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Saturday, November 27, 2021

What’s In A Name, Indy? Bruce Place

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Bruce Place, a neighborhood in Indianapolis, got its name from the Bruce Family that formerly owned the ground. There appears to be at least three sections of land that have included “Bruce” in their name as this section of Center Township developed and was annexed to the City of Indianapolis. One section is also known as “Reagan Park.” 

To give you an idea of what real estate cost almost 150 years ago, “Judge Martindale has purchased twelve lots in the Bruce place for which he paid $48,000,” according to a news article that was published on Nov. 22, 1873, in The Evening News of Indianapolis. 

A fire swept through a frame barn at Bruce Place on March 3, 1875, according to a news article in The Evening News. 

One of the more unusual previous residents of Bruce Place was highlighted on the front page of The Indianapolis News dated July 16, 1878: “An immense snake, described as ‘reachin’ across four corn rows,’ that is 28 or 30 feet in length, has been seen. The monster was last seen entering a field of oats in the neighborhood, the owner of which now offers large wages for laborers to cut, as the crop is ready for the sickle, but can find no one willing to risk life and limb against the serpent for hire and salary. The snake is described as having a head as large as the head of a cow…” 

The Bruce Family operated greenhouses on College Avenue and 23rd Street (Bruce Street), according to a news article dated March 10, 1886, in The Indianapolis News. Among the flowers grown here were “… roses, pansies, eupatorium, euphorbias … dendrobium nobile, one of the most striking and beautiful of the orchid family. The flowers are white, shaded with lilac with a rich carmine throat.” 

Part of what became Bruce Place on College Avenue was previously known as “Bruce Park.” This was the site of religious camp meetings as well as baseball games, among other gatherings. Sunday baseball games, for example, were banned for many years in the city of Indianapolis. Bruce Park (also known as “Bruce Grounds”) was located outside of the city at that time and, thus, did not have to be abide by the Blue Laws enforced by the city. (Blue Laws were the regulations that prohibited many commercial activities on Sundays.) According to several news reports, the baseball games at Bruce Park did not last long because the site was considered too far “out in the country” for many Indianapolis residents. 

Four of the streets in this neighborhood have retained their original names. Central Avenue was named after the fact that it was located in the central portion of Marion County — in Center Township. Park Avenue got its name from the goal of developers to create a residential development in a park-like atmosphere. Broadway Avenue got its name from the goal of creating a broad roadway with residences on both sides of the street; early maps show the street name written as “Broad Way.” 

College Avenue got its name from North Western Christian College (also written as “Northwestern Christian College”). This college – the forerunner of today’s Butler University – was initially located on College Avenue at Home Avenue (today’s 13th Street). The locale of the college later became the site of the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum and is now the location of the interchange of Interstates 65 and 70. The college that became Butler University first moved to Irvington and then on to its current location in northwest Indianapolis. 

Most of the other streets in Bruce Place have been re-named from their original monikers. The city of Indianapolis, especially in its earlier days, had a policy of re-naming streets. Sometimes, changes were implemented so that street names could be aligned as properties were annexed into the city. On other occasions, name changes occurred because leaders wanted to recognize specific individuals or local families. 

“Bruce Street” was the original name for what is known today as “23rd Street”; at other times, this street was also known as “15th Street.” The roadway was named after the Bruce Family. 

“Thompson Street” was the original name for what is known today as “24th Street”; at other times, this street was also known as “16th Street.” This street got its name from the Thompson Family; W. C. Thompson owned 56 acres of land above Fall Creek, according to a map published in 1866. 

“Sutherland Street” was the original name for what is known today as “25th Street”; at other times, this street was also known as “17th Street.” The name of this street came from the Sutherland Family; John Sutherland owned 258 acres of ground in the immediate area, according to a map published in 1866. 

“Carrollton Avenue” was previously known by several names: “Ash Avenue” and “Ashland Avenue.” That name came from the ash tree. The initial plans for Reagan Park had the street name as “Sheridan Street.” For a number of years, “Rohampton Avenue” was used as the name for the first street east of College Avenue. 

The alley located between College Avenue and Carrollton Avenue was previously known as “Bruce Place.” 

Sections of “Winthrop Avenue” were previously known as “Cornell Avenue.” The initial plans for Reagan Park had the street name as “Alger Street.” A proposal noted in a news article on Jan. 16, 1894, in The Indianapolis Journal, proposed that this street be re-named as “Forest Avenue.” 

At times, there was a roadway along the railroad that pre-dated today’s Monon Trail. That roadway was known as “Goodman Street.” 

This map shows the route of the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad between the two cities in Indiana and Ohio. (This map was provided courtesy of the Library of Congress, 1852.) 

The of name of “Bellefontaine Street” has also been written as “Bellefountaine Street.” This roadway got its name from the Bellefontaine Rail Depot located a number of blocks south of Bruce Place. The depot served the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad. The “Bellefontaine” in the railroad’s name came from Bellefontaine, Ohio. “Bellefontaine” is the French word for “beautiful spring,” according to the city of Bellefontaine; the city indicated that limestone springs in that area was the source of its municipal name. The initial plans for Reagan Park had the street name as “Custer Street.” Portions of what was Bellefontaine Street were re-named as “Guilford Avenue” by the city of Indianapolis. 

The first portion of Bruce Place was highlighted in green in this map from 1889. The area had not been annexed into the city of Indianapolis. (This is map was published in the Atlas of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, and provided courtesy of the Indiana State Library, 1889.) 

Do you have questions about communities in Indianapolis? A street name? A landmark? Your questions may be used in a future news column. Contact Richard McDonough at whatsinanameindy@mail.com. 

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