A small group of mostly German farming families settled the area around what is now known as Illinois and 38th Streets as early as the 1840s. There, amid a large grove of sugar maples, the tiny farming village that became known as Mapleton provided a popular rest stop for travelers on their way from Indianapolis (roughly three miles to the south) to Broad Ripple and further parts northward. In the 1860s the area connecting to Indianapolis was strengthened when the city’s street railway was extended to the newly purchased site of Crown Hill Cemetery.
By the 1880s Mapleton supported a general store, post office, livery stables, school, and the Sugar Grove Methodist Mission. Mapleton’s close-knit population numbered 300, most of whom lived in the corridor between Meridian Street and Crown Hill Cemetery. Life in Mapleton, as long-time residents recalled decades later, revolved around church socials, annual sausage-and-sauerkraut community dinners, walks through fields on the way to school, visits from gypsies along the creek, men socializing at a local store, and winter sleigh rides.
The establishment of electric street railways during the latter part of the nineteenth century brought changes to the farms and orchards north of Mapleton. In 1889 the Citizens Street Railway Company purchased the 246-acre Adam Scott farm along the Central Canal for the purpose of developing a “suburban park.” The next year saw the opening of Fairview Park following an extension of streetcar lines north of Maple Road (now 38th Street). By the turn of the century, new “suburban” houses began replacing farms. Much of the neighborhood’s early housing developed as “small, narrow homes, built close to the street” all along the streetcar “line” to the park-forming what is known as a “streetcar suburb.”
As Meridian Street emerged as the address of choice for many of the city’s elite in the late nineteenth century, ten housing additions were planned along Meridian Street between 38th and 50th streets from 1899 to 1909. While upper Meridian Street was annexed by the city in 1906, there was little development of the area until the 1920s. By 1930 the North Meridian Street Corridor-located between 40th Street and Westfield Boulevard-had become the city’s most exclusive residential neighborhood. During the 1910s and 1920s a middle-class development arose in the south central portion of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, north of 38th Street and along Illinois Street, Capitol Avenue, and Boulevard Place. Butler University’s purchase of Fairview Park in 1922, followed by its relocation to the 300-acre Fairview Campus in 1928, stimulated another surge of middle-class home building throughout the neighborhood. By 1940 Butler-Tarkington, whose population was 12,244 was “essentially developed” and the fundamental character of the neighborhood as a middle-class residential area was well-established.
In 1956 a small group of local residents formed the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association in an attempt to foster “better communication among the residents” of the neighborhood, with the hope of “preventing inter-group conflicts.” The Association’s ultimate goal was to “keep the quality of the neighborhood” intact while developing a “sense of community among the residents.” With its membership cutting across racial, social and economic boundaries, the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association began its work by launching an attack against “panic selling” and “block busting.” Since the 1960s this initial effort has been followed through by the creation of a series of block clubs, a newsletter, community workshops, land-use planning, and various recreational activities. Today, Butler-Tarkington has earned a reputation as one of the city’s more stable neighborhoods.
While Butler-Tarkington is-and always has been-known primarily as a residential area, a number of other important facets of the neighborhood have contributed to the unique character of the community. These factors include the neighborhood’s schools, the churches that dot Butler-Tarkington’s landscape, and the presence of a number of cultural institutions. In addition, much of Butler-Tarkington’s non-residential acreage is covered by the campuses of Butler University, Christian Theological Seminary, and Crown Hill Cemetery’s “North Burial Ground.” Finally, Butler-Tarkington contains two small commercial areas-one located at 38th and Illinois Streets; the other at 56th and Illinois Streets.
Most of Butler-Tarkington’s churches moved into the neighborhood between 1930 and 1960, mirroring the general trend in the city of congregational movement away from the center of the city. The earliest religious institution in the neighborhood, however, was the Sugar Grove Mission. Organized in 1843 at a site at 48 West Maple Road (now 38th Street), the Sugar Grove Mission began as a small country church. The congregation, a Methodist mission, moved into its first permanent structure at the corner of Maple Road and Meridian Street in 1855, where it changed its name to Sugar Grove Methodist Episcopal Church. As the population of Indianapolis slowly expanded northward, Sugar Grove Methodist underwent its first major building renovation in 1884. Sixteen years later, in 1900, the church built a larger structure on the same location and changed its name to the Mapleton Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1916, in conjunction with the city’s plan to widen 38th Street, Mapleton Methodist Church moved back from the road 100 feet and added a basement, Sunday School rooms, a social room, and a kitchen.
As the city expanded to the north, some members of Capitol Avenue Methodist Church (organized in 1894 as Hyde Park Methodist and located at the corner of 30th and Illinois Streets) advocated relocating the congregation to the developing area. Encountering general opposition from their congregation, two members withdrew their memberships and joined with three individuals from Meridian Street Methodist to urge the Bishop of Indianapolis-area Methodist churches to select a site for a new northern congregation. In 1921 Bishop Frederick DeLand Leete chose a large lot on the northwest corner of 38th and Meridian Streets. That spring a board consisting of representatives of the existing local Methodist Church and advocates of the new church met to discuss church organization. In May of 1922 the board adopted the name North Methodist Episcopal Church for the new congregation. Later, on September 10, 1922, the Maple Road congregation voted officially to merge with North Methodist. Within a year, the congregation had appointed a building committee and identified Atlanta architect Charles Hopson to design the new church. The congregation broke ground on May 3, 1925, but problems with funding delayed construction for several years. In May 1931, the members of North Methodist began worshipping in their new Gothic-style building at 3803 North Meridian Street.
Other churches moved into the rapidly developing neighborhood in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Following the merger in 1924 of the Fourth Presbyterian Church (established 1854 and located at Alabama and 19th Streets since 1895) with Grace Presbyterian Church (established 1895 and located at Capitol Avenue and 32nd Street), the newly formed Fairview Presbyterian Church occupied a temporary chapel at 46th Street and Capitol Avenue. The church remained in this “temporary” structure-with some additions in 1925-until 1952, when the present building was completed. In 1939 the Catholic Diocese of Indianapolis placed the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood within the newly formed St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. The first St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which opened that same year, was a frame structure at 46th and Illinois Streets. St. Thomas Aquinas Church moved into its present building at 4610 North Illinois Street in 1969.
The next church to move into the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood was the University Park Christian Church, built on the former site of the “Blue Farm” at 46th and Illinois Streets. The church, formed through the merger with North Park Christian Church in 1946, was originally meant to serve the faculty and staff of Christian Theological Seminary. In 1953 the church dedicated its present building at 4550 North Illinois Street. The predominately white congregation of University Place Christian Church agreed in 1984 to begin sharing their facilities with the predominantly black congregation of Faith United Christian Church, an arrangement that continues to this day.
Having concluded in the early 1940s that the majority of its members now lived north of 38th Street, the leaders of Meridian Street Methodist Church, located since 1908-1909 at the northwest corner of Meridian and St. Clair Streets, began looking for a new location on the city’s north side. After merging with the 51st Street Methodist Church in 1947, the combined congregation moved into the newly-constructed, 550-seat Meridian Street Methodist Church at 5500 North Meridian Street in 1952.
Education has long played a significant role in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. Not only does the neighborhood boasts two public elementary schools (IPS Schools 43 and 86) and a parochial school (St. Thomas Aquinas School), it also plays host to Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary. In addition, a number of private schools-Orchard Country Day, the Sycamore School, and Noble Center II-can trace their origins back to the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood.
The first school to be associated with Butler-Tarkington was the forerunner of IPS School 43, which opened in the village of Mapleton in 1883. The school moved into its present building at 150 West 40th Street in 1909. The Orchard Country Day School, a prestigious private academy, opened in 1922 on the property of Mary Stewart Carey, founder of the Children’s Museum, at 5050 North Meridian Street. In 1927 Orchard Country Day School moved to 610 West 42nd Street. The new IPS School 86 occupied what was intended to be a temporary building at 49th Street and Boulevard Place in 1928, the same year Butler University began its first session on its new Fairview Campus. In 1939 St. Thomas Aquinas opened its school (which serves kindergarten through eighth grade) at 4600 North Illinois Street. The next year, IPS School 86 finally moved from its “temporary” location into its present building at 200 West 49th Street.
In 1957 Orchard Country Day School moved out of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, relocating to West 63rd Street; its property was purchased by the Parents and Friends of Retarded Children, Inc., and Noble School II opened at 615 West 43rd Street within the year. The next educational institution to build in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood was the Christian Theological Seminary which opened its new campus at 1000 West 42nd Street in 1966. The Noble School moved out of the neighborhood in 1971, but a new school, the Sycamore School for gifted grade-school children, opened on part of this same property in 1985. The Sycamore School soon outgrew the space it was renting from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis, and by 1989 it, too, had moved out of the neighborhood. In 1994-1995 the International School of Indiana-a private academy offering students an internationally-based curriculum-opened its doors at 612 W. 42nd Street.
Over the years, both IPS Schools 43 and 86 have been involved with a number of innovative programs. In the 1970s the schools were both part of the Lighted Schools Program, offering a variety of evening courses for both adults and children throughout the winter months. During the 1980s IPS School 86 participated in the PrimeTime Plus Summer Program, which offered more individualized instructions for struggling elementary students. At the same time, IPS School 43 served as a pilot for the Participating Parents for Progress Program, a project designed to help parents motivate their children to learn and to develop stronger ties between home and school, and took part in the Transitional First Grade Program.
Members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), led by attorney Ovid Butler, founded North Western Christian University in 1855. Located first at 13th Street and College Avenue, the university moved to the Irvington neighborhood in 1875. Two years later, the institution changed its name to Butler University. Upon outgrowing its second campus in Irvington, Butler moved to the city’s north side in 1928. The University has grown since the 1920’s, often by incorporating a number of existing educational institutions. In 1930 Butler assimilated the Teachers College of Indianapolis to form a College of Education. In 1945 the old Indianapolis College of Pharmacy became a Butler college. The Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music merged with Butler in 1951 to become what is now known as the Jordan College of Fine Arts. The College of Religion formed its own identity in 1958 when it separated from Butler to become the Christian Theological Seminary.
Both Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) have introduced a number of important educational, cultural, scientific, and sports facilities into the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood over the years. The first building erected on the new Butler campus was the Collegiate Gothic-style Arthur Jordan Memorial Hall, designed by Robert Frost Daggett and opened in 1928. The school also built some fraternity houses and erected the Williamsburg-inspired Religion Building and Sweeney Chapel (1942). Following World War II, the university embarked upon additional construction projects, adding a Student Union building, dormitories, and the Pharmacy building. The 1960s saw additional development of the campus with the construction of Clowes Memorial Hall (1963), which served as the home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1963 to 1984, and Irwin Library (1963). During the 1990s, the university built the Residential College at the corner of Sunset and Hampton and closed off several internal roads to create a large pedestrian mall on campus.
Among the most prominent venues located on the Butler campus are Butler Fieldhouse (1928; later renamed Hinkle Fieldhouse), the nation’s oldest college basketball arena and site of the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s annual basketball championships from 1928 to 1994; the Holcomb Observatory (1954); the Hilton U. Brown Outdoor Theatre (1955), which served as the home of Starlight Musicals from 1955 to 1993; and the Edyvean Repertory Theatre (1991), a full-season theatre program sponsored by Christian Theological Seminary.
For all its cultural and educational amenities, Butler-Tarkington ironically lacks a branch of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. Nevertheless, residents have access to Butler University’s Irwin Library and the CTS Library. Another cultural asset immediately adjacent to the far west end of the Butler-CTS campus is the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It should also be noted that the eastern boundary of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood is part of the North Meridian Street Corridor, served by the Meridian Street Foundation and marked by its many historic residences, including the Governor’s Residence at 4750 North Meridian Street. The North Meridian Street Corridor was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
The community life of Butler-Tarkington always has been enriched through a number of parks and recreational facilities. The earliest such neighborhood feature was Fairview Park, a private park opened to the public in 1890. In its prime Fairview Park was known for such attractions as a pair of diving horses, a pony track, canoeing, a merry-go-round, freely roaming deer and peacocks, a miniature railway, and an annual visit by a group of Ojibwas who dramatized Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” along the Central Canal. Following the purchase of the park by Butler University in 1922, Butler-Tarkington’s only formal recreational areas were playgrounds associated with the neighborhood schools. In 1945, however, the city parks department purchased a 10-acre tract at 39th and Meridian Streets and turned it into Tarkington Park. Today the neighborhood also is served by two additional small parks, Ramsey Park near Boulevard Place and 42nd Street and Mary Alice Carter Park at the intersection of Westfield Boulevard and Meridian Street.
Butler-Tarkington also has witnessed the appearance of a number of social services and voluntary organizations over the past several decades, but the earliest example of such a program in the neighborhood dates to 1890. Oscar McCulloch, pastor at Plymouth (Congregational) Church located at the southeast corner of New York and Meridian Streets, opened the Summer Mission for Sick Children (known also as the Fresh Air Mission) in part of Fairview Park. The Mission was a private charity that provided a “fresh air mission” or summer camp for inner-city children (and frequently their mothers as well). Over the years, the Summer Mission for Sick Children expanded its operations to include “permanent dormitories, a hospital, a dispensary, and a camp for tuberculosis patients.” The camp closed in 1924 and the property sold to Butler University.
Although the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association was involved in a number of youth-oriented programs in its early years, most of the neighborhood’s social services did not appear until the 1970s. Perhaps the earliest such organization was the Metropolitan Area Citizen’s Organization (M.A.C.O.), which North United Methodist Church co-sponsored in the early part of that decade. M.A.C.O. was dedicated to uniting churches, businesses, and residents into a coalition focused on improving community life.
In 1972 the Butler-Tarkington Multi-Service Center opened with an initial focus on providing “recreational outlets for area youth.” It quickly began to expand its services into other areas including drug prevention programs and an emergency food pantry. The center’s name was changed to the Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center in 1983. Following several years of study, the Center moved to its present location at 3909 North Meridian Street in 1984 and expanded its area of service to include both the Mapleton-Fall Creek and Meridian-Kessler neighborhoods.
Over the years many of the neighborhood’s social service programs have been sponsored by North United Methodist Church. In 1970 North United Methodist Church was one of the founders of the Tri-Church Council, forerunner of the Mid-North Church Council. While this group has limited its work to the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood, several of the programs initiated by North United Methodist Church in association with the Council have also benefited residents of Butler-Tarkington. Specifically, the Mapleton Area Senior Citizens Center (1973), the Bread `n Bowl Program (1980s), and the Mid-North Shepherd’s Center (1982), all have provided services to elderly residents of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood.
Likewise, Mt. Paran Baptist Church, a black Baptist congregation located south of Butler-Tarkington at 3425 Boulevard Place, provides services to the elderly of the area.
Heritage Place of Indianapolis, a nonprofit multi-service agency for people 55 and over, was founded in 1976 by the Butler-Tarkington and Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Associations. Headquartered on the first floor of University Park Christian Church, the agency continues to provide services for residents of both neighborhoods. In 1990 Fairview Presbyterian Church, Faith United Christian Church, University Park Christian Church, and St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church joined together to found the Caring Place Adult Day Care Center. Located in space provided by Fairview Presbyterian Church at 4609 North Capitol Avenue, the center is co-sponsored and managed by Catholic Social Services.
Butler-Tarkington neighborhood has managed to retain much of its historic character as a middle-class, residential neighborhood. At the same time, Butler-Tarkington continues to be the home of a number of cultural institutions as well as some of the city’s most significant educational institutions. Today Butler-Tarkington remains what one resident called it-“one of the few places left in Indianapolis for City-Living.”