By Todd Travis
One of Marilyn Mayfield’s favorite memories growing up on the Southside of Indianapolis was going to the drive-in movie theaters. “That’s where you went to the shows. There were no shows on the Southside of Indianapolis. Even after we had kids, we used to use that for a cheap form of entertainment. I remember our old ’55 Chevy with a hump in the middle. I made something out of wood that covered the hump and put blankets on it. When they get tired, they’d go to sleep,” she remembered. Mayfield was born at St. Francis Hospital in 1940 and came home to 58 Van Dyke St. right behind Sophia’s Bridal where the post office used to be. “That’s where I lived until I got married, then my husband and I lived in the old lodge building, which was called the Odd Fellow’s building. Less than a year later, we bought our house and we’re still in the same house 62 years later, which is two-and-a-half blocks from where I was raised,” Mayfield explained.
Mayfield has a rich history on the Southside full of memories and family tradition. When she was a teenager, she had to go to downtown Indianapolis to work since there wasn’t much on the Southside besides cornfields. Her great-grandfather Jeremiah Gray owned quite a bit of land down in the area and had both a road and elementary school named after him. Gray was trustee to the township and served on the board of directors at Beech Grove State Bank. In his obituary he was said to be a pioneer. “He probably died a very poor man, but he was always there to help his friends who were farmers that had a tough break,” Mayfield stated. “When Jeremiah lived on Gray Road, it was probably just an old dirt road at that time; it was named after him simply because he lived there. I’ve got mail that was sent to Jeremiah’s youngest daughter that just said, ‘Southport Indiana’ because everything east of us was just cornfields,” Mayfield laughed.
Mayfield remembers some advice that Gray (who always went by Jerry) gave to her dad. “He said, ‘The first thing is that you don’t lend anybody any money, not even your mother, without a signed note. And the second thing I want you to do is go to law school. I don’t care if you practice law or not, but I want you to find out what the law can do for you and what the law can do to you,’” she said. “Jeremiah was a farmer and on his dairy farm he kept two great big shoe boxes filled with IOU’s from people he had lent money to,” she added. After Gray passed away, some of his land was sold off, but much of it was left to his children and grandchildren. Mayfield’s dad sold off a part of the land which is where the LA Fitness is currently located. “The rest of the land that had not been sold, we gave to Indianapolis Parks Department. If you go down there, you’ll see a plaque that says, ‘Gray Park’ and it’s considered a nature walking trail,” Mayfield said.
The history of the Gray family is sprinkled throughout the Southside of Indianapolis and continues to be remembered through contributions made by family. Mayfield and a few others have done a lot to put together as much of the story as they could find so it can be remembered for years to come.