The Near Westside is bounded by 16th Street to the north, Tibbs Avenue to the west, Washington Street to the south, and White River to the east; it includes three historically distinct neighborhoods: Haughville, Stringtown, and Mt. Jackson. Historically, Haughville was the area south of 10th Street and north of Michigan Street, between Tibbs and Belmont Avenues. The entire area north of 10th Street is commonly referred to as North Haughville, although it was not part of the earliest settlement. The Stringtown area is typically defined as the area west of the White River, south of Michigan, east of Belmont, and north of Washington Street. The area east of Belmont, between Michigan and 10th Streets, is sometimes included with Haughville and sometimes with Stringtown, depending on which source is consulted. The area originally settled as the town of Mt. Jackson is now known as the Hawthorne or West Washington neighborhood. Its boundaries are the old Big Four tracks to the north, Warman Avenue to the west, the Penn Central tracks to the south and Belmont Avenue to the east [see map 1].
The transportation routes that bisect the area and form its borders define and shape the Near-Westside community. The White River served as a barrier between the area and the rest of the city. By contrast, Washington Street has provided a vital connection to the rest of the city since the 1830s when, as the National Road, it first spanned the White River. Early settlers followed the road to outlying farms and merchants set up small shops along its length. Supposedly, Stringtown got its name from the fact that the people lived in a string of houses along Washington Street near the river. The other early farming community that developed further west was named Mt. Jackson, after President Andrew Jackson. The earliest settlers in all three areas were mainly of English and German stock, with family names such as Whitlock, Smith, Trost, and Emerich.
The coming of the railroad changed area’s largely rural character. The growth of factories along the railroad tracks separated the northeastern two-thirds of the community from the bottom one-third. The old Big Four tracks, laid sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, entered the community north of Walnut Street at Tibbs Avenue and traveled diagonally southward to intersect with Washington Street at Harding Street. The Indianapolis Belt Railroad, a second area railroad built in the 1870s, made it easier to transport goods around the city. It also further dissected the Stringtown area.
Good rail transportation encouraged industrialists to locate their businesses along the tracks, spurring early urban settlement. Haughville was named for one of these businesses—a foundry. The Haugh, Ketcham, and Co. Iron Works, an iron foundry, moved from a downtown location in 1880, and its workers located nearby. By 1883, when the town of Haughville incorporated, there were 283 inhabitants, mostly German and Irish employed in the neighborhood or in meat-packing plants south of Washington Street. The area’s second foundry, National Malleable Castings Company, soon began recruiting Slovene immigrant workers, known for their metal-working skills. The area’s third major foundry, a precursor to Link Belt, was established the same year.
During the next fifteen years the industrial suburb’s population grew rapidly, reaching an estimated 2,100 by 1890. New Solvenian immigrants encountered resistance from older Irish and German residents when they tried to settle. Eventually, Michigan Street became a dividing line: the Slovenes and other southeastern Europeans lived north of Michigan Street, clustered in border lodgings, and the Irish and northern Europeans lived south. Meanwhile, the Stringtown area had grown populous enough to support its own school.
In 1897 Indianapolis annexed both Haughville and Mt. Jackson. By then Haughville included a business center east of the foundries along Michigan Street, a hotel and restaurant, trolley line, library, jail, fire station, social clubs, and schools. In addition to the three foundries, the Edward Chain Works, I.D. & W. Railroad Shops, Evans linseed oil, a creosote plant, and a number of small factories and mills provided jobs to most of the neighborhood men. Young single male workers employed in these plants frequented the “questionable resorts” and corner saloons along Washington Street in Mt. Jackson and on Holmes in Haughville. These establishments tainted the Westside’s reputation in the rest of Indianapolis.
Despite its rough and tumble reputation, religion was important to early residents, and several local churches were founded by the 1890s. The neighborhood’s citizens supported Haughville Christian (1889), St. Anthony’s Catholic (1891), First Baptist of Haughville (1891), as well as Methodist and German Reformed congregations. St. Anthony’s served as the area’s first “melting pot,” with Irish, German, and Slovene Catholics sharing the building, albeit somewhat uneasily.
Having a church of their own was especially important to the Slovene community, which numbered over 500 families by the 1910s. Due to early cultural and language problems they had encountered in attending the largely Irish St. Anthony’s, the Slovenes received permission in 1906 to start a national parish. The parish dedicated the Holy Trinity building at the corner of Holmes and St. Clair Streets the following year. The church immediately became the center of the Slovene community, especially after a school opened in 1911. Slovenian social organizations such as the St. Aloysius, St. Joseph, and Franc Preseren Lodges also were founded through the church.
In 1900 the census reported sixteen different nationalities living in the Haughville area, including Hungarians, Poles, Austrians, and Macedonians. However, 48 percent of the population was Slovene. Boarding houses filled with single men soon were replaced by small workers’ cottages for young families. The Haughville immigrant community, although very insular, began to assimilate. Kerchiefed women kept clean homes where windows were hung with lace curtains and yards were planted with flowers. Native Indianapolis residents also fostered assimilation by opening a Free Kindergarten branch in the area in 1902.
As World War I approached, some of the early Irish and German residents in the Stringtown area began moving out of the neighborhood. They were replaced by migrants from the southern United States, as well as some families who had formerly lived within the downtown’s Mile Square. Despite the great flood of 1913, which submerged much of this area and damaged or demolished many homes, these new residents built houses on land that recently had been cornfields. Most neighborhood men continued to work in the nearby factories, but by the 1910s there also were significant numbers working as building tradesmen, firemen, policemen, mailmen, and transportation workers. During the same period, more city services came into the area. A Carnegie library branch opened in 1910 at Mount and Ohio Streets, and new schools were built in Haughville and Mount Jackson. The naming of School #50 as the Nathaniel Hawthorne School led to the renaming of the Mount Jackson area as Hawthorne.
By the 1920s Haughville and Hawthorne could boast wide, paved streets lined with shade trees, modest homes, modern churches of many denominations, parochial and public schools, branch libraries, a fire station, and George Washington High School. Groups such as the Civic League of Haughville and the West Michigan Street Improvement Association claimed responsibility for the increased civic participation that accompanied these physical changes. The community was economically healthy, with several thriving business districts along Michigan and Washington Streets and local factories that employed thousands of the area’s adult men. Community rituals developed, such as Saturday night haircuts and baths and shopping and socializing along at the main business centers. Despite this stability, some middle-class leaders believed the working-class community needed social services. Local minister Rev. Clarence G. Baker organized what would become known as the Hawthorne Community Center through private donations in 1923. Christamore House moved from the eastside to the corner of Tremont and Michigan Streets in 1924, specifically to serve the immigrant population of Haughville.
As the Near Westside population continued to grow during the 1920s, so did diversity and, at times, divisiveness. During World War I, anti-German sentiment led to the renaming of Germania and Bismarck Streets to Pershing and Belleview Streets. Even within the tight-knit Slovene community conflict between socialists and Catholics led to the establishment of the Slovenian National Home in 1918. Originally located at 729 N. Holmes, it sponsored concerts, plays, cards, dances, and sports teams that were not connected to the church. The number of churches in the area had grown since the turn of the century, with new congregations of the Christian, Methodist, Missionary Baptist, and Nazarene denominations being established in the area. A small settlement of African-Americans also developed west of Pershing at 10th Street during World War I, but they were excluded from community activities. Recollections of growing up in the Near Westside during this time suggest that violence was an accepted part of life. As former Mayor Charles Boswell jokingly recalled, “We got along with each other on all the days except when we fought; the fighting didn’t take place more than five to six days a week.”
The Great Depression hit hard and fast in the solidly working-class area in the 1930s. Most families were too proud to go on relief, accepting support only from the people and institutions within the neighborhood. Others left the area to farm further west and south. Shantytowns, called Curtisville and Hooverville, sprang up just south of Washington Street along the river, and the old Haugh and Ketcham foundry and the nearby Duesenberg factory both closed, putting many out of their jobs. Reflecting the area’s hard times, Christamore House reported a large increase in attendance during the early 1930s—from 53,000 per year in 1928 to 76,000 in 1936.
World War II brought temporary economic relief as factories boomed again. For the first time, even African-Americans found work in the foundries. Everyone took on new responsibilities to support the war effort; despite the limited means of most working-class residents, local school children collected scrap metal and purchased thousands of dollars of war bonds and stamps.
Holy Trinity’s loss of its national parish status in 1948 confirmed the social changes already at work within the community. The post-war economic boom allowed educated children of Haughville immigrants to find jobs outside the community. Many residents began moving to western suburbs, such as Chapel Hill and Chapel Glenn subdivisions or to the town of Speedway. Southern-born white Appalachians and African-Americans who had migrated to the city to find war work increasingly moved into vacated homes, especially along the eastern edges of the area. As more of the area’s housing stock became rental properties, physical deterioration began to take place.
Neighborhood institutions reacted to the social change in several ways. In 1951 Christamore House adopted an open door policy and for the first time allowed blacks to participate in their programs; by 1955 there were 635 African-American members at Christamore. Other institutions, such as Hawthorne House, St. Anthony’s, and Eighth Christian Church, ignored the new population and continued with their expansion plans and were content to serve traditional populations. But many long-standing institutions began to close or leave the neighborhood, choosing to follow their membership. The Carnegie library in Hawthorne closed after forty-five years of service; and, after sixty years in Haughville, Memorial Baptist left the neighborhood in 1952, selling its building to a new black Baptist congregation.
Despite apparent physical and social deterioration, the spirit of the Near Westside was not extinguished. The rate of white out-migration was less than in other neighborhoods during the 1950s and 1960s, and several community achievements were noted. Holy Trinity reached its peak year of membership in 1956 (2,250 members). Haughville residents gloried in the fact that “local boys” Phillip Bayt (Prosecutor), Charles Boswell (Mayor), and Robert O’Neal (County Sheriff) were elected to public office in the late 1950s. The entire city noticed when George McGinnis led the Washington Continentals to two state high school basketball championships in the late 1960s.
A heavy blow to the community came when several of the area’s largest employers shut down, causing the area’s joblessness rate to mount. The Link-Belt plant closed in 1959, leaving its massive buildings vacant. National Malleable followed suit in 1962. The buildings of both plants were demolished later that year to make way for a new redevelopment, including a grocery store, drugstore, and a public housing project. Many residents resented the redevelopment plans, both symbolically and practically. The housing project represented a particular insult to local residents. Not only had many long-time residents lost their jobs, but with the new housing even more unemployed people were moved into the neighborhood. Many inhabitants began to believe the city would simply allow the neighborhood to die a slow, painful death.
High unemployment rates in the 1960s were accompanied by increased poverty, juvenile delinquency, and crime. Theft was such a problem for Holy Trinity that it discontinued the annual summer festival and had to safeguard the church buildings. Local social service agencies tried to combat these trends by implementing special youth programs and emergency support services such as food pantries, drug counseling, and job training. Christamore House helped sponsor the Haughville Community Council to organize residents into addressing the community’s problems. Previously strong neighborhood business associations tried actively to assist in these efforts, but local shops and services increasingly closed and were not replaced by new businesses.
As the IUPUI campus expansion and federal highway construction proceeded in the 1970s, the Near Westside area continued to accept many people displaced from east of the river. These new arrivals brought new churches. New congregations purchased buildings from existing congregations or established facilities in houses, former saloons, corner groceries, and commercial storefronts. Between the 1950s and 1970s the number of Missionary Baptist, Free Methodist, and independent congregations grew. As these new congregations became established, some moved out of temporary locations and built modest churches, including Mount Olive Baptist, Light and Life Free Methodist, and Friendship Missionary Baptist.
Despite social service and church supports within the neighborhood, area residents felt increasingly abandoned by city officials. An informal resident survey of the neighborhood, conducted by a Washington High School class in the early 1970s, revealed that while many inhabitants cited resident apathy as a problem, more were concerned about lack of positive youth outlets and city services such as police protection, street lighting, health services, and animal control. Since the survey coincided with the closing of Haughville’s fire station, library, and Stringtown’s Indianola school—all of which dated to the 1890s—many residents were convinced of the city’s indifference to their problems.
However, when the Christamore House staff and the Haughville Community Council asked the city for $150,000 for housing rehabilitation work in 1973, city planners began conducting a study of the Near Westside area. After meeting with a “Community Advisory Team,” made up of representatives from Christamore House, Hawthorne Community Center, the Salvation Army, and the Westside Advisory Community Council, the planners published the “Near Westside Subarea Plan” in 1975. As a result of the plan’s proposals, the area’s first medical center was established that year. City officials also promised to support zoning and code enforcement, housing improvements, better public transportation, street improvements, and increased maintenance of schools and parks. The area also was designated a “treatment area” for federal community development funds in 1979. However, when the subarea plan was updated in 1982, little significant positive change was reported.
Several events further eroded community on the Near Westside between 1975 and 1985, including the closing of almost all of its public schools, the consolidation of local parochial schools into one school, and the loss of seventy homes with the construction of the Indianapolis Zoo. Additional housing along the western bank of the river hung in the balance as city officials debated the merits of a proposed north-south thoroughfare and the further expansion of IUPUI and White River State Park. While neither proposals materialized, area residents watched helplessly as their homes deteriorated and property values dropped in anticipation of the city’s demolition.
These final neighborhood losses stimulated local residents and social service agencies to organize and seek outside funding for their own neighborhood projects and programming. Old frictions between social service professionals and local resident groups began to lessen, though not disappear, as they worked together to establish community-policing programs such as Crime Watch and Project Respect. Local ministers banded together in 1984 to form the Rainbow Christian Association and voiced their congregants’ concerns about balancing development with respect for residents’ way of life. That same year the West Side Cooperative Organization (WESCO), the Haughville Community Council, and Christamore jointly founded the Westside Community Development Corporation (WCDC) to administer housing and revitalization programs. Early projects by the WCDC included establishing Haughville Park on the site of the former city hall and Project Home, an annual home painting blitz.
Social service centers, including the Hawthorne Community Center, the Salvation Army Corps in Stringtown, and Christamore House all were rebuilt or renovated during the late 1970s and 1980s. These centers also expanded their social service programs, often with the help of public and private partnerships. Hawthorne Center received a Lilly Endowment grant to fund a summer youth program, while Christamore House sponsored several health clinics with the help of the Marion County Health Department. Several religious groups also established social services, such as the Better Living and Community Services Center (Seventh-Day Adventists), the Holy Trinity Senior Day Care program, and Friendship Westside Charities.
By the 1990s, a new spirit of revitalization and cooperation had entered the Near Westside area as a combination of new residents and long-time leaders pledged to take back the neighborhood. Two new resident groups were formed in the early 1990s: Neighbors for Historic Haughville (1991) and the Stringtown Neighborhood Association Council (1993). When Merchants Bank closed its neighborhood branch in 1989, leaving the community without the services of a large lending institution, WESCO, WCDC, and Partners for Westside Housing Renewal successfully attracted another bank and to the area and set up low-interest loan programs with several other banks. Neighborhood leaders also worked with the Indianapolis Police Department to work towards community policing. The former IPS School 52 was converted into the Area #4 Headquarters in 1990, and a substation was later established at Concord Village, the area’s worst crime area. When the 500 mini-marathon was re-routed to pass through the area, neighborhood residents provided water stations and sponsored a neighborhood fair at the race’s conclusion. Cooperation with Historic Landmarks of Indiana resulted in a section of Haughville being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
Under the Goldsmith Administration program “Building Better Neighborhoods,” the area has been the focus of four large, federally-funded revitalization programs. In 1992 the Near Westside received a $190,000 planning grant to recruit and train community leaders and to formulate ways to launch a multi-faceted social service program. The following year, the Near Westside was promised $16.3 million over three years to revitalize the area. The plan, “Operation Weed and Seed,” was designed to “weed out” crime and replace it with “seeds” of human services and economic development. Another program involved focusing on improving the lives of disadvantaged children.
Most recently, city planners updated their plans for the area in their 1994 Near Westside Housing Improvement and Neighborhood Plan, which focused on economic renewal of the old B&O Railroad corridor. Additional economic development projects have been implemented along White River Parkway and have brought new businesses and health services to the area. Additionally, as WCDC celebrated its ten-year anniversary, the organization pointed to forty units completed and over 200 homeowners helped through their programs.
Despite these efforts on the part of both local residents and city officials in the recent past, the Near Westside remains vulnerable. The Hawthorne area is probably in the best shape, and much of north Haughville seems stable. Crime and poverty are still major problems around Concord Village, and much of the remaining Stringtown housing and infrastructure continues to deteriorate. The recent closure of Central State Hospital and Washington High School removed two long-standing institutions from the neighborhood. Revitalization and social service programs provide hope for the future, but the outcome of these efforts remains to be seen.
 Then 1913 Flood damaged 10,000 homes in various parts of the city at an estimated cost of $25 million. West Washington street became a lake, and with the failure of the Washington Street Bridge, the entire west side was isolated form the rest of the city.