I take the IndyGo bus into work almost every day of the week. Depending on the time I leave home, I will catch either the 18 or 28 bus, both of which are currently routed down Illinois and Capital. One morning last week as I was watching the houses flash by on the stretch of Capital south of Fall Creek, I noticed a large brick building (pictured above) with frontage along 22nd Street on the east side of Capital. I had seen this building before, but for one reason or another, at this moment I made a mental note to investigate its history.
The building in question is a one-story brick building which takes up a large section of the block between McLean Place (today called Fosters Place) and 22nd Street in between Capital and Illinois. Currently it is owned by an apartment management and development company, although signage on-site also identifies it as a warehouse for Methodist Home Health and Hospice. To my surprise, I found that the building was originally constructed by the Indianapolis Street Railway Company to support the system’s operations on the north side of the city. A close up of the barn from the Sanborn above can be viewed below.
The land for the barn was purchased on December 22, 1888, and the barn was constructed soon thereafter. That same year the streetcar lines were extended up Illinois to Crown Hill Cemetery, and the barn supported those routes. Within a few years the tracks they were extended further to Fairview Park. At the time of its construction streetcars were being pulled by mules, and the barn was used to maintain streetcars, and house their animal engines. Once the lines to the north were electrified in 1892, the barn was only used to house the streetcars, and its time as a stable ended.
In 1899, the barn was expanded to increase its capacity to 200 cars. The barn was generally used to store cars when they were not use, and for maintenance and repairs. To assist with this latter use, a pair of repair pits were installed inside the barn, which allowed mechanics to work on the underside of streetcars (see image below, from 1939). Based on a diagram of the barn which is found in the Indianapolis Railways book, there were two such repair pits. This same diagram shows that cars entered and exited the barn only from the southside, along McLean Place.
In January of 1904, the McLean Place barn was the site of a significant loss to the company when an overnight fire struck the facility. As described by the Indianapolis News, the barn had two sections. The main barn itself, and an adjacent, covered shed area under which streetcars were parked. The fire started in the latter (the 'fireproof' description in the Sanborn above is questionable), and quickly spread throughout the stored cars. The rise of the fire was so fast that only a few cars could be pulled from the shed by the night watchmen assigned to the facility. 26 cars were destroyed, two were severely damaged, while several others sustained lighter damage. The fire was prevented from spreading to the other side of the barn, and the 30+ cars stored there, by a firewall between the two sections.
The fire was believed to have started in a stove carried by one of the streetcars, and once ablaze, spread quickly through the shed. No injuries from the company’s staff were reported, although two fire fighters were injured: one when a beam fell and struck him, and another who fell into one of the repair pits inside the shed.
The loss of the streetcars was significant for the company, and its ability to maintain its scheduled service. As noted above, the facility was used to support the operations in the northern part of the city, and the cars destroyed and damaged were assigned to the North Indianapolis, Central Avenue, and north Illinois routes. No new cars were on-order at the time, and ten of the destroyed cars were of a newer, larger, double truck variety. The financial cost was estimated at $100,000. Gregory & Appel, the insurance company for the Terminal & Traction Company (which had taken over the streetcar lines), estimated the loss at $130,000, or 10% of the company’s coverage.
The half of the barn destroyed by the fire was rebuilt, although another, smaller, fire, destroyed two cars in 1929. That incident was blamed on a cigarette. The McLean barn continued to be used to support streetcars in Indianapolis until 1938, when the company announced the facility would be shut down, and operations transferred to the shops built along west Washington Street, near where the Indianapolis Zoo is located today. The McLean barn was later converted for use by the Canada Dry Bottling Company of Indiana.
As noted above, the former streetcar barn is now used by a property management company. I contacted the company via their website asking whether I could have access to the interior of the building but received no response. The doors on the southside of the barn roughly match the doors used by the streetcars, although several have been bricked up since the streetcar operations closed. If you look closely, there are cracks in the pavement emanating from these doors. These cracks are evidence of the old rail lines still in place under the pavement. The first two images below are recent photos, while the last is from Google Street view in 2011.
Indianapolis News: April 4, 1900, August 2, 1899, January 25, 1904,
Indianapolis Star: December 27, 1929, October 6, 1943
Indianapolis Times: June 11, 1938, July 20, 1939
Kain, John O, History of the Indianapolis Street Railway Company, IUPUI Library, https://indianamemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/IndyHist/id/8452
Indianapolis Railways, McLean Barn, 1924 (Bass #330962-8), Indiana Historical Society, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/11969/rec/12
Indianapolis Railways, McLean Street shops, shop crew, 1937 (Bass #330962-6), Indiana Historical Society, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/10091/rec/32