Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. –
John Irving … er, I mean…. Washington Irving.
Irvington is a neighborhood known for its Gothic literary namesake, haunted house tours, and winding Romantic streets. So naturally I paid the area a visit right at the crack of Spring. I mean I could always liken the resurgence of the city’s flora to the reanimation of Frankenstein’s monster, right? Or maybe use the Rip Van Winkle myth as a metaphor for the sleepy neighborhood’s awakening from a long winter slumber? Anyways, Halloween in March had arrived, and I chose to celebrate it in true Indianapolis fashion.
I was staying at my parents, as they were out of town for the week. This meant a nice, long respite from the motorcycles, ambulances, and other producers of gratuitously loud noises along College ave. Add this to a week of quality sleep, free reign over the TV, and access to my parent’s wine collection and I had a pretty good vacation set up for myself. All this in exchange for making sure no one broke into the house and that this mangy mutt didn’t die:
So let me introduce you to my good friend Finn*. She’s a full-blooded miniature pinscher born in the streets of Indy. She fights lawn mowers, barks at lightning, and takes shit from no one. And she was also my walking companion for the week.
Irvington is a relatively large neighborhood located on the city’s eastside. Centered along Washington street, the neighborhood is steeped in a wealth of culture and history, contributing to Central Indiana a legacy of art, education, and politics. Which has in addition to making it a desirable place to live or visit in the city, but also landed it as a federally recognized historical district. What that means, I have no idea. Although I think it mostly means there’s an added layer of bureaucracy for whenever a homeowner wants to build a deck or something. Since the neighborhood is pretty big, and Finn has never been much one for long walks, I decided to break my writing about Irvington into a couple of sections. This first section will be concentrated on the area south of Washington street.
In 1870, the town of Irvington was founded by Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian. For all of you Boilermakers out there, Johnson would go on to become a trustee at Purdue. Built five miles east of downtown Indianapolis, the town was originally designated as an enclave for local politicians, artists, and academics. The neighborhood soon developed as an early suburb for the city, the original location for Butler University, and attracted notable residents such as the United States Senator and abolitionist George Washington Julian, whose brick Italianate home can be seen on south Audubon street. Other well known former residents include the Hoosier Group painter William Forsythe and Great Depression cartoonist Kin Hubbard.
Neat old house on south Audubon ave.
When walking along the winding streets of South Irvington one is reminded of the high minded Romanticism that attracted many of the neighborhood’s early inhabitants. The streets are populated with beautiful Victorian, Queen Anne, Second Empire and Italianate homes. Most of which are still in remarkable shape. The rustic grandeur of these homes is perfectly complemented by the massive oak trees that grow alongside them, many of which age into the centuries. The Kyle Oak for example, which is located on Beechwood Ave, is thought to be between 300 and 400 years old.
Photo courtesy of www.irvingtonhistorical.org
The southside of Irvington is not only old houses and trees. The area also celebrates a wealth of retail options, including an antique store, a wiccan shop, and what was advertised as a seller of rare books, although I’m not entirely sure if this last one is still open. There is also a children’s clothing store, which I have never been to because I don’t have kids. But if that’s not eclectic, then I don’t know what that word means. And this isn’t to mention the Coal Yard Coffee Shop, which opened not long ago as one of the first new developments along Bonna Ave. On all of my visits my coffee was served by a very friendly staff. The shop also had on display and for sale several works of art by local artists. It’s pet friendly too.
It may have been the strong coffee I was drinking, or perhaps it was the DTs, but as I stood outside the coffee shop I suddenly became transfixed in a quaint reverie, envisioning the old tracks that once ran along Bonna Ave being rattled alive once more by the trains that carried Lincoln on his way to his inauguration in Washington and later his funeral procession back home to Illinois. This latter event’s upcoming 150 year anniversary gave these ruminations a particularly haunting quality. But before I could further indulge these thoughts, Finn went potty on the sidewalk and I was jolted back to Earth.
* Names have been changed for anonymity
Written by: Kevin Schmoll