Although platted in the 1830s, Cumberland did not experience significant growth for over a century.  When Washington Square Shopping Mall opened near the edge of Marion County and with the construction of I-70 in the 1970s the town began to grow and that growth caused problems. As the town board worked to contain development, citizens’ confidence in their elected officials was tested more than once, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when in-fighting, unreasonable self-appointed pay increases, and even grand jury indictments were common occurences.  Today Cumberland’s biggest concerns are continued growth and its identity as a community rather than just another Indianapolis suburb.

Platted in 1831 by Henry Brady, Cumberland was settled initially by workers who were constructing the National Road. [1]   In 1830 the population of all of Warren Township, in which Cumberland resides, was only 617 persons. [2]   But in 1838 the National Road connected to Washington Street in Indianapolis, setting the stage for growth in Cumberland as travelers made their way to the state capital. [3]   By 1855 Cumberland had its own Post Office and two churches, Cumberland Baptist established in 1832 and St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church established by local German immigrants in 1855. [4]

In 1901 Carl Sonnerschmidt and Herman Junge established Smith and Young Greenhouses, which would eventually become one of the largest rose-growing nurseries in Indiana. [5]   Local students attended Cumberland High School before the construction of Warren Central which consolidated the Cumberland and Shadeland High Schools in 1925. [6]By 1926 the Indianapolis News was predicting that Cumberland would eventually become a community center of Indianapolis since it was in line with the eastward growth of the larger city. [7] Four years later St. John Evangelical Church celebrated it 75th anniversary with 400 members and 100 associate members. [8]

Cumberland’s population reached 600 in 1950, but residents claimed that bad roads were a deterrent to growth. [9]   In 1959 the town bond-financed a $241,000 waterworks and 230 residents agreed to switch from well water to city water.

A growth spurt began early in the 1960s when the Cumberland Homes Addition added 28 new lots to the town. [10]   One illustration of that growth was the groundbreaking for a new $60,000 building for the Cumberland Methodist Church in 1961. [11]   Now with a population of 900, representing 50 percent growth in a decade, the town faced sewage problems and a $176,000 bill to solve them. [12] These problems were compounded in 1967 when the Cumberland Heights subdivision was platted adding more new homes to the town. [13]

In the midst of concerns over development the citizens of Cumberland began to have even greater concerns about their town board.  In 1969 the board voted itself a pay increase. The raises meant that the Clerk-Treasurer of tiny Cumberland would now make more than the mayor of the City of Lawrence. [14] And, the increase also gave pay raises to two members of the board whose actions were under investigation by a grand jury. [15]

On January 10, 1970, citizens circulated a petition to call a referendum to strike $11,000 from the town’s budget, set new salaries for town employees, redistrict the town’s population for better representation on the town board, and drop the town Marshal’s office and use the Metro Indy police force instead. [16]   In March the Cumberland Clerk-Treasurer and 2 former town board members were indicted by the grand jury on 58 counts of unlawful activities. [17]   Eventually the remaining members of the town board agreed to a reduction in pay, and in 1972 a new board again lowered the pay of board members to what it considered to be a reasonable level. [18]

In 1972 construction began at another new subdivision, Glen Oaks.  By 1977 the assessed valuation of the Glen Oaks and Cumberland Heights subdivisions was $1,430, 410. [19]   The construction of the multi-million dollar  Mount Comfort Airport on 1,200 acres about a mile from the Glen Oaks subdivision encouraged further development in the Cumberland area and the opening of I-70 turned the far eastside into a viable bedroom community for Indianapolis commuters.  And Washington Square Mall, which opened in the mid-1970s, drew crowds of shoppers that made the far eastside attractive to an ever-increasing number of retail establishments.  In 1978 the Town Board annexed 157 acres to the town’s boundaries.  To keep up with the growth and increased population, Cumberland’s police force was almost doubled in two years; by 1978 it consisted of a Town Marshall and 3 full-time and one part-time deputies.[20]

Cumberland’s population had grown to 3,400 by 1980.  In 1983 the largest employer in town, the Electra Corporation, closed its production facilities, after giving its employees only 3 days notice, and moved the manufacturing  plant to Mexico.  In the mid 1980s discontent with the town board surfaced again over instability in the Clerk-Treasurer’s office—there were three Clerk-Treasurer’s in one year’s time—and a dispute, resulting in a lawsuit later dismissed by the Indiana Supreme Court, filed by the Town Marshall. [21]

In 1990 the population of Cumberland had reached 4,500.  Fourteen churches served this relatively small population. [22]   The town’s area grew beyond its official town limits in 1991 and encompassed parts of Buck Creek and Sugar Creek townships in Hancock County as well as part of Warren Township in Marion County. [23]    Also in 1991, the Cumberland Area Chamber of Commerce had 121 members and in January the town opened a new $524,000 Town Hall at 11501 E. Washington Street. [24]   In 1987 the Chamber instituted an annual “Chamberfest” that lasts 4 days and consists of a talent show, a queen contest, and a three-ring circus.  Chamber members and residents view the festival as a way of pulling the community together. [25]

Toward the end of the decade of 1990 the tension between growth and the desire to retain “community” affects Cumberland as it does many small towns in Marion County.


[1] Kris E. Daman, “Cumberland,” in David J. Bodenhamer & Robert G. Barrows, eds., Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (Indiana University Press 1994), 486.

[2] U.S. Census, 1830.

[3] Albert E. Dickens,  “The Growth and Structure of Real Property Uses in Indianapolis, 1939.

[4] “Warren Township Development Study,” 1990″; Daman, “Cumberland,” Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.

[5] Daman, “Cumberland.”

[6] Indiana State Library Indiana Division Clipping Files, “Indiana Schools”

[7] Indianapolis News, December 28, 1926.

[8] Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1930.

[9] Indianapolis Times, April 16, 1950.

[10] Indianapolis Star, August 6, 1961.

[11] Indianapolis Star, June 6, 1961.

[12] Indianapolis News, April 11, 1963.

[13] Indianapolis Star, June 28, 1978. Daman, “Cumberland,”Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.


[15] Indianapolis News, December 18, 1969.

[16] Indianapolis News, January 10, 1970.

[17] Indianapolis News, March 27, 1970.

[18] Indianapolis News, February 1, 1972.

[19] Indianapolis Star, June 25, 1978.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Indianapolis News, April 11, 1984, June 29, 1984, November 9, 1984;Indianapolis Star, September 1, 1985, October 24, 1985, December 4, 1985.

[22]Daman, “Cumberland,” Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.

[23] Indianapolis News, December 26, 1991.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Indianapolis News, July 20, 1994.