What’s in a name? Apparently, a lot of history

By Rick Hinton

When Fred Shonk stood before a full meeting room at the July 24 Perry Township/Southport Historical Society meeting, he was passionate about the subject: origins of Southside street names. Fred, a longtime Southside resident who grew up on Madison Avenue, is a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools. He retains the recollections of a time and place when life was simpler and rural Southside developed under the shadow of Indianapolis, in effect, becoming a place of its own. This was one meeting I couldn’t miss.

Many streets were named after farms, families or friends associated:  Thompson Road was named for Edwin Thompson, who owned and built upon the land transitioning into Longacre swimming pool & park and McFarland Road, with the Golden Guernsey Dairy farm in the mid-1800s. There have been several generations since: Epler Avenue – The Epler farm family, with the original street name of Stop 7; the Bantas and the Smocks, former farmland and former title of Stop 8; and other street names related to families and farms – Carson, Rahke and Wicker.

There are many others, too numerous to mention, that defined the evolution of Southside Indianapolis: the Cosky’s (Cosky’s Grocery store); Combs; Churchman (he owned a bank when the area was still part of Perry Township); the Hardigans, Derbyshires, Hoss’s, Lindbergs, Bixlers and Chamberlains; Madison Avenue, once upon a day, was the “happening stretch of Southside Indianapolis”. Who can forget the Tee Pee Restaurant?

Meridian Street (3 Notch Road – the third road going south other than Madison and Bluff) turning into 135 south of the city, getting its name because it divides the city down the middle. US 31 was so far in the future; County Line Road… toeing the line between Marion and Johnson County; and Church Street in Southport, named for Presbyterian Church #4. Bluff Road, named after the bluffs above the White River and to this day a retention of greenhouses; Orinoco Road remains a mystery as to the origin of its name. Some have associated it to a body of water in South America? And the “Stop” Roads…

A Southside Interurban train car. Courtesy of the Perry Township/Southport Historical Society.

In the early 1900s, up to around 1941, Perry Township was served by an electric rail system – the Interurban. The tracks were laid down the center of Shelby Street from Fountain Square, progressing along the west side of Madison Avenue to Southport Road, then crossing over to the east side. At one time you could ride all the way to Louisville. Eventually this was reduced to New Albany and then reduced even further to Seymour before the rail’s demise after a fatal accident. All streets with “Stop” in their name were once waiting stations for this rail system. Many names remain today.

Meridian Woods, a neighborhood (where I live) off West Southport Road, have streets named after national parks. The subdivisions of Valley Ridge Farms and Hunter’s Run have streets named after famous racehorses. Hill Valley streets were named for the developer’s daughters.

Fred Shonk remembers when present-day Long’s Bakery was a grocery store and housed school buses. Ted Freese remembers an incarnation as a gas station; Barry Browning, treasurer for the historical society, remembers when Edgewood Avenue was Stop 8, lined by churches and businesses and had a designation of East & West Edgewood, with Madison Avenue being the dividing line; Judy Elder, present owner of the Hannah House on Hanna Avenue, says, “People used the house as a reference to the street and somewhere along the way, the “h” was dropped from the end of Hannah; and Marilyn Gray Mayfield, whose great-grandfather had impact in the early days as a Perry Township Trustee (Gray Road), with his legacy carrying on after five generations.

Families and history! Can you ever get enough?