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 The triangular area bounded by 38th Street on the north, Meridian Street on the west, and Fall Creek Parkway on the southeast, is now known as the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood.  The name was not attached to the area until the 1960s when local residents formed a neighborhood organization.  They adopted a name from a nearby 19th century village and the waterway that bounds the neighborhood on the east.

Early History

            A small group of farming families, primarily Germans, settled the area around what is now Illinois and 38th Streets as early as the 1840s.  There, amid a large grove of sugar maples, the tiny farming village of Mapleton early became 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 city's street car railway was extended to Crown Hill Cemetery, connecting Mapleton to Indianapolis. [1]

            By the 1880s, the village 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 fondly 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 "Uncle Jimmie's" store, and winter sleigh rides.  In 1891, the Indiana State Fairgrounds moved to its present location at Maple Road (now 38th Street) and Fall Creek Parkway, and an interurban railroad cut through the northeastern corner of the neighborhood.  As developers began subdividing small areas south of 30th Street and east of Meridian Street and along 38th street, new housing replaced small farms and orchards until the turn of the century. [2]

            The city’s annexation of the area as far north as 38th Street in 1902 marked the end of the rural village ways of Mapleton.   The trickle of city folk moving into the area turned into a steady stream during the first two decades of the 20th century as the trek north to Mapleton-Fall Creek was made easier by the improved roads and bridges, which now connected the area to the city.  In addition to the paving of Maple Road, Fall Creek Parkway was created during the early 1900s as part of a city-wide scenic boulevards program.  This road construction stimulated bridge building along the area’s edge.  Between 1900 and 1911, seven bridges were built or rebuilt along Fall Creek, including spans at Central, Meridian, and Illinois Streets.  The streetcar company further stimulated settlement by providing additional services to the area.

            The newcomers included affluent and prospering middle-class city dwellers seeking to escape the encroaching commercialization of their old near-north side neighborhoods.  They saw the Mapleton-Fall Creek area as a suburban neighborhood removed from the city but easily accessible by streetcar and automobile to downtown offices, stores, and social life.  Befitting an upscale suburb, the newcomers hired prominent local architects to build Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival mansions and luxury apartment buildings, such as Buckingham and the Hudson Arms, along Meridian Street.  By 1915, 78 new homes had appeared along Meridian Street between Fall Creek and Maple Road, and the area had earned the reputation of being "the" place to live in the city.  Residents even began comparing this stretch of Meridian Street to Fifth Avenue in New York City and Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  By 1920, former United States vice-president Charles W. Fairbanks, and canning magnate Gilbert VanCamp lived in this area, and the Governor's Residence had moved to 101 W. 27th Street.

            Soon, the area east of Meridian was also subdivided into residential lots, and businesses and services began anticipating the needs of its new residents.  Large Arts and Crafts style single-family homes appeared on the parallel streets to the east.  The city extended water and sewage lines in 1914 and the following year built the area's second primary school, IPS School 66.  In Mapleton, the corner stores at 38th and Illinois Streets began expanding, and other small commercial spots arose along 38th Street and south on Illinois and Central Streets.

            Churches also responded to this initial population shift northward.  While the old Sugar Grove Mission (renamed Mapleton Methodist Church) built a larger building to accommodate the growing population, established city congregations, like Third Presbyterian (now Tabernacle Presbyterian), followed some of their congregants into the neighborhood.  Other congregations, such as Trinity Episcopal, Our Redeemer Lutheran, and North Methodist churches, were established by newcomers to the area.

            The 1920s saw a growing city engulf the Mapleton-Fall Creek area and erase the vestiges of rural life.  Middle-class families, in ever increasing numbers, continued to move into the ample homes and duplexes along the interior streets.  Rapid residential growth in the neighborhood and the 1923 zoning ordinance protected Mapleton-Fall Creek from the intrusions of industrial development.  However, commercial and professional nodes did begin appearing at main intersections along 38th Street, Central, College, and Fairfield Avenues, so that residents were no longer required to do their entire regular shopping downtown.

            Churches continued to respond to growth in the neighborhood.  The old Mapleton church merged with a new Methodist congregation, forming North Methodist Church, and began planning for a large new building at 38th and Meridian.  Young congregations—Our Redeemer Lutheran, Advent Episcopal, and Tabernacle Presbyterian—now built their first permanent structures.  Broadway Methodist Church, a congregation founded in 1871, moved to the neighborhood in 1927.  Such was the prosperity of residents at the time that many of these new buildings were huge Gothic limestone structures, and such was the demand for religious services and programming in the area that Tabernacle Presbyterian built a chapel and an education and recreation addition only six years after it dedicated its new sanctuary.

            Accompanying residential and church development were new city services and amenities.  Another grammar school, IPS School 76, was opened in 1921, with additions in 1922 and 1924 to accommodate spiraling attendance.  The Indianapolis Park Department purchased and improved several small parks in the neighborhood—seven acres at 30th and Fall Creek and two plots along Watson Road.  In 1928, Shortridge High School moved from its downtown location to a beautiful new campus at 34th and Meridian and immediately became a strong and important neighborhood institution.  The Marott Hotel opened along Fall Creek, and the neighborhood received its own branch library, housed in the former Rauh home at 30th and Meridian Streets.

            By the end of the 1920s, new neighborhoods began to eclipse the prestige of Mapleton-Fall Creek.  Symbolizing this transition was the paving and widening of Meridian Street, which effectively whisked people and traffic through the neighborhood to homes further north.  Some of the wealthiest families, fearing commercial encroachment, formed the Meridian Street Association to preserve the aesthetic values and residential character of the neighborhood.  However, the Association was no match for the new north side developments.  Thus, many Meridian Street families began selling their homes to businesses such as Indianapolis Life Insurance and the International Typographical Union, and moved north of 38th Street, the new preferred place to live.

            By the time the Great Depression began, the neighborhood was fully developed.  Most neighborhood residents escaped the worst effects of the depression, but PTA scholarships given to local students suggested both need in the area as well as a growing neighborhood cohesiveness.  Another example of this connectedness was the heroic efforts of the Broadway Methodist women, who literally saved their church from bankruptcy by selling boiled peanuts and fresh doughnuts on downtown street corners.

            Neighborhood schools became increasingly important local institutions.  At Shortridge, the school's devoted and able faculty offered a top-quality college prepatory education, and extracurricular activities abounded.  The school was noted for its daily newspaper, student government, debating society, art department, marching band, and sports.  Students annually produced a Senior Play and Junior Vaudeville, and the PTA sponsored a Family Frolic fundraiser.  IPS School 60 offered adult-education courses and music-appreciation classes.  With the outbreak of World War II, neighborhood school children participated in scrap drives and bond sales.  Showing the area’s patriotism, Shortridge students collected roughly $1.3 million for war bonds, more than any high school in the nation.

            Mapleton-Fall Creek's social and physical character began to change shortly after the war ended.  During the decade after 1945, the neighborhood population swelled, with incoming residents and the birth of the Baby Boom generation.  IPS School 76 became so overcrowded that, for many years, overflow classes were held at Broadway Methodist Church.  At Third Christian Scientist, there were not enough seats on Sunday mornings.  Businesses and other institutions were also attracted to the area.  During this period the neighborhood gained a museum, medical facility, and college campus—the Children's Museum, and Winona Hospital, and the Purdue Extension on 38th Street.  Businesses crept north on Meridian Street and east on 38th Street, and in 1952 a group of local merchants built the area's first "off-street" parking lot to accommodate the increased shopping traffic.  Increasingly congested streets turned Mapleton-Fall Creek into a residential island surrounded by major thoroughfares and intersected by several minor ones.  Increased crowding in the city caused some citizens to consider suburban alternatives to urban life.  By the 1950s, most houses in Mapleton-Fall Creek were several decades old.  The attraction of modern houses on large lots in the northern suburbs convinced many neighborhood residents to leave Mapleton-Fall Creek.

            Some white residents left the neighborhood to avoid racial integration.  State law required IPS to integrate Shortridge in 1950.  Ten years later white attendance had dropped to 72 percent, although Mapleton-Fall Creek residents remained 98 percent white.  At PTA meetings local parents discussed the "Shortridge Problem" and lobbied for a redistricting of attendance boundaries so that the white attendance would not drop below 50 percent.  Despite these efforts, increasing numbers of white families left the neighborhood during the 1960s, and many older houses in the neighborhood became rental properties.  These attracted lower income families, including many African-Americans.  During the 1960s, the neighborhood's racial composition changed from 98 percent to 54 percent white, and white attendance at Shortridge dropped to less than 25 percent.  No longer were most neighborhood adults white-collar workers; no longer were most Shortridge parents able to give enormous amounts of time and resources to the school; and no longer were most neighborhood youth on their way to college.

            Long important to the neighborhood's identity, Shortridge became a barometer of racial change and tension.  While it still offered the city's premier college-prepatory education, Shortridge began having academic problems as the number of less-privileged students rose.  Racial tension increased with the integration of extracurricular activities.  Black students demanded equality, and some white students and parents resented those demands.  Alumni and parents organized a campaign to "Save Shortridge," and students and faculty formed a bi-racial Human Relations Council.  These groups supported integrated education but were concerned Shortridge's reputation would be sacrificed in the process.  The IPS school board sided with these groups in 1966 making Shortridge an "academic" school; this allowed students city-wide to attend the school if they passed an entrance exam.

            Amidst all this change, established neighborhood churches adapted to the social context.  The large mainline Protestant churches continued their building programs during the 1950 and 1960s.  North Methodist, Trinity Episcopal, Broadway Methodist, and Our Redeemer Lutheran all built additions to their imposing Gothic facilities between 1951 and 1969, even as many of their congregants were moving out of the neighborhood.  In varying degrees each congregation remained loyal to the neighborhood though some congregations preserved a tradition of insular services and limited programming.  For instance, while Trinity Episcopal established St. Richard’s school, it served primarily children of members.

            For several congregations though, choosing to stay in the neighborhood meant implementing active ministries for the new neighbors.  Broadway embarked upon an urban ministry program, which included after-school and evening programs for youth and adults.  By 1961, Broadway had hired a full-time neighborhood coordinator and expanded its programs to include a health and well-baby clinic, food pantry, and thrift shop.  Tabernacle Presbyterian Church greatly expanded its youth athletic programs to serve all neighborhood children, and North United Methodist started a legal clinic.  A 1963 Indianapolis News article revealed, however, that there was little integration in attendance at these neighborhood churches:  only one black family attended Trinity Episcopal’s, and some African-Americans attended Broadway Methodist but none were members. [3]

            Not only did the churches remain in the neighborhood during the upheaval of the 1960s, but other groups began responding to the neighborhood's perceived needs.  Concerned neighborhood residents organized the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association (MFCNA) in 1962 to combat deterioration from within.  Its first task was to stem the tide of white flight and encourage residents to commit to an integration, an effort that has been on-going ever since.  The group, whose slogan has become "Unity in Diversity," began by simply providing residents with a forum to discuss neighborhood problems.  Eventually, the MFCNA branched out providing social services as well.

            Soon, city officials became aware of the neighborhood's deteriorating homes and infrastructure.  As the neighborhood's demographics changed, residents were less able to maintain their homes, which were by this time at least 30 to 40 years old.  City officials initiated a policy of  investing public money and resources to save the neighborhood housing. Mapleton-Fall Creek became a testing ground for urban redevelopment programs when the city implemented its first Concentrated Codes Enforcement Program in 1967.  This plan provided loans and grants to qualifying homeowners to bring the area's homes and streets up to building and health codes.  In 1968, city planners conducted a neighborhood study, leading to a three-year pilot neighborhood improvement plan-the city's first attempt at planning at the neighborhood level.

            Despite these early efforts, the neighborhood's problems continued.  Housing continued to deteriorate and homeownership declined.  Delinquency and crime rates rose, and neighborhood businesses began to leave.  Another blow to the neighborhood was the scaling down and/or closing of several of its schools.  The IPS school board returned Shortridge to a comprehensive school status in 1970 and finally closed it in 1981.  The federally mandated busing of IPS students to achieve integration resulted in most of the local grammar school children being dispersed to other nearby schools or bused to township schools.  Schools #66 and #76 were redistricted and then closed, leaving only #48 and #60 to serve the area until Shortridge opened again in 1984 as a middle school.

            The lower income families that made up more of the local population, were less able to replace the dwindling expertise and resources of the former residents.  A mix of new and old residents and the established churches remained committed to the neighborhood and increased their activities, however.  No longer content simply to react to change in the neighborhood, North United Methodist, Our Redeemer Lutheran, and Tabernacle Presbyterian formed the Mid-North Church Council in 1970 to pool their resources and become a proactive force within the neighborhood.  Broadway Methodist became a member in 1973, and Trinity Episcopal joined in 1981.  Soon the Mid-North Council cooperated with the MFCNA to sponsor social services and self-help initiatives.  Programs of the 1970s and early 1980s included family education programs, town meetings, the Mapleton-Fall Creek Parent Child Center, neighborhood clean-ups, a food pantry, youth job programs, paint-up/fix-up projects, and block clubs.  MFCNA also revived the neighborhood Fall Festival, first organized in the 1950s by local businessmen, and sponsored an annual community parade.  The Mid-North Council conducted a housing survey to determine the extent of need within the neighborhood.  Volunteers organized and staffed these programs, and funding came from private donations, churches, and government sources.

            The 1980s brought additional internal organization as well as outside help to address the problems of the neighborhood and strengthen the positive elements of the community.  On the periphery of the neighborhood, a new community group called College Corridor Coalition was organized in 1983 by members of MFCNA, Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association, and the Watson Park Neighborhood Association to attract business to the largely abandoned strip of College between 36th and 40th Streets.  After resident surveys and public meetings, the group eventually succeeded in luring a bank branch to the area.  Remaining businesses at the 38th and Illinois commercial area cooperated to convince the city to designate the area an urban renewal site.  After resident disapproval of the development plans, however, the city revoked this designation, but the area did receive a facelift and an economic boost when a McDonald’s restaurant moved to that intersection.  In 1981, the former Butler Tarkington Community Center was renamed the Martin Luther King Jr., Multi-Service Center, and relocated to 38th and Meridian.  The center’s expanded programs served people of all ages in Mapleton-Fall Creek and adjacent neighborhoods.  On the south end of the neighborhood, Indiana Vocational Technical College moved its campus to Fall Creek and Meridian.

            Both the MFCNA and Mid-North Council expanded their activities during the 1980s, with several studies of the neighborhood focusing attention and resources on certain issues.  Both MFCNA and the Mid-North Council participated in the "Mid-North Symposium II" in 1982, which brought together 100 city, business, neighborhood, and religious leaders to discuss urban neighborhood problems.  Priority issues of the symposium included housing, elderly, education, employment, crime, and health.  The following year, city planners consulted with neighborhood leaders to update their 1969 sub-area plan for Mapleton-Fall Creek.  New initiatives proposed to expand recreational space-the area has only a few tiny green spaces and no full service park inside the MFC boundaries-improve commercial areas, and nominate parts of the neighborhood as historic areas.

            MFCNA and the Mid-North Council attempted to address all these issues in varying ways.  In 1981 the Fall Creek Gazette began publication as the neighborhood newsletter.  At first an informal flyer, the Gazette has grown into an eight-page newspaper with articles on neighborhood action and events as well as tips on crime prevention, job notices, and so forth.  Other new MFCNA projects included a Saturday medical clinic, campaigns to shut down local liquor stores, and hiring off-duty police officers to patrol the neighborhood.  In 1988, MFCNA received grant money to fund the Accelerated Neighborhood Pilot Revitalization Project (ANP).  The ANP project was intended to provide a smorgasbord of youth, education, housing, and job training programs, in addition to community surveys and public forums, all to foster both economic development and community pride.  The MFCNA supported development of several youth-oriented programs in or near the area, such as an adolescent clinic and social service center and several programs for at-risk youth.  The Mid-North Council sponsored a Home Help program for seniors and a job start program for youth.  Member churches of the Mid-North Council also sponsored their own projects such as North Methodist's Shepard's Center (senior citizen programming), Tabernacle Presbyterian's neighborhood tutoring program, and Trinity Episcopal's housing rehabilitation study.  St. Joan of Arc, which joined the Council in 1986, began sponsoring an annual neighborhood youth rally and festival.

            Following Trinity's housing study, neighborhood leaders made improved and affordable housing their top priority in the 1980s.  The Mid-North Council established and funded the creation of the Mapleton-Fall Creek Housing Development Corporation (MFCHDC) in 1985.  The corporation is overseen by representatives from all the Mid-North Council churches and the MFCNA.  It provides low-interest loans for home improvements and purchases property to renovate and resell to middle and low income families.  Neighborhood volunteers finished the first rehabilitation project the following year, and a second was completed in 1988. [4]  At that time, MFCHDC drafted a five-year plan, hired a full-time director, and began more extensive projects such as job training and winterization programs, as well as low-interest loans and grants.  The Mid-North churches not only funded MFCHDC during its early years, but Our Redeemer Lutheran housed the offices, and Tabernacle Presbyterian, Trinity Episcopal, and North Methodist made sizable donations to be used for grants and low-interest revolving loans.  Other monies came from Lilly Endowment and government grants, so that rehab projects have increased significantly over the years.  In tandem with the MFCHDC work, the Mid-North Council also formed an "Adopt-A-Block" program whereby each church was assigned a certain area in the neighborhood to assist residents in accessing housing information and assistance.

            In the 1990s the MFCNA has become known as one of the strongest and most active neighborhood associations in the city and the Mid-North Church Council is unique in its level of involvement in neighborhood matters.  Both organizations credit the other for being integral to their success.  Indicative of their continuing commitment to the neighborhood is the Allison Community Center, opened in 1992.  While Tabernacle Presbyterian owns the building, MFCNA has offices there.  Mid-North and MFCNA both sponsor social services and programs out of the building including a food pantry, legal clinic, medical clinic, and youth group.

            Both MFCNA and the Mid-North Council have worked to provide creative social services to neighborhood residents and to foster community cohesiveness.  Neighborhood leaders intend to continue working toward a community that supports all its diverse residents, while avoiding the gentrification process common in other older neighborhoods.  Neighborhood leaders express frustration that neighborhood involvement is too low and there are never quite enough resources.  Nonetheless, Mapleton-Fall Creek counts many strengths, particularly a committed and creative cadre of church leaders and residents.  Additionally, African-American churches-such as the Antioch Missionary Baptist and Phillips Temple CME-are  becoming more involved in the community's leadership, better reflecting the diversity of residents within the community.  Symbolic of this neighborhood’s current situation was a recent youth production "Shattered Faith.”   While the play portrayed a neighborhood with many social and economic problems to overcome, the fact that such a play was written, produced, and performed by local volunteers working together with youth suggests that Mapleton-Fall Creek residents have a lot to have faith in the future.

[1] During the 1950s and 1960s, the Indianapolis News annually published a story about the year’s gathering of the Old Mapleton Association held at North United Methodist the first Sunday after Labor Day.  Indiana State Library Clipping files: “Indiana Cities and towns--Mapleton,”  see especially Indianapolis News, April 8, 1960 and September 15, 1972.

[2] Ibid. Also, see: Indianapolis Times,  June 3, 1962; Cathleen F. Donnelly, “Mapleton-Fall Creek,” Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 960; LaMont Hulse, “The Suburbanization of Indianapolis.”

[3] Indianapolis News, August 1, 1963.

[4] The MFCNA tried to manage their own housing rehabilitation program in 1988, by hiring a non-profit agency to run programs and conduct the work as part of the ANP project.  However, after the first year there was so much dissention among MFCNA board members as to the success of the work that the program was canceled and the MFCHDC was subsequently given reign over all housing initiatives.

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