Valley Mills (and the Naming of Southport)

I have to start to tell the story of a Decatur Township village by telling the story of another village in Perry Township. Many people looking at a map of Marion County would recognize, almost immediately, a different colored area in the south central part of the county. That area is Southport, an excluded city in Marion County. An excluded city (or town) is one in which is not included in the city of Indianapolis after the creation of UniGov. Southport has its own city government, but they also vote for the chief executive of Marion County…which happens to be the Mayor of Indianapolis, as well.

Southport was platted in 1849. Many people from the area know the story about how the city got its name. Being a Southport High School graduate, I have heard it many times. But one fact that seems to fall through the cracks when it comes to Southport is the name. Yes, it does have to do with being south. But not only its southern location in the county. It also had to do with the subject of this article. Southport is actually south of another town, in Decatur Township, called Northport.

Northport was a small village that was platted in 1839. There was very little in the area of the county that would become Northport. The Mooresville State Road, connecting Indianapolis to the Morgan County town, passed very close by to the village. A branch of that road, running along the survey line located five miles south of Indianapolis (now mostly known as Thompson Road) went directly to the little village.

The road that led to Northport would become a toll road, as would the Mooresville State Road. The road would acquire the name of “Northport and Mars Hill Road.” Today, it would be Thompson Road from Kentucky Avenue to High School Road, then Mooresville Road to Mann Road. This was the only access the town would have to the city of Indianapolis, and anywhere else, for many years to come.

In 1859, the town was replatted as the town of Fremont. This name wouldn’t last long, as there was already a Fremont post office in Indiana, located in Steuben County. That Fremont acquired its current name in 1848, and the post office of that name the same year. When the post office was to be named, the chosen title was Valley Mills.

Valley Mills would acquire a second access to the city of Indianapolis when the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad was chartered in 1865, and completed between 1867 and 1869. This history of the Indianapolis & Vincennes was covered on 16 August 2019. This railroad connected the tiny village in rural Decatur Township to the rest of the nation.

The road that was called the Northport and Mars Hill became a free gravel road when the county purchased it back from the toll road company. The Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad, which helped the town grow, didn’t actually find itself as profitable as it was led to believe. But it did help people in the rural part of the county reach county government offices, and shopping, in the city. It would connect Canby, Valley Mills, Mars Hill and Maywood to the capital. Mars Hill, the town, was founded in 1911…but the area where the town was built had been already called that. The high point in the area was called Marr’s Hill, after a settler in the area.

When the Army was looking for a place to put a post in the Indianapolis area, the front runner in that race was an area near Valley Mills. The Indianapolis Journal of 17 January 1903 stated that “the proposition to establish a military post at Indianapolis has resolved itself into the simple question of how to get enough money to buy the Valley Mills site.” The installation was, as announced in the Indianapolis Journal of 7 May 1902, already named: “The decision of President Roosevelt to call the new military post to be established near the city Fort Benjamin Harrison is a thoughtful, graceful and appropriate act. Incidentally it may be remarked that it practically assures the location of the post.” It was decided later that the Valley Mills site would not be used. Instead, a site in Lawrence Township would be used.

1905 Map of the Valley Mills area of Decatur Township, Marion County.

When the interurban system was created, Valley Mills would find itself in the path of the Indianapolis and Martinsville Rapid Transit Company traction line. This was mainly due to the fact that the traction line ran parallel to the Indianapolis and Vincennes/Vandalia Railroad, just to the south of the steam railway. At least in Marion County. The traction line would soon be owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern, the owner of most traction lines in and out of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Street Railway, and the Indianapolis Traction Terminal. Stop 7 along that line was at what is now High School Road and Kentucky Avenue. Valley Mills, the village, had a stop as well. And, like Southport on the Greenwood line, it did not have a number. Stop 8 was at a point halfway between High School Road and Mendenhall Road.

Valley Mills still found itself slightly off the beaten path when it came to the road system. When the state highway system was created in 1919, the new state road 22 would use the old Mooresville State Road, which was part of the Vincennes State Road. This put Valley Mills about one half mile from the state highway system.

Around 1936, the Indiana State Highway Commission decided to widen and straighten what was by then called SR 67. The new route of the state road would, as was typical of the time, run alongside the Pennsylvania Railroad, the owners of the original Indianapolis & Vincennes. The location of the new State Road 67 was along the Indianapolis & Martinsville Traction line, which had been closed for several years at that point. The official abandonment of the traction line occurred in February 1932. Valley Mills would find itself attached to the state highway system.

Today, the area called Valley Mills is part of the unified city of Indianapolis, included in the annexation of most of Marion County into the UniGov plan. It is still served by SR 67. But, it has also been basically obliterated by the growth of the Indianapolis International Airport. Due to its nearly central location in Decatur Township, the high school serving the entire township is located near the old village. The area has become very commercialized, and to a certain extent, industrialized. Many businesses serving the airport are located in or near the town that ended up being the reason that Southport has south in its name.

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