Invisible Indianapolis

Migration to Indianapolis’ Near-Southside in the Late-19th Century


A 2016 aerial view of Indianapolis and the near-Southside (click for expanded view; for aerial views of the neighborhood in 1962, 1972, and today scroll to the end of this post).

In January 1886 the Indianapolis News mourned the loss of the final tree from the “dense forest that once filled Pogue’s Creek bottom … on the bank of the new cut on Morris street.”  While trees had long been removed from the city’s original Mile Square, “south of the old boundary of South street … the woods maintained their primeval density.”  After Europeans arrived in Indianapolis, that forest on Indianapolis’ near-Southside was punctuated by a scatter of small farms and pastures.  These included a hemp farm managed by of one of Indianapolis’ first European settlers, Nicholas McCarty.  McCarty opened one of the city’s first general stores in 1823, and around 1840 his entrepreneurial ventures included “a hemp mill and rotting vats—just south of Ray street.”

This 1855 map provides one of the earliest cartographic images of the near-Southside. Both McCarty Street and contemporary South Meridian Street were dirt roads.  Some lots were included in the map at the southwest corner of the two streets, but most of them had not yet been settled (click for expanded view).

By the time the final tree fell on the near-Southside in 1886, businesses, workplaces, and homes lined South Meridian Street and side streets like Ray Street, where McCarty’s hemp mill once stood.  In 1855 South Meridian (initially referred to as Bluff Road) was a dirt road that extended south from McCarty Street (Bluff Road today refers to the street that extends southwest off South Meridian near Adler).  In 1858 present-day South Meridian was graded and graveled, and a scatter of new residents, stores, and workplaces soon occupied the street extending south from McCarty Street.

Three houses sat at the corner of McCarty and present-day South Meridian in 1857.  James Cartin was living at the northwest corner (today an empty lot), and store clerk John Armstrong and Jonathan Westover were living at two of the other corners (that is, one where Shapiro’s Deli sits today and the other on the southeast corner, now a flower shop).  Armstrong and his wife Jane were born in Ireland; Jonathan and Jane Westover were born in Orange County, New York and Ohio respectively and came to Indiana from Ohio.  Jonathan Westover would serve as a Sheriff after the Civil War;  was a member of the Tippecanoe Club (men who had voted for William Henry Harrison in 1836 and/or 1840); and was still living on South Meridian at his death in March, 1899.

The earliest residents in the near Southside came from a wide range of places, but they were dominated by two groups of European immigrants: immigrants hailing from various corners of the German world quickly settled along South Meridian and surrounding arteries; they were rapidly joined by Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.   They lived alongside a scatter of residents from other places.  For instance, a modest number of Irish residents lived in the area in the 19th century, and a very small number of African Americans called the near-Southside home before the 20th century. In the 20th century the neighborhood’s demography shifted as it became home to a mixed African-American and Sephardic Jewish community (we will have some blogs on that period later in the Spring).

Many of the first Germans living in the near-Southside managed groceries or butcher shops.  In 1863, for instance, butcher Frederick Beck had a shop at the corner of McCarty and Bluff.  Beck was born in Hesse-Darmstadt (near Frankfurt) in 1827 and migrated to the US in 1855; his wife Mary was born in Bavaria (in southeast Germany).  Their neighbor Christiana Coleman was born in Germany and came to the US sometime between 1847 and 1849 with her husband Henry, also born in Germany.  Charles Schwicho and his wife Margaret were born in Prussia, and in 1864 Schwicho had a butcher shop and grocery along Bluff Road between McCarty and Ray Streets.  Frederick Beck would live in the neighborhood working as a butcher until his death in 1906, when his estate was valued at $50,000.  When Charles Schwicho died in 1892 his estate sold off a scatter of lots in the near Southside along South Meridian.

In 1861 Indianapolis’ city directory listed five breweries, including the Harting Brothers (click image for expanded view).

The Becks’ neighbors in 1870 included Henry Harting, who was among the city’s many brewers after the Civil War.  Harting was a Prussian immigrant who began to manage the Harting Brothers brewery on the near-Southside with brother Frederick in 1861.  The brothers’ brewery business began in 1858 when they were living on South Alabama Street.  The Hartings were one of five breweries in the 1861 city directory, and the brewery continued in business until 1877.

In 1887 William Schafer was managing the grocery at the northwest corner of South Meridian and Ray Streets that was first managed by Hermann Altman.  Charles Albertsmeyer’s saloon was Schafer’s neighbor to the north (click image for an expanded view).

The intersection of Ray Street and South Meridian would become one of the centers of neighborhood marketing.  In 1868 Hermann Altman began managing a grocery, saloon, and feed store on the northwest corner of Ray and South Meridian.  Hermann was born in Hanover in 1835 and migrated to the US in 1853, living first in Toledo, Ohio and then St. Louis before coming to Indianapolis in 1859.  He married his Prussian-born wife Wilhemina in St. Louis in 1859.  Hermann first managed a saloon on East Washington Street and then lived on Union Street before moving to the South Meridian location.  In 1872 the Harmonie Society’s Indianapolis headquarters was at Altman’s South Meridian grocery.

In 1874 the contemporary streetscape was in place in most of the near-Southside (click image for an expanded view)

Improvements to the rudimentary near-Southside streetscape spurred expansion into the area.  In October 1867, for instance, the city agreed to a contract to grade Ray Street, which at that point had only a few residents.  John Bast, for instance, was living on the east side of South Illinois Street just a few doors from the intersection with Ray Street in 1867.  Bast was born in Bavaria in 1833 and moved to Indianapolis by 1863, when he appeared in Civil War draft registration records (he did not serve).  After the Civil War Bast managed a basket-making firm, and three basket-makers lived in the home on South Illinois Street in 1867.

Despite development in the near-Southside, the area was plagued by poor drainage and sewer problems.  In May 1868 the city was compelled to dig a sewage network to drain what the Indiana Daily Sentinel sarcastically referred to as “Lake McCarty.”  Pogues Run intersected Ray Street and became spoiled very rapidly; in 1871, the Indianapolis News observed that “Pogue’s Creek is entirely dry from a little below Ray street to the mouth. The water has stopped running and turned its attention, in occasional puddles, to stinking with the vigor of an army of exasperated skunks.”  The city continued to improve the neighborhood, but it was slow to attract residents.  In 1877 the Indianapolis News concluded that “Ray street … is one of the best improved in the city. Roadway and sidewalks are graded, leveled and graveled finely. It is downright pretty, and it has a first rate bridge across Pogue’s creek, but there is not a house on it in all that quarter of a mile.”

In 1887, the southwest corner of McCarty and South Meridian had a dense array of businesses: Frederick Meyer’s saloon at 400 South Meridian; David Weschler’s butcher shop at 402 (with smoke houses in the back yard); John Schmitt’s cigar shop at 404; Elizabeth Keller’s restaurant at 408; Catherine Stott’s millinery store at 410; Michael Ganter’s bakery at 412 (and a bake house in the rear lot); the drug store of William J. Hamilton at 414; and James M. Nelson’s grocery at 416. Keep in mind that street numbers have changed today. (Click for an expanded view)

While Ray Street may have been sparsely settled, the north-south arteries of Meridian, Illinois, Maple, and Tennessee (now Capitol) had a significant number of residents by 1871.  In 1871 Tennessee Street had 18 homes between McCarty and Ray Streets.  These included only one business, George Harson’s grocery at the corner of Tennessee and McCarty Streets, where his family also lived.  Nine years later the same stretch of street had 25 residences, including Isaac Sagalowsky’s grocery and home in the middle of the block.  The main artery of South Meridian had a denser array of businesses; in 1880 from McCarty Street South to Ray there were 43 addresses, which included 18 businesses including four grocery stores, three saloons, and a host of other marketing spaces ranging from a tea shop to a cigar store.  Many of those merchants and their families lived in the second story above their business.

While a relatively sizable African-American community settled in the Southside in the early 20th century, there were very few 19th-century African-American residents in the near Southside.  The first African-American residents in the neighborhood came around 1869, when Braxton and Jane Jones were living at the northeast corner of Maple and Ray Streets.  Cambridge and Phillis Miller came to Indianapolis in 1867 and settled in a predominately African-American neighborhood on North Street, and Cambridge died around 1874.  His widow moved to South Tennessee Street by 1867, living there until about 1884.  Nevertheless, the neighborhood had very few African-American residents until the 20th century.

Jacob Efroymson’s store on South Meridian on the 1887 Sanborn insurance map (click image for expanded view).

A significant number of Jewish immigrants began to settle in the near-Southside in the 1870s.  Jacob Efroymson, for instance, was born in Poland in 1843, and his wife Minnie was born in Prussia.  Jacob arrived in the US in 1866 and went to Evansville, Indiana.  Jacob and Minnie Efroymson moved to Indianapolis and opened a dry goods store on North Illinois Street in 1872, when his family lived on Maple Street; a year later he moved his Linens and Fancy Goods store to South Meridian Street and was living on South Illinois.  Efroymson and his sons Philip and Louis were managing the store on South Meridian in 1899, and they clearly conducted at least some of their business in German: in 1894, they placed an ad searching for “Boy or young man; experienced in dry goods; one who can speak German.”  Jacob retired in about 1905, but his sons continued to manage local businesses: for instance, son Gustave and his brother-in-law Louis P. Wolf started the Efroymson and Wolf dry goods store in about 1887, also known as the Star Store, and Efroymson and Wolf bought the HP Wasson dry goods store in 1912, which became known as one of the region’s finest high-end department stores.

In 1932 Sharah Tefilla celebrated a half-century of worship, which began at this South Meridian synagogue.

The Efroymsons were among the first Jewish residents of Indianapolis, and many of their earliest near-Southside neighbors came from Poland and eastern Europe.  In 1870 about 500 Jews lived in the city, and many were living on the near-Eastside near the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, which was formed in 1856.  Yet by 1870 there was a sufficient number of Jewish residents on the near-Southside to support a prayer group that would become Congregation Sharah Tefilla in 1882.  Neighborhood residents including Marcus Cohen, Bennett Goldberg, and Jacob Efroymson were among the congregation’s founders.

Marcus and Linda Cohen and their next door neighbors Myer and Hannah Steinberg were all Polish immigrants living on the near-Southside in 1870.  Like many ambitious entrepreneurs Marcus and Myer were peddlers, and neighbors Bennett Goldsberg, Jacob Efroymson, Frank Lemontree, Casper Budewski, and Harris Ringolsky were also peddlers in the 1870s and 1880s.  In 1874 Cohen and his son Himon (sometimes Herman, born in Poland in 1856) were both peddlers living on Tennessee Street.  The Cohens later moved to nearby Maple Street, and Marcus opened a grocery on Eddy Street just north of McCarty in the early 1880s, where the family lived and remained active in the Sharah Tefilla congregation.  Harris Ringolsky lived on South Tennessee Street in 1871, and he was yet another near-Southside Polish immigrant who worked throughout his life as a peddler and attended Sharah Tefilla.  Isaac Sagalowsky was a Sharah Tefilla member who had a short-lived South Tennessee Street grocery in 1880, but a year later he was peddling second-hand goods.  In 1890 the Polish immigrant was still living on South Tennessee Street and was working with several family members who had a junk yard on West Maryland Street.

Frank Lemontree was born in 1854 in Międzyrzec Podlaski (Poland), where a sizable Jewish community had lived since the 17th century.  Lemontree came to the US from the Russian-ruled town in 1872 with his Polish wife Fannie.  The couple had a son in New York in 1875 and moved to Indianapolis in 1878.  Lemontree managed a store on Maple Street and had a stand in the City Market, but most of his career was spent selling a wide variety of goods about the Indiana countryside.  In 1890 the Greencastle Daily Sun described Lemontree as an “old huckster that is known all over the state of Indiana.”  The paper was reporting on Lemontree’s search for his 14 year-old son Hyman who had run away, observing that “Both Mr Lemontree and his son are well known here, having resided in North Greencastle for some time, where they dealt in poultry, iron, rags, etc.”  The newspaper wondered “Why any one should want to leave a father like Mr. Lemontree is a mystery, for he is not as sour as his name would imply, and has $30,000 or $40,000 in Indianapolis real estate and hard cash.” By 1894 the Indianapolis Journal reported that Frank Lemontree had deserted his wife, and she dispatched her son, the former runaway Hyman, to Richmond, Indiana to sell goods, but he abandoned the wagon in Shelbyville and disappeared with the profits.  These disagreements appear to have been set aside by 1900, when Frank and Fannie were again living together on Maple Street with six of their nine children, where Frank was a junk dealer and Hyman had become an optician.

Fannie died in April, 1907, and in about 1909 a woman named Fannie Schulman moved in with Lemontree.  Schulman was married at the time she met Lemontree, but she divorced her husband Nathan and he sued Lemontree in 1911, demanding $10,000 for “alienation of Mrs. Schulman’s affections.”  Nathan Schulman won the case, but he was awarded just one cent in damages.  Identified as a Russian Jew in primary records, Fannie Schulman married Frank Lemontree in 1912.  Frank died in 1915 and his death certificate indicated he was buried in the “Jewish Cemetery” (as was his first wife), possibly the Sharah Tefilla section of the Hebrew Cemetery at South Meridian and Bluff, which has several ethnic or congregational sections.

Many of the near-Southside’s earliest Jewish merchants secured a reputation as philanthropists.  In 1873 a newly formed Jewish charity counted Marcus Cohen and Bennett Goldberg among its first officers.  When Marcus Cohen died in October, 1901 the Indianapolis News lauded him as “one of the best known Hebrews of this city” and indicated that “On account of his numerous acts of charity and philanthropy he was familiarly known as the `Good Father Cohen.’”  When Frank Lemontree’s first wife Fannie died the Indianapolis News described her as “one of the best-known Jewish women of the city, and prominent in the charity and social work of her race in Indianapolis.”  Bennett Goldberg’s wife Anna was one of the founders of the Jewish Home for the Aged, and her joint will with her husband divided their estate among a variety of Jewish organizations including the Jewish Orphan’s Home, the United Hebrew School, and Sharah Tefilla.

In 1962 this aerial view shows the near-Southside less than a decade before interstate construction began; for a 1972 image see the picture below (click on picture for expanded image)

In 1972 construction for Interstate-70 had begun to raze properties along the south side of Ray Street (note bridge supports at bottom right southeastern corner of this image; click to emlarge image)

In the 20th century an African-American and Sephardic Jewish community settled in the area (we will have some blogs on that “Neighborhood of Saturdays” community in the Spring).  Today, though, the neighborhood sits in the shadow of Interstate-70, which sliced through Indianapolis’ near-Southside in the 1960s.  In the 1960s the once-busy neighborhood’s homes and businesses along South Meridian, Illinois, Maple, and South Capitol Streets were almost universally displaced.  When ground was broken for Lucas Oil Stadium in 2005 even more of the near-Southside community was consumed, and it remains in the crosshairs of realty speculators.  Today the historical landscape south of McCarty to Ray Street has been transformed by the interstate, which eliminated large sections of Ray Street and cut off nearly every southbound artery.

A 2016 aerial view of the near-Southside. Ray Street is now split into several separate sections; Maple is known as Kenwood and now merges into South Capitol; and several ramps onto and off the Interstate have consumed many of the earlier roadway paths (click map for expanded image).


Judith E. Endelman

1984 The Jewish Community of Indianapolis, 1849 to the present.  Indiana University Press, Bloomington.