Indianapolis, Noble Street and College Avenue

1855. According to the Grooms and Smith’s Indianapolis City Directory of that year, the sixth street east of Meridian, running north and south, is called Noble. Noble Street was named after the fifth governor of the State of Indiana, Noah Noble (served 1831-1837). At the time, there were only four city roads in Indianapolis not named “Street,” and those were Indiana, Massachusetts, Virginia and Kentucky, which even then were “Avenue.” Noble Street, at the time, connected Virginia Avenue on the south to Massachusetts Avenue on the north. At Massachusetts Avenue, the street along that long moved slightly to the east, and as such, was renamed Plum Street. Between Noble and East Streets, there was an alley with the name Liberty Street.

That same year, on property owned by Ovid Butler, North Western Christian University was opened. The major north-south street in front of the university was given the name “College Avenue.” This College Avenue would start at Christian Street (now 11th Street) in 1870. The section between Christian Street and Massachusetts Avenue, still being offset from either Noble Street or College Avenue, was still named Plum Avenue.

It is important to note that Indianapolis, while it looks rather mostly straight forward on a map, wasn’t built that way. First, the city’s neighborhoods were built as separate units, without any consideration of what was around it. Usually, the only city streets that had any rhyme or reason to them were along survey lines, either every mile, half mile, or quarter mile. This was, at the time, how land in Indiana was sold by the government: in at least quarter-mile sections. It also should be noted that most of the streets in the “Government Donation” of four square miles for the capital city of Indiana are actually 2.3 degrees either east or south of the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west.

And even another important fact: addressing was, compared to today, a bit weird. North Western Christian University, at the corner of College and Home Avenues (now College Avenue and 13th Street) was in the 100 or 200 block of College Avenue. Streets, before 1897, were address numbered from the point of origin, not a central point. Only those streets that crossed Washington or Meridian Streets were numbered from a central point. Even then, the addressing was not like the current 100 per block, but 50 per block. For instance, Pennsylvania Street, which is 100 East, was 50 East until 1897.

1896 Map of northeastern downtown Indianapolis showing Noble Street and College Avenue.

The streets would remain this way, with three separate names along an almost straight line (Noble, Plum and College) until 1894. 1894 saw the first of the major street renamings in Indianapolis. Among other things, streets that ran in a general line, continuously, would be given the same name. There were actually two streets in roughly a line with College Avenue connecting the new Eleventh Street to Massachusetts Avenue: Plum Street and Oak Street. Plum would be renamed College Avenue, although the street wasn’t completely straight. The street would remain this way, with a short kink at the Massachusetts Avenue end, until 1953.

The strange thing is that the correction of the north-south streets, which takes place, usually, at 10th Street across the county, happened at 11th Street for Broadway Street and College Avenue. These two streets jogged to the east at Eleventh Street to correct the location of the streets in relation to the surveying of the area.

Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1953. Courtesy of newspapers.com.

In 1953, College Avenue would be straightened at Massachusetts Avenue. This would connect College Avenue directly to Noble Street for the first time. According to the Indianapolis Star of 11 August 1953, “changing the name of Noble Street to College Avenue to eliminate confusion was (a)dvocated yesterday by Mayor Alex M. Clark.” The mayor pointed out that “the elimination of the jog in College Avenue at Mary Street will find Noble Street a continuation of College Avenue.” The article finishes with “one of the oldest streets in the city, Noble Street now runs from Massachusetts Avenue south to Buchanan Street.” This, however, would not be the end of a Noble Street in Indianapolis. Because Noble Street between Virginia Avenue and Buchanan Street wasn’t continuous, the new College Avenue would start at Virginia Avenue.

In the Indianapolis Star of 22 September 1953, it was mentioned that “the council also approved, with some regrets, changing the name of Noble Street to College Avenue to avoid possible confusion following the elimination of the jog in College Avenue at Massachusetts Avenues (sic).” Councilman Joseph A. Wallace, according to the article, “consoled himself with the knowledge that a small stretch of the original Noble Street on the South Side will remain to honor the state’s fifth Governor, Noah Noble.”

Those sections of Noble Street still exist in Indianapolis. Having been disconnected from the rest of the street, there was no reason to change its name. Now, getting back to the original 1855 description of Noble Street, being the sixth east of Meridian Street. A quick glance at a map of Indianapolis will show that College Avenue is addressed at 700 east, making it SEVEN east of Meridian. Somewhere along the way, the alley that was Liberty Street was made an official street, itself being sixth east of Meridian. When streets were being renumbered and renamed in the city, Liberty Street became Park Avenue.

For more information about the massive changing of street names in Indianapolis, check out the link: Why Do Indianapolis Street Numbers Start at 9?

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