Note: A version of this post was originally published in the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association Newsletter in May 2018. Additional content has been included in this version.
With the urban sprawl endemic within Marion County, and the largely developed neighborhoods like Butler Tarkington covering the northside, it can be difficult to imagine Midtown Indianapolis as sparsely populated and largely agricultural. Well before the city’s boundaries crept into the area which is now Butler Tarkington, the area was originally settled by several families arriving in the late 1820’s into the 1830’s. One of the most prominent families was that of William Blue who arrived in the early 1830’s, and whose descendants in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, operated some of the largest fruit farms in in central Indiana.
The Blue family initially settled in the present-day Butler Tarkington area in 1832, settling on the land which would become Fairview Park, and eventually Butler University. William Blue had been born in 1784 in Virginia. He and his wife raised several children in the Butler Tarkington area, and expanded their property ownership outside the original homestead. William’s land was eventually divided amongst his sons, and by 1855 William (who died that same year) and sons Benjamin, Peter, and Gerard owned most of Butler Tarkington south of 46th to 38th St., in addition to the area which is now Butler University’s western campus and playing fields west of the Central Canal. Benjamin continued to live around and farm the original property, until he sold a majority of the land in 1878. He passed away in 1882. While Gerard owned land in the neighborhood for many years, including parts of Crown Hill Cemetery, he resided closer to downtown.
Peter Blue would marry Elizabeth Seerley in January 1847. Together they had several children, and would maintain their burgeoning farms from a homestead 4550 N. Illinois Street, the southwest corner of the intersection of 46th and Illinois. After Peter’s death in 1878, Elizabeth would continue to live on the property with their children and operated the fruit farms. One son Charles, became a mechanic and moved to downtown Indianapolis, and doesn’t appear to have been active in the farming endeavors. The remaining children, three sons Cortez, George, and Albert, and two daughters, Romenta and Rachael, would not marry and remained on the 4550 N. Illinois property until their deaths. Elizabeth Blue would pass away in 1908, some 30 years after her husband.
The three Blue brother, Cortez, George T., and Albert, consolidated their family’s farming business into the Blues Brothers Fruit Farm, sometimes also called the Fairview Fruit Farms. By the late 1800’s, the Blue Brothers farm encompassed the area from south of 46th St. to about 44th St., and was bound on the west by Fairview Park, and Illinois street to the east. Another branch of the farm was directly south of the Butler campus, from 44th St. down to 43rd St.
Generally, the Blue Brothers were known for their extensive berry fields, although the property also included apple, pear, and other fruit trees. Ads in the Indianapolis Star seeking manual labor for harvest time were common in the 1890’s and early 1900’s, and would seek help with fruit harvests, as well as with picking turnip, cabbage, and other vegetables. Plants, seeds, and some chickens were also sold out of the farm at stands located at 4450 N. Illinois. In 1904, the Marion County Juvenile Court Employment Agency Committee arranged for “newsboys” to head into the country to work at the Blues Brothers farm during the summer, presumably to keep them out of trouble.
Adjacent to the Blue Brother's farm, and to their south, was another large fruit farm, owned by a cousin, George W. Blue, a son of Benjamin Blue. He had been born in 1842, and his property was centered around a home at the present-day northwest corner of 43rd and Illinois Street, which still stands (below).
George W. was involved in fruit farming as early as the 1880's and by the end of the century, his farm was well established, yet separate, from his nearby relatives. The Indianapolis Star profiled George W. and his farms in a July 16, 1894 article. Noting the location of the farm as being adjacent to Fairview Park, and north of Mapleton (38th and Illinois), the author described George W.'s extensive berry patches, and the over 3,000 pear trees. George W. also described how his personal involvement in the operations of the farm helped ensure its success and that he would not think of returning to "ordinary farming."
While heralded by local media as some of the largest berry and fruit farms in the state, the Blue family fruit growers were not immune to market fluctuations. A September 19, 1911 report noted friction between farmers and stand holders at the city market downtown. The Blues Brothers, and their cousin, George W., appear to have abandoned the market, and opted to create a large farm stand at the 46th and Illinois intersection as opposed to dealing with the politics of selling downtown. Other troubles were associated with the constant threat of frost, with the various brothers often being quoted in local media about the effect of a cold snap or other adverse weather on their crops for that given year.
Ultimately, the Blue families chose to concede to the ever-encroaching neighborhood development, which had been steadily creeping north from downtown since the late 1800’s. On June 18, 1916, the Indianapolis Star reported that the George W. Blue farm was to be platted for residential use and sold. No sale price is given, and at the time George W. owned approximately 50 acres. The Star article noted the positives of the soon to be neighborhood, including that the property was on high ground, which was “higher than the dome of the State House” and was close to multiple streetcar lines and Meridian Street. George W.’s property platted into the Beverly Heights addition, a name which is still used today as part of the legal descriptions for the homes on his former farmland.
Perhaps inspired by their relative’s sale, the Blue Brothers and their two sisters, Rachael and Romenta, in September 1916, agreed to what at the time was reputed to be the most expensive land sale in Marion County history and the Blue family sold their land to a realty company for $213,330. Maps of the area showed that prior to the sale, the Blue Brothers farm was approximately 112 acres around Fairview Park. The newly platted neighborhood was advertised as being the “highest edition south of the White River,” and that the area was “head and shoulders above everything-in altitude and character.” The emphasis on the height of the Blue family lands in the advertisements for the land sale, was likely the result of the generally unhealthy nature of the city's low, and often swampy downtown areas early in its history. More immediately, in the aftermath of the 1913 floods which devastated the city, the claims were probably meant reduce concerns about floods from the nearby White River. Unclear what scale was being used to determine the 'character' of the yet un-developed land.
The Blue Brother’s development was appropriately named Blue Ridge, a moniker which lives on as part of the legal description for many of the houses in the area, as well as Blue Ridge Road, which tracks through the middle of the original Blue Brothers farm from Illinois to Sunset. In addition to the Blue Ridge division of the development, the Blue Brothers’ farm was also sub-divided into the Forest Ridge, and Hampton Ridge divisions. The section directly south of Butler was called the Fairview Extension. These designations are also still used for the legal descriptions of homes built in these areas.
The Blue Brothers homestead at 46th and Illinois, continued to operate for many years after the sale of their land while the surviving brothers and sisters continued to live at the property. Their remaining piece of land was a large square bordered by 46th to the north, Capitol to the West, Buckingham to the south, and Illinois on the west.
The Blue Brothers’ family home was razed and the land sold for development not long after George T. Blue died in 1944. Today, the Common Ground Church stands on the site of the Blue homestead. For those familiar with the neighborhood, you may have seen that there is an empty lot which was recently sold on the southeast corner of Capital and 46th, and in the past few years had a home constructed on the site. Review of neighborhood maps suggests that since the sale of the Blue property after George T.'s death, this lot has never been developed, aside from a fence, making it the last piece of the Blue homestead to be built upon.
While the Blue Brothers house did not survive, their cousin George W. Blue’s house still stands today and can be found at 4320 N. Illinois as pictured above. The wide scale farming operations run by the Blue families are long gone from the neighborhood, although it may be possible that descendants of some of their fruit trees or berry patches still exist somewhere in the neighborhood. As for the members of the Blue families themselves, the Blue Brothers and most of their immediate and extended family, including George W. Blue, rest in Crown Hill Cemetery.