The Meridian-Kessler neighborhood is bounded on the north by Kessler Boulevard, on the east by the Monon corridor, on the south by 38th Street and to the west by Meridian Street.
The neighborhood’s name, derived from its western and northern boundaries, originated in 1965 when residents established the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association (MKNA) to halt “white flight” caused by African-American families moving into the all-white area.
As Indianapolis was being platted in 1821, farmers established farms and orchards in this region north of the nascent city. The area flourished throughout the 19th century. Although the rural population remained small, direct roads–Sugar Flat Road (Central Avenue), the Indianapolis Road (Meridian Street), and Westfield Road (Westfield Boulevard)–connected the area to the capital city. Two homes remain from those earliest years–the Hardin House, ca. 1832 (4644 North Central Avenue), and the Oliver Johnson House, c. 1862 (4456 North Park Avenue). Twenty-seven homes constructed prior to 1900 still exist in the neighborhood.
Indianapolis residents moved steadily northward after 1900. By the 1920s, the area was subdivided although not completely built. By this time, however, the emerging neighborhood had become a prestigious address for community and business leaders as well as for those aspiring to influence. The neighborhood’s western edge boasted large homes, many of near mansion proportions, on sizable wooded lots. Homes become more modestly middle class toward the eastern edge where bungalows are predominant. Meridian-Kessler also has a number of small apartment buildings located primarily along the major thoroughfares of 38th Street and College Avenue but also scattered along Washington Boulevard, Central Avenue, and Pennsylvania Street.
Commercial centers developed at 49th and Pennsylvania streets and along College Avenue at each major intersection to Kessler Boulevard, providing local residents with groceries, shops, and service stations. Neighborhood businesses continue to occupy many of the original structures.
Education has been a part of the neighborhood from the 1820s when a Mr. Hawkins held classes in his log cabin at 46th Street and Central Avenue. Since 1854, a public school has been located at that site, including the present Mary Nicholson School No. 70. Henry Coburn School No. 66, built at 38th Street and Broadway Street in 1914, served the area until 1979 and was converted to senior citizens housing (1991). Joseph J. Bingham School No. 84, located at 57th Street and Central Avenue, opened in 1928. Two parochial schools serve the neighborhood–St. Joan of Arc (1921) and Immaculate Heart of Mary (1948).
Influential members of Indianapolis’ professional and business communities have resided in Meridian-Kessler, including Herbert L. Bass, Albert J. Beveridge, Lee Burns, E. Howard Cadle, Frances Farmer, Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., and Meredith Nicholson. Meridian Street between 40th Street and Kessler Boulevard, which bisects the Meridian-Kessler and Butler-Tarkington neighborhoods, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
In recent years, Meridian-Kessler has embarked upon extensive redevelopment activities in its southeastern quadrant. MKNA secured a police precinct station and fire station at 42nd Street and College Avenue, and has sponsored numerous neighborhood stabilization programs.