Such a dear little street it is, nestled away
From the noise of the city and heat of the day,
In cool shady coverts of whispering trees…
Poem by James Whitcomb Riley
Lockerbie Square, named for its main street, is a quiet residential area that abuts the eastern edge of the “Mile Square,” Indianapolis’ downtown business core. With its beginnings in the 1860’s, it is rich in history and charm, with tree-lined streets, a mixture of charming homes from small cottages to Victorian mansions, and even a cobblestone street. Residents can walk to shopping, entertainment and almost any event in the downtown area.
- Approximately one block further in each direction from the square formed by the following arterial one-way streets:
- East Street on the west -- (1 block west to Cleveland Street)
- New York Street on the south -- (1 block south to Miami Street)
- College Avenue on the east -- (Goes all the way to the interstate)
- Michigan Street on the north -- (1 block north zigzagging between North St. & the alley)
Lockerbie Square is the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in Indianapolis and the first designated historic district under the auspices of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.
After Alexander Ralston laid out the plan for the city of Indianapolis with a mile square formed by North, South, East & West streets with Monument Circle in the center, the city fathers sold excess land to developers for the creation of residential neighborhoods. The McQuat family purchased land adjacent to the northeast portion of the mile square, sharing East Street as the border and platted the first residential neighborhood with Lockerbie Street in the center. Being Scottish, the McQuats named Lockerbie Street for Lockerbie Scotland, home of their ancestors.
During the 1860s, Lockerbie Square prospered from the Civil War driven economy. During the rest of the 19th century numerous skilled German immigrant artisans and tradesmen used their savings to build small homes on narrow lots close to the commercial center of Indianapolis. Several prosperous families built larger homes in the neighborhood, while religious groups added substantial charitable institutions. (The large structures of Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged and the original St. Vincent Hospital are no longer here but their locations are marked with historic signage.) The neighborhood saw its historic heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The neighborhood prospered into the early part of the twentieth century when the appearance of factories signaled the beginning of a downturn for the neighborhood. With the increase of commerce in the vicinity and economic changes following World War I, those who could afford to moved farther north, and the area fell into decline. Many of the homes were sold or abandoned, or became home to renters or boarders, few of whom had much interest in maintaining the neighborhood. Around WWII it was reputed to have become a “red light” district.
In 1958, what little of its original charm remained combined with the preserved residence of James Whitcomb Riley at its center, attracted the efforts of the Metropolitan Planning Department of Marion County--the first of a number of civic boards to seek to restore and preserve this unique, and now very needy, neighborhood. Had the “urban renewal” money been found, "Lockerbie Fair," as this first restoration concept was to be called, would have become a Victorian replica "Midwestern Main Street," inspired by Disneyland!
Fortunately, steps were made to stimulate more appropriate restoration and revitalization of Lockerbie Square. In 1973, the neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC) located in a house on Park Avenue was restored by Indiana Landmarks. Inspired by the 1976 Bicentennial, and joined by the Junior League, the Indianapolis Garden Club, and the Department of Transportation, these groups worked together to bring noticeable improvements to the neighborhood—including replacing Lockerbie Street with cobblestones to match the historic ones located along its gutters and adding Victorian street lamps, brick sidewalks, and tree replacements. These latter improvements have been continued throughout the neighborhood by the Lockerbie Square People’s Club.
In the early 1970’s “urban pioneers” began moving back into the neighborhood, revitalizing dilapidated structures and building contextual new in-fill. With the flurry of urban renewal projects in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana Landmarks (previously Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana) was able to rescue several endangered houses of the same historic period and move them to Lockerbie Square, providing a unique in-fill solution. Additionally, they initiated the stabilization of other homes for new owners. Revitalization of Lockerbie included the conversion of factory buildings that popped up in the early 1900’s to contemporary loft living.
Since Lockerbie Square became a historic district, most of the residences have been renovated, industrial buildings converted to residential use and many new homes and townhouses have been built, which now combines its convenience, rich heritage, and restored historical charm with new urban comforts and vitality. The challenges today in Lockerbie Square are no longer the halting of demolition and decay, but shaping and managing the new changes and growth, as the area builds upon its character as a historical urban neighborhood. Neighbors welcome visitors and hope that they enjoy a nice stroll through Lockerbie Square either as a destination or on the way to the many eating or entertainment venues in the area.
Lockerbie Square was not only the first neighborhood to be designated a historic district under the auspices of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC), but was the impetus for the creation of IHPC. According to the history from the IHPC Lockerbie Square Preservation Plan, “the Commission was charged by statute to prepare a master plan to create a Lockerbie Square historic district, to acquire real estate to further the goals set by the master plan, and to exercise the power of eminent domain on behalf of public buildings to be erected within the “Square.” The 1967 law provided no public funds to support either IHPC or the Lockerbie Square project; financing was to be raised from private sources.” The Lockerbie Square Historic Preservation Plan 1 was adopted by the Metropolitan Development Commission in 1968, but insufficient interest or funds were raised to fully implement this Disneyland-like plan. Revitalization came slowly through Urban Pioneers investing “sweat equity” and so a new Lockerbie Square Preservation Plan was written in 1978. It was successfully implement, revised in 1987, continues to guide new development in Lockerbie Square today and set the standard for historic plans for future districts forming under IHPC.
Entryways and Parking
Lockerbie Square can be accessed on East Street at Lockerbie, Miami or Vermont Streets, New York Street at Park Avenue, College Avenue at either Lockerbie Street or Vermont Street and Michigan Street at Davidson, Spring, or Park Streets.
Due to the close proximity to the “Mile Square,” parking is frequently filled by downtown workers during the day and those persons attending events during the evening and is therefore, restricted in Lockerbie Square. Parking on part of East Street, the north side of New York Street and the portions of Vermont, Park & Lockerbie within the primary square is residential only and requires a sticker or guest pass. Restricted areas are identified by “Resident Parking Only” signs. Public parking on College, Michigan, the south side of New York, East Street north of Lockerbie, and all streets east of College and North of Michigan is permitted.
The James Whitcomb Riley Museum, located at 528 East Lockerbie Street in the center of the neighborhood, was built by John Nickum in 1872. It was later owned by Major and Mrs. Charles Holstein who welcomed Riley as a paying guest during his last 23 years. The contents of the home are all preserved as if this beloved Hoosier poet simply went out of a walk and was due back any minute. It is not only on the National Register of Historic Places but is a National Landmark as well.
The first residence to be built in Lockerbie Square is located at 527 East Lockerbie Street. In 1855, McQuats built the large home on the hill in the middle of the square, located today directly across the street from the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home. Originally it was of the Greek Revival style popular in anti-bellum American and faced East Street with a long rolling lawn. Later it was Victorianized with a new porch and oversized gable and oriented to Lockerbie Street.
The Reading-Kindell Cottage is located at 517 East Lockerbie Street. Alexander Reading was the builder of this small, one-story frame cottage in 1856. Miss Katie Kindell was the housekeeper for James Whitcomb Riley and lived there during the early part of the twentieth century. The clapboard house with two front doors and a gable porch with brackets received a very large addition to the rear and a carriage house during the early 2000’s. Katie Kindell inherited all the housegoods in the Holstein home, but was paid for them in order to keep them in the home for a museum in honor of the poet.
The Athenaeum (Das Duetsche Haus) is located immediately adjacent to the north east boundary of Lockerbie Square at 407 East Michigan Street. Once used as a German American turnverein and clubhouse, it currently houses the famed German Restaurant: the Rathskeller and Keller bar and an outside beer garden and band shelter. It also houses a branch of the YMCA with a wide array of exercise equipment and classes and houses various other organizations and activities.
St. Mary Catholic Church is located immediately adjacent to the eastern boundary of Lockerbie Square at 317 N. New Jersey Street. Built in 1910 to 1912 by German immigrants, it is Gothic Revival style and modeled after the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
The Lockerbie Glove Condo building at 430 North Park Street was the home to the manufacturing facility of the Indianapolis Glove Company from when it was built in 1910 until it became the first industrial structure in Indianapolis to be converted to residential use in 1984. Loft condo apartments have large banks of big windows, high ceilings with wood beams, brick walls and a shared roof deck with a spectacular view of downtown.
Vermont Street between East Street and Park Avenue has historic markers on the north side indicating the location of the impressive nineteenth century structures of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Home for the Aged and St. Vincent Hospital. The Little Sister’s brick wall punctuated for the twentieth century town houses is all that remains of these historic gems. 527, 523, & 519 on the south side all represent excellent examples of stick style architecture popular during the latter part of the 1800s.
A brochure for a self-guided walking tour of the historic homes of Lockerbie Square is available free-of-charge at the James Whitcomb Riley Home Museum.
The website of the Lockerbie Square People's Club is: lockerbiesquare.org.