top of page

#indyplaques - The Ferger Drugstore

This edition of #indyplaques is centered on Indiana Ave. at its intersection of Michigan St. The buildings on the west side of Indiana between Michigan and West St. are older structures, which have been rehabilitated and transitioned into offices of various types. In fact, the original Indiana Recorder office used to be located long this stretch.

Not long ago I was walking to a law office which now occupies one of thee buildings, and as I passed the Sonrisa Periodontal Spa (located in the building at the point of Indiana and Michigan), I spotted a small plaque just to left of the front door.

The Ferger name was a common one in the downtown pharmacy/druggist game at the turn of the 20th century. Aside from Otto, Edward Ferger, Otto's older brother, operated a drugstore along Washington St. in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The location was located at 104 W. Washington St. and was called the Bates House Pharmacy. Later, Edward moved the pharmacy to the southeast corner of Illinois and Washington Streets. This location was called the Occidental Pharmacy, since it shared a building with the old Occidental Hotel which was originally located on that corner (to be replaced by the larger Occidental Building several years later.) City directories around this time noted Edward as an "Deutsche Apotheke," a nod to the family's German heritage and served as an advertisement to the city's German population. 

The corner of Washington and Illinois Streets in 1906. The Ferger pharamcy is visible on the right side of the image, just behind the streetcar. Image: Indiana Historical Society

Otto worked at both of these pharmacies as a clerk for several years, and in an additional location the brothers opened in the Traction Terminal Building at the intersection of Market and Illinois. The Hilton Hotel now stands in the place of that building.

Otto's years as a clerk in his brother's pharmacy was not without its drama. In January 1906, Otto was arrested for allegedly selling a bottle of wine to George Loscent, a minor, on Christmas morning, 1905 at the Ferger Traction Terminal pharmacy. Unfortunately, one of George's friends, William McKnight had a firearm with him, and while the two and another companion were enjoying the wine along Market Street near Capitol, William 'accidently' shot and killed George (later news stories noted the two boys had actually been involved in a fight).

It does not appear William was charged, but Otto was arrested and tried to a jury which found him guilty resulting in a fine and ten day imprisonment. This wasn't the end of the case, as the father of George brought a claim in civil court (equivalent of a wrongful death claim today) against Edward and Charles Ferger (another of Otto's brothers), who actually owned the pharmacy. The family of the deceased sought $5,000 in damages, and a jury awarded $700.

Throughout both cases, Otto claimed that he had not sold the wine to the boys, including a post verdict plea to the court that "[s]tanding here, before God, I will say that I did not sell wine to this boy." 

In 1909-1910, the "Ferger Building" was constructed to house Otto's own pharmacy, which he would continue to operate for the next 40 years. The building is located at the point of Michigan St. and Indiana Ave. (red highlighted area below)

Credit: 1915 Baist, IUPUI Collection

Otto died in 1950 at the age of 72. An obituary in the Indianapolis Recorder (whose office was a few doors away) memorialized his long service to Indianapolis: "People came from every part of the city to patronize his drugstore, he was a counselor and friend to many o the older citizens all over the city. His philanthropies were extensive and no family or individual was turned down for medical needs on account of not having funds." The Recorder further noted Otto's assistance to African American youth of the area, by helping provide for the education of over a dozen young men through scholarships and financial assistance (with some working in his drugstore as clerks), with several becoming druggists, pharmacists, or physicians.

Following Otto's death, the Ferger Building continued to be used as a drugstore, although it went through a variety of other uses, including a men's clothing store, before eventually being abandoned in the 1980's.

As noted on the plaque, the Ferger building was facing demolition as redevelopment efforts along Indiana Ave. and the area adjacent to the newly redone Central Canal began to gain steam in the late 1980's and early '90's.

Indianapolis Star, September 1989

In September 1989, Indiana Landmarks Foundation purchased the Ferger building and an adjacent property, in what was described by the Star as the organization's first move away from "residential properties." The initial sale price was $120,000, and protective covenants required "timely restoration" by the new owners.

Google Earth view of the Ferger Building

The former Ferger Drugstore has been well preserved since it was saved from demolition. While it houses a modern commercial business, the building, along with some of the adjacent structures on that same block, are a reminder of the history of Indiana Ave., prior to the wave of redevelopment which claimed most of the structures along that corridor.

145 views0 comments


bottom of page