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Not Just A Day In The Park: The Summer Mission of Fairview

Updated: May 2, 2022

Before the arrival of Butler University, the property where the university now sits was well known as Fairview Park, a large green space operated from the latter 1800's until its sale to Butler University in 1924. During that time the park boasted many amenities including a carousel, fountains, natural open and forested areas and rolling hills, and a boathouse on the Central Canal. The park was owned by the Indianapolis Street Railway Company, who coincidentally enough, also had a trolley line that ran to the park from downtown.

Aside from these park-like attractions, the park also hosted what was alternatively called the Fresh Air Station or Summer Mission. Essentially a summer camp like facility, the Summer Mission was the product of efforts by Rev. Oscar McCullough and several charitable societies in the city and provided a place for sickly children and their mothers from the downtown area to come to the country and enjoy the fresh air and outdoors.

Established in 1890, the Indianapolis News noted on July 16, 1890, that "[p]erhaps the pleasantest scene on the way to Fairview Park is "Fresh Air Station," where little sick babies are enjoying the breezes." The children traveling to the park would be accompanied by their mothers, although the News reported later in July 1890 that one mother refused to send her child due to the overly strict rules and a "tyrannical nurse" who would not allow the child's father to accompany them to the park.

Location of the Summer Mission on the south end of Fairview Park as seen in the 1916 Baist map.

The Summer Mission was located on the southern end of the park (with the blessing of the Indianapolis Street Railway Company) along the bluff overlooking the Central Canal, and near the present day corner of Haughey Avenue and 44th St/Hampton Drive. Initially the Summer Mission consisted of tents, open-air shelters, and playground equipment. In 1894, a large permanent hospital was constructed at the Summer Mission. By 1912, nine cottages and four tents were on the property. The cottages had hinged sides that could be lifted up in order to allow the circulation of fresh air and breezes. The playground area was 300 x 400 feet and included playhouses, a sleeping tent, wings, and a merry-go-round.

Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society
Summer Mission, a.k.a Fresh Air Station, Fairview Park, circa 1904. Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The Indianapolis Star frequently ran stories extolling the virtues of the Summer Mission, and describing the benefits to the children of Indianapolis. At the same time, the Star also ran a fundraising campaign called the "Fresh Air Fund" or "Summer Mission Fund" so the routine stories about the Summer Mission likely doubled as fundraising efforts for their charity. In addition to the solicitation of donations, fundraising was also accomplished through concerts and other entertainment at Fairview Park, the county fair, and other locations in the city, with proceeds going towards supporting the Summer Mission.

What ailments were permitted at the Station isn't exactly clear, although one report indicating that no children with "infectious conditions" were permitted. Generally, "sickly" and "anemic" children were hosted at the Summer Mission, usually drawn from areas of the city with higher poverty levels. References to babies and their mothers being pulled from "tenements" are common.

The founding of the Mission coincided with a general charitable trend towards addressing the perceived suffering of children living in urban environments. Medical staff were also assigned to the camp and "scientific" treatment was used in addressing the ailments of the children in attendance. In 1911, a new report indicated that a local physician would travel to the mission a few times a week to provide care to the children. Additionally, a medical resident from the IU School of Medicine and a nursing staff lived on the property throughout the summer to help provide care to the children. Mission staff also provided well-balanced meals to attendees, and nutrition information to mothers who accompanied their children. Along this vein, a headline in the Star from 1923 stated that the "sickly children" of the Summer Mission "wax fat and frisky on five meals, 11 hours sleep, daily."

Indianapolis Star, June 23, 1923.
A scene at the Summer Mission's hospital building. Indianapolis Star, June 23, 1923.

The curative properties of the fresh air were the focus of the care at the Summer Mission. The effectiveness of this treatment on the "sickly" children is unclear, although the camp was often reported to be full throughout the warmest months of the year. While the operators of the Mission would identify some of the visitors, private physicians would also refer their patients to the Summer Mission for care during the summer months.

Indianapolis Star, June 2, 1907

In the summer of 1911, the Star reported of a physician who contacted the Summer Mission and requested admission of one of his patients. Per the Star, the physician reported his baby patient was "fast wasting away in the heat and the impure air of the city," and that a "visit in the open air would be the only thing that could save the child's life." Considering the Star's role in promoting and raising funds for the Summer Mission, the many stories about the Mission's successes may have been written with an eye towards the dramatic and the fundraising goals.

The Summer Mission continued to operate at Fairview Park throughout the early 1900's. Leading up to 1920, financial concerns, and the demands of upkeep on the property, necessitated a merging of the Summer Mission and several other children’s charities. The Mission continued to operate until 1924, when the property, along with the rest of Fairview Park, was purchased by Butler University. Some of the more substantial structures, including the hospital building, remained for a few years before succumbing to the developing university. Today, the site of the Summer Mission is occupied by a parking lot for the theological seminary along Haughey Ave, and the Delta Tau Delta and Sigma Nu fraternity houses.


Indianapolis Star and News, dates cited above.

Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1994 p. 1310

Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Database, credits as noted above.

IUPUI Sanborn & Baist Collection, Baist 1916, #34

Note: This post was previously published in the December 2018 edition of the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Newsletter

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Mar 19, 2023

My Grandmother, Mother, and Sister lived at Fairview Settlement from 1914 to 1917 which was located on the same grounds as the Summer Mission. With the flood of 1913, many of the less well off of Indy lost partners and means of survival. There were up to 20 structures and it was an living and housing arrangement for widowed mothers with children. Women could work during the day, taking the traction to their place of employment. The children were taught housekeeping duties and shop. Also they attended IPS Schools (perhaps #43) and there was even a Kindergarten established on settlement property.

There is little written history written the Fairview Settlement Project, however it was another of the charitable projects for…

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