Editor’s Note: This post marks the 250th such article posted to the Indiana Transportation History blog. Thank you all for your continued support.
At one point in the history of Indianapolis, street names were a strange collection of fits and starts. There were very few through streets in the city. Part of this was due to the fact that additions to the city were done without any consideration to making them fit in with the one next to it. This created a city of street names that ran through one neighborhood and ended. For instance, Dillon Street, located along a range line, would only run south from Michigan Avenue (Road) to Prospect Street. From there, the name changed to a shortened version of the turnpike name that ran south from what is now Fountain Square: Shelby Street (the turnpike was Shelbyville Road).
The first major change in street names occurred in 1895, as the city decided to try to bring some semblance of sanity to the street grid. Streets along the same line were given the same name. But that wasn’t all. Some of the names would change again later. Some were strangely added to other streets for no other reason than to create more confusion.
The first one I would like to focus on is Central Avenue. The current Central Avenue starts at roughly Tenth Street, aiming north through the city ending north of 64th Street at Riverview Drive. But in 1895, that street started at the 300 block of Pennsylvania Street (in 1897, that was changed to the 600 block), aiming northeast to Cherry (now 10th west of Central), then due north to the city limits. The previous name of the section from Pennsylvania to Cherry was Fort Wayne Avenue, originally part of the Fort Wayne State Road. It would later be renamed to, get this, Fort Wayne Avenue.
Another road that changed names back and forth would be Ashland Avenue. Several streets would be consolidated into what would be then known as Ash Avenue. Ashland Avenue and Sheridan Street would be changed to the new Ash Avenue name. This would be changed later to become Ashland Avenue.
Cornell Avenue also was a consolidation of streets. Alger, Forest, Greenwood, and Peru Streets all were merged to become Cornell, which before that time had existed from Massachusetts and Cherry north to Ninth (now 18th Street). There, Greenwood Street would go further north for several blocks to Bruce Street, which was a continuation of 15th Street (now 24th). Peru Street was south of Massachusetts Avenue, so named because it ran along side the Indianapolis & Peru Railroad, later the Lake Erie & Western, now known as the Nickle Plate.
Two of the most “famous” name changes that occurred at the time were those of two streets that were put in place by Alexander Ralston when he created the plat for the town of Indianapolis. Those streets, Mississippi Street and Tennessee Street were changed Senate and Capitol Avenues, respectively. The rumor was that city leaders were not impressed with the progress those two states were making after the Civil War when it came to civil rights. The council felt that there was no reason for them to be honored with street names in the Hoosier Capital. They were renamed to relate to their position in regards to the state house.
Other street names changed that year were Three Notch Road to Meridian Street, Beeler Street to Martindale Avenue, Brinkman Street to 17th Street (for an explanation of numbered streets in Indianapolis, and the massive change that happened, click here), Custer Street and Grand View Avenue to Bellefontaine, John Street to Dawson Avenue, Pendleton Avenue to Massachusetts Avenue, Sutherland Avenue to 17th Street, and Young Street to Olive Street.
The last name that I would like to focus on is another original plat name. The center of the original design for the town of Indianapolis called for a circular road with the Governor’s mansion in the middle. This was called Circle Street. In 1894, the name of that street was changed to Monument Place.
All of these name changes, as well as a list of all the streets in the city of Indianapolis at the time can be found in the 1895 Indianapolis City Directory starting on page 61. A complete collection of city directories is available at the IUPUI University Library online.