I used to bike to work a few days a week back in 2010-2015. After switching jobs in late 2015 to a firm closer to downtown, I biked to work even more, using my locker at the now defunct YMCA at the City Market. I usually took two routes downtown: cutting over from my home to the Monon Trail at 42nd Street or taking the Tow Path and White River Trail if I wanted some additional miles and a more scenic ride. In early 2019 I stopped biking to work regularly, and then I lost my locker at the YMCA due to the pandemic. I haven't restarted biking to work due to the YMCA's permanent closure, and the lack of bike commuter friendly facilities at the state office complex.
This past weekend, in an effort to get back into biking shape, I took off on what used to be a standard morning ride around the city. From Butler University I took the Tow Path to the White River Trail to downtown, and from the downtown Cultural Trail to the Monon to 42nd Street and back home. Coming north on the Monon, I was amazed at the amount of development along that route just north of 16th Street. This was starting four years ago, but the amount of change since that time is astounding. What used to be a series of industrial areas and older neighborhoods flanking the Monon Trail, were now, in several stretches, new homes and development, both completed and others still under construction.
Seeing all of this change made me think about the history of the neighborhoods along the Monon. I think it is fair to say that the history associated with the stretch of the Monon from downtown to 38th Street could cover several blog posts, and perhaps it will in the future. For now, I wanted to take a quick look at one particular intersection on the Monon Trail for which we are lucky enough to have excellent evidence of what the area looked like almost 100 years ago.
The intersection is 19th and Monon, which when I was commuting 10 years ago was a relatively quiet crossing on the Monon Trail, with little traffic. The crossing was flanked by a few industrial operations, neighborhoods to the east and west, and the overgrown right of way for the eastern most tracks of the Monon right of way. Looking east from this crossing the view in 1935 looked like the following:
The intersection in the foreground is 19th and Alvord. The same view as it appears today is below:
The intersection as it appeared in the 1927 and 1941 Baist maps below shows the variety of houses and industrial operations in the area around the present day Monon crossing. Not pictured in these maps but just out of frame to the east (right side of the map) was the location of the former Atlas Engine Works, a site which has had almost continuous industrial use since the 1860's. The red dots on both maps show where the 1935 and present-day photos were taken, looking to the east (again, right side) on the maps. Note the multiple tracks present at this point where the Monon Trail today roughly follows a single railway, although the full right of way is much wider.
Also note the disappearance of the homes northeast of the 19th and Monon crossing between 1927 and 1941.
This area of the city is part of the Hillside neighborhood, which in turn is a part of the larger Martindale-Brightwood area, and at the time of the 1935 photo above, was a predominately African American neighborhood. This is shown by reviewing the 1930 census records for this area, although the census records also indicate immigrant families in the area, including from Poland and Ireland (one reference was a birthplace in the Free State of Ireland). According to the 1930 census, the neighborhood along 19th Street was primarily working class, with the residents being employed in a wide range of jobs, including as laborers, tailors, maids, salesmen, grocers, and factory workers (see excerpt from the census below). Railroad workers and those involved in “odd jobs” were also common, as were cooks, and other restaurant workers.
The below excerpt from the census shows the residents of two household along the north side of 19th Street, just beyond the truck on the left side of the street in the 1935 image above. One family is African American, while the other is an immigrant family from Poland. The remaining families along this stretch appear to have been African American according to the 1930 census.
A few blocks down from the Monon, on the southside of 19th Street is JTV Park. The core of the future park began as the Christamore Community Center (visible in the 1927 Baist map, above), which was also known as the Christamore Settlement House, before it was purchased by the city, and renamed JTV Hill Community Center, after the first African American to practice law in Marion County. Over the course of the next 30 years the community center would expand into a full park, with the city slowly purchasing the homes and lots around the center so the land could be incorporated into the park. The Indianapolis Recorder has a good series of articles covering the history of the Christamore House, JTV Hill Park, and its namesake, authored by Richard McDonough. Those articles can be accessed here.
The growth of the park using neighborhood lots paralleled a larger change in the neighborhood, as maps and aerial images show a creeping elimination of the homes in the area. The neighborhood had been heavily redlined in the 1930's and 1940's and the disinvestment during that time hindered the area's condition. Also hurting the neighborhood was years of pollution from the many industrial operations in the area, including mills, the railroads, and the former Atlas property. Not only was there air pollution, but industrial chemicals seeped into the ground and spread throughout the area. By the mid 1970's, when JTV Park was completed, the area around the park, and the crossing at 19th and the Monon were starkly different than the neighborhood seen in the 1935 image, with homes and businesses being located amidst numerous vacant lots. A February 2015 Indianapolis Star article took a detailed look at the neighborhood, which was still experiencing the disinvestment and pollution issues from prior years, and detailed neighbors' concerns about the neighborhood, and whether redevelopment efforts would be directed at the neighborhood in the future.
19th Street looking east from Monon Railroad, 1935, Indianapolis History, IUPUI Library, copyright owned by Dee Dee Davis, https://indianamemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/IndyHist/id/8144
Indianapolis Star, February 15, 2015
Indianapolis Baist Atlas Plan # 10, 1941, IUPUI Baist and Sanborn Collection
Indianapolis Baist Atlas Plan # 10, 1927, IUPUI Baist and Sanborn Collection
1930 United States Census
Mapping Inequality Redlining in New Deal America, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=16/39.792/-86.14&city=indianapolis-in&area=D7