Friday, November 21, 2014

Rediscovering Ringgold Avenue Playgrounds

Among the  Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning students, practicing professionals, and researchers accessing Drawings + Documents Archive records are people working to thoughtfully reinvigorate neglected spaces with historic roots. The Indianapolis Parks Department Landscape Architectural Records 1898-1988 collection was recently referenced by residents of the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood on the near south side of Indianapolis to discover more about the history of a small city park within neighborhood borders. Members of the active Bates-Hendricks neighborhood association have worked diligently in recent decades to rejuvenate disused structures and spaces, some of which have been physically altered or have demanded reshaping and creative reuse because of urban blight and the disruption of the late 1960s-1970s interstate development. Seeking to connect with and honor the past community and structures, neighborhood association members often consult Sanborn fire insurance maps, city directories, and other invaluable archival resources when undertaking new projects. A new park and playground, recently transformed from a vacant lot with the help of Keep IndianapolisBeautiful, was named Baumann Park for the German immigrant family who originally settled and built several homes on the street.

After hearing from long-term neighborhood residents about the stark contrast between Ringgold Park before and after I-65 was built, neighborhood leadership became interested in learning more about the original park footprint and elements. The current park, a small triangular swath of land abutting I-65, leaves much to be desired. Attracting families and creating safe play space for children is a priority for any residential area, and well-maintained green space is especially important for dense city neighborhoods.
A detailed 1936 ink-on-vellum drawing of the playground on Ringgold Avenue was discovered in the Drawings + Documents collection catalog (now available online). This information about 1936 park features, along with Sanborn maps and City of Indianapolis aerial photography, is being used by Bates-Hendricks leadership to generate interest and spark discussion among residents regarding how the current physical space can be improved, while referencing elements of the past.
As the only archive dedicated to preserving the history of Indiana’s built environment, the Drawings + Documents Archive is more than just a repository for scholars and students.  The archive is uniquely poised to serve as a rich resource for residents and organizations working to revitalize city neighborhoods. By rediscovering the history of land use and footprints of past development, stakeholders wishing to make thoughtful changes to an area or recreate elements of the past are able to do so with a little additional digging.

About Bates-Hendricks:
The Bates-Hendricks neighborhood, on the near south side of Indianapolis, is an old city neighborhood with some great architectural gems and historic public spaces. The very interstates that serve as neighborhood borders, I-70 and I-65, pose challenges, as well as create opportunities, for revitalization.

Bates-Hendricks Neighborhood (in turquoise), Google Maps, 2014

The area is named for the striking Bates-Hendricks house and was platted and developed primarily from the 1890s to the 1920s by German immigrant communities. Residential buildings range from late 19th century working-class homes to 20th century American Four Squares. Most of the historical commercial buildings, including the first Hook's Drugstore, no longer grace the East Street corridor. However, several early 20th century churches, as well as the South Side Turnverein designed by architects Vonnegut & Bohn, punctuate the clapboard siding building-scape with their red brick facades. For more information about the neighborhood, visit


 About the author: Lydia Spotts is a Bates-Hendricks resident and professional archivist in Indianapolis. She enjoys making connections across local history collections and exploring historic neighborhoods.
Images: Ringgold Park drawing, 1936. Indianapolis Parks Department Landscape Architectural Records, Drawings + Documents Archive, Ball State University.