Constructing a Neighborhood Landmark: Meridian Street Methodist Church


Meridian Street Methodist Church Indianapolis history #indyturns200

The Butler-Tarkington neighborhood covers an area of just over 1000 acres, excluding the portion of Crown Hill Cemetery which is north of 38th Street. An important part of this area are the several religious institutions located within the neighborhood's borders. At present, Butler-Tarkington hosts several houses of worship, the oldest being North Methodist Church, which has its roots in the original Mapleton Church near the intersection of Illinois and 8th Street. That church was discussed in a previous blog posting about the village of Mapleton. The present-day church was constructed in 1925 with several additions since. Other churches in the area include St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Fairview Presbyterian, Common Ground Christian Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Meridian Street Methodist Church at 55th and Meridian. This latter institution is celebrating 200 years of the congregation’s existence in Indianapolis this year and can trace their beginnings back one of the original Methodist congregations in Indianapolis. There is a very detailed book about the history of the church that was published in 1996 at the time of the church's 175th anniversary. The book is accessible for short term loans through the Internet Archive, if you are registered with the site. Use this link to view the book.

Meridian Street Methodist Church Indianapolis history #indyturns200
Indianapolis News, August 29, 1945

This book details the origins of the church in downtown, its growth, as well as the church’s eventual move to the present location in Butler-Tarkington. Immediately prior to this move the church had been based on the northwest corner of Meridian and St. Clair Streets. However, the leadership of the church determined that most of the congregation lived in the northern part of the city, and Marion County, and decided to find a location in that area. The former church building, which sits just west of the Central Library, was sold to the Indianapolis Business College, before more recently (in the past 15 years) undergoing significant renovations and modifications and conversion to condominiums. The last service was held at this location in 1947, although a location in Butler-Tarkington for the new church had already been identified and designs of the church developed, based on an image of the proposed structure in the Indianapolis News on August 29, 1945 (above).


However, no land had been purchased due to zoning problems and neighbors remonstrating against the proposed church, the primary reason being an expected depreciation of adjacent property values. These efforts resulted in multiple lawsuits, and appeals, to resolve legal issues with the zoning at the site. The legal side of things was eventually resolved in favor of the church. The site of the new church fronting Meridian Street was eventually purchased in 1946, most of it from the Arthur Jordan Foundation, and a remaining three lots purchased form individual landowners.

Baist map Indianapolis church #indyturns200 indianapolis history
1941 Baist Map. Red square marks the location of the church property.

A building committee was appointed by the church on July 8, 1947, to shepherd the project forward, including working on details for contracting with a builder and financing. Included among the members was James Irving Holcomb, an Indianapolis industrialist who was a trustee of Butler University, who served as a co-chairman for the committee. In the interim between leaving the church downtown, and the construction of the new building in Butler-Tarkington, the congregation worshipped at the 51st Street Methodist Church, located at 51st and Central. The two churches had actually merged in 1945, in anticipation of the congregation of the future Meridian Street Methodist Church moving to their new location.


The church’s final design, after several modficiations, had an estimated cost of $861,831. Bids for construction were solicited in late 1949 and early 1950, although at first none were accepted. However, in February of 1950, Irving Holcomb and other members of the building committee met with Fred Jungclaus of the William P. Jungclaus Company (now known as Jungclaus-Campbell located at 825 Massachusetts Ave.), an Indianapolis based general contractor, at Holcomb’s home in Miami Beach, Florida. During that meeting, the decision was made to award the construction contract to Jungclaus, which had a long history of major construction projects in Indianapolis since its founding in 1875. In the “History of Meridian Street United Methodist Church,” the author describes that the “informal” meeting in Miami Beach was memorialized by some simple notes, initialed by a JIH who the author identifies as being written by Holcomb. I did not have access to these notes, nor could I locate the contract with the William P. Jungclaus Company, although I was able to locate the original estimate documents for the North Meridian Methodist Church project which are contained in the Jungclaus-Campbell records. Below are the 8 pages of estimate for the church (use the arrows to scroll through the pages). Russ & Harrison were the architects.

Groundbreaking for the Meridian Street Methodist Church took place on November 27, 1949 (unclear how this was begun before the construction contract had been awarded), and the cornerstone was laid on September 17, 1950. The steeple was raised in 1951, and the first service held on June 29, 1952. Note the first page of the estimate is dated December 22, 1949. Below of are photos from the construction of the Meridian Street Methodist Church, courtesy of Jungclaus-Campbell’s historical records.

Jungclaus-Campbell Meridian Street Methodist Church Indianapolis history #indyturns200
Jungclaus-Campbell Meridian Street Methodist Church Indianapolis history #indyturns200
Jungclaus-Campbell Meridian Street Methodist Church Indianapolis history #indyturns200
Jungclaus-Campbell Meridian Street Methodist Church Indianapolis history #indyturns200

The Indianapolis Star extolled the virtues of the newly completed church in a feature printed on July 27, 1952, noting that "the new edifice is a fabulous structure." The Star made particular reference to the main sanctuary with its 600 person capacity, as well as the spacious parlor, and the detailed wood work in both areas. Of note, according to Bill Nagler, Vice President at Jungclaus-Campbell, the wood work for the Meridian Street Methodist Church was one of the last major projects milled in the company's milling facilities at their 825 Massachusetts Ave. headquarters. The shaper knives pictured below at the old mill building at Jungclaus-Campbell would likely have been used on the woodwork in the Meridian Street Methodist church.

Junglcaus-Campbell mill Indianapolis History

The Meridian Street Methodist Church underwent a large expansion in the late 1980's, which added an addition to the western side of the original building. A welcome center was also added to the northwest corner of the church in 2017. Presently, the courtyard inside the "C" of the original building is being renovated into a bicentennial plaza to celebrate the church's 200 years in Indianapolis. The images below show the church in 1956, not long after its construction, and well prior to the expansion, and as it appears today.


The 175th anniversary book cited in the sources below provides a good background of the church's history. As part of the bicentennial celebration, a new book was recently published about the Meridian Street Methodist Church to celebrate its bicentennial. Titled "Great Is Thy Faithfulness - A Bicentennial History of Meridian Street Methodist Church," the book is written by Andrea Neal and Jason Lantzer and is available for purchase on the church's website, and at the Indiana Historical Society.




Sources


Construction Photos and Project Estimates courtesy of Jungclaus-Campbell Co. A timeline of their history can be found on the company's website at this link: https://www.jungclaus.com/history


Indianapolis Star: July 27, 1952


Indianapolis News: August 29, 1945


Meridian Street Methodist Church History, https://meridianstreet.org/who-we-are/history/


North United Methodist Church History Website, https://northchurchindy.com/history/


Evans, Daniel (1996) At home in Indiana for one hundred and seventy-five years: the history of Meridian Street United Methodist Church, 1821-1996, Guild Press of Indiana

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