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Fast Times In Mapleton: The Little Town (sort of) That Was

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Note: A version of this post is set to appear in the summer 2019 issue of the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association newsletter. If you live in the neighborhood and want to read it in print, stop now.

The area which would become Butler Tarkington was predominantly agricultural from the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s, and as noted in previous posts, including several large fruit farms. Aside from these agricultural endeavors, one of the early population centers was centered around the intersection of present-day Illinois and 38th Streets. The area was called Mapleton, and was never formally incorporated as a town, but was more of a small, village-like community centered around what would become a major intersection for this area of Indianapolis, and for the future Butler Tarkington neighborhood.

In the latter half of the 19th century and into the early 20th, 38th St. was known by several different names including 32nd and 34th Streets (thanks to repeated renumbering of streets) and eventually as Maple Road (or street or avenue depending on the sources). The latter name would stay in place up until the early 1900’s. It isn’t clear whether Mapleton was named for Maple Road, or vice versa. However, the source of both names appears rooted in the prevalence of sugar maples in the area village and lining 38th Street. Another possible source of the Mapleton name may have been attributable to the Theodore P. and Hannah Haughey family, who owned several sections of land along 38th St. in southern Butler Tarkington. The family was rather prominent in the second half of the 19th century, and Theodore was heavily involved in various community and business affairs in Indianapolis.

The Haughey's summer home 'Mapleton' ca. 1850. Source: Engraving of "Mapleton," Country residence of T. P. Haughey, Indiana, ca. 1850, The Indiana Album, Joan Hostetler Collection

The family's summer home (they lived downtown until around 1890), was located in southern part of Butler Tarkington, just north of 38th St. in the block between Boulevard and Capitol, was named ‘Mapleton’ and appears to have been constructed in the 1850’s. Again, it is likely the name of the home was rooted in the abundance of sugar maple trees in the area, although whether the area would take the name Mapleton because of the house, or the trees is unclear.

Mapleton was platted as a town/village, although there are conflicting dates of either 1871 or 1889 for this event. A survey map of Indianapolis and Marion County by Samuel Morrison from around 1875 shows Mapleton as a small platted area north of downtown Indianapolis.

As described by Berry Sulgrove in his 1884 History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Mapleton consisted of about 300 citizens on both the north and south sides of 38th St., and boasted a church, grade school, blacksmith, a store owned by Theodore F. Harrison, and a post office.  Allegedly the post office was initially sought when the area was called "Sugar Grove," well before the name Mapleton came on the scene. However, there was already a Sugar Grove in Tippecanoe County, so the office was declined. Eventually, the Sugar Grove name was dropped in favor of Mapleton, and the village received its post office in 1881. Grocer Theodore Harrison was named the post master, with the office being hosted in his store.   

Indianapolis News, December 3, 1881

Harrison’s store/post office was located on the northeast corner of 38th and Illinois, roughly where the old flower shop now stands. A welding and metal shop still operates at the same location as the balcksmith just south of the McDonalds on the south side of the intersection.

In regard to of the church, originally locals in the area formed the Sugar Grove (more tree references) Methodist Episcopal congregation in 1855 (there had been other less organized congregation preceding this), and constructed a small wood framed church, located in the southern parking lot for the present day North United Methodist Church. The name of the church would be changed to the Mapleton Methodist Church several years later and in June of 1900 a larger structure was constructed (photo above, Indianapolis News) around the existing building to provide more space for the congregation. Not long after this construction, Maple Road/38th St. was expanded and the church was lifted and moved farther back from the street. Eventually this church would be replaced by the still standing North United Methodist Church in 1931. 

Mapleton Methodist Church following its 1900 expansion. Photo was reprinted in the Indianapolis Star in 1956 and the date of the image is 1914. 38th Street is the dirt roadway in the foreground.

Eventually the city sprawl began to reach out and envelope Mapleton. The post office was closed and in 1900 replaced by a new location at 34th and Illinois. The Haughey family, rocked by scandal resulting from the failure of the Indianapolis National Bank in the early 1890’s (for which Theodore Haughey himself served time in the state prison at Michigan City, as he was president of that institution), relinquished much of their land in Mapleton and the surrounding area. Media reports from the time suggest this was at least partially due to debts owed from the banking fiasco (Historic Indianapolis has an excellent post detailing this financial collapse here).

Indianapolis and Marion County Atlas from 1889 showed Mapleton as a collection of building clustered around Illinois and 38th Street, just northeast of Crown Hill

By the turn of the century the remainder of the Haughey land in Mapleton was subdivided. The section encompassing the northwest corner of 38th and Illinois was called Haughey's Mapleton Subdivision.

Section of the 1901 Baist map. Note the use of the Mapleton name, the Haughy property (now only in Hannah's name) and their large home on the left side of the image, and their new subdivsion on the northwest corner of Illinois and 38th. The Mapleton Church was located in the blue shaded lot on 38th Street just under the 'M' in Martindale. It is unclear why Illinois Street appears to 'T' at 38th St. Source: IUPUI Sanborn and Baist Collection

With the expanding neighborhoods in the area, Mapleton began to fade, and by the end of World War I, the Mapleton name had disappeared from maps of Indianapolis. In the following years the southern sections of the Butler Tarkington were completely subdivided into neighborhoods, and the construction of new neighborhoods continued steadily northward.

Despite the passing of the Mapleton name, the remnants of the village continued. For years afterwards, starting in 1928, the ‘Mapletonians’ of the Old Mapleton Association, open to anyone who lived or had ties to the Mapleton area, would gather for reunions, often at the North United Methodist Church at 38th and Meridian, or at various parks around Indianapolis.  

Indianapolis Star, September 14, 1966

In 1971, the Indianapolis Star reported on the reunion, at the time in its 44th year, and noted a song that the association would sing in remembrance of Mapleton. While several verses long, the start of the song harkened back to the early days of Mapleton, when the roads in the area were still predominantly dirt: “Mapleton, old Mapleton, Your Streets were ankle deep with dust, But they’ve been paved as good streets must...” To see the rest of the song, check out the clipping from the Indystar. 

Additionally, some of the subdivided land of the former Mapleton area still contain legal descriptions harkening back to the Mapleton years. Subdivisions west and northwest of the Illinois and 38th intersection have legal names, as listed on the property cards maintained by the city, like Arthur V. Brown’s Mapleton Addition, CG Weiss’ Mapleton Addition, and Haughey's Mapleton Addition. The Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood of Indianapolis, southeast of Illinois and 38th St., also draws part of its name from the portion of Mapleton south of 38th St. Various businesses in the Midtown area also use the Mapleton name in various capacities. 

The Mapleton vicinity has also been the target of various redevelopment efforts by the city and non-profits. In the 1990’s the city issued the Maple Road Area Urban Design Proposal (left) which was focused on the commercial revitalization of the area around the former Mapleton. More recently, the Great Places 2020 Initiative has rebranded the area as “Maple Crossing” and has included the expansion of facilities at Tarkington Park, as well as commercial redevelopment efforts as part of the area's revitalization goals. Side note, my wife designed the 'Maple Crossing' mural which currently fills the windows of the old flower shop when she was the communications director at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. 

References (in addition to those noted above):

Indianapolis News, October 29, 1938, p.15

History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Berry Sulgrove (1888). Electronic version available here

Engraving of "Mapleton," Country residence of T. P. Haughey, Indiana, ca. 1850, The Indiana Album, Joan Hostetler Collection,

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