In Summer 2005 the IUPUI Archaeology Field School will conduct its sixth season of excavations in Indianapolis' near-Westside.  The field school will examine three homes on the 900 block of California Street.  Today the lots numbered 903 through 913 stand empty, but three homes had been built on the lot by the mid-1870's, and a wide cross-section of residents called the residences home over nearly a century.  Once an expansive neighborhood with numerous ethnic and class lines, the Ransom Place Historic District is today the sole surviving remnant of the thousands of homes that dotted the near-Westside after about 1850 into the 1980's.  Our project's 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.

Right: When this 1914 Sanborn Insurance map was completed, three homes stood between 903 and 913 North California Street (shaded red here).  All three were built before the mid-1880's, though they were modified many times in the following hundred years.  For instance, the home numbered 911-913 North California on this map was subdivided into a double between 1900 and 1910.  In 1910 the 911 side of the double was home to Arthur and Mary Long a teacher and hairdresser, and the other side was home to Virgil and Mamie Robinson a janitor and his housewife.  Indianapolis residents like the Longs and Robinsons would not typically be neighbors by 1920:  The Longs were White (he born in Arkansas and she in Illinois) and the Robinsons were Black (he born in Indiana and she in Kentucky).  By 1910 the neighborhood's Black community was already rapidly expanding, and by 1920 it would predominate Ransom Place and much of the city's near-Westside.  The Robinsons were the first African Americans to live in any of the homes in the field school's project area, but by 1920--just a decade later--every resident in the three homes was Black.


Like most homes in the near-Westside, the earliest residents of these three houses were working-class White Hoosiers.  For instance, the home at 903 North California was built around 1875-1880, and in 1880 the family of Milton C. Taylor and wife Jennie were living there.  The Taylors were both born in Ohio but had a ten-year-old daughter born in Indiana, so they apparently had been in the state since at least 1870.  Milton Taylor was first living in Indianapolis in 1877, when Milton, wife Jennie, daughter Charlotte, and son Edward were living on Athon Street (just east of City Hospital in an area that is now under Lockefield Gardens).  The Taylors moved to 903 North California in 1879, making them the first documented residents of the home.  Neighbor John Carricoe was a carpenter, and later residents before 1900 included a painter (Michael Brown), a porter (John Blackwell, who later appeared as a street peddler), another carpenter (James Keith), and a store clerk (Charles Lincoln).

Like the Taylors, most of the early project area residents were recent arrivals to Indiana; the Taylors, for instance, were both born in Ohio, and their neighbors John Carricoe and wife and Rosalind were born in Kentucky and Ohio respectively.  Several of these early Ransom Place residents were their family's first American-born generations.  By 1885, for instance, 43-year-old Michael F. Brown and his wife Mary had moved into the Taylors former home with son William, daughter Mary and Michael's brother-in-law John Hurley.  The Taylors were born in Illinois and Indiana respectively, but their parents were born in Ireland.  Rosalind Carricoe's mother was born in England.  The Brown's 1900 lodger John Murphy was born in Indiana, but like the Browns his parents were also born in Ireland.  The north side of the double at 907-909 was home to several families who had recently migrated.  Anna Young, a servant boarding at 909 North California in 1900, had a father born in Ireland and a mother born in England.  Perhaps the most unusual genealogy among these earliest residents was for Mary Middleton, who was born in Ireland in 1840.  Both of Middleton's parents were born in Canada, and Middleton and her 1910 neighbor John J. Hamilton were the only residents of the project area who were actually born in Ireland.

Between 1903 and 1910 Virgil and Mary Robinson moved into the double at 913 North California, becoming the project area's first African-American residents.  Some near-Westside neighborhoods would remain White Hoosier as much as a half-century later, but the neighborhoods closest to Indiana Avenue and in Ransom Place shifted quite rapidly beginning about 1900.  By the early twentieth century, the community along Indiana Avenue was the city's central Black community and the surrounding streets became home to many African Americans. These residents were part of the "Great Migration" fleeing Jim Crow racism and searching for improved material and social opportunities in the north and Midwest.  Most of these earliest Black arrivals from the Upper South moved into the neighborhoods along Indiana Avenue, and later arrivals into the Depression moved into neighborhoods south of Ransom Place across what is now the IUPUI campus.  Settlement patterns in Ransom Place illustrate the timing for the first wave of migrating African Americans. In 1880, a rather modest 46 (9.1%) of 503 Ransom Place residents were classed as Black or Mulatto, and in 1900 105 (14.2%) of the neighborhood’s 740 residents were Black or Mulatto.  Between 1900 and 1910 a significant wave of migrants from the Upper South arrived in Indianapolis, and in 1910 469 of Ransom Place’s 707 residents were Black or Mulatto (66.4%).  The 900 block of California Street remained among the last strong of homes with mostly White residents, and these almost all left after 1910.  The demographic transition was complete by 1920, when 96% of the neighborhood's residents were Black.

It appears that some of the area's earliest African-American residents had been in the state and perhaps the city well before the most intensive migration into Indianapolis, but most African Americans did not settle in Ransom Place until about 1910.  Born in 1880, Virgil Robinson was a janitor born in Indiana to Tennessee-born father and Missouri-born mother, but his wife Mamie hailed from Kentucky, the most common origination point for African Americans migrating to Indianapolis.  The family in their home in 1920, Luther and Irene Porter, traced all three of their four parents to Kentucky (with Luther's dad born in Alabama), and the 25-year-old Luther was born in Kentucky as well.  The household at 903 North California in 1920 was headed by Reuben and Sally Jones, who were born in Kentucky in 1842 and 1852 respectively and had apparently been in Indiana for quite a while before they arrived on California Street.  The Jones' oldest daughter and son were each born in Kentucky in 1883 and 1885; their daughter Justine was born in Indiana in 1892, which suggests that they made their way into Indiana if not Indianapolis between 1885 and 1892, about a decade before the major African-American migration waves into Indianapolis. 

Like most of their neighbors in the 900 block the Jones were renters; neither Reuben or Sally could read or write, but several of their neighbors in 1920 were well-educated or ambitious entrepreneurs.  For instance, Rutherford B.H. Smith at 907 North California was a lawyer born in Pennsylvania in 1878.  His neighbor at 903 included David Black, Reuben and Sallie Jones' foster son, who was a tailor.  Those needing alterations also could turn to Everett Smith, who lived at 911 after 1925 and ran a tailor shop on Indiana Avenue that he later moved to Senate Avenue and then West Street.  However, the neighborhood's best educated and most influential residents tended to live in the 800 block, including Madam Walker's lawyer Freeman Ransom and Dr. Joseph Ward.  The 900 block residents tended to represent a broader swath of working-class folks and aspiring entrepreneurs.  In 1920 Rutherford Smith and his wife Carrie shared their double with Frank and Irene Page at 909 North California, and Frank worked for the railroad and Irene was a servant.  Robert Day, who lived at 913 North California, was a sand mixer, Clinton Hobb was a porter, and Ida Forte became a maid  after husband Emmett died in 1931.

In 1985 an aerial photograph of the project area (top left, shaded in red) showed the three homes between 903 and 913 California Street still standing.  Martin Luther King Street is at the bottom of this picture.  On far right the three homes are shown close up.  By the 1980's Ransom Place had declined significantly, and a community preservation movement ensured that most homes were preserved as part of the Conservation District created in the 1990's.  The houses in this lot, though, were razed and are today an open grassed lot.

Excavation reports on the field school will be posted on this page as the summer progresses.  For more details on the course, visit the Field School syllabus.

Field School 2005

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 Visiting Students page.   Students registered for six credits attend the class each weekday from 8:30 to 3:00; four-credit students attend three days a week.  

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 for details.

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Page last updated May 31, 2005