Nearly fifty years ago Indianapolis and Marion County government changed with “Unigov,” as the unified government for the Consolidated City of Indianapolis was called. The city limits became coterminous with the county lines and the mayor of Indianapolis became the county executive. The county assessor, auditor, and treasurer became the ex officio county commissioners, a constitutional office, and the city and county councils merged into one city-county council. Excluded from this merger were the elected county and township offices and the eleven public school systems. While initially excluded, city and county public safety services have since consolidated as the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department under the mayor, and the Indianapolis Fire Department has consolidated with all but three — Decatur, Pike, and Wayne — township departments.
While Unigov excluded the cities of Beech Grove, Lawrence, and Southport, as well as the town of Speedway, eleven towns — Clermont, Crows Nest, Cumberland, Homecroft, Meridian Hills, North Crows Nest, Rocky Ripple, Spring Hills, Warren Park, Williams Creek, and Wynnedale — remained within the consolidated city limits. All but three of these communities developed during the twentieth century.
A “new industrial city” of 6,500 lots was platted in 1906 on 1,100 acres southeast of Indianapolis by the Beech Grove Improvement Co. The planned community was adjacent to the shops and yards being built by the Big Four Railroad — Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (CCC&St.LRy). By the fall of that year, Beech Grove had been incorporated as a town and its first municipal officers elected. Twenty-nine years later, Beech Grove became a fifth-class city and elected Charles Adams as its first mayor.
Earlier in May 1904, William L. Elder filed a plat for University Heights on eighty acres of the Hanna farm. Located south of Indianapolis in Perry Township, the new residential community soon became the home of Indiana Central College. Three years later University Heights became a town of 68 persons. In 1923, having grown to nearly 500 residents, the town petitioned Indianapolis to be annexed.
Automobile pioneers Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison platted 1,000 acres immediately south of their famed oval raceway in 1912 for Speedway City, “the Horseless City.” Dedicated to the manufacture of automobiles and auto parts, this westside “industrial city” celebrated the automobile with streets named Ford, Auburn, Cord, and Cole. Speedway City became the home to Prest-O-Lite Co and Allison Engine Co. Fourteen years after its founding, the residents voted overwhelmingly to incorporate as a town. The area within the original platted boundaries of the town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Speedway Historic District.
The town of Ravenswood, lying along the east bank of White River north of Broad Ripple, was incorporated in 1919 to establish some authority in a community of summer homes and its popular camping and picnicking site. A dance hall owner who was open on Sunday was arrested for “desecrating the Sabbath” by the newly elected town marshal and challenged the validity of Ravenswood’s incorporation. The suit was dismissed by the Marion County circuit court and the town of Ravenswood continued as an autonomous municipality until 1989 when it could no longer “remain financially responsible to [its] residents.”
Five exclusive Washington Township residential communities — Highwoods, Woodstock, Shooters Hill, Spring Hills, and Crows Nest — with populations ranging from 11 to 79 persons became incorporated towns during the 1920s. Woodstock, a forty-eight acre tract which today encompasses the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, was a district of country estates whose seven families wished to become a town probably to prevent annexation by Indianapolis and to control development in the area. The four families living in the Shooters Hill area, east of Woodstock across Michigan Road, probably became a town in 1925 for the same reasons.
The concerns of these small town residents may well have been proven when the 37 property holders in Crows Nest sought to become a town in 1927 and an annexation ordinance was filed with the Indianapolis city council. However, this proposal was quickly withdrawn and Crows Nest became a town. The circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the annexation ordinance became part of an investigation by the Marion County grand jury into political corruption. Also in 1927, a working-class community north of the new site of Butler University, wedged between the Central Canal and White River, known as Rocky Ripple, became a town with little fanfare. Unlike other towns, it had its own volunteer fire department until 1989.
On the county’s east and west sides, two middle class residential communities became incorporated towns in 1928. Between 10th and 16th Streets, east of Arlington Avenue, Warren Park was established as a Warren Township town with a population of 164 persons in the late summer. Later in the fall, the 13-acre Lyndhurst (Lynhurst) area of Wayne Township, between Rockville Rd on the north, Rinehart Av on the south and east of Lynhurst Dr, became an incorporated town with a population of 51 persons. For the next 60 years it maintained its autonomy until it couldn’t pay an overdue bill for firefighting services and dissolved.
Additional areas of Washington Township became incorporated towns during the Great Depression. The affluent Williams Creek community of 10 families, on 215 wooded acres along the west side of North College Av and north of the creek by that name, held its first town election in February 1932 and made history when women were elected to all the town government positions. Four years later the neighborhood of North Crows Nest, along Spring Mill Rd and south of Holiday Park, became a town with a population of 46 persons, and by the end of the decade Wynnedale, west of White River off Cold Springs Rd, with 60 residents also became a town.
Lying between 64th St and Williams Creek and between College Av and Spring Mill Rd, Meridian Hills attained the status of “town” in the summer of 1939. While other neighboring towns were near exclusive country clubs, the residents of Meridian Hills had their own club. The following year, Shore Acres, a 150-acre oxbow north of Broad Ripple bounded by White River, was incorporated in time to have its 12 residents recorded in the 1940 Federal Census.
The last Marion County suburb to become a town was the Perry Township community of Homecroft. Straddling Madison Av, north of Southport Rd, this restricted addition was developed in the late ‘20s by Frank E. Gates & Son. The Homecroft Civic Association pushed to have the area of 200 homes and 600 residents become the twenty-fourth incorporated town in the county. Despite opposition from the city of Indianapolis, Homecroft successfully won approval from the Marion County Plan Commission in December 1949 to incorporate as a town and its first officers were elected in February 1950.
Only a handful of the dozens of cities, towns and villages that once spread across Marion County have maintained their autonomy into the 21st century. However, their names continue in the neighborhoods of the Consolidated City and remain today “a place to call home.”