Martindale-Brightwood is a neighborhood situated on
the near northeast side of Indianapolis bounded by 30th Street,
Massachusetts Avenue, 21st Street, Sherman Drive, and the Northfolk
Southern Railroad tracks. This area encompasses two previously
independent settlements. Brightwood, the eastern section of the
neighborhood, was first platted in 1872 and amended in 1874. Railroad
workers on the “Bee Line” were the first to settle the Brightwood suburb which
soon became the railroad center of Indianapolis. The town of Brightwood
was incorporated in 1876 and remained autonomous until 1897 when it was annexed
by Indianapolis. The Martindale area was settled in 1874, also by
railroad workers who found employment in machine shops and manufacturing.
Industrial growth in Martindale was supported by the nearby railroad lines and
the area quickly became a working class suburb.
The blue collar population of Martindale-Brightwood before the turn of the
century included a mix of African Americans and a growing proportion of foreign
born or first generation European Americans. African Americans began to
settle in residential areas around Beeler Street (later Martindale Avenue and
still later Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue), the industrial center of Martindale at
that time, and began building their own churches along the avenue. In
contrast Brightwood continued to attract white residents who were skilled and
unskilled workers; the 1880 census reports that about forty percent of the
adult men were foreign-born or first-generation, predominantly of German,
Irish, and British ancestry.
developed as a small town before its annexation by Indianapolis. The town
provided its residents with a high school located in the northeast part of
Brightwood, private water works installed in 1894, and operated two volunteer
fire departments: the “Wide-a-Wakes” and the “Alerts.” Station Street,
located in the southeastern section of Brightwood became the town center.
Station Street was developed as the business district and continued to be the
commercial center of the neighborhood until the 1960s. In 1899 Brightwood
was described as a “. . . thriving town of nearly 4,900 people. . . . it is a
model city of cottages resembling a park. The fact that so many men
living in the town work together in the great engine and car shops makes the
community seem like one big family.” The same year extension of
street-car service connected Brightwood with Indianapolis.
beginning of the twentieth century continued to see Brightwood prosper as
a result of thriving railroads and increased industrialization. Laycock
Manufacturing Company, Topp Hygienic Milk and Ice Company, George F. Neher
& Sons and the Big Four Railroads (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago &
St. Louis) were among the larger employers in the region. A Commercial
Club was organized in 1911, for the purpose of building up the suburb and
to obtain municipal improvements. The goals of the club were the establishment
of a park and public playground and to build an addition on School #51 that
would allow the teaching of high school classes. In addition to School
#51, Brightwood also contained the parish school of St. Francis de Sales Catholic
Church. The town had already received other public improvements such as a
library in 1902, and it made plans for the improvement of the water works.
in the west, continued to develop as an industrial and residential area
centered around Martindale Avenue. The street was lined by a mixture of
private homes, churches, and industry. Among the businesses operating in
the Martindale area were the Indianapolis Gas Works, Wm. Eggles Field
Lumberyard, Hoosier Sweat Collier Factory, the National Motor Vehicle Company,
and the Monon Railroad yards. African American churches continued to be
built in the area, and Martindale Avenue became the home to many African
Americans. The African American population of Martindale was also
provided with a school and Douglas Park was dedicated in 1921. Within a
few years, by 1927, the park also operated a swimming pool. During the
formative years of both Martindale and Brightwood the railroads continued to be
the basis for the economy, however, following the relocation of the “Big Four”
to Beech Grove in 1908 the industry slowly began to decline.
1944 most of the original railroad businesses had relocated and it was in this
year that the railroad station in Brightwood was razed. The remaining
railroad connections were moved by the New York Central (owner of the “Big
Four”) to Avon, Indiana in 1960. The loss of the railroads proved to be
detrimental to the economic status of Martindale-Brightwood in the post war
years. With the loss of the railroad industry and the expansion of
Indianapolis suburbs the neighborhood went through a period of
transition. White residents began to relocate to the newly built
suburbs. The migration away from Brightwood left behind a surplus of
housing which was followed by an in-migration of lower income African Americans
which continued throughout the next four decades. By 1960, African
Americans accounted for approximately half of Brightwood’s population of
5,700. This amount would increase to over ninety percent of the
population which had declined to 4,700 by 1990. Through this same period
Martindale remained an African American center of small working class homes
intermixed with industry. Manufacturing remained as a dominant industry
and Ertel Manufacturing, current occupants of the old Atlas Machine Works
grounds, is the areas largest employer with over 300 workers.
1960s also brought about plans for the construction of the I-65 and I-70
interstate which cut through portions of the Martindale-Brightwood area.
The interstate which was begun in the sixties and finished in the seventies
further displaced residents of the neighborhood. Although the
infrastructure and economic development of Indianapolis would benefit as a
result of this construction, the interstate represents an intrusion in the life
of the neighborhood. Martindale-Brightwood was now divided by an
east-west interstate and had lost a portion of its population. Residents
moved, local businesses followed, and the old economic center of Brightwood,
Station Street, began to be vacated. By the mid 1970s the street had lost
a doctor’s office, accounting and bookkeeping services, a cafe, insurance
company, Salvation Army store, pool hall, a pet store, and Cohen Bros.
Department Store which had first opened its doors in 1897. By the mid 1980s
the last remaining bank, a branch of Merchants, had announced plans to leave
the community. The result of changes in economics and population changes
in the 1960s were so drastic that by 1967 enough of Martindale’s near 6,000
families met the federal definition of “poor” to have Martindale declared a
poverty target area. Through the seventies and eighties crime continued
to increase and in the early nineties Martindale-Brightwood had been targeted
by law enforcement for programs to combat gang and drug activity.
changes followed. In 1971 Judge S. Hugh Dillin found the Indianapolis Public
Schools guilty of segregation and ordered the desegregation of all single-race
schools. This resulted in the institution of busing throughout Indianapolis
and the decline of the neighborhood schools that had once been key to the
identity of Martindale-Brightwood. Education in this neighborhood has
a long history. In 1875 Brightwood began operating its own high school,
known as school No. 12 of Center Township and was located at 27th
and Sherman Drive. The school was short-lived, however, and had closed
by the time that Brightwood was annexed to the city in the 1890s. Around
the turn of the century the Washington School was operating in Brightwood
and included manual training and special education.
the beginning of the twentieth century, Indianapolis Public Schools and the
parochial schools of St. Rita’s Catholic Church and St. Francis de Sales had
been both educationally and socially important to the neighborhood.
St. Francis de Sales school was the parish school serving Brightwood.
The school was built in 1903 and remained open until 1970 at which time, as
a result of declining church membership, it was forced to close. The
school reopened in 1977, but was shut down permanently when the parish was
closed in 1983. The property became the main campus for Martin University
Rita’s was established in 1919 as the African American parish in Indianapolis
and continued to flourish throughout the next few decades. Under the
leadership of Father Bernard Strange, who came to the parish in 1935, the
church and school became a vital part of the community. Father Strange
proved himself to be a progressive leader of the church who began fighting
for the desegregation of Catholic schools in the 1930s. He also directed
much of his mission at St. Rita’s towards the congregation’s youth and school.
St. Rita’s became known for a number of social activities open to the Martindale
community and African Americans throughout the city. Father Strange
developed sports leagues which included boxing tournaments and basketball.
The school’s gymnasium was used throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies
to house weekly dances which, at their prime, attracted between 500 and 800
youths each week. Throughout this period the church and school continued
to be actively involved in community programming.
Public Schools also have added to the Martindale-Brightwood identity.
However, as a result of declining enrollments and busing, only schools 26, 37,
and 56 remain open today. Brightwood has been served by IPS 37, 38, and
51. Prior to the federally mandated busing began in the seventies these
schools remained very active within the communities from which their students
came. Named in honor of its principle of thirty-three years, Hazle Hart
Hendricks School 37 was Brightwood’s African American school. The school
offered its students a variety of social activities including a jug band which
played at downtown hotels, churches and hospitals during the thirties. In
1935 the PTA of school 37 was the first African American school to become a
part of the State and National Congress of Parents and Teachers.
John James Audubon School 38 became an active community center during the
thirties and forties and worked to offer social and medical assistance
throughout the neighborhood. As early as 1924 the school began operating
a dental clinic for needy students of the community. During the Great
Depression the school increased its social programming through the collection
of donated clothing, serving of Thanksgiving Day meals, distribution of milk to
the mal-nourished, and work with the Red Cross. This spirit of social
responsibility continued through the war years when the school raised money
through the sales of stamps and bonds to buy an ambulance. Contributions
also continued to be given to the Red Cross, Community Fund, Children’s Museum,
Christmas Seals, Riley Hospital Fund, Students Fund, and Merciful Relief.
The school is now closed and the building at 2050 North Winter now houses the
Full Gospel Deliverance Church.
third elementary school was the James Russell Lowell School 51, which was known
as the “mother school” of the other public schools in Brightwood. The
school was situated in the southeastern part of Brightwood, at 2301 North
Olney. The area surrounding School 51 was the most industrial section of
Brightwood. The school has also been closed and its last use was as the
home of the Church of the Living God, Pillar & Ground of Truth.
Francis W. Parker School 56 was known as “The Colored School.” The school
served Martindale’s African American population and offered its students not
only an education but social activities as well. Boys could join the
“Cardinal Pioneer Club” which participated in field trips and community service
and girls could join “The Girl Reserve Club” which was organized to “instill
things of cultural value in the girls.” In the forties the school also
offered medical examinations and immunizations.
in the neighborhood and in IPS during the past twenty-five years have had
definite effects upon the role of neighborhood schools. Declining enrollments,
mandated busing, consolidation, and recent developments such as the select
schools program have reduced the interaction between neighborhood and school.
While the institutions remain located in the area, their significance as a
neighborhood center continues to decline.
centers and churches have also been important to the development of a neighborhood
identity in Martindale-Brightwood. The centers have quite often been
operated by churches and have always represented a concern for the development
of the neighborhood and its residents. In 1913, Hillside Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ), under the pastorate of Rev. Charles M. Fillmore, opened
a free medical clinic to serve the Hillside portion of Martindale-Brightwood.
Many other community centers followed suit in the following decades.
1935 the Brightwood Community Center was founded. It headquarters were
centrally located between Martindale and Brightwood at 2305 North Rural
Street. The community center acted as a social and educational
headquarters for many African Americans in the neighborhood. In 1940 Edna
Martin became the director of the East Side Community Center which later opened
as the East Side Baptist Center in 1945, at 1519 Martindale Avenue. The
center has since relocated and was renamed in honor of Edna Martin after her
death in 1974. St. Rita’s Catholic Church continued its community service
through the institution of a summer youth center to combat juvenile delinquency
in 1947, and a summer camp for underprivileged African American boys in
1949. St. Rita’s also involved itself with a neighborhood beautification
project that same year. In the mid-sixties St. Rita’s begins offering a
number of programs to aid underprivileged children and adults.
the 1950s and 1960s a number of other churches also began community service
projects. New Bethel Baptist Church began operating a community center
which provided food, clothing, help for the unemployed, child care, and health
services to the Martindale area. In 1962 the church began participating
in “Operation Prove It,” an inner city interdenominational ministry program
which involved seventeen North Side churches which shared the goals of improving
inner city housing conditions, deterring juvenile delinquency, interracial
tensions, and job insecurity. In 1957 Brightwood Methodist began offering
Sunday school classes for learning impaired children. Hillside Christian
Church relocated its congregation to the suburbs in 1961, but the building
was purchased by the Association of the Christian Churches in Indiana for
development of an “inner city” ministry.
1967, following the declaration that Martindale had been declared a poverty
target area, the Martindale Area Citizens Service (MACS) organized to provide
aid against the poverty, deteriorating houses, health problems, crime, and
unemployment which threatened the neighborhood. Both St. Rita’s and
Scott Methodist provided services for MACS. St. Paul AME Church followed
suit in 1970 with the construction of its new community building which would
be used as a community center for activities in District Three of the Model
Cities program. Community centers have continued their involvement in
Martindale-Brightwood to the present. In the eighties the NAACP, Brightwood
Community Center, and several block clubs once again organized against unemployment,
loss of business, crime, lack of housing rehabilitation funds, social services,
red-lining, new houses, and commercial development. Today, neighborhood
service centers include the Martindale-Brightwood Neighborhood Coalition,
Brightwood Community Center, Edna Martin Center, St. Nicholas Youth Center,
Oak Hill Civic Association, Oxford Terrace Association, Hillside Neighborhood
Association. Gleaners Food Bank, a city wide relief agency, is also
located in Martindale-Brightwood.
illustrated in the development of community centers, religion has always played
an important role in the neighborhood life of Martindale-Brightwood.
When African Americans first began to move into Martindale in the late nineteenth
century they brought with them a number of churches that still line Dr. Andrew
J. Brown Avenue today. In spite of the survival of several congregations
along this stretch of Martindale religious institutions have not always prospered
nor remained in the neighborhood. The economy, racial changes, and urban
development have all had an effect upon the religious nature of the community,
especially since the fifties. As church members began to move out of
the neighborhoods many churches relocated, leaving behind buildings which
were either abandoned or adopted for use by a new congregation moving into
the neighborhood. One result of over thirty years of transition can
be seen in the concentration of churches presently located in Martindale-Brightwood.
At present the neighborhood is home to over eighty churches which represent
various Christian denominations. Several of them, such as St. Rita’s,
St. John’s Baptist, St. Paul’s AME, New Bethel Baptist, Scott United Methodist
Church, and Martindale Christian Church, have been active in the neighborhood
for many decades. A great number more illustrate the transition of the
neighborhood in the late twentieth century. Many were founded between
the fifties and seventies. Store front churches have become a common
sight throughout the neighborhood and now dominate the once thriving business
district surrounding Station Street. Congregations such as Hillside
Christian Church, Brightwood Methodist, and Brightwood Church of Christ, have
relocated to the growing suburbs. And others such as St. Paul’s United
Methodist Church and St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church dissolved in the
eighties following many years of declining membership. The period of
social and economic transition which had changed the demographics of Martindale-Brightwood
had also had an impact upon the religious life of the neighborhood.
continues to be a neighborhood in transition. New housing developments
have begun in recent years and community groups continue to work for an end
to the other problems which have plagued their neighborhood. Yet much remains
to be done to improve the neighborhood condition and to rebuild a community
which has witnessed so much change in the past forty-years. The neighborhood
will have to look for some of these answers in its past which offers a picture
of people, organizations, churches, schools, and businesses working together
to promote the well being of their neighborhood.