Greenwood

Greenwood is the northernmost city in Johnson County. The city is bound on the north by County Line Road, the southern boundary between Johnson and Marion Counties.  On the east, Greenwood is bordered by I-65 and by State Road 135 on the west. Over the past five decades, the city of Greenwood has grown from a small rural town with a population of under 3,000 to a thriving community of over 25,000 residents in a largely urban setting.  As of 1990, Greenwood encompassed approximately ten square miles with over seventy-seven miles of streets, held a predominately white population (with a median age of 32.6 years), and showed a median home price of $74,400. [1]

Today Greenwood is home to a number of multi-million dollar industrial plants, an ever-growing number of up-scale housing developments, and one of the state’s largest shopping complexes.  At the same time, Greenwood has many restored Victorian homes, businesses, and specialty shops in its “Old Towne” section.  Although Greenwood is undeniably one of a growing number of “bedroom communities” for Indianapolis, the citizens of Greenwood are determined to maintain the city’s integrity as a distinct community with a proud history of its own and a vital future.

Early History

The movement and disruptions of Native American peoples prior to the 1700s makes it difficult to ascribe settlement of the area now encompassed by Greenwood to a specific tribe. [2]   However, most histories of Greenwood (or Johnson County) write of a Delaware village located in White River Township on the western side of the White River by the early 1800s.  In 1813 this village is said to have been “all but wiped out” by a combined force of the Kentucky and Indiana Militias.  In 1818 the New Purchase treaties (negotiated in St. Mary’s, Ohio with the Miami and Delaware) opened central Indiana to Euro-American settlement.  That same year Captain Jacob Whetzel lay out The Whetzel Trace, “the earliest east-west route through central Indiana.”  Completed in 1819, the trail was cut wide enough for a team of oxen, and ran across Johnson County just two miles south of what is now Greenwood’s Main Street. [3]   At the time Whetzel was marking his trail, the area now known as Johnson County was covered by “a dense forest with heavy underbrush, swamps and abundance of wild game in its forests, fish in its waters and many fresh water springs.” [4]   The first Euro-American to settle in Johnson County was Richard Berry, who built a cabin a mile below Edinburg in 1819.  The first Euro-Americans to settle within the area encompassed by present-day Greenwood, however, were the brothers John B. and Isaac Smock of Mercer County, Kentucky, who arrived in 1823.  The Smocks were of Dutch ancestry and descended from seventeenth-century immigrants to New Amsterdam.  Over the next several years they were joined by a number of related families, all of whom were members of the New Providence Presbyterian Church of Mercer County, Kentucky.   In addition to settling in Johnson County, however, relatives of the Smocks also founded the Dutch Settlement in Switzerland County, Indiana, while still others were prominent members of the Shaker Community at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County, Kentucky. [5]

Initially known as Smocktown or Smock’s Settlement, the little community officially adopted the name of Greenfield in 1825.  In that same year, the first settlers organized what is now Greenwood Presbyterian Church, and Johnson County was also formed and named in honor of Judge John Johnson of the Indiana State Supreme Court.  In 1829 Pleasant Township was formed out of White River Township, and in 1833 the town changed its name to Greenwood to avoid confusion with Hancock County’s Greenfield. [6]   The town’s first post office opened in 1828 in an inn owned by George T. Noble, brother of Indiana’s fifth governor, Noah Noble, while the first postmaster was James Smock, younger brother of John B. and Isaac Smock.  In addition to George T. Noble’s inn, John Wilson’s saw mill (where he began manufacturing coffins as early as 1828) was also among the earliest businesses to be established in Greenwood.   The community’s first school met from 1826 to 1832 in the Presbyterian Church’s first building.  In 1832 the Presbyterian Church moved into its second building (a simple frame structure measuring 40 x 50 feet) where the school continued to meet. [7]

Churches

Greenwood’s second church, the Mt. Auburn Methodist Church, was organized in 1835 and began meeting in the home of William Harrell.  Later that year the Honey Creek United Brethren Church was organized in White River Township, southwest of  the town.  The following year, Mt. Auburn moved into its first building, later known as the “Old Mud School House,” and provided space to Greenwood’s second school.  Mt. Auburn built its present structure at Stone’s Crossing in 1904, with an addition to the south side of the building completed in 1930. [8]  

In 1839 the Greenwood Baptist Church began to meet in a grove on the Josiah Bass farm.  Greenwood Baptist (aka, First Baptist Church of Greenwood) did not erect its first building, however, until 1844, while Honey Creek United Brethren Church did not move into its first permanent structure until 1845.  Greenwood’s first Christian congregation, the Rocklane Christian Church, was organized in 1846 and moved into its first building in 1849.  Rocklane rebuilt its church at the same location in 1874. Although it also was organized in 1849, the Greenwood (United) Methodist Church was appointed head of the local circuit in 1850 after erecting its first building at the corner of Pearl and Meridian Streets.  In 1853 Greenwood Presbyterian Church relocated to a larger frame building at the corner of Main and Brewer Streets in downtown Greenwood.  The Olive Branch United Brethren Church erected its first building on Olive Branch Road just south of Smith’s Valley in 1859, and in 1902 this church relocated to Smith Valley Road and changed its name to the Smith’s Valley United Brethren Church.  In 1860 the Greenwood Baptist Church moved to its present location on Main Street. [9]  

Built at a cost of $2,400, the Greenwood Christian Church dedicated a new brick structure at the corner of Pearl and Smart Streets on November 12, 1868.  This congregation traced its origins to a society that was first organized on a farm just north of Greenwood in 1838.  The original group was forced to disband in the 1840s, however, because so many of the members left the neighborhood.  Greenwood Christian Church did not formally reorganize until 1860, when it began meeting in an abandoned school building at the corner of Broadway and Meridian Streets.  In 1902 the congregation rebuilt its church at the same site, and in 1963 Greenwood Christian Church purchased the Donnell estate on south Madison Avenue for $47,500.  Built at a cost of $181,055, the new building was dedicated on October 20, 1963. [10]  

In 1884 the community’s third Christian congregation, Mt. Pleasant Christian Church, was organized and began meeting in a small structure in White River Township.  Greenwood Methodist Church moved into a new brick building at the corner of Brewer and Broadway Streets in 1887.  Built at a cost of $7,000, this building served the congregation (with additions completed in 1922 and 1953) until the 1960s, when the congregation moved into its present building at 525 N. Madison Avenue.  In 1898 Greenwood Presbyterian erected a new brick building at the same location on the corner of Brewer and Main Streets.  An education building was later added.  Greenwood Baptist followed suit in 1899, tore down its frame building, and erected a large brick structure in its place.  A noteworthy innovation was the inclusion of a formal baptistery—a first for Greenwood’s churches.  Later additions to this building include an educational unit and a full basement.  [11]

In the twentieth century Greenwood’s faith community has expanded to include a number of denominations not found there in the nineteenth century.  In 1922 the Pilgrim Holiness Church was organized and in 1944 the Advent Lutheran Church began holding services in Greenwood’s Community House.  Formally organized in 1957, Advent Lutheran moved into its current building at 1363 U.S. Highway 31 in May 1960.  With about forty families in the area, the Catholic Diocese of Indianapolis organized a new parish in 1949, encompassing the three northern townships of Johnson County.  The community’s first Catholic Church, Our Lady of [the] Greenwood, was dedicated on February 19, 1950.  By 1955, with 160 families now residing in the parish, a resident pastor was assigned to the church for the first time, and Our Lady of [the] Greenwood Catholic Elementary School opened.  After holding services in Greenwood City Park as the Mission Work Gospel Services for two years, Calvary Apostolic Church was organized and began meeting in a remodeled building at 206 South Washington Street.  In 1956 the congregation moved into another building at 101 East Pearl Street.  Today they meet at 99 West Broadway. [12]  

In 1952 Greenwood Baptist Church opened a mission on Smith Valley Road that was formally organized as the Smith Valley Baptist Church in 1955, and the next year Concordia Lutheran Church began holding services in the Greenwood American Legion Post building.  Previously located at 102 South Madison Avenue in 1957, Concordia Lutheran Church moved into its current building at 305 Howard Road in 1964.  Greenwood’s first Southern Baptist congregation, Calvary Southern Baptist, began by holding its services in the Kindergarten Room at the Community House in 1962.  In 1963, however, Calvary Southern Baptist Church moved into Greenwood Christian Church’s former building on Smart Street.  Today Calvary Southern Baptist is located at 200 Sunset Boulevard.   Since the 1960s, as Greenwood’s population continued to grow, the community has also become home to a thriving Community Church as well as Church of God, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, and Pentecostal congregations.  Likewise, Greenwood has witnessed the founding of a number of new Baptist, Catholic, and Methodist churches over the past thirty years.  [13]  

Schools

As already noted, Greenwood’s earliest schools were conducted in the town’s churches.  Indeed, the original Greenwood School (the Greenwood Presbyterian Academy) was operated by the Greenwood Presbyterian Church from 1826 to 1853.  In 1864, however, the community pooled its resources to build a “substantial brick school.”  Unfortunately, this building burned in 1865 and school had to be held in an abandoned home on East Main Street.  In 1868 a new two-story four-room brick school house was dedicated.  Additions to this building continued until 1899, when the structure was declared unsafe.  In 1901 the building was torn down and replaced by a $17,000, twelve-room structure that housed all twelve grades.  Isom [Central] Elementary School was built in 1906, and the Greenwood School became the town’s Junior-Senior High School.  In 1928 Greenwood High School opened, but in 1942 it, too, was destroyed by fire.  The Greenwood School Board began building a new Junior-Senior High School in 1950, yet construction continued through 1960.  Greenwood’s growing population was also reflected by the construction of elementary schools in 1960 (Northeast) and 1962 (Southeast).  In 1970 the town dedicated the new $4.5 million Greenwood High School, while the former Junior-Senior High School became Greenwood Middle School.  In 1996 Greenwood opened its fourth elementary school, Westwood.  Today, the Greenwood community is served by three school systems, the Greenwood Community School Corporation, Center Grove Schools, and Central Nine Vocational-Technical Schools. [14]

Government and Politics

Although Greenwood’s first settlers began arriving in the 1820s, the town did not incorporate until 1864.  Greenwood’s population, however, continued to grow at a very slow rate through the mid-twentieth century (the town’s first housing development was not begun until 1946), while agriculture continued to dominate the local economy well into the 1950s.  Until 1960, the year Greenwood became a fifth-class city, the town was governed by a three-member town board.  In 1956, however, a vote mandated the formation of a mayor-council form of city government by  January 1, 1960.  The first mayor of Greenwood was Democrat Walter Burkhart who served one term.  Beginning in 1964 the Republicans took hold of the mayor’s office for the next twenty years, a lock broken in 1984 by the election of Democrat Jeanette Surina, the first woman to hold that office. Events in Indianapolis during the early 1970s (such as the creation of UNIGOV in 1970 and the 1973 court-ordered bussing desegregation of Indianapolis schools) prompted a “flight” out of Marion County, which contributed to the rapid expansion of Greenwood’s population.  From 7,200 residents in 1960, Greenwood’s population reached 26,265 by 1990.  Since the 1970s, Greenwood’s expanding commercial interests and growing population have greatly altered the city’s political culture.  Increasingly Greenwood’s politics have been dominated by concerns over the need to improve the school and sanitation systems, tax rates, crime, and the town’s civic life in general.  There also has been mounting concern, on the part of Greenwood’s neighbors, over the city’s zoning policies and its expansionist attitude.  The 1996 election highlighted many of these issues and proved to be the most expensive (not to mention rancorous) mayoral campaign in the city’s history. [15]

Business

Among Greenwood’s first businesses was an inn operated by George T. Noble.  By 1828 the inn, which stood at a crossroads on the Madison State Road in the town’s center, was thriving.  Other early business operations included a saw mill and a coffin manufacter.  James W. Parker is generally recognized as the town’s first merchant.  In 1846 he opened a general store at the corner of what is now Madison Avenue and Main Street.  The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad was completed in 1847, and the “first train west of the Allegheny Mountains ran through Greenwood on 1-October-1847.”  Later that year, Richard Steen erected a carding mill.  In 1850 A.G. Searle established an iron foundry.  The single most important business venture in Greenwood in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, was the J.T. Polk (Canning) Company. [16]   Founded in 1872 by James T. and Laura Polk in the kitchen of their Greenwood home, the company eventually grew to become the largest cannery west of  Baltimore and the town’s biggest employer.  Marketed under the brand name “Polk’s Best,” the company canned tomatoes, corn, peas, and other vegetables, all grown in the surrounding countryside.  In its peak years of production, the company had over 3,000 acres of local farmland under contract.  In the 1890s Polk expanded his operations by starting a successful dairy business, becoming the first person to deliver milk regularly to customers in Indianapolis.  During World War I the company contracted with the federal government to can beef and other foodstuffs for military provisions.  In 1930 the Stokely Company (later Stokely-Van Camp) purchased the J.T. Polk (Canning) Company and operated it until 1959. [17]

Since the 1960s, however, Greenwood’s commercial life has been dominated by the Greenwood Shopping Center (now Greenwood Park Mall) and a half-dozen factories, several of which are Japanese-owned and most of which are linked to the automotive industry.  Built on an 87-acre site by Atkinson & Company at a cost of $25 million, the Greenwood Shopping Center opened in 1966.   In 1977 Melvin Simon & Associates purchased the mall for an undisclosed amount of money, and in 1980—after much renovation and expansion—it was reopened as the Greenwood Park Mall.  By 1990 an average of 10 million shoppers a year (about 28,000 a day) were patronizing the Greenwood Park Mall.  More recently Greenwood has become home to two Japanese-owned businesses, Alpine Electronics Manufacturing of America, Inc., and Nachi Technology, Inc., each of which built multi-million-dollar industrial plants.  Most of Greenwood’s working population, however, is employed in Indianapolis.  [18]  

Community and Social Life

The city of Greenwood also is heir to a interesting cultural and social history.  For instance, the city’s newspapers date back to 1888 when Sumner Rose began publishing The Graphic.  Although The Graphic‘s owners moved the paper to Ingalls, Indiana in 1893, the city’s second paper (The Era) began publication that same year.  In 1972 the SouthsideChallenger began publication, and since 1986 the town has also been home to the Greenwood Gazette.  The city’s first attempt to organize a public library was mounted in 1894 by James T. Polk, but it was discontinued in 1896.  In 1911 members of Greenwood’s Civic League failed to agree on the location for the construction of a Carnegie Foundation Library and, as a result, the group was forced to rent temporary quarters and begin collecting donated books.  Five years later, in 1916, the Greenwood Public Library opened with a total collection of thirty-five books.  Today the library’s collection stands at more than 66,000 volumes.  [19]

In the 1890s the Greenwood Mineral Water Association was formed after James T. Polk accidentally discovered a mineral water deposit while drilling for natural gas.  Although Polk washed his hands of the enterprise, a group of  investors soon was bottling and shipping Greenwood Mineral Water throughout the Midwest.  By the turn of the century, the company was operating the Greenwood Sanitarium and attracting guests to the spa with promises to cure everything from “nasal catarrh” and Bright’s disease to the ubiquitous “female troubles” and “nervous prostration” through a variety of “Turkish, Vapor and Electric baths.”   The Greenwood Sanitarium was destroyed by fire in 1914 and was never rebuilt. [20]  

In 1920 the James T. and Laura Polk Memorial Community House opened. Greenwood’s “Community House” included an auditorium with a seating capacity of 500, a fully equipped gymnasium, and a pool.  The Community House served as the meeting site for many of the city’s clubs as well as a movie theatre and the home of the Greenwood Community Players (amateur theatrical troupe).  In a move to maintain a valuable link to the city’s past and to acknowledge the unique role the Community House had played in that past, Greenwood’s town council elected to restore the Community House in the 1980s after years of neglect.  In 1986, Greenwood City Hall moved into its new quarters in the Community House following a $900,000 restoration program. [21]  

Today, Greenwood struggles to maintain its historic identity as an independent municipality despite its function as a bedroom community of Indianapolis.  While the city’s growth (both in terms of population and commercial enterprise) is clearly linked to its close proximity to the Hoosier capital, Greenwood’s leaders maintain that the city has much to offer potential investors and resident—that which is individual to Greenwood and distinct from Indianapolis.  But it remains to be seen if Greenwood will be successful in its attempt to preserve its identity or whether it will ultimately be absorbed by Indianapolis’ urban sprawl.

[1] Connie J. Zeigler, “Greenwood,” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, eds. (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1994): 644.

[2] Elizabeth J. Glenn, “Native Americans” in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1042-1043; Will F. Averitt, History of Greenwood, Indiana:  1823-1965 (Greenwood, IN:  1965):  1-3.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid., 7-10; Averitt, History of Greenwood, 3-5; Jeffery A. Duvall, “Ethnicity in a Rural Midwestern Community:  Switzerland County, Indiana in the Twentieth Century” (M.A. thesis, Indiana University, 1995):  23-24.

[5] Averitt, History of Greenwood, 5-6; “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 11,19, 25, 33.

[6] Ibid., 12, 15.

[7] “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 11-17.

[8] Ibid., 12, 15.

[9] Averitt, History of Greenwood, 57-70.

[10] Ibid.; “Greenwood Area Centennial.” 11-17.

[11] Averitt, History of Greenwood,  57-70; “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 11-17.

[12] Greenwood Ministerial Association, “Welcome to the Church of Your Choice in Your Community” (Greenwood, IN:  privately printed, n.d.); Bill Romanovich, “Churches expanding all over Greenwood,” Indianapolis News, 26-July-1962; Averitt, History of Greenwood, 57-70; “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 11-17.

[13] Averitt, History of Greenwood, 57-70; Herb Perry, “Church’s building plans queried, day care, annexation issues,” Indianapolis Star, 14-February-1996; Sarah Pierson, “New freezer to enable Lighthouse Ministries to feed more,” Indianapolis Star/News, 28-December-1996; Greenwood Ministerial Association, “Welcome;” “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 11-17; Lynn Hopper, “Church a ‘1-stop shop’ for 3 different faiths,” Indianapolis Star, 30-November-1995.

[14] “Greenwood:  City of Pride and Progress,” 13, 19-23; “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 18-22; “Greenwood School Work Moving Along,”Indianapolis News, 22-January-1969; John Masson, “New School, New Adventures,”  Indianapolis Star, 23-August-1996.

[15] Zeigler, “Greenwood,” 644; Averitt, History of Greenwood, 4-5, 50; Phil Blankenhorn, “Mayor has no regrets as term nears end,” Indianapolis Star, 22-December-1996; “Council elect Boner Greenwood mayor,”Indianapolis Star, 6-June-1972; Jerry Graff, “Greenwood Mayor will run for post again,” Indianapolis News, 26-January-1996 and “Sewage at center of mayoral debate,” Indianapolis Star, 30-September-1995; Harold Martin, “Mayor has job for city’s best minds,” Indianapolis News, 28–November-1963; John Masson, “Mayoral challenger has big bucks,”Indianapolis Star, 3-November-1995; “Opposition to private sanitation plant growing at Greenwood,” Indianapolis Star, 27-June-1973; James Peters, “Sanitation plant near Greenwood called political.” Indianapolis Star, 1-July-1973; Jennifer Schmits, “Greenwood’s pride:  New facilities stand as legacy to a former mayor” and “McGovern in charge:  Greenwood’s mayor brings vast experience to her office,” Indianapolis Monthly (July 1993):  138-142; Bruce C. Smith, “Greenwood property tax hike sought for upgrade of schools,” Indianapolis Star 17-November-1987; George Stuteville, “Greenwood needs to reclaim identity,”Indianapolis Star, 1-May-1985.

[16] Averitt, History of Greenwood, 5-8; “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 25, 34.

[17] Zeigler, “Greenwood,” 644; Averitt, History of Greenwood, 13-14; “Old Settler’s Days:  Smock’s & Polk’s build the city;” “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 37.

[18] “Greenwood:  City of Pride and Progress,” 9-10, 14, 18-19; “Greenwood to get $25 million center,” Indianapolis News, 4-November-1963; Bill Koenig, “Japanese firms say expanding here not easy,”Indianapolis Star, 25-September-1996; “Louis Armstrong, Miss Indiana to help open Greenwood center,” Indianapolis Star, 8-May-1966; “12 Million shopping center expansion set,” Indianapolis News, 8-September-1967; “Simon buys Greenwood Center,” Indianapolis News, 5-January-1977.

[19] Ibid.; Averitt, History of Greenwood, 31-33; “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 23; “Greenwood:  City of Pride and Progress,” 24.

[20] “Greenwood Area Centennial,” 41; Averitt, History of Greenwood, 46-47.

[21] Ibid., 48;  Schmits, “Greenwood’s Pride,” 142; Bruce C. Smith, “Historic Center gets a new lease,” Indianapolis Star, 12-August-1986.