Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v14n07)
Right in my Own Backyard - Ode to a Street - by Brandt Carter
posted: Mar. 31, 2017
Ode to a Street
I grew up two blocks away from North College Avenue. This street has been an integral part of our city's history as much as it has come to represent progress with the future routing of the red line.
So here is a bit of history. Indianapolis was founded in 1820 and became the state capitol in 1825. Alexander Ralston and Elias Pym Fordham surveyed and designed the original grid pattern for the new town of Indianapolis, which was platted in 1821. Ralston's plan extended outward from Governor's Circle, now called Monument Circle, a large circular commons at the center of town. Ralston had a system of naming streets in this new city by dividing it into an orderly grid: Meridian Street (the north south axis of the city which begins 0 East/West) was a dividing street. All streets west of Meridian were named for western states. All streets east of Meridian are named for eastern states. If you look at the plat map, you can barely make out the street we call College. The earliest street to challenge the Ralston system was Capitol. Because of the location of the new capitol building, Tennessee Street was renamed to Capitol Avenue in 1893. So as the city grew, the city fathers of the time decided to honor various institutions.
Meet Ovid Butler, a major contributing early citizen, who was a lawyer and started a political and abolitionist newspaper, the Free Soil Banner. As a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Butler wanted to establish a university for his church. The Indiana General Assembly had to approve the university, and they did in 1850. North Western Christian University opened in 1855 where Ovid Butler served in leadership until 1877. The university opened in the area of 11th - 15th streets and the north south street was named College Avenue. Also in that area, streets in 1896 were renamed Christian Avenue (11th), Butler Street (12th), Home Avenue (13th) and Lincoln Avenue (15th). Mr. Butler provided the property which is now the Near Northside.
In 1875, the university was renamed Butler University in honor of its founder. It was moved to a 25-acre campus in Irvington, which at the time was an independent suburb of Indianapolis. My father actually attended this campus in the late 20's. In 1928, the university moved again and classes began on a new, larger campus; its present site. My father also attended this campus built on the site of Fairview Park, a northwest side amusement park. He was a football player and carried hod (mortar for the bricks) for the Butler fieldhouse, now the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The name College Avenue has remained, honoring the college that lined its street. My early memories of College Ave are ones of delight. It had the Fairfield Bakery, Nickers Five and Dime, restaurants, drugstores, and movie theaters (Uptown, see below, and Vogue). Do you remember the Toddle House, Stationers, and Mandarin Inn (see Historic Ad on page 13)? They were our neighborhood business district. College Avenue was the street I crossed four times a day when I walked to and from PS66. Yes, young readers, we walked home for lunch and back again for afternoon school. We had one hour, and we couldn't be tardy!
A view of College Avenue from 1976. This picture was taken during a fire at 42nd and College. The Uptown Theater is on the upper right. Now showing - Black Shampoo and Human Tornado! Today this is an IMPD building. In the lower left is Harry H. Hartman Upholstery and next door you can barely see the sign for College Uptown Tavern. This is currently the College Branch Library spot. If you have old pictures to share you can upload them at www.virtualbroadripple.com
My early memories of this street are still very strong. The growth of businesses along the avenue is a testament to the longevity of this lowly street. . . not even an eastern state name. It has seen many changes. It has had horse and wagons, street cars, autos and trucks traverse its expanse. Bicyclers and walkers who traverse the street today can see the houses that remain and have seen the times change. The years have passed, and College Avenue remains. We know her as one of the major arteries to the village, and we can celebrate her longevity and history.
38th and College - Mandarin Inn 1988