factor in Bookwalter’s veto. Another effort to push forward an annexation was attempted in September, although, as shown by the map below, the small sliver of land occupied by Bellevue was likely going to be left out of the expanded city limits.

Indianapolis News, September 19, 1906

All of the legal turmoil for the resort/roadhouse ended in mootness when on the morning of October 23, 1906, the roadhouse, and the resort as a whole, burned to the ground. The fire department was not contacted about the fire, and the cause of the fire was undetermined. Only five people were at the resort at the time: a married couple who were the custodians of the property, Harry Dod, who was described as a blind singer, the resort’s piano player, and a baseball player, apparently staying at the property. Theories about the cause of the fire ranged from accident to insurance fraud, to other, more sinister motives. However, the Indianapolis News acknowledged that the loss of the roadhouse and resort would likely simplify the city's future northside annexations.

Indianapolis News, October 24, 1906

No efforts to rebuild were reported, and in the early 1920s the former Bellevue property was developed into the town of Shooters Hill, an exclusive enclave founded by several families in November of 1925, which persisted until 1963 when the land was occupied by the Christian Theological Seminary. A few of the large homes which made up this small town are still standing today, as part of the Butler University campus.

The site of the Bellevue Resort is now occupied by the Indiana Interchurch Center, at 42nd and Michigan Road. I explored the area during the week of October 16th, but could find no definite remains of the structures, or the water features which used be located at the resort. The area is forested, with a slight wash, or gully which runs down the ridgeline to the canal. The scene below is looking north from the canal to the former site of Bellevue. Michigan Road is at right.

Quite a few bricks and old construction blocks and bricks were found in the wooded area, although I suspect this was from illegal dumping in the past, and not the remains of the Bellevue resort.

Between the consistent expansion of Michigan Road over the years, the development of the town of Shooter’s Hill, and what appears to be significant earthmoving and grading from the construction of the Indiana Interchurch Center, I could find no visible remains of the Bellevue resort. I do plan to return to the location later in the fall, once all the leaves have completely dropped to double check for any remains of the resort and will provide an update if anything is located.


Journals of the Common Council of the City of Indianapolis for the Year 1906

Indiana Historical Society Images as noted and linked above.

Indianapolis Journal: July 11, 1897, July 28, 1901, November 28, 1903

Indianapolis News: June 15, 1897, January 18, 1898, March 26, 1898, September 18, 1906, October 24, 1906, October 28, 1898, September 27, 1927

Indianapolis Star: August 23, 1906, September 18, 1906

Indianapolis Times: January 13, 1938

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1 Comment

Arroul Ford
Arroul Ford
Nov 06, 2023

I have noticed the bricks and concrete debris, too, and wonder if it is not from the Bellevue. What makes you think this is from dumping and not part of the Bellevue’s foundation? Do you know why this area has recently been cleared, revealing this stone debris?

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