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What is the Martindale Brightwood Community?


Martindale-Brightwood is a neighborhood situated on the near northeast side of Indianapolis bounded by 30th Street, Massachusetts Avenue, 21st Street, Sherman Drive, and the Northfolk Southern Railroad tracks. This area encompasses two previously independent settlements. Brightwood, the eastern section of the neighborhood, was first platted in 1872 and amended in 1874. Railroad workers on the “Bee Line” were the first to settle the Brightwood suburb which soon became the railroad center of Indianapolis. The town of Brightwood was incorporated in 1876 and remained autonomous until 1897 when it was annexed by Indianapolis. The Martindale area was settled in 1874, also by railroad workers who found employment in machine shops and manufacturing. Industrial growth in Martindale was supported by the nearby railroad lines and the area quickly became a working class suburb.

The blue collar population of Martindale-Brightwood before the turn of the century included a mix of African Americans and a growing proportion of foreign born or first generation European Americans. African Americans began to settle in residential areas around Beeler Street (later Martindale Avenue and still later Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue), the industrial center of Martindale at that time, and began building their own churches along the avenue. In contrast Brightwood continued to attract white residents who were skilled and unskilled workers; the 1880 census reports that about forty percent of the adult men were foreign-born or first-generation, predominantly of German, Irish, and British ancestry.

Station Street, located in the southeastern section of Brightwood became the town center. Station Street was developed as the business district and continued to be the commercial center of the neighborhood until the 1960s.

Martindale, in the west, continued to develop as an industrial and residential area centered around Martindale Avenue. The street was lined by a mixture of private homes, churches, and industry. Among the businesses operating in the Martindale area were the Indianapolis Gas Works, Wm. Eggles Field Lumberyard, Hoosier Sweat Collier Factory, the National Motor Vehicle Company, and the Monon Railroad yards. African American churches continued to be built in the area, and Martindale Avenue became the home to many African Americans. The African American population of Martindale was also provided with a school and Douglas Park was dedicated in 1921. Within a few years, by 1927, the park also operated a swimming pool.

The 1960s also brought about plans for the construction of the I-65 and I-70 interstate which cut through portions of the Martindale-Brightwood area. The interstate which was begun in the sixties and finished in the seventies further displaced residents of the neighborhood. Although the infrastructure and economic development of Indianapolis would benefit as a result of this construction, the interstate represents an intrusion in the life of the neighborhood. Martindale-Brightwood was now divided by an east-west interstate and had lost a portion of its population. Residents moved, local businesses followed, and the old economic center of Brightwood, Station Street, began to be vacated. By the mid 1970s the street had lost a doctor’s office, accounting and bookkeeping services, a cafe, insurance company, Salvation Army store, pool hall, a pet store, and Cohen Bros. Department Store which had first opened its doors in 1897.

By the mid 1980s the last remaining bank, a branch of Merchants, had announced plans to leave the community. The result of changes in economics and population changes in the 1960s were so drastic that by 1967 enough of Martindale’s near 6,000 families met the federal definition of “poor” to have Martindale declared a poverty target area. Through the seventies and eighties crime continued to increase and in the early nineties Martindale-Brightwood had been targeted by law enforcement for programs to combat gang and drug activity.

More changes followed. In 1971 Judge S. Hugh Dillin found the Indianapolis Public Schools guilty of segregation and ordered the desegregation of all single-race schools. This resulted in the institution of busing throughout Indianapolis and the decline of the neighborhood schools that had once been key to the identity of Martindale-Brightwood. Education in this neighborhood has a long history. In 1875 Brightwood began operating its own high school, known as school No. 12 of Center Township and was located at 27th and Sherman Drive. The school was short-lived, however, and had closed by the time that Brightwood was annexed to the city in the 1890s. Around the turn of the century the Washington School was operating in Brightwood and included manual training and special education.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Indianapolis Public Schools and the parochial schools of St. Rita’s Catholic Church and St. Francis de Sales had been both educationally and socially important to the neighborhood. St. Francis de Sales school was the parish school serving Brightwood. The school was built in 1903 and remained open until 1970 at which time, as a result of declining church membership, it was forced to close. The school reopened in 1977, but was shut down permanently when the parish was closed in 1983. The property became the main campus for Martin University in 1987.

St. Rita’s was established in 1919 as the African American parish in Indianapolis and continued to flourish throughout the next few decades. Under the leadership of Father Bernard Strange, who came to the parish in 1935, the church and school became a vital part of the community. Father Strange proved himself to be a progressive leader of the church who began fighting for the desegregation of Catholic schools in the 1930s. He also directed much of his mission at St. Rita’s towards the congregation’s youth and school. St. Rita’s became known for a number of social activities open to the Martindale community and African Americans throughout the city. Father Strange developed sports leagues which included boxing tournaments and basketball. The school’s gymnasium was used throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies to house weekly dances which, at their prime, attracted between 500 and 800 youths each week. Throughout this period the church and school continued to be actively involved in community programming.

Indianapolis Public Schools also have added to the Martindale-Brightwood identity. However, as a result of declining enrollments and busing, only schools 26, 37, and 56 remain open today. Brightwood has been served by IPS 37, 38, and 51. Prior to the federally mandated busing began in the seventies these schools remained very active within the communities from which their students came. Named in honor of its principle of thirty-three years, Hazle Hart Hendricks School 37 was Brightwood’s African American school. The school offered its students a variety of social activities including a jug band which played at downtown hotels, churches and hospitals during the thirties. In 1935 the PTA of school 37 was the first African American school to become a part of the State and National Congress of Parents and Teachers.

Brightwood’s third elementary school was the James Russell Lowell School 51, which was known as the “mother school” of the other public schools in Brightwood. The school was situated in the southeastern part of Brightwood, at 2301 North Olney. The area surrounding School 51 was the most industrial section of Brightwood. The school has also been closed and its last use was as the home of the Church of the Living God, Pillar & Ground of Truth.

Martindale’s Francis W. Parker School 56 was known as “The Colored School.” The school served Martindale’s African American population and offered its students not only an education but social activities as well. Boys could join the “Cardinal Pioneer Club” which participated in field trips and community service and girls could join “The Girl Reserve Club” which was organized to “instill things of cultural value in the girls.” In the forties the school also offered medical examinations and immunizations.

In 1935 the Brightwood Community Center was founded. It headquarters were centrally located between Martindale and Brightwood at 2305 North Rural Street. The community center acted as a social and educational headquarters for many African Americans in the neighborhood. In 1940 Edna Martin became the director of the East Side Community Center which later opened as the East Side Baptist Center in 1945, at 1519 Martindale Avenue. The center has since relocated and was renamed in honor of Edna Martin after her death in 1974.

In the 1950s and 1960s a number of other churches also began community service projects. New Bethel Baptist Church began operating a community center which provided food, clothing, help for the unemployed, child care, and health services to the Martindale area. In 1962 the church began participating in “Operation Prove It,” an inner city interdenominational ministry program which involved seventeen North Side churches which shared the goals of improving inner city housing conditions, deterring juvenile delinquency, interracial tensions, and job insecurity. In 1957 Brightwood Methodist began offering Sunday school classes for learning impaired children. Hillside Christian Church relocated its congregation to the suburbs in 1961, but the building was purchased by the Association of the Christian Churches in Indiana for development of an “inner city” ministry.

Community centers have continued their involvement in Martindale-Brightwood to the present. In the eighties the NAACP, Brightwood Community Center, and several block clubs once again organized against unemployment, loss of business, crime, lack of housing rehabilitation funds, social services, red-lining, new houses, and commercial development.

As illustrated in the development of community centers, religion has always played an important role in the neighborhood life of Martindale-Brightwood. When African Americans first began to move into Martindale in the late nineteenth century they brought with them a number of churches that still line Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue today. In spite of the survival of several congregations along this stretch of Martindale religious institutions have not always prospered nor remained in the neighborhood. The economy, racial changes, and urban development have all had an effect upon the religious nature of the community, especially since the fifties. As church members began to move out of the neighborhoods many churches relocated, leaving behind buildings which were either abandoned or adopted for use by a new congregation moving into the neighborhood. One result of over thirty years of transition can be seen in the concentration of churches presently located in Martindale-Brightwood. At present the neighborhood is home to over eighty churches which represent various Christian denominations. Several of them, such as St. Rita’s, St. John’s Baptist, St. Paul’s AME, New Bethel Baptist, Scott United Methodist Church, and Martindale Christian Church, have been active in the neighborhood for many decades. A great number more illustrate the transition of the neighborhood in the late twentieth century. Many were founded between the fifties and seventies. Store front churches have become a common sight throughout the neighborhood and now dominate the once thriving business district surrounding Station Street. Congregations such as Hillside Christian Church, Brightwood Methodist, and Brightwood Church of Christ, have relocated to the growing suburbs. And others such as St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church dissolved in the eighties following many years of declining membership. The period of social and economic transition which had changed the demographics of Martindale-Brightwood had also had an impact upon the religious life of the neighborhood.

Martindale-Brightwood continues to be a neighborhood in transition. New housing developments have begun in recent years and community groups continue to work for an end to the other problems which have plagued their neighborhood. Yet much remains to be done to improve the neighborhood condition and to rebuild a community which has witnessed so much change in the past forty-years. The neighborhood will have to look for some of these answers in its past which offers a picture of people, organizations, churches, schools, and businesses working together to promote the well being of their neighborhood.

Information via The Polis Center