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458-460 Agnes Street, courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives

On September 11, 1941, Indianapolis realtor Howard W. Fieber stopped in the back yards of 458-460 Agnes Street and took this photograph of a somewhat unusual two-story outhouse.  The block in which the towering privy stood was rather typical of much of the city's near-Westside:  dominated by modest homes built in the 1870's, European immigrants, White Hoosiers, and African Americans had at various times called the block home.  The block bordered by Agnes--what we now call University Boulevard--, Michigan, Vermont, and Patterson Streets, is today on the campus of IUPUI, and it will soon be the site of the University's new Campus Center.  In partnership with Campus Facilities Services, the 2003 IUPUI Archaeology Field School will conduct excavations at the site and examine the material record of the households that lived in the block over a century.

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The Agnes Street block was rather typical of the predominately residential near-Westside that reached from the edges of the Mile Square along West Street to the White River.  Most of this space is today dominated by the IUPUI campus, but into the very recent past it was a rich and complex series of multicultural neighborhoods.  Agnes Street lay at the very western boundary of the near-Westside's neighborhoods until the early twentieth century, within an easy walk of the City Hospital to the north, a series of industrial workplaces to the south, rail yards across the White River to the west, and the city itself to the east.

Our central interest is in how material culture reflects near-Westside residents' vast range of multicultural identities:  that is, can we really "see" ethnic and racial distinctions in everyday material consumption?  How can archaeology examine and illuminate the development of a multicultural community in the late-nineteenth century, how can we document its subsequent segregation into strict racially defined neighborhoods beginning around 1910, and what we might we have to say about the social and material processes that removed these neighborhoods from the contemporary cityscape?  Even today, some Indianapolis residents are prone to characterize places like the near-Westside in monolithic terms, seeing these places as universally "Black," "White," or otherwise "ethnic" neighborhoods.  There is some truth to this, but it masks a vast range of social complexity across cultural, class, and color lines; at its worst, it suggests that contemporary divisions between rich and poor, European and Hoosier, or Black and White are timeless phenomena that have always existed in Indianapolis.  Archaeological material culture tells much more complex stories about similarities and vast disparities in the lives of individuals and neighborhoods across lines of difference.

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Click on thumbnails for pictures of the field school's May 14, 2003 Ransom Place tours with Daisy Borel and Thomas Ridley

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Project area, 1958; courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives Left:  In 1958, most of the Agnes Street neighborhood's houses remained standing where they had been built nearly a century before.  The Bowers Building, the large structure near the top center, was then home to the Bowers Envelope Company.  Cavanaugh Hall today stands on the east side of Agnes Street (University Boulevard), which cuts across the bottom of the map between Michigan and Vermont Streets (picture courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives).

In many ways the Agnes Street residents were relatively typical of the folks who came to Indianapolis in migration waves from the mid-nineteenth century onward.  A broad range of German and Irish immigrants and their children settled in the Agnes Street block after the Civil War, when the near-Westside was rapidly settled.  In 1880, for instance, the Agnes Street double that would eventually host the two-story outhouse was a single-story home.  On one side resided Irish immigrant Samuel Anderson and his Indiana-born wife Rickie, whose parents had immigrated from Germany; the other side was home to William Stephenson, an Ohio-born railroader likely working in the railroad yards across the river, his wife Jane, and four children.   Early in the twentieth century, the structure had a second story added, and by 1914 the towering outhouse was erected in the home's backyard.

1914 Sanborn Insurance Map
Above:  In 1914 the Sanborn Insurance Company made a detailed record of the structures in the Agnes Street project area.  The Nick Herz Department Store was actually the Nick Kerz Store, and that structure later became home to the Bowers Envelope Company in 1928; today it is still part of the structure that stands there today facing Michigan Street.  The two-story privy is shown clearly in this map in the backyards of 458-460 Agnes Street.

The late-nineteenth century Agnes Street neighbors included many European immigrants and their children, and this would remain the case into the 1920's.  In 1880, for example, two doors away from the Andersons and Stephensons was the household of Augustus and Malinda Stelting, who were both born in Germany and arrived in Indiana by 1858.  The Steltings moved to Wisconsin during the Civil War, where they had three sons born between 1865 and 1868.  Augustus Stelting first appeared in the Indianapolis city directory in 1875 as a carpenter for the firm Chandler and Taylor, when his household was living in the Agnes Street home.  The family had a working-class background that was typical along Agnes Street:  his sons became machinists, pipefitters, and molders, and after they moved from Agnes Street just after 1885 they eventually resettled by 1895 along Bright and Douglass Streets, also on the IUPUI campus (in an area west of Blackford Street that is now home to the Indianapolis Tennis Center).

Project area, 1958; courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives Left:  In 1958, an aerial photograph showed most of the project area's original structures where they had been built in the 1870's.  The two-story privy stood at 458-460 Agnes Street; it had been dismantled by the time of this photograph (courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives).

To see this same picture without the address labels, click the thumbnail below

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African Americans lived throughout the near-Westside from the outset, but the Agnes Street block was slow to become an African-American neighborhood:  like much of the near-Westside south of Michigan Street, White Hoosiers and European immigrants were vastly more numerous until the 1920's and 1930's.  One of the exceptions in 1880 was the household of Edmund and Mary Moore, who lived alongside the Andersons and Stephensons, just two doors north of the Steltings.  Like most African Americans in the near-Westside, the Moores had migrated from Kentucky; since the Moores had a son born in Kentucky in 1864 and another born Indiana in 1868, they likely were among the flood of African Americans who migrated out of the southern border states into the Midwest after the Civil War.

In 1880, 24 of the Agnes block's 152 residents were Black, and 11 of them were born in Kentucky (ten were born in Indiana, and the remaining three individuals were born in Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia).  However, like many areas in the near-Westside, the Agnes Street block was slow to have many African-American residents:  areas just a block away on North Street were overwhelmingly Black in 1880, when over 60% of the residents along North Street were Black.  The North Street neighborhood always remained predominately African American, but places like Agnes Street would remain overwhelmingly White for another 50 years.   In 1900, for instance, only nine of the Agnes Street neighborhood's 262 residents were Black; ten years later just eight out of 187 were Black.  In 1900 the only African-American residents along Agnes Street were in two Black households on the east side of Agnes Street, where Cavanaugh Hall sits today.  By 1920, five Black households sat alongside each other in the same place, and the remaining African-American households were along Patterson Street.

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Above: Adam and Sarah start excavations on a well.  
Below: This 1936 Indiana Chauffeur's License was recovered during the parking lot clearing.

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Even as late as 1920, the 195 residents of the Agnes block included just 37 Blacks (18.97%). In contrast, in 1920 the North Street neighborhood's 388 residents included 365 Blacks (93.5%), and many other areas of campus were also becoming predominately Black.  Census samples taken throughout the area now covered by campus indicate that in 1920 African Americans composed a majority of the near-Westside's population for the first time, and during the 1920's and 1930's, the near-Westside became overwhelmingly African American.  Still, a few neighborhoods would remain White:  for example, 501 residents lived along Douglass Street where the Indianapolis Tennis Center is today, and every single one was described in the census as White (nearly two-thirds of them were born in Indiana).  For more on Black and White settlement patterns on the campus from 1880 to 1920, visit the IUPUI Archaeological and Historical Survey page.

Some of the predominately African-American areas in the near-Westside were stable, bourgeois neighborhoods, such as California Street in what is now Ransom Place, and Blackford Street around School Number 4 (where the Mary Cable Building sits today) was home to many well-educated professionals; other areas, though, presented very difficult conditions, such as the homes along Beauty Street (what is now E-lot west of campus), where many families did not have indoor plumbing into the 1940's.  Some of these households certainly faced difficult conditions, but the neighborhood certainly was not universally "slums" as it is sometimes depicted in contemporary memory.

Project area, 1969; courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives Left: In 1969, the IUPUI campus had begun to take shape, but some of the near-Westside's history remained clear on the landscape.
1.  The Bowers Building stood at the corner of Patterson and Michigan Streets, where it still stands today.
2. Several nineteenth-century homes still stood at 942-950 West Vermont Street.
3. Cavanaugh Hall.
4. University Library, now known as University College
5. Lecture Hall
6. Blake Street still cut through campus and had homes along its eastern side.
7. The former home of the Indianapolis Brewing Company was still is use, a century after its construction.
8. New York Street
(courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives)
Left (thumbnail): The Agnes Street site today facing north, prior to parking lot removal. 

Field School 2003

All field excavation at the site will be conducted by students enrolled in the IUPUI Archaeology Field School, which we offer each Summer somewhere in the near-Westside.  The Archaeology Field School (Anthropology P405) is open to any undergraduate student for four to six credits.  Graduate credit and/or graduate research opportunities can be arranged with the instructor.  You do not need to be an Anthropology student or have any archaeological coursework or experience to enroll in the course.  Students will be trained in field excavation methodology, public interpretation, laboratory analysis, and archaeological theory.  Students learn to identify nineteenth- and twentieth-century material culture, excavate historic-period urban sites, and work actively with many visitors and our partners in the Ransom Place Neighborhood Association.  Full information on course requirements can be found in the Field School syllabus.  For registration details, enrolled IUPUI students can contact the Registrar's Office or visit Insite.  Visiting students can get details on credit transfer on the Registrar's Visiting Students page.   The course runs through Summer session I, May 14 through June 25.  Students registered for six credits attend the class each weekday from 8:30 to 3:00; four-credit students attend three days a week.  Full course details will be posted on a course syllabus in late Spring.

2003 IUPUI Archaeology Field School
May 14, 2003

Volunteers are welcome to work alongside field school students.  You can volunteer for as many days as you like; we prefer to have volunteers call ahead, and it works best to spend a whole or nearly whole excavation day on site.  Volunteers younger than 16 should be accompanied by a parent or adult.  If you would like to volunteer but do not want to dig, we will also maintain our lab during the field season in Cavanaugh Hall, where recently excavated artifacts will be washed as they come in from the field.  If you would like to volunteer over the summer or have questions, please email Paul Mullins ( or call (274-9847) for details.

Project area, 1971; courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives

Above:  In 1971, the project area had been mostly converted to parking spaces--cars were even parking in the yard of the homes at 946 and 950 West Vermont, which were being used by the University.  Cavanaugh Hall is in the foreground, and Michigan Street is to the right (courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives).

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All photographs except the Sanborn map appear courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives
Summer 2003 excavations are being made possible with the support of IUPUI Campus Facilities Services and the IUPUI Division of Student Life and Diversity

Page last updated June 30, 2003