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Thursday, December 8, 2022

What’s In A Name, Indy? Norwood — Part 4

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Norwood was annexed into the city of Indianapolis on Sept. 2, 1912. Its entry into the city, though, was not a smooth one. The actual annexation occurred only because the Indianapolis City Council overrode the decision of the then-mayor of Indianapolis. That mayor had vetoed an earlier vote by the council to annex Norwood.

Discussions regarding annexation of Norwood into Indianapolis began 10 years earlier, but those talks did not result in any changes in the status of the community.

As growth continued in subsequent years, business leaders in Indianapolis saw the opportunities in Norwood. With annexation, Prospect Street could be upgraded and maintained to city standards. A streetcar line could be extended to Norwood to more easily bring people to commercial establishments in Fountain Square.

Norwood was still quite rural four years after annexation into the city of Indianapolis. The wide light red lines show the limits of the city at the time of this map. Prospect Street is the green line across the top of this map, while Sherman Drive is the green line to the right. (The map was produced by Baist’s Real Estate Atlas and provided courtesy of the Library of Congress, 1916.)

The front page of the Indianapolis Star on June 4, 1912, reported that “Norwood Raps At Door Of City For Annexation.” This news article noted that “the population of Norwood is made up largely of Negroes. … In recent years, Norwood has reformed to a considerable extent and now it has shown a desire to advance still further by coming into the city.”

Not everyone agreed that annexation was the best option for Norwood.

“Opposition Develops To Annexation Of Norwood” was a headline in the Indianapolis Star on June 9, 1912. Those opposed focused their attention on “burdensome tax rates” if Norwood joined Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis News reported on July 6, 1912, that members of the city council visited Norwood to inspect the territory that might be annexed to Indianapolis. About a month later, on Aug. 2, 1912, the same newspaper included a news article with the headline of “May Annex Norwood.” This news article detailed that “favorable action on an ordinance annexing Norwood and territory between that suburb and Indianapolis” was likely to be taken by the Indianapolis City Council.

“South side business men … urged that the ordinance should be passed to enable Norwood people to obtain desired improvements,” the news article stated. “It was also thought that the fact that Norwood is reached only by an interurban line, results in Norwood people going downtown to do their trading, instead of buying in the vicinity of Fountain square.”

A quote from a resolution passed by area businessmen supporting the annexation of Norwood was included in a news article on the same day in the Indianapolis Star: “It is the sense of the business men that said territory [Norwood] be annexed to the city in order that its residents may have the opportunity to make needed improvements and in order that the residents of the city be protected from the rowdies and ruffians who make Norwood their rendezvous, and so that the city board of health may have authority to enforce ordinances for better sanitary conditions, all of which we believe will stimulate the city’s growth and create greater prosperity for the residents in this section of the city.”

The general manager of Citizens Gas Company cautioned the business leaders pushing for the annexation of Norwood. In a news article dated Aug. 10, 1912, The Indianapolis News printed a letter from this utility that pointed out difficulties with the proposed annexation. The letter noted that the improvements of Prospect Street and other items sought by business leaders may not be possible since the property values in the area may not be sufficient to cover the costs of the suggested improvements.

On Aug. 19, 1912, the Indianapolis City Council approved the annexation of Norwood and nearby areas into the city limits. According to the Indianapolis News dated Aug. 20, 1912, “the annexation includes the territory lying substantially between the Michigan Road on the north and Minnesota Street on the south, from the present city limits at Keystone Avenue to Sherman Drive. It brings into the city the property of the Citizens Gas Company, Fairmount Glass Works, and other valuable property.”

The then-mayor of Indianapolis disagreed with the decision of the city council. He vetoed the annexation of Norwood, according to a news article dated Aug. 21, 1912, in the Indianapolis News. The then-mayor stated that “he is opposed to taking any more territory into the city until the city is in a position to provide all of the fire and police protection, street lights, water and gas, and sufficient school facilities for the city as it is now constituted.”

The potential annexation of Norwood was wrapped up in politics for some of the elected — and unelected — leaders within Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star reported on Aug. 23, 1912, that “with a single stroke of the pen, the mayor shut out approximately 500 voters who would be a practical aid to the administration forces in the next city election … Norwood residents help swell the Republican ballot boxes at state and county elections, but in municipal matters, they are not voters. Practically the entire population of Norwood is made up of Negro voters.”

The Indianapolis Star reported details of the veto in a new article dated Aug. 28, 1912. The newspaper summarized portions of the veto letter from the then-Mayor by noting “that the mayor has learned that the majority of the citizens of Norwood do not want to come into this city, that the assessed valuation of property on Prospect Street, the main thoroughfare through the suburb, is not high enough to permit the improvement of the street, and that the citizens will be taxed without receiving any benefits.”

On Sept. 3, 1912, the Indianapolis Star reported that the annexation of Norwood took place the night before following the vote of 6 to 3 by the Indianapolis City Council to override the veto of the then-mayor of the city. The newspaper article noted this meeting included a “lively” discussion of accusations of graft.

The Indianapolis News included a news article with the headline of “Protest From Colored Citizens Of Norwood” in its edition dated Sept. 4, 1912. The news article stated that a remonstrance “against the annexation of Norwood, signed by 118 Colored property owners of the suburb [Norwood], has been received” by the then-mayor of Indianapolis. (The definitions of a “remonstrance” differ, but in general it refers to a petition or protest against an action contemplated to occur.) The newspaper noted that the letter, written by Ada Harris, stated that folks in Norwood had changed their views on annexation and were now opposed to becoming part of Indianapolis. The letter indicated that the property owners could not afford the additional taxes and would not benefit from annexation into the city.

This news article in the Indianapolis News as well as a news article in a second newspaper reported that this letter had not been delivered to the city council prior to its vote to override the veto of the then-mayor and thereby annex Norwood into Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star reported on Sept. 4, 1912, that “the letter from Miss Harris had been delivered to the mayor’s home Monday [Sept. 2] morning, but did not reach his office until yesterday [Tuesday, Sept. 3].” The vote by the Indianapolis City Council to override the veto was held on the evening of Sept. 2.

The words of Miss Harris, a noted educator and leader in Norwood, in that 1912 letter may well be of interest to people in 2022. Portions of her letter included the following text:

“The people [of Norwood] have gained what they have by thrift. As a people we do not have fortunes or estates left us. It is only by thrift and dogged perseverance that we have succeeded this far.

“As a race we are doing wonderfully well considering the only thing we had after freedom that were stock in trade were a knowledge of the English language, the Christian religion, and we knew how to work.

“Handicapped as we are, with many of the avenues of trade closed against us, we are still hopeful and doing our part in the great march of civilization. Norwood stands out unique in that there is not another settlement of Colored people around Indianapolis where so many own their own homes. And what is a higher ideal than home-getting and building for posterity.

“Only a small per cent of the Colored people here are illiterate. They appreciate their school and make it a social center.”

Even after annexation was approved — this second time following the veto by the then-mayor — that elected official continued his efforts to stop Norwood from becoming part of the city of Indianapolis. On Sept. 6, 1912, the Indianapolis News reported that the then-mayor offered “to aid in any legal fight citizens of Norwood may wish to make against the annexation of that suburb to the city.”

That news article then detailed the reality facing the people in Norwood.

“The majority of the residents of Norwood are persons of moderate circumstances, many of whom are paying for their homes and who could not, probably, afford the additional taxes that must be paid on account of annexation,” the new article noted. “City officials have already said the suburb can not expect any improvements in the way of street lights, water, gas, for many years, because many of the old taxpayers of the city are still without these conveniences, and should, in all justice, be cared for before any new territory.”

One caveat: All of Norwood appeared to be annexed by the Indianapolis City Council in 1912, but a map detailing annexations to the city of Indianapolis actually split Norwood into two sections that were — according to this map — separately annexed into the city. While that map from 1952 confirms the first section of Norwood was annexed into Indianapolis in 1912, the map indicated that the section of Norwood near the intersection of Prospect Street and Sherman Drive did not get annexed into Indianapolis until (maybe) 1921. (The handwritten date on this section in that 1952 map is not clear.) All other maps of Indianapolis show annexation of all of Norwood at the same time in 1912.

Do you have questions about communities in Indianapolis? A street name? A landmark? Your questions may be used in a future news column. © 2022 Richard McDonough. Contact Richard McDonough at whatsinanameindy@usa.com.

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