Author Archives: Paul Mullins
On February 16, 1862 the Union Army captured more than 7000 Confederates at Fort Donelson, Tennessee. Many of the Confederates were serving in the First Kentucky Brigade, the largest Confederate unit recruited from Kentucky, and about 3700 of the captured rebels were escorted to Indianapolis to be held in the newly opened Camp Morton prisoner of war camp. There were numerous Hoosiers who had Southern sympathies or had even sided with the rebellion, and some of the captured Confederates actually knew Indianapolis quite well. Greenup B. Orr, for instance, was born in Kentucky in about 1826 and served in the Fifth Indiana Volunteers during the Mexican-American War. Orr enlisted in Madison, Indiana in October 1847, served in Company F in Mexico, and mustered out in July 1848. He returned to Gallatin, Kentucky, where he was living in 1850 and married a year later in March 1851. By 1855 Orr had moved to Indianapolis and was working as a brick mason at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Tennessee Street (now Capitol).
Greenup Orr was still living in Indianapolis on the eve of the war in 1860, but as Orr’s neighbors began to enlist for the Union cause, Orr traveled to Camp Boone Tennessee, where the 35-year-old joined the Confederacy’s 2nd Regiment Kentucky Infantry on July 13, 1861. The 2nd Kentucky Infantry was organized in July 1861 at Camp Boone, so Orr was among its earliest volunteers. Orr was joined by Indianapolis resident Alfred (Alf) McFall, who volunteered the same day as Orr. McFall was born in about 1838 in Ohio, and in 1850 the 12-year old was living in Indianapolis with his mother Ann, older sister Margaret (age 14), and brothers George (10), William (8), and Oscar (5). It is not clear where the McFalls were living in 1850, but Ann was listed in the 1857 Indianapolis City Directory living on Market Street between East and Liberty Streets.
On February 16, 1862 Orr and McFall were among about 618 men from the 2nd Kentucky Infantry regiment who were captured at Fort Donelson, Tennessee. On February 24, 1862, the Indiana State Sentinel prepared for the arrival of Confederate prisoners to be held in Indianapolis’ Camp Morton. The newspaper acknowledged that “There are many Northern men, some from Indiana, several from Indianapolis, we are informed, with these prisoners,” including “Green B. Orr and McFall, formerly of this city.”
While Alf McFall would join the rebellion in July 1861, his brothers George and William McFall had traveled to Louisville almost a month earlier, and on June 16, 1861 they enlisted for the Union cause. Alf’s younger brothers joined the Union’s 2nd Regiment Kentucky Infantry, Company E. George was assigned to deliver supplies; he was in a convalescent camp in Nashville, Tennessee in December 1862, but he returned to serve on an ambulance train beginning around April 1863 and eventually mustered out in June 1864. His brother William likewise was a wagon driver delivering supplies, and William was wounded in September 1863 at Chickamauga. William would return to duty and muster out on the same day as his brother George in Covington, Kentucky.
Greenup Orr was imprisoned in Indianapolis until June 23, 1862, when he was among a group of prisoners transferred to Camp Chase, Ohio. Two months later Orr was part of a prisoner exchange, and he returned to the Confederates in Vicksburg, Mississippi on August 25, 1862. An 1868 history of the First Kentucky Brigade (which included the 2nd Regiment) confirmed that Orr subsequently saw action in Chickamauga in September 1863 (and probably the Battle of Stones River in December 1862-January 1863). He was among the Confederates in the defense of Atlanta before surrendering in Georgia in April, 1865. Orr returned to Gallatin County, Kentucky after the war, where he re-married in 1868 and was farming in 1870, but he died sometime in the following decade and appears to have never returned to Indianapolis as a resident.
In March 1862 Camp Morton had only been open just over a week when Indianapolis’ Journal reported that a reader requested the paper “publish the names of all the prisoners at Camp Morton because many citizens have relations there.” It is not clear how many imprisoned rebels actually had family in Indianapolis, but the Circle City certainly counted many Confederate sympathizers amongst its ranks, and some residents would have known Alf McFall and Greenup Orr. While George and William McFall were fighting for the Union, their brother Alf was one of 50 soldiers in the 2nd Kentucky Company E to arrive at Camp Morton as a prisoner in February 1862. Two days after opening on February 24 the Daily Sentinel reported that “there are from two to three hundred sick at Camp Morton, and of these at least forty or fifty are dangerous, unless they are removed to better quarters, and better cared for. Some two or three have already died. The diseases are varied, principally camp fever and diarrhea.” On March 1 the Richmond Palladium reported that “the deaths among rebel prisoners at Camp Morton average six per day.” By March 24 it was reported that 108 prisoners had died at Camp Morton. Alf McFall was one of five prisoners who died on March 29, 1862, with his cause of death reported as “congestion of the lungs.” McFall was buried at Greenlawn Cemetery with other prisoners of war, and he was eventually moved with them to a space on the south side of Greenlawn before being re-buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in December 1931, where he rests today.
Camp Morton 1862 image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
In July 1905, Martha Spinks was buried at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, laid to rest among hundreds of patients to die at the hospital since it opened in 1848. Like many of the men and women treated in the hospital, Spinks’ story has been forgotten as she quietly rested on the grounds of what became known as Central State Hospital and eventually closed in 1994. Spinks was among the last patients to be buried on the grounds of the hospital, which indicated in 1908 that 4,704 patients had died since the hospital opened in 1848. If patients’ bodies were not claimed by their families they were buried in the northwest corner of the hospital grounds, and some were used for medical training. In 1889 the Hospital’s yearly report announced that the administration planned to place posts with the name of each deceased patient at the head of their grave, but this plan does not appear to have been systematically followed. In the early 20th century patients began to be buried at the neighboring Mt. Jackson Cemetery, with the last burial on the hospital grounds around 1905 but perhaps as late as August 1909. Read the rest of this entry
Contemporary planners, developers, and proponents of 21st-century city life routinely celebrate cities’ historicity. Urban boosters extol the appeals of historical architecture, and where that historic built environment has been destroyed those urban champions applaud new designs inspired by local architectural heritage. Few neighborhoods would seem to lay a stronger claim on such history than Indianapolis’ Indiana Avenue. Home to residences as early as the 1820s, the Avenue became a predominately African-American business and leisure district at the outset of the 20th century only to witness postwar urban renewal projects that razed nearly all of the stores, clubs, and homes along the Avenue.
Last week a Development Project Manager for Buckingham Companies enthused about the developer’s proposal to build a 345-unit five-story apartment complex in the 700 block of Indiana Avenue, calling the site a “blank slate.” The parking lot and an undistinguished 1989 office building on the site indeed reflect none of the Avenue’s rich heritage. The asphalt parking lots and a functional but forgettable office building are yet more evidence of the city’s historical uneasiness with appearing to deter development after they had been vocal advocates for extensive urban displacement projects, Indiana University’s establishment and growth, and highway construction that collectively depopulated the predominately African-American near-Westside. American urban planners launched numerous similar projects after World War II that targeted African-American communities under the guide of slum clearance or community renewal, uprooting residents and then razing much of the Black urban landscape. These postwar planners hoped to build new cities, launching a host of ideologues’ fantasies for a reimagined city that would serve segregated White suburbanites who would work, play, and shop in the urban core. Read the rest of this entry
In January 1968 a group of African-American entrepreneurs and community activists gathered in the Walker Theater with the Director of the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission to determine the future of Indiana Avenue. Alarmed by the decline of the businesses along the historically African-American Avenue and frustrated by their inability to defy urban renewal projects, the group hoped to encourage investment in Avenue enterprises. Advocating strategies that have since become common in placemaking discourses, entrepreneurs had ambitious plans championing “a renewed civic and business vitality in the area of Indiana Avenue.” Their proposals included promoting cultural tourism focusing on the Avenue’s jazz history, proposing to create “a `Bourbon Street’ type entertainment and shop section … in the fashion of New Orleans’ famed `Bourbon Street’ long a mecca of Dixieland jazz.”
Yet business people were justifiably reluctant to invest their own capital because of the unpredictable effects of “slum clearance” displacements, highway construction, and the growth of the joint Indiana University and Purdue University campus that became IUPUI. The Indianapolis Recorder soberly reported on the absence of funding for such development, noting that “insurance and loans are virtually impossible for business-men on Indiana Avenue to secure since this section is considered a `high risk’ area.” The certainty of more renewal projects led one Avenue businessman to complain that “`We’ve seen from past experience that when these people come and take your property they pay as little as possible. I just can’t see how we could recover the money we might spend to fix up the area.’” Read the rest of this entry
On the morning of February 5, 1894 a crowd “of seven hundred or more Boone county farmers struggled and battled fiercely in the courthouse yard” in Lebanon Indiana eager to exact justice against Frank Hall. The 22-year-old African American was being held in the Boone County jail accused of an assault on a White woman on the evening of February 3rd. Hall protested that he had been at a watch raffle with scores of witnesses at the time of the assault, but the Sheriff arrested Hall the next morning and brought him to the jail. A crowd instantly gathered intent on hanging him, and as Hall was taken from the jail to the adjoining Courthouse the crowd got him in the noose three times. Hall and the Sheriff fought them off each time, and when Hall reached the Courthouse he was half-conscious, bloodied by the mob’s assault, and “several chokings had given his skin the purple hue of a grape.” Hall hastily agreed with the Prosecutor “to enter a plea of guilty and take the maximum penalty of the law for such offenses, twenty-one years in prison. He was afraid that he would be taken from jail and summarily executed.” Read the rest of this entry
Last week in the midst of protests against racially motivated police violence, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett somewhat surprisingly announced that the city would remove a 1909 Confederate monument in Garfield Park. In a series of tweets Hogsett indicated that “The grave monument was commissioned in 1912 for Greenlawn Cemetery to commemorate Confederate prisoners of war who died while imprisoned at Camp Morton in Indianapolis.” The memorial was actually installed in 1909, but it was indeed erected to memorialize roughly 1616 Confederate prisoners of war who died in Indianapolis, as well as perhaps 20 sympathizers and at least one enslaved man identified only as “Little Toe” who was captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862 with most of these prisoners. Mayor Hogsett’s tweets indicated that “The grave monument was then relocated to Garfield Park in 1928 following efforts by public officials, active in the KKK, who sought to `make the monument more visible to the public.’” The Mayor concluded that “Whatever original purpose this grave marker might once have had, for far too long it has served as nothing more than a painful reminder of our state’s horrific embrace of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.” Read the rest of this entry
In 2004 a typical Indianapolis Star celebration of jazz history fantasized performers and audiences united by music, suggesting that Indiana Avenue “was known for an atmosphere of camaraderie. … What’s most notable is that this was the only place in which blacks and whites could mingle socially prior to integration.” Jazz history is routinely invoked in Indianapolis to suggest that music has long been an expression of White and Black peoples’ common humanity. African-American expressive culture has an undeniably rich heritage in the theaters, clubs, churches, schools, and homes dotting the near-Westside. From the end of the 19th century, ragtime, vaudeville, blues, gospel, minstrelsy, dance, theater, burlesque, and drag were all part of an African-American performance tradition that flourished along Indiana Avenue until urban displacement razed the last clubs in the 1970s. Yet history-makers uneasy with the heritage of racism and segregation routinely gravitate toward romantic accounts of music as a democratic space in the midst of a segregated world.
Jazz is now celebrated as Hoosiers’ cultural patrimony, but jazz and life on the Avenue inspired decades of anxiety among city officials. Rather than nurture an “atmosphere of camaraderie,” ideologues were eager to patrol inter-racial leisure and morality along the Avenue and leery of music’s potential to subvert segregation. For instance, during a December 1921 raid on the Golden West Cabaret, police arrested White customers who “were found in the place listening to the jazz orchestra that plays the syncopated music, as it is only found on `de Avenoo.’” Prohibition had forced African-American entrepreneur Archie Young to transform his saloon at 532 ½ Indiana Avenue into a soda parlor known as the Golden West Cabaret, and jazz performers often played the club. In 1921 the Indianapolis Star complained that Young’s club was known to be “frequented by both colored and white persons who are seeking night life in Indianapolis.” The Indiana Daily Times reported that “orders were issued to put the lid on the `avenue’” because “of “fear that trouble may be the result of white persons visiting negro cafes and dance halls in the `black belt.’” Archie Young argued “there is no law under which the police can stop white persons from visiting the cabaret.” The Police agreed that “they are aware there is no law to prevent white persons from visiting the cabarets, but they contend they can take names and search those who are found there … until the white persons are eliminated.” Read the rest of this entry
In July 1971 Indianapolis News columnist Mayer Maloney mourned the closing of Riverside Amusement Park. Opened in 1903, the park had been the summer leisure venue for generations of Indianapolis residents, and proms, wedding receptions, and workplace picnics had met at the urban amusement park for nearly 70 years. Maloney lamented that the “excited screams of the kids, the calliope music of the merry-go-round and the china-faced kewpie dolls are gone. Indianapolis has said farewell to an old friend. Riverside Amusement Park is closed and all that remains are memories.” Maloney toured the empty park with John Lewis Coleman, whose family had managed the park for a half-century, and Maloney wrote that the “area that once had laughter echoing from all corners, where many kisses were stolen in the tunnel of love and cotton candy clung to the cheeks of little kids, now stands as the skeleton of a once proud amusement park. As he walked around the 20 acres covered with high grass and weeds Coleman looked up and said, `You know, this reminds me of going to see my best friend at the funeral home.’”
Indianapolis Recorder columnist Andrew Ramsey was more than willing to read the last rites to the amusement park. Ramsey dismissed Maloney’s “very touching human interest story on the closing of Riverside Amusement Park. As is so usual among white observers, he failed to mention the role which black Indianapolians played or were denied playing in the almost seventy year history of the famed institution.” Ramsey recounted his own childhood experience in the segregated park in the 1920s, when the Coleman family managed the park and “signs everywhere about the park read `White patronage only solicited.’” While Maloney was mourning, Ramsey celebrated that “the closing of Riverside Amusement Park will bring no tears from local Negroes who grew up in the Hoosier Capitol during the four decades when it was one of the bastions of white supremacy. The passing of such racist landmarks and the holding of many important funerals are necessary landmarks on the road to interracial democracy in Indianapolis and else where in this state and nation.” Read the rest of this entry
This weekend Netflix debuts its series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, and while the series inevitably takes some liberties with Walker’s historical story it is not at all surprising that generations of people have been fascinated with Walker’s story. Born in the wake of Emancipation in staggering poverty, Walker’s history certainly can be told as an American Dream rags-to-riches story lived by a Black woman who is often referred to as America’s “first Black woman millionaire” (the company echoed that narrative after her death, and that is one thread of the Netflix trailer for Self Made). However, that somewhat one-dimensional focus on wealth risks ignoring Walker’s history of generosity and activism on behalf of and with many African-American women. Read the rest of this entry
In November 1898 the Indianapolis News reported on the construction of the new Riverside Park, which included bicycle paths, landscaping, suspension bridges, and plans for a new dam that would create a “lake” as the White River backed up north of the dam in the midst of the Park. The dam just south of the present-day 16th Street Bridge was expressly designed “to make White river through the park, like a lake.” Park planners announced they would construct “an eight foot dam located about 1500 feet southeast of the Crawfordsville road bridge near the river. The dam will be made of concrete and will furnish a backwater sufficient to give the river an average depth of five feet for two miles and a half.”
The Riverside Dam (now usually referred to as the Emrichsville Dam) was designed for the aesthetic appeal of a still “lake” north of the dam in the heart of Riverside Park. The water feature created by the dam has been the visual heart of the Park and a recreational space for boating, swimming, fishing, and skating for 120 years. In 2018, though, a hole developed in the dam, one of many times the dam has given way in the face of flooding or normal erosion. In the wake of the most recent collapse, a host of planners and community stakeholders have debated whether to restore the dam, transform its design, or simply build a new dam in some other location. While this deliberation has been going on the water that pooled in the midst of Riverside Park has drained through the fractured dam. Left to its own designs and the vagaries of environmental conditions, the river has become a narrow feature exposing scattered places along its banks, and at the moment the river looks quite different than the formerly placid pond in Riverside Park. Read the rest of this entry