1896: Indianapolis Street Name Changes, and Their Effects

In the past, I have covered street name changes in Indianapolis. The biggest example of street name changes in the city was in the 1895-1896 time frame. I covered it in an article called “Changes of Indianapolis Street Names in 1895,” the 250th post of my blog. But today, I want to go back to the 1896 changes, and share what the Indianapolis Journal had to say about the whole thing.

The street car conductors, as soon as the new numbers were applied to the streets, started calling out the new street names. Keep in mind that before the change of the names, Indianapolis DID have a First Street. Check out the article “Why Do Indianapolis Street Numbers Start at 9?” for more information. (And before you mention it, I know that there is a 7th Street in Indianapolis. But it was an afterthought and is, funnily enough, at 725 North, not 700.)

The Journal relates the story of the lady riding the Illinois Street trolley. “A lady riding on an Illinois-street car the other night amused other passengers by the consternation she expressed when the conductor poked his head into the car and called out: Tenth Street!”

The lady jumped to her feet immediately, saying she meant to get off the trolley at Fifth Street! Oh, no! The conductor explained to the lady that where she wanted was now 14th Street, not Fifth, as the names had been changed. “That’s the old name madam,” explained the conductor. And shortly thereafter, the trolley came to a stop at 14th Street for the lady.

What amused the passengers, and the conductor, was the look the lady gave to the conductor as she got off the streetcar. “Hateful thing to scare me half to death!” the conductor heard the lady say as the streetcar trundled on down the line. It is stated in the article that most passengers were concerned, as they didn’t know where they wanted to get off the streetcar with the new street numbering system.

Illinois Street, as listed in the Polk City Directory of
Indianapolis Street & Avenue Guide from the years
1895 and 1897. The address numbering is also included
in the guide to show where the houses were in relation
to the street names.

There were two different ordinances passed within a year concerning the changing of street names. The first, occurring in 1895 and mentioned in the article above, changed the numbers of the streets above St. Clair. The second, passed a few weeks before the publishing of the Journal article on 7 December 1896, ridding the city of duplicate street names. It is mentioned that under the first ordinance, Ninth Street was created out of Pratt, Gregg, Vine, John, Randolph, and Greencastle Streets. The second ordinance made the following change: “the name of Ninth street from its eastern terminus to its western terminus is hereby changed to Pratt street.” Hence the street guide not showing a Ninth Street.

The problem was that the house numbering system wasn’t immediately changed. I have mentioned before that houses were numbered from the beginning of the street, not a specific location in the city. As pointed out in the Journal, someone living at 53 Gregg Street simply couldn’t say they lived at 53 Pratt Street after the change. Gregg Street ran for two blocks – from New Jersey Street to Park Avenue. The corner of East and Gregg Streets was listed as 59 Gregg Street, making 53 Gregg Street just west of East Street. East Pratt Street ran from Meridian Street to Fort Wayne Avenue. 53 E. Pratt Street would be just east of Pennsylvania Street. West Pratt Street ran from Meridian Street to Paca Avenue. 53 W. Pratt Street was just west of Illinois Street.

“Until the streets are renumbered endless confusion will ensue in delivering mail matter. The advocates of the ordinances changing street names argued that it would be of great assistance to the Postoffice Department, but until the streets are renumbered letter carriers will have more serious problems to contend with than ever before.”

The article points out that “there is no arbitrary rule by which the numerical names of the east-wan-west streets north of Pratt street can be determined.” The old First Street, which ran east from White River to Pennsylvania Street, became Tenth Street. Add to that St. Mary Street from Delaware Street to Fort Wayne Avenue, Cherry Street from Fort Wayne to Massachusetts Avenue, and Clifford Street from Massachusetts to Rural Street (the end of the city at that time).

Even then, due to the way Indianapolis was expanded over the years, not all of the same street number was along the same line of the map. As I have mentioned before, Indianapolis was built of neighborhoods built to be separate entities…so very rarely did streets line up from one expansion to another. The street numbers north of what became 16th Street became a complete nightmare. Each broken end street was lumped with the street number closest to it.

The City Engineer, and his crew, were busy putting up new street signs for the new street names. They were doing this as quickly as possible to avoid as much confusion as possible. The city engineer was against the idea of changing the 50 numbers to a block rule to the soon to come 100 numbers to a block. The City Council was considering the changing of the addressing of houses, and the number of house numbers per block, in a meeting that evening. And, it seems, who would be in charge of changing house numbers in the city.

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