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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

What’s In A Name, Indy? Ransom Place

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800 block of North California Street in Ransom Place

“Ransom Place Historic District is the most intact 19th century neighborhood associated with African Americans in Indianapolis,” according to the National Park Service. “The district was home to many Black business leaders over its long history.” 

As noted in the historical marker welcoming people to this neighborhood, Ransom Place includes subdivisions platted between 1865 and 1871. These subdivisions included the Meikel and Wiley additions to the City of Indianapolis. The National Park Service described the Ransom Place Historic District, created in 1992, as being roughly bounded by 10th Street, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, the alley between and parallel to Camp Street and Paca Street and St. Clair Street. Others place the boundary for the neighborhood one full block west of Camp Street — at Paca Street. Ransom Place is located to the north of Indiana Avenue. 

Black people, among others, lived in this section of Marion County as early as the 1830s, noted the National Park Service. “The neighborhood changed from a racially integrated one to one that was solidly Black by 1930, a core of the historic Black west side of Indianapolis,” according to the Historic American Buildings Survey produced by the Great Lakes Support Office of the National Park Service. “[Ransom Place]…is located in Ward 5 which was 16% Black in 1910 and 16.9% in 1920. [The neighborhood]…was 97% Black in 1930, reflecting the demographic change brought about by the great migration of Blacks from the rural South to the cities of the North. By 1940 the tract’s population was 99.2% Black.” 

This neighborhood got its current name in 1991. “Ransom Place” was named in recognition of Freeman Ransom, a prominent attorney in Indianapolis and a previous resident of California Street in the neighborhood in the early 20th century. Notably, he worked as the general manager and corporate counsel for the Madam C. J. Walker Company. 

California Street is one of a number of roadways in Indianapolis named after the states of our nation. As with most states west of the Mississippi River, California Street was placed west of the Meridian Street. 

Ninth and 10th streets got their names as being the ninth and 10th roadways, respectively, north of Washington Street. Both of these roadways, though, had previous names according to the Sanborn Map of Indianapolis in 1898. 

“Pratt Street” was the name formerly used for this section of Ninth Street. This name was in use as the name for a roadway in Indianapolis since the city’s founding, according to The Indianapolis Star in a news article dated Dec. 22, 1931. This news article explained that “the street originally was named after Julius Pratt, prominent Indianapolis citizen in early days of the community.” 

“First Street” was the previous name for today’s 10th Street. Both Ninth and 10th streets got their current names in 1931. 

The origin of the names for St. Clair Street, Camp Street and Paca Street are uncertain. News articles indicated that “St. Clair Street” was in use in Indianapolis as early as 1862, while “Camp Street” was in use in the city as early as 1871. The name of “Paca Street” was in use as early as 1873. An advertisement in The Indianapolis News on Nov. 18, 1873, indicated that a house with four rooms was for rent on Paca Street. The rental included a “cellar, woodshed, and large stable,” noted the advertisement. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street was named after the religious leader who fought for human rights in the United States. Dr. King was the recipient of Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1964. During his years of fighting for equal rights for Black people, he survived a number of attacks on his life. In 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Tennessee. A national holiday in his name is celebrated annually on the third Monday of each January. 

Prior to 1985, this roadway was known as “West Street.” That name came from the fact that this was a major street west of Monument Circle. In downtown Indianapolis, the roadway that became “West Street” was included as the western border of the original town site for the Mile Square. 

The alley located between and parallel to California and Camp Streets formerly used “Utica Street” as its name. The origin of the name for that street is uncertain. The alley had this name as early as 1898, according to a Sanborn Map of Indianapolis. 

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@usa.com

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