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.

More History Than Transportation – South Indianapolis

1889 map of the section of Perry Township, Marion County, containing the “town” of South Indianapolis.

I decided to write a blog entry that skirts on the transportation history, but really ventures into the history of really two spots in Perry Township, Marion County. This is why it will not be part of the normal rotation of blog entries. It also is a bit of history that I encountered in person, although much after the fact.

In the summer of 1979, my family (my mother, my brother and I) moved to the southside of Indianapolis. The area that we moved to was tucked north of Hanna Avenue and east of State Street. The thing that always puzzled me at the time, being that my mind works at 1000 MPH on things like this, is why the children in the neighborhood, myself included, went to Perry Township schools, and not Indianapolis Public Schools. Now, the area is in Perry Township. But right around one half mile south of my house was (and still is) IPS School #65. It was literally within walking distance. Yet we rode the bus to Clinton Young Elementary, Keystone (now Southport) Middle School, and Southport High School.

I would later come to know that my neighborhood had never been taken into the City of Indianapolis. It was never annexed. But the area south of Hanna, and east of Shelby Street, had been. That area started life as the town of University Heights, being the community that served the Indiana Central College (later University, then University of Indianapolis).

For many years, the children of my area did have a school close by. It was originally Perry Township School Number 4, later to be called University Heights School. This would cause problems for other children later…but we will get to that.

Back to my neighborhood. Sometime after 1870, a new “town” was platted that would be accessed via the Shelbyville Pike (a toll road leading to, you guessed it, Shelbyville). It would be located one quarter mile north of the survey line that was located four miles south of downtown Indianapolis. It would stretch one quarter mile to the west, and one quarter mile south, being square in shape. There would be three streets north to south, and five streets east to west. And, it would be given the name of “South Indianapolis.” Earliest mention I can find for the “town” is when two lots, numbers 115 and 116, were sold by Elias C. Atkins to Henry H. Mason in May 1874. The “town” itself was originally recorded in Plat Record Number 6, page 186, in the Marion County Recorder’s Office.

The street along the north edge, which did connect to the Shelbyville Pike, would connect to a county road that was located 3.25 miles east of the Leavenworth Road (or Three Notch Pike). That road also connected to the Shelbyville Pike on the south to the Center-Perry Township line on the north.

South Indianapolis was never actually incorporated, either. I would assume it was the goal to build a community separate from the city, yet still connected to it by a good road…the toll road that was the Shelbyville Pike.

I have yet to find any actual plats of South Indianapolis available online. What I can tell you is that when I was growing up, my house was listed as being in, according to the official description from the Recorder’s Office, South Indianapolis lots 163 and 164. That property is no longer listed separately, as it was consolidated along the way into the property to the north. But, since the house burned down in my junior year of high school (1984-1985), I can see why that would happen to a lot with a garage and no house on it.

Now, I want to turn back to University Heights. The Church of the United Brethren in Christ wanted to start a college in Indianapolis, but were unable to find a location for it. Developer William Elder, who created several Perry Township neighborhoods, offered to change the name of his pending neighborhood Marion Heights to University Heights, with the hopes that the church would build the college just north of his new development. This was in 1902.

The new University Heights would have a north edge along the survey line that was four miles south of downtown. This would connect that road to the road that created the southern limits of South Indianapolis. With the creation of University Heights, the Perry Township School #4 would move from just south of what would eventually be built as Hanna Avenue on Madison Avenue to a location north of the new town. That would put the school on the grounds, or at least close to it, of the new Indiana Central College. And thus created a location for elementary education for the children of the new development, which would become a town in its own right.

And that would last until 1925. The people of University Heights decided that they wanted to be part of the City of Indianapolis. So annexation was in order. This created a small problem. The children of Indianapolis went to Indianapolis Public Schools. This put the University Heights school, still belonging to Perry Township, out of the district for the children of University Heights. This caused those children to have to be taken to the McClainsville School. McClainsville was at the northern edge of Perry Township at the Shelbyville Road. The school itself was in Center Township, across the street from the town itself…much like the school at University Heights.

The parents of University Heights were in a complete uproar. Because the annexation only included the town, and not the college campus, School #4 was still legally in Perry Township, and thus would remain part of that school district. And even then, the annexation was a very strange thing in itself. At the time, the City of Indianapolis ended at Southern Avenue. The city annexed straight down Shelby Street from Southern Avenue to the street that, by that time, had been named Hanna Avenue. It was originally called Kephart Avenue when it was created by Elder.

This annexation meant that the properties along Shelby Street were still in Perry Township, while the street itself, and the interurban line that ran along it, were in Indianapolis.

The University Heights School was part of a court case in 1933. The city tried to annex the property that contained the school. There were 179 students living in the University Heights neighborhood. So the parents of the area tried to get their very close school to be part of the Indianapolis schools. The court ruled that the city couldn’t annex that property, and the school would remain in Perry Township. Some of the students would have to use the interurban to get to school…either School 72 (formerly McClainsville) or School 35, located at Madison Avenue and Raymond Street.

The township finally sold the school to the Indianapolis Public Schools in 1961. This would cause the students living in the area known as South Indianapolis to be transported to other Perry Township schools. Ultimately, this would mean Clinton Young Elementary. But IPS found themselves unhappy with the University Heights School. Its size was too small to be of use. So work started on creating a new IPS school on South Asbury Street, later to be numbered 65. Both schools survived together for a short time. Finally, the old Perry Township School #4 was closed and sold to the Indiana Central University.

The names of the streets in the “town” of South Indianapolis today are (east-west) National Avenue, Atlantic Street, Pacific Street and Hanna Avenue. (Hanna was the name of a prominent land owner in the area, as shown on the map at the top of this page.) The north-south streets would be (from the east) Aurora, Randolph, Walcott, Asbury and State. Randolph, Walcott and State are most likely not original street names, as they are now named after streets in the old city of Indianapolis in the same general area.