Acton and Wanamaker

In Franklin Township, Marion County, two towns were established to make use of the transportation facilities available. One was founded with the creation of the Michigan Road. One was created to make use of the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad. Both would be so important in their function that they would be connected together by the interurban at the turn of the 20th Century. Those towns are Acton and Wanamaker.

1889 map of New Bethel, Indiana, along the Michigan Road.

Let’s start with the first created of the two: Wanamaker. The Michigan Road had been cut through Marion County in the 1830s. It was in 1834 when a man named John Messinger platted a town along the Michigan Road east of the Noblesville-Franklin State Road. The original plat called for 22 lots fronting the Michigan Road, with a perpendicular street near the middle. The town would be called New Bethel. When mail service was finally extended to the village, it did not have the post office. The post office was located on the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad at the Franklin State Road crossing. That post office was called Gallaudet.

1889 map of Acton, Indiana.

The other town that came into being due to transportation facilities was platted in October 1852 along the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad. The town would originally be called Farmersville. The name would later be changed to Acton, reportedly after a local resident. According to property records, the Marion County government still lists the some of the properties as in Farmersville. Some are listed as Farmersville (Acton).

The original plat of the town was located in two places. The first was on the west side of the county road that connected the town to the Michigan Road about a mile and a half north, along the railroad. The second centered on what was originally Oak Street, now Virgil Street.

North of town, a campground, opened in 1859, operated by the Southeast Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church was created at the junction of the road connecting the town to the Michigan Road (now Acton Road) and the dirt road connecting Acton to Southport (now Southport Road).

The I&C railroad would help bring people to the campground. This would help Acton grow quicker than Wanamaker. The campground would include a pavilion, a hotel, and other facilities. Several fires occurred at the location, but it was rebuilt each time.

In 1889, the town of New Bethel would change its name to Wanamaker, apparently named after the postmaster general under the administration of President Benjamin Harrison. It was not entirely unanimous when it came to the name change. For 50 years afterwards, road signs and residents used both names for the town.

1905 map of Franklin Township, showing the Indianapolis, Shelbyville & Southeastern Traction Company lines connecting Indianapolis to New Bethel (Wanamaker Post Office) and Acton.

In 1902, the Indianapolis, Shelbyville and Southeastern Traction line was built through Franklin Township. It would follow the Michigan Road from Prospect Street, near Sherman Drive, to what is now Hickory Road. From there, it would follow Hickory Road to the original Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad. As it would get close to Acton, it would depart the railroad right-of-way along what is now Swails Street (formerly known as Washington Street). Before Swails Street turns due east to become Lemont Street, the old traction line turned even more southeast to connect back to the railroad right-of-way for the traction lines connection to Shelbyville.

Three years after the interurban connected to Acton, the Methodist campgrounds would suffer complete destruction after another fire. The facility would not be rebuilt after this fire.

The Indianapolis, Shelbyville & Southeastern Traction Company would change its name to the Indianapolis & Southeastern Traction Company around the same time as the campground fire. Many mortgages were made for the traction company property. The first, to the IS&S, was made on 1 January 1902. The next would be to the I&S, dated 14 July 1905. Another name change would occur before 26 December 1910. This time, the company would become the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Company. That date, a mortgage on the property to the Central Union Trust Company of New York.

The towns of Wanamaker and Acton started to more or less stagnate when it came to resident growth. They both would slowly grow over the years.

Wanamaker would get the next transportation improvement. In 1919, the Indiana State Highway Commission took over the old Michigan Road in Marion County. It would be given the number State Road 6. This caused the town of Wanamaker (New Bethel, whichever particular people preferred even at that time) to be located on the state highway system…again. The Michigan Road was built as a state road originally, but it was built to connect two places and given to the counties almost immediately after construction.

The interurban that connected to the two towns would run into major problems in 1928. The entire company, with the mortgages listed above, found itself sold at foreclosure due to orders from the Rush Circuit Court in Rushville. This foreclosure was entered on 31 March 1928. It also included the I&C Light and Power Company, which supplied power to the traction line. The foreclosure consisted of four busses, all property not covered by liens of the mortgages, all nine shares of the I&C Light and Power Company, and that section of the railway from Colescott Street in Shelbyville to the end of the line in Greensburg, among other things. The official beginning of the line was located 1.31 miles east of Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis. The line would become the Indianapolis & Southeastern again. But it wouldn’t last long. Abandonment would begin in 1931.

The two towns would continue on. Both would become part of the City of Indianapolis with the passing of UniGov.

2 thoughts on “Acton and Wanamaker

  1. Mr. Simpson, thank you for the post. A very interesting topic. In my opinion, the Interurbans would be a great and efficient thing to resurrect today (had the rights of way not been lost).

    Regarding Christy Claborn’s question – the origin of Hickory Road’s name is included in our (the Franklin Township Historical Society) book “The History of Franklin Township, Marion County, Indiana Area Old Houses (yeah, it’s a long name, but it’s definitive.) In the early 1890s, the county commissioner wanted to name a road after Isaac Hittle. Isaac, however, declined the honor and suggested the road be named for an old landmark – a great tall hickory tree at the side of the road. Thus, Hickory Road got its name. (A different road was named Hittle Road later.) Side note – the Society also has books concerning the histories of Acton and New Bethel/Wanamaker, should anyone be interested.

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  2. Very interesting that Hickory Rd was part of the line for the traction cars. Do you have any more info about Hickory Road, such as development, how it got the name Hickory, etc? Thank you.

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