Greater Southeast

For the purpose of this study the Greater Southeast Neighborhood refers to an area bound by Washington Street on the north; Sherman Drive, Perkins Avenue, and Rural Street on the east (excluding the town of Beech Grove); I-465 on the South; and Meridian Street on the west.  In addition, the Greater Southeast Neighborhood encompasses all or portions of a number of historic Indianapolis neighborhoods, such as Fletcher Place, Fountain Square, Garfield Park, University Heights, Irish Hill, and Holy Rosary-Danish Church. [1] Although much of the area Polis has designated the Greater Southeast is residential, the neighborhood also boasts one of the city’s premiere industrial complexes (Eli Lilly and Company), Fountain Square’s historic commercial area, a number of parks (including the 128-acre Garfield Park), the University of Indianapolis, two branches of the public library (Fountain Square and Shelby), Southern Plaza Shopping Center as well as a number of smaller strip malls, dozens of churches, and numerous small businesses.  In addition, the Greater Southeast is home to a number of public elementary schools, three middle schools, the city’s second oldest high school (Manual), as well as a number of parochial schools.

Early History

The history of the various neighborhoods that fall within the boundaries of the area begins with Calvin Fletcher and Nicholas McCarthy’s purchase of the 264-acre farm of Dr. John H. Sanders in December 1835.  Fletcher and McCarthy purchased the farm with the intent to “lay out this area southeast of the city center as ‘town lots’ and to sell the small parcels for a ‘handsome advance.’” [2]  Portions of both the Fletcher Place and Fountain Square neighborhoods fall within the boundaries of those lots.  In 1839 Calvin Fletcher settled his family on Wood Lawn farm in what is now Fletcher Place.  Although the Fletchers are credited with being the first settlers in the area, a band of Delaware Indians resided at the present site of School No. 18 (1001 E. Palmer Street) as late as 1820.  Irish immigrants began to settle in what became known as the Irish Hill neighborhood in the 1840s.  With the notable exception of Virginia Avenue, settlement remained sporadic until the 1870s, except for Virginia Avenue. [3]  The building of St. Paul’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1859 (twenty-five years after the initial platting of the area) followed by the opening of the first public school (School No. 8) in 1860 are indicative of the area’s slow but steady growth in the nineteenth century.

Historically, the Greater Southeast has been home to immigrants from nations such as Germany, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Russia, Lithuania, Hungary, and the former Ottoman Empire.  The neighborhood also has hosted significant numbers of residents from the Upland South in general and its Appalachian region in particular. [4]  It has also proved to be equally diverse in its religious history, supporting such mainline Protestant denominations as Baptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ (Christians), and Lutherans from the nineteenth century to the present, although with declining numbers over time. Likewise, at least six different Catholic Parishes (Holy Rosary, St. James the Greater, St. Catherine of Sienna, Sacred Heart, St. Patrick’s, and St. Roch) also have been associated with the Greater Southeast, beginning with the formation of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in 1865.

The completion of the Citizen’s Street Railway Company’s turnaround at the intersections of Virginia Avenue and Shelby and Prospect Streets in 1864, however, ushered in an era of expansion as well as solidifying Fountain Square’s emergence as the Greater Southeast’s commercial center.  Just as the building of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church reflected the growing presence of German immigrants in the area, the construction of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in 1865 indicated the expanding Irish presence in the neighborhood.  First platted in 1854, the Holy Rosary-Danish Church neighborhood initially was home to skilled German, Irish, Scots, and Welsh laborers, but in the 1870s a group of Danish immigrants settled there—putting their mark on the neighborhood by founding Trinity Lutheran Church (i.e., the “Danish Church”) in 1872. [5]   The Danes were soon followed by several waves of Italian immigrants, and by 1910 the neighborhood was almost 90 percent Italian.  Holy Rosary Catholic Church, founded in 1909, was established specifically to minister to the Italian residents of the Holy Rosary-Danish Church neighborhood. [6] Likewise, the presence of a substantial second wave of German immigrants to the Greater Southeast was reflected in the founding of Emmaus German Lutheran Church in 1904.

Also between 1880 and 1910, the Greater Southeast became home to the city’s first significant Jewish community.  Although most of the Jewish immigrants who settled were Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe, a small wave of Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Empire came to Indianapolis and settled in the Greater Southeast in 1906.  Differences in language and culture, however, created a barrier between the two Jewish communities and intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Sephardim was rare until after World War II. [7]  Individuals from the East and the Upland South also added to the cultural mix of the area from its earliest settlement, while African-Americans and Appalachians began to settle in the neighborhood in significant numbers after 1900. [8]  The last distinct neighborhoods to be formed within the Greater Southeast were University Heights (which was first platted in 1902-1904), Garfield Park (which didn’t really begin to form as a neighborhood until after the railroad track elevations between 1915 and 1918), and the Barrington Housing Project (which was opened in 1954). [9]

Between 1890 and 1900, Fountain Square became primarily identified as a German neighborhood.  The number of German-owned businesses continued to increase in the neighborhood’s commercial district, and the Southside Turnverein (now the Madison Avenue Athletic Club) opened on Prospect Street in 1900.  The Italian immigrants in the Holy Rosary-Danish Church neighborhood were primarily employed in the food industry and the arts, while the Irish residents of Irish Hill and Fountain Square tended to find work on local construction jobs, in the surrounding railroad yards, and in local industries such as Kingan and Company or Eli Lilly and Company. [10]

Modern History

Until the 1950s Fountain Square easily maintained its position as the principal commercial center for much of the Greater Southeast.  Fountain Square’s first real competition came from the Twin Aire-Center, which opened in 1957.  It is Southern Plaza Shopping Center (which opened in 1961), however, that is generally credited with providing residents their first substantive alternative to shopping in Fountain Square.  In the 1960s and 1970s construction of the “Inner-Loop” of Interstate 65/70 displaced 17,000 of the city’s residents.  The state began purchasing homes, businesses, and churches in the highway right-of-way as early as 1960.  Among the hardest hit neighborhoods in Indianapolis were Fountain Square, Fletcher Place, and Irish Hill.  Fountain Square and Fletcher Place lost a combined total of 6,000 residents (a figure that represented almost 25 percent of the total population of the area) and most of their housing stock built between 1870 and 1910.  In addition, the interstate created a “physical barrier” between Fountain Square’s commercial district and “adjacent residential districts.” [11]

As a result, the population of the Greater Southeast has been steadily declining since the 1950s—from a historic high of 78,284 in 1950 to 54,295 residents in 1990.  In contrast to the overall trend of the population, however, the neighborhood’s minority population has demonstrated steady growth since the 1950s.  Today African-American residents make up 8.25 percent of the population, while an additional 1.3 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are members of other minority groups such as Asian, American Indian, Hispanic, or Aleutian. [12]  The median income of residents, as reported in the 1990 census, was $20,051, with 21 percent earning incomes below the poverty level.  The median housing value in 1990 was $35,080.  The percentage of single mothers has risen from 14.38 percent in 1970 to 24.59 percent in 1990, and the number of senior residents (age 65 and older) has risen steadily from 5.26 percent of the neighborhood’s population in 1930 to 12.26 percent in 1990. [13]  Since the 1950s, various areas (and/or specific neighborhoods) have been serviced by a number of different social and community agencies.  Today those agencies include Southeast Neighborhood Development, Inc., (SEND), Concord Community Development Corporation, the Carson-Heights Neighborhood Association, the Fountain Square Neighborhood Association, the Southeast Umbrella Organization (SUMO), the Southeast Community Organization (SECO), Holy Family Shelter, the Fountain Square Health Center, and the Southeast Health Center.

The 1980s saw the commercial center of much of the Greater Southeast shift south to the Greenwood Park Mall and various smaller strip malls (which is where most of the grocery stores can now be found).  Today, Southern Plaza Shopping Center struggles to maintain business in the same way the merchants of Fountain Square did in the 1960s and 1970s. [14]

In the early 1900s Fountain Square’s May Day Celebration, including a parade and dance in Garfield Park, became known as the city’s big event in the days before World War I.  The construction of a pagoda in Garfield Park (1903) to house musical performances also inaugurated a two-decade building program that transformed the Greater Southeast into the city’s first theater district.  Between 1909 and 1929 eleven theaters were built in Fountain Square.  The opening of Indiana Central University (now the University of Indianapolis) in University Heights (1905) and the building of a conservatory (1913), sunken garden (1916), and an outdoor theater (1920s) in Garfield Park also further enriched the area’s cultural life.  With the single exception of Theatre on the Square (1988-1993), Fountain Square’s theaters have been closed since the 1950s.  Likewise, cultural events in Garfield Park have also waned since the 1950s, although the park did host an annual Shakespeare Festival into the 1990s.  Today the University of Indianapolis remains the single most prominent cultural institution in the Greater Southeast—a role that continues to expand, as witnessed by the opening of the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center in spring of 1994.  As the university grows, however, it also has come into some conflict with its neighbors, most recently in a controversial request to close Hanna Avenue to traffic to facilitate easier access between the north and south portions of the campus.  As a final note, it should be noted that the Madison Avenue “strip” (located between the 2500 and 3500 blocks of S. Madison Avenue) gained a national reputation of sorts in 1985 when Rolling Stone ranked it number five on a list of youthful “hot spots” across the nation. [15]

Education

Although education has been a primary concern of residents from its earliest days, the perceived slowness of the city to respond to the neighborhood’s educational needs has fostered a sense of resentment that continues to the present. [16] The first public school in the area was School No. 8 (named for Calvin Fletcher in 1906) which was built in 1857, but unable to open until 1860 because of lack of funds to hire teachers.  The next public elementary school was not built until 1882 (School No. 28, Henry W. Longfellow School), and the Greater Southeast’s first public high school (High School No. 2, precursor to Manual High School) did not open until 1884.  When Manual Training High School finally opened in 1895, residents feared that the new school would only provide vocational training. [17]  While those fears proved to be unfounded, the second public high school (Harry E. Wood) was specifically designed to be a vocational school when it opened in 1953.  After much protest, the school board expanded Wood’s curriculum, and in 1954 the school was officially designated the city’s eighth public high school.

In the 1990s, the public schools again have proved to be a source of concern for the neighborhood’s residents.  In 1994 both Donnan and Longfellow Middle Schools were among the top twenty schools in IPS to report crimes in their buildings.  In 1996 the superintendent of IPS issued a warning to School No. 18 and placed every other public school on probation for poor academic performance. [18]

The history of the Greater Southeast’s parochial schools begins in 1859 with the opening of the first St. Paul’s Lutheran School on the corner of East and Georgia Streets.  The first Catholic elementary school to open in the Greater Southeast was associated with St. Patrick’s parish and dates back to the 1860s.  In 1875 Sacred Heart Parish was established and an elementary school opened by the end of the year.  At one time the Jewish community of the Greater Southeast operated a Hebrew School (Talmud Torah) in a building located on the corner of McCarty and Union Streets.  In the twentieth century, schools associated with churches—such as St. James the Greater Catholic Church, Holy Rosary Catholic Church, St. Roch Catholic Church, Calvary Tabernacle, Indianapolis Baptist Temple, and Emmaus Lutheran Church—all have opened.  The University of Indianapolis, which was founded by the United Brethren in 1905, is now associated with the United Methodist Church.  In 1979 Indianapolis Baptist Temple established a college on its property, and in 1989 Calvary Tabernacle assumed the sponsorship of Indiana Bible College (located at 3350 Carson Avenue).  Declining enrollment has forced the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to either close or consolidate all of the Greater Southeast’s Catholic schools except St. Roch.  Likewise, both St. Paul’s Lutheran School and the Jewish community’s Hebrew School have also closed or consolidated with other institutions outside the area.

Religion

     Since the 1920s the neighborhood increasingly has played host to what historian Jan Shipps labeled, “an evangelical-fundamentalist-pentecostal-holiness coalition” of congregations such as the Indianapolis Baptist Temple and Calvary Tabernacle. [19]  The Greater Southeast was also the historic home of the city’s Jewish community and, at one time, boasted five synagogues serving immigrants from Russia, Poland, Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.  In addition, African-American congregations have been located in the area since at least the early 20thcentury.

Over the past two decades two of the most visible faith communities have been Calvary Tabernacle and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple.  Although there is much disagreement over the actual degree of involvement of either church in the daily life of the neighborhood, there is no doubt that both congregations are now closely identified with the city’s south side. [20]  In the case of Calvary Tabernacle, the church has had a rather stormy relationship with its neighbors in the Fletcher Place neighborhood, while Baptist Temple’s most serious problems have primarily been with the federal government—most explicitly with the IRS.  Today Calvary Tabernacle has an average attendance of about 1,000 at its Sunday morning service, broadcasts weekly programs on radio station WNTS (1590 AM), and runs both the Calvary Christian School (K-12) and the Indiana Bible College. [21]  Indianapolis Baptist Temple, on the other hand, claims to have over 8,000 members on its rolls and as many as 2,000 attending Sunday morning service, but former members claim that attendance has actually fallen below 1,000 in recent years.  Since 1995, Baptist Temple has been engaged actively in a struggle with theirs over the collection of back taxes. [22]

From its beginnings Indianapolis has possessed a significant population of natives and former residents of the Upland South—earning the city at one point the moniker of “most southern of northern cities.”  Since the 1920s portions of the area encompassed by the Greater Southeast have been identified closely with newcomers from the southern mountains of Appalachia.  In the spring of 1969 Mayor Richard G. Lugar held a conference on Appalachia that was attended by representatives of local church organizations, social service agencies, the Indianapolis Public Schools, and various government agencies.  Following the conference the Community Service Council of Metropolitan Indianapolis released a report on The Appalachian in Indianapolis (1970).  In this report, the term Appalachian was defined as being “any rural, poverty-stricken, white individual who had migrated to Indianapolis from that area of the country designated Appalachia by the Appalachian Regional Commission.”  Fountain Square’s population was identified as one of several “pockets of Appalachians” in the city and the report deemed that population to be “mixed” in terms of time removed from Appalachia.  In addition, the report stated that most of the neighborhood’s Appalachian residents had come from (and were continuing to come from) Kentucky and Tennessee.  The report concluded, however, that the city’s Appalachian residents did not display enough “uniquely Appalachian” characteristics to warrant further study and that “local concerns and efforts might more productively be turned to seeking solutions to the problems of the poor in general.” [23]  It must be noted, however, that area residents have continued to demonstrate an interest in and awareness of Appalachia.  For instance, in 1983 the Fountain Square Girls Club offered an Appalachian Heritage Program; and as recently as the spring of 1997, students at Donnan Middle School celebrated their Appalachian roots with banners reading “Appalachia Forever” which were displayed during the school’s “Celebration of Cultural Diversity.” [24]

Conclusions

The final point that needs to be made regarding the Greater Southeast neighborhood involves a commonly held belief that has been expressed by area residents for over a century: the southside of Indianapolis is the “neglected (and sometimes abused) stepchild” of the city. [25]  Concerns over the schools (dating all the way back to the mid-nineteenth century), the condition of the infrastructure, the inadequacy of police protection, and the preservation of park areas and their maintenance have a long and vocal history among residents.  From the early twentieth century to the present, they have repeatedly published their belief that Indianapolis has discriminated, neglected, and slighted, the Greater Southeast neighborhood.  From the concern of area parents over the lack of a high school on the southside in the 1880s to disputes with the city zoning board over the location of the Indianapolis Shredding Company in the 1990s, residents have repeatedly found themselves in conflict with the city’s various administrations. [26]

Because the Greater Southeast neighborhood is a combination of many southeast-side neighborhoods (many primarily residential), it is rather difficult to find the sort of unifying themes, events, institutions, and so forth that hold a neighborhood together and give it a coherent sense of identity.  In looking through the various histories of the neighborhoods that fall within the bounds of the Greater Southeast, it is clear the two themes that do emerge—the notion that the city’s southside has been the victim of years of abuse and/or neglect on the part of the city and that the southside is largely inhabited by families that have come from Appalachia—require further investigation and may or may not be accurate characterizations of the Greater Southeast neighborhood.

[1] The Polis Center, “Greater Southeast Historical Census Statistics” (Indianapolis:  The Polis Center, 1997):  2; Sheryl D. Vanderstel, “Holy Rosary-Danish Church” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, David J.  Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, eds.  (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1994):  703-704; Cathleen F. Donnelly, “Irish Hill” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 830; Cathleen F. Donnelly, “University Heights” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1373.

[2] Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, Historic Area Preservation Plan:  Fountain Square (Indianapolis:  1984):  H-2.

[3] Donnelly, “Irish Hill,” 830; “Historical Narrative,” 1.

[4] The Polis Center, “Historical Narrative on the Fountain Square Neighborhood,” (Indianapolis: The Polis Center, 1995):  1; Marilynn Bickley, Research Assistant, The Appalachian in Indianapolis(Indianapolis: Community Service Council of Metropolitan Indianapolis, 1970); Gregory S. Rose, “Upland Southerners,” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1375-1377.

[5] Sheryl D. Vanderstel, “Holy Rosary-Danish Church,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 703-704 and “Danes,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 493.

[6] James J. Divita, The Italians in Indianapolis:  The Story of Holy Rosary Catholic Parish, 1909-1984 (Indianapolis:  Holy Rosary Parish, 1984):  14-17; “Holy Rosary observes 80th anniversary with fanfare,” The Spotlight, 10 May 1989; Vanderstel, “Holy Rosary-Danish Church,” 703-704.

[7] Carolyn S. Blackwell, “Jews” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 846-847; Carol Elrod, “Southside’s Jewish Neighborhood emptied by Northbound ‘Exodus,'” Indianapolis Star, 11 November 1979.

[8] “Historical Narrative,” 1, 4-6; Rose, “Upland Southerners,” 1375-1377.

[9] Donnelly, “University Heights,” 1373; Connie J. Ziegler, “Garfield Park Neighborhood,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 609; Roger Budrow, “Southeast Addition to cost $1,500,000,” Indianapolis News, 10 October 1949; Philip Allen, “Hope for Barrington,” Indianapolis News, 19 July 1971.

[10] “Historical Narrative,” 1-2; David G. Vanderstel, “Irish,” TheEncyclopedia of Indianapolis, 827-829; James J.  Divita, “Italians,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 834-836.

[11] “Historical Narrative,” 5.

[12] “Greater Southeast Historical Census,” 3.

[13] Ibid., 5, 14.  16, 20.

[14] Karen J. Cohen, “Southern Plaza continues to struggle, “Indianapolis Star, 11 December 1990 and “Woolworth leaving Southern Plaza,”Indianapolis Star, 9 November 1990.

[15] “Councilor asks for Madison Ave. patrols, police accountability,” The Spotlight, 17 July 1985.

[16] Ted Stahly, “Manual High School,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 959-960; Nelson Price, “Manual backers cite ‘Neglect,’” Indianapolis News, 7 March 1984.

[17] Stahly, “Manual High School,” 959.

[18] “IPS Principals Whose Jobs are on the Line,” Indianapolis Star/News, 28 January 1997; “8 Schools ‘satisfactory,’” Indianapolis News, 12 July 1995; Linda Caleca, “Back to School—Armed,” Indianapolis Star, 4 October 1994.

[19] Jan Shipps, “Religion,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 180

[20] The Polis Center, “Summary of Calvary Tabernacle (United Pentecostal),” (Indianapolis: The Polis Center, 1995); Ruth Holladay, “Preaching resistance puts church at odds with state,” Indianapolis Star, 29 December 1995; Tommy L. Farris, “Indianapolis Baptist Temple Church,” The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 768-769.

[21] “Summary of Calvary Tabernacle.”

[22] Indianapolis Baptist Temple lost its building in 2001 when it lost a court case with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

[23] Rose, “Upland Southerners,” 1375-1377; Bickley, The Appalachian in Indianapolis, 2, 26.

[24] This information was provided by Donnan’s school social worker, Mrs. Wanda Morgan Duvall.  Among the other banners displayed were ones celebrating African American and Native American heritages.

[25] Price, “Manual backers cite ‘Neglect;’” J.W. Fesler, “Holds South Side Entitled to fair share of benefits,” Indianapolis Star, 5 January 1914; J.L. Keach, “City should keep promises to south side, says Keach,”Indianapolis Star, 10 January 1914; G.S. Henninger, “South side is suffering from politics, says pastor,” Indianapolis Star, 14 January 1914; Lilly Mae Wilson, “Erase Mason-Dixon line, urges south side woman,”Indianapolis Star, 14 January 1914; Steven Pockrass, “Southsiders vent frustrations,” Indianapolis News, 3 May 1990.

[26] Mary Francis, “Area residents seek to remove shredding firm,”Indianapolis Star, 19 May 1995; Michael Ehret, “Neighbors want car shredder to move,” Indianapolis News, 11 May 1995.