A sense of place: Going home to Twelve Points

Twelve Points State Bank

How well do we actually see the places where we live? Truly notice the details that give it identity and make it a place?

For me, the answer is: Better now than when I was young. I’ve lived long enough now that the stomping grounds of my youth have changed a lot. But back then my inner historian, preservationist, and photographer had not yet awakened. I had not yet learned to see.

In my early 20s I lived in the Terre Haute, Indiana, neighborhood known as Twelve Points. The area got its name from the awkward intersection of Lafayette Ave., Maple Ave., and 13th St., which created twelve corners.

Imagery and map data ©2013 Google

Twelve Points was once a hot spot, at a time when Lafayette Road was still US 41, when passenger-train and streetcar service still delivered hundreds of people each day to shop here, and before the big shopping mall was built on the south side of town.

When I moved there, going on 25 years ago now, Twelve Points’ best days were already well in its past. Many of the buildings were empty and in poor repair.

A handful of businesses remained. I used to walk over to Hook’s drug store to fill prescriptions, and I’d sometimes stop at the little IGA grocery store on the way home from work. I could have done my banking, gone out for pizza, gotten my hair cut, and visited the dentist in Twelve Points, too, but I never did. Today I’d do it on principle, but that’s the kind of man I’ve become only lately.

A few years ago I visited an exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society that made me deeply regret not getting to know Twelve Points better. Part of the IHS’s “You Are There” series, the exhibit recreated Citizens Grocery, owned and run by Ernest Zwerner on Lafayette Road in Twelve Points, as it had been in 1945.

It was a painstaking recreation based on 1940s photos of Zwerner’s store, with period equipment and goods both real and carefully reproduced. Actors portrayed the shopkeeper and customers, all dressed in period clothes. Visitors to the exhibit could go inside the store and talk with the characters, who responded as if it were really 1945 and they were going about their daily business. It put visitors in touch with a time few of us knew.

Remarkably, I knew a couple who would have shopped at Zwerner’s: My landlords, Steve and Henrietta, who had lived since the 1930s in their home a few blocks away and rented its attached apartment to people like me.

Inside the recreated grocery, I imagined young Henrietta there doing her marketing. Or, more likely she phoned in her order and waited for delivery. I admit, I became a little misty eyed as I experienced my connection to this store and this time. I wanted to play along with the actors, tell them I lived a few blocks away on 8th Street (which I had, 45 years later), lament rationing, and ask them how much longer they thought we’d have to fight in this war. But I lacked the guts. I walked around the store in silence, slightly dizzy in delight, the corners of my lips curled up in a slight grin that I tried to suppress lest it let the mist in my eyes get out of hand.

(The Terre Haute Tribune-Star covered this exhibit when it opened. They interviewed members of the Zwerner family and photographed the exhibit. If this interests you at all, you must read the story and see its photos. Read it here. You will learn more about Zwerner the man and his business in this Google Books excerpt of An American Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana, 1927, here.)

When I last visited Terre Haute, I made a point of returning to Twelve Points with my camera. The building that held Zwerner’s store was demolished decades ago, so I photographed the buildings I remembered from my time there in the early 1990s.

My favorite building in Twelve Points is the Twelve Points State Bank building, which held a branch of the Merchants National Bank when I lived there. It looks pretty good yet, despite the boarded-up storefront there on its south side.

Twelve Points State Bank

When I lived here, this building appeared to be abandoned and was in terrible shape. While it still shows some rough edges, it’s in much better condition today and on the day I took this photo was significantly occupied by Tilford’s Variety Store. Unfortunately, Tilford’s struggled to make its way and closed last December.


This was the Garfield Theater, which I’m sure was a focus of the local night life. Many Twelve Points businesses and buildings have Garfield in their name because of the former Garfield High School, which once stood around the corner on Maple Ave. The Banks of the Wabash Chorus, a barbershop harmony group, has been in the building for at least a quarter century.

Banks of the Wabash Chorus

I can’t believe that in the five years I lived nearby, I never ordered a pizza from A Ring Brings Pizza. The now-me shakes his head at the then-me. And now nobody can call C-5951 for pizza anymore, not because C became 232 when seven-digit dialing arrived, but because the restaurant is closed. At least its great sign remains.

A Ring Brings Pizza

The Garfield Barber Shop and Coiffure Salon is also defunct. I swear that the sign and the lettering painted on the window look just as they did 25 years ago.

Garfield Barber Shop

Since I moved away, a new gas station was built on the southwest corner of Maple Ave. and Lafayette Ave., and it was hopping while I visited Twelve Points that day. A CVS Pharmacy replaced the little grocery store on the northeast corner of 13th St. and Maple Ave., and it showed every sign of doing well. These kinds of businesses aren’t enough to reinvigorate Twelve Points on their own, but they at least show that there is some life left in the neighborhood. Here’s hoping it finds revitalization one day.

I loved my home near Twelve Points. Want to see photos? Check them out here.


17 responses to “A sense of place: Going home to Twelve Points”

  1. Michael Avatar

    What does your research show was inside the triangle? Curious if it was always a park-like setting or an actual building like the tiny liquor store that used to sit at 7th & Margaret.

    1. Jim Avatar

      The first year or two I lived there, an abandoned and crumbling gas station filled that little triangle. I’ve seen photos from many years ago of a junk store of sorts on that little lot, too.

      I didn’t know that tiny liquor store was gone.

      1. Michael Avatar

        I thought there must have been something there in the not too distant past the way the lot looked, but didn’t recall any building there.

        The store was demoed several years ago, tracks are gone and Margaret has been widened at that intersection. Eventually, the plan is to widen it all the way to 46. It seems they’re prepping for the widening at 46 now (just moved utility poles), but I expect it will be quite a while before the middle section is ever started.

  2. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    I remember when I was a kid that US 41 was on Lafayette road before they widened it up and down 3rd street…sure I have been there.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I love imagining what Twelve Points was like when it got all that US 41 traffic!

  3. pesoto74 Avatar

    I too share your regrets about not being aware of some of the history I was seeing when I was younger. I would love to be able to photograph some of the things I once saw that were passing into history. Sounds like you got a taste of it in seeing the recreation of Zwerner’s store.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I have a precious few photographs I took when young of things as they were then, and I really treasure them.

  4. daniel b michel (@danielbmichel1) Avatar

    I remember all those places…I drove past them often…I especially remember “A Ring Brings Pizza”…I recall thinking that they must have been one of the pioneers of home pizza delivery…The name and the phone number belong to a much earlier time.

    1. Jim Avatar

      A Ring Brings Pizza was probably a pizza-delivery pioneer in Terre Haute, anyway! They used to advertise on the radio station I worked for in Terre Haute, at least occasionally.

  5. Jennifer S Avatar

    Wow! What an insanely wonderful idea for an exhibit! Wake Forest is also filled with old buildings that once housed stores, theaters, restaurants, etc. What a brilliant move to recreate one of them for visitors! I would love to find the funds to do something like that. Just yesterday, I was culling old images and found two photos of the old, circa 1900 department/dry goods stores here in town. They were one room, wouldn’t be too impossible to reimagine inside the museum! Your posts are always so educational. Loved it. And you may not have noticed as much as you’d like… but the writing suggests you experienced more than most.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I hoped you’d see this post, because I figured you’d appreciate it. If you think the You Are There idea is worth copying, you ought to reach out to the Indiana Historical Society for their advice! I’m pretty sure they do these exhibits with grants — they’ve got to be mighty expensive.

  6. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    You know me; I’m less captivated by the surroundings of the neighbourhood than the street configuration itself. Wow! I’m surprised a close set of three intersections like that has survived beyond the mid-20th century… I would have thought traffic would have meant blocking off at least one of those streets, or setting up grade separations.

    There is, or was, an arrangement almost exactly like that in Etobicoke in what’s now west-end Toronto. Kipling Avenue and Dundas and Bloor Streets all come together in one place, except it’s called Six Points, not Twelve, since they’re just counting street directions and not angles. :) In the 1960s the traffic snarl there prompted one of the worst grade separations I’ve ever seen (https://maps.google.com/?ll=43.641479,-79.534503&spn=0.006413,0.011823&t=h&z=17)… it works; traffic gets around, but if you don’t live here and don’t know where you’re going, you probably aren’t gonna get there.

    So ironically the plan now is to clear out the bridges, put everything back to at-grade crossings, reconnect Bloor Street to itself, and make Dundas Street the somewhat-discontinuous one (http://www.eleganthomesinwesttoronto.com/userfiles/image/Dundas%20Kipling%20reconstruction.jpg). Watch out, Terre Haute, this could be you. :D

    1. Jim Avatar

      Twelve Points is deeply embedded within the city, with buildings very close to the street. So without knocking down buildings, there’s no way to build grade separations there. Not like they’re all that necessary, anyway. These three streets are all arteries, but Terre Haute has a population of about 60,000 — it’s a whole different traffic ballgame from anywhere in and around Toronto! It has admittedly been 20 years since driving through there was a daily experience for me, but really, getting through was never a big deal.

  7. Susan Avatar

    I have lived on 10th Street in 3 different houses. I still live there north of Maple. My parents met in Collett Park in 1939. My mother grew up in 12 Pts. I am 65. I am on the committee to revitalize 12 Pts. Miss those wonderful days of the hustle and bustle!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good luck with your efforts! I still miss Twelve Points after having been gone since 1994.

  8. Debbie Mullen Avatar
    Debbie Mullen

    Great article.
    My mother and her family lived across the street from Garfield, that house was torn down and became Dr. Showalter’s office. I remember having sodas at Hooks and Sypes. My Aunt worked at Merchant Bank. My parents built our house on N 13 1/2. It was a great area to grow up in the late ’50’s.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was a charming place to live in the early ’90s, too!

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