Why Do Indianapolis Street Numbers Start at 9?

A look at street names in Indianapolis shows an (almost) orderly method to street names. As a general rule, streets in the same general location have the same name (i.e., 600 East is usually Park Avenue). But Indianapolis is also a city that started as an orderly grid…and went warp speed downhill from there. Additions to the city were not as orderly as the start of the city. As divisions were added, they were designed as if they were a separate town. As such, originally, street names weren’t as organized.

Another look will show that the northside has numbered streets. The numbers, depending on where you stop counting, end at either 96th (in Indianapolis/Marion County) or 296th (Hamilton-Tipton County Line). Going down in numbers, the lowest street number of a major road is 10th Street. 10th Street is 10 blocks north (in theory) of the center street of the city (Washington Street and/or Rockville Road). Below 10th, the number streets don’t continue very far. As in, Ninth Street is the end of the number line.

But it wasn’t always like that.

As the town of Indianapolis started migrating past the mile square, and hodge-podge additions were made, the continuation of “named” streets continued. The first numbered street added to Indianapolis was placed 10 blocks north of the circle/center of the town (ahem…sound familiar?). This street was given the name “First Street.” Then streets progressing northward were, usually, given progressively higher numbers. The line separating Center and Washington Townships was called 30th Street. The same line actually serves as the boundary between Wayne, Center and Warren townships on the north and Pike, Washington and Lawrence townships on the south.

1891 Polk Indianapolis City Directory map of Dillon Street/Shelby Street.

The strange thing about Indianapolis streets until the 1890s was that there really was no rhyme nor reason to the naming. For instance, I posted about the Shelbyville State Road a while back. I mentioned that the road is called Shelby Street in the city. And it is. But what I failed to mention is that Shelby Street STARTED at the end of Virginia Avenue in what is now Fountain Square. North of Fountain Square, it was not Shelby Street, but Dillon Street. (As a sidenote, addressing was weird at the time as well. Shelby Street’s addressing started at 0…at Fountain Square. Anyone that pays attention will know that Fountain Square is at 1100 south…not 0.)

Street names, especially north-south ones, could (and would) change names at almost every major street…usually about one mile or so. Also, most of the “state roads” changed names at the city limits. For instance, the Pendleton State Road (which became Pendleton Pike) started at Clifford Street (which became 10th Street), after having been Massachusetts Avenue in the city. I use this example because it explains why Massachusetts Avenue becomes Pendleton Pike, now, at 38th Street, the old pre-UniGov city limits.

1891 Polk Indianapolis City Directory map of the north side of Indianapolis.

The 1891 map to the right shows the area from the corner of Michigan Road and Twelfth St. to Meridian St. and Pratt St. It shows the first 12 numbered streets in Indianapolis. This area would now be bounded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, 21st Street, Meridian Street and Ninth Street. A quick glance at this map shows that even the numbered streets didn’t line up with themselves. Follow the line from Michigan Road and West Tenth Street. It ends at the Big Four (Lafayette Line) Railroad. Continuing east from there, west of Mississippi Street (Senate Avenue) east to Meridian Street, the same line is Ninth Street. Hmmm….oops. But this also shows the willy-nilly way that parts were added to the city.

The changing of street names in the city happened in several steps through the mid-to-late 1890s. The first batch would happen in 1895, as some street names were changed to make continuous streets along a line. For instance, Cornell Avenue. Several streets would change there name to Cornell: Alger, Forest, Greenwood, and Peru. (As a side note, the last one, Peru, got its name for being along side the Peru & Indianapolis Railroad. The street next to the “Bee Line” was, and still is, called Bellefontaine.)

1895 Polk Indianapolis City Directory listing of street name changes and additions.

The 1895 changes show that Massachusetts Avenue was extended, along the old Pendleton Pike, from Tenth Street to Brightwood (most likely, because I haven’t seen a map to prove it, what is now Sherman Drive – then called Brightwood Street).

A ton of street name changes occurred in 1896/1897. So many that the city directory street and avenue guide listed both the old street name and the new one. The next snippet will show the entries for “Tenth Street” in the 1897 directory. “Old Tenth” from the Lafayette Line west to Michigan Road (mentioned above) became 18th Street. From Highland Place (west of Meridian) east to Central became 19th. From Central to Martindale, old Tenth became 20th. Meanwhile, Old First, Davis, St. Mary, Cherry and Clifford became “new” (um, current?) Tenth Street.

1897 Polk Indianapolis City Directory listing for “Tenth” street, both of them.

Also mentioned in the 1897 is the coming (although listed as possible in 1897) change of addressing. Every block increased the house numbers by 50, not 100. The “new” Tenth Street was actually 500N, what Michigan Street is now, depending on what street you were on. This was a pending change before the City Council. This would also make all streets numbered from the corner of Washington and Meridian. Up to this point, streets were numbered from the beginning of the street, not from a central point in town.

So, now (1898), Indianapolis has numbered streets starting at ten, and house numbers to match. But the numbered streets start at 9, not 10. Along the way, Pratt Street, for some reason, was renamed Ninth Street. This would occur around 1932. I have never found any reason for it…it just happened. But no number was used below 9.

So when you look at an Indianapolis map, as see no numbers below nine, it’s not that the city government can’t count. It’s just that First Street just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Washington Street.

By the way…the above mentioned township line street that was 30th. It’s now called 38th. And ended up being a state property (US 36/SR 67) from Michigan Road to Pendleton Pike for over 40 years.

6 thoughts on “Why Do Indianapolis Street Numbers Start at 9?

  1. The Historic Indianapolis site has written about the street renaming/renumbering as well. It’s as if the city had to press hard reset after some unchecked growth.

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