Emerson Heights Historic District

Indianapolis City, Marion County, IN

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The Emerson Heights Historic District [‡] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.


Emerson Heights' name represented both its location bordering Emerson Avenue and its elevation. Promotional materials clearly note that Emerson Heights was 120 feet higher than the "Court House yard." This change in elevation remains noticeable today as one enters Emerson Heights. Especially from the south, the streets travel noticeably uphill from the lower elevation south of Michigan Street into the higher elevations within Emerson Heights Historic District.

South of Michigan Street the District widens into esplanades of three blocks of Dequincy, Riley and Bancroft once one crosses Michigan Street into the district. This widening and the addition of Carlyle Place north of Michigan Street causes some of the streets within the district, north of Michigan, to be slightly out of alignment with the same street south of Michigan (outside the district). This misalignment is noticeable on Bosart and Drexel avenues. Carlyle Place does not exist south of Michigan Street.

Housing in Emerson Heights Historic District dates almost exclusively to the period between 1910 and 1940. The home styles are dominated by forms of bungalows, and there are also a large number of American Foursquares, as well as some Revival styles, such as Colonial and Tudor Revival. There is a mixture of single-family homes and doubles in the district. Some of the doubles were converted from dwellings that were originally constructed as single-family homes, but many of the doubles were constructed as duplexes originally. The majority of dwellings in the district are frame with brick porches, although there are also some brick dwellings. Along 10th and Michigan streets are commercial buildings interspersed with dwellings. Some of these commercial buildings are modern; most of the ones that date to the historic period of 1910 to 1940 have been altered to some degree.


In the introduction to Crabgross Frontier: the Suburbanization of the United States, historian Kenneth Jackson wrote: "Throughout history the treatment and arrangement of shelter have revealed more about a particular people than have any other production of the creative arts." Emerson Heights Historic District is a snapshot in time revealing much about early 20th Century Indianapolis' architecture and development. In terms of the "treatment of shelter," the district is a time capsule of pre-WW II 20th Century domestic architecture with few modern intrusions. It is a revelation of the types of architecture the middle and working class built in this Midwestern city. The district has good examples of nearly every type of residential style popular in the pre-WWII, 20th Century Midwest. Although Emerson Heights has few if any buildings that would be eligible for the National Register individually, the district is eligible for its representative collection of early 20th Century domestic architecture.

The most common house type by far within the District is the Bungalow or Craftsman style. The bungalow plan actually hearkened to the houses in India during the heyday of the British Empire. In the U.S., the bungalow is an American house style which also has antecedents in the British Arts and Crafts Movement. Although the bungalow, or Craftsman-style house, was considered a modern house style, the Arts and Crafts Movement from which the Craftsman style sprang was a celebration of the craftsmanship of artisans of previous centuries. Literally hundreds of bungalows populate the streets of the district, representing each of the four principal subtypes: front-gabled roof; cross-gabled roof; side-gabled roof and hipped roof. Interestingly, although A Field Guide to American Houses states that only about ten percent of Craftsman houses have hipped roofs, this roof type is common in Emerson Heights. One explanation for this may be because there are so many duplexes (of all styles) in the district, and a square footprint for a duplex provides for greater expansion of internal space, and still allows room for two entries on the facade better than rectilinear footprints. Square (or more accurately, cubed) houses are easily topped with a hipped roof. In the district, even most of the houses that are not bungalows display some Craftsman influence in terms of porch styles. The square brick porch piers sometimes topped with wooden posts, and brick balustrades found on porches throughout the district are elements of Craftsman design. In the U.S., the bungalow was a popular architectural type from about 1908 to about 1940; the bungalows in Emerson Heights date to this period, as well.

Like the bungalow, the American Foursquare was considered a modern American house type at the turn of the century. Also like the bungalow, it was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, but in the case of the American Foursquare, while some cite influences from the work of the Prairie style architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, others cite efforts of a handful of other earlier architects who used the foursquare plan. As its name implies, the American Foursquare is considered an indigenous American architectural style. American Foursquares are common in Emerson Heights HD, which has examples in both single-family homes and duplexes, as well as those with dormers and without. This style was popular from about 1900 to the end of the 1920s and the American Foursquares in the district generally date to that period.

In addition to these modern American house types, revival styles are also represented in the district. 20th century European revival styles became popular in the US after WW I. When soldiers returned home from service on the war front in Europe they brought with them an appreciation of the housing stock they had seen during the war. Tudor Revival and French Eclectic-style houses became popular in Indianapolis and across the nation beginning about 1915 and remained popular types until about 1945; the Indianapolis Star, which regularly ran a Sunday article on a new house in the city seemed to feature two or three Tudor Revival-style houses each week in the early 1930s. Indianapolis mansions on North Meridian Street were early and elaborate (in Midwestern terms) versions of European revival styles. But many smaller versions of Tudor Revival and French Eclectic-style houses were constructed in Indianapolis, especially in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well. Although European Revival styles are not as common in Emerson Heights Historic District as the bungalow or American Foursquare, (probably because most homes in the district were constructed prior to the 1930s) there are several Tudor Revival-style houses in the district.

Although streetcars had carried passengers to Irvington along Washington Street since late in the 19th Century, the area that comprises the historic district began in 1910 as an electric Streetcar Suburb. The development of a city addition with urban infrastructure so far from the city center could happen because the electrification of the street railway system had effectively eliminated the problems of distance between the core and the edges of the city. In the midst of Emerson Heights Historic District's development, the common folks of the U.S. began to adopt an even newer means of transportation and the relatively quick ascension of the automobile as transportation choice resulted in physical changes still visible in the district These middle- and working-class Americans, like those across the nation, built small garages along the alleys to house their automobiles, and in some cases, driveways connecting the garages to the streets in front of the houses. Emerson Heights Historic District owes its existence and its current appearance to transportation innovation as much as architectural style.

Emerson Heights Historic District's history reveals much about the expansion of a Midwestern metropolis in the early 20th Century. Here, as elsewhere, edge additions sprang up farther and farther away from the city core, carrying the city and many of its house-buying citizens away from downtown. Emerson Heights is evidence that by 1910 not just the wealthy but also the working and middle classes could choose an urban life away from the congestion, smoke and noise of downtown by commuting to work, shopping and entertainment in the city core from homes placed along the city's perimeter. The district also shows that shopping, entertainment and even work opportunities followed the citizens to the edges and that the edges became the city as expansion continued in the decades after Emerson Heights developed.

Emerson Heights is a bricks-and-mortar, clapboard-sided expression of the period when citizens were choosing to remain within the city, taking advantage of urban infrastructure, but opting to live in the smoke-free, uncongested open space at its expanding edges. This expansion of the city and outward movement of citizens was a driving force in American urban development from at least the early 19 Century to the present. According to Kenneth Jackson, the growth of fringe areas for housing and the resulting "lifestyle involving a daily commute to jobs in the [city] center" dates to about 1815 in the U.S. The advent, first of the electric streetcar and then, even more so, the automobile expanded the possibilities of this outward movement in the first decades of the 20th Century. Starting in mid-20th Century, this phenomenon would be carried to its furthest possibilities as a record number of marriages and the possibility of owning a home along the outside edges of the city became possible for even more citizens.

Adapted from: Connie J. Zeigler, C Resources, Emerson Heights Historic District, Marion County, IN, nomination document, 2009, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
10th Street • 9th Street East • Bancroft Street North • Bosart Avenue North • Carlyle Place • Dequincy Street • Drexel Avenue North • Emerson Avenue • Linwood Avenue North • Michigan Street • Riley Avenue North • St Clair Street East • St Joseph Street East • Wallace Avenue • Walnut Street East

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