History, Photography, Preservation

A walking tour of historic New Augusta, Indiana

In the 1850s, commerce and prosperity arrived by rail across the United States. Railroads boomed in these years, with thousands upon thousands of track miles being built. Wherever rails were laid, towns inevitably popped up.

A rail line was built between Indianapolis and Lafayette in about 1850. It passed within a mile and a half of Augusta, a town founded in about 1832 on the Michigan Road northwest of Indianapolis. In 1852 the railroad placed a station on the rail line west of Augusta and named it for the nearby town. This snippet from an 1854 plat map shows both Augusta (far right) and Augusta Station (lower left).

NewAugusta1855

Historic Indiana Maps, IUPUI University Library. See complete map here.

A town was platted at Augusta Station that same year. Locals called it both Augusta Station and Hosbrook. The post office eventually said no to both names, and so in 1878 the town was officially named New Augusta. This map, which dates to about the mid 1920s, shows that the town had grown in size to rival nearby Augusta.

NewAugusta1920s

Digital image © 2009 Indiana Historical Society. All Rights Reserved. See complete map here.

I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that many in Augusta simply pulled up stakes and moved to the new town. It’s not a far-fetched story. Augusta had been built in about 1832 to capitalize on the brand new Michigan Road, an important north-south corridor connecting the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. But railroads were such a compelling way to move people and goods that when they arrived, road traffic fell away. (Often, so did funds to maintain roads, which led to some roads being sold to private companies that charged tolls for their use. The Michigan Road was one such road. I assume the “New Agusta [sic] Free Gravel Road” shown on the map was “free” in that it wasn’t a toll road.)

New Augusta never exactly boomed, growing to 200-300 residents at its peak. At its centennial in 1955, the town boasted three grocery stores, a feed store, some specialty stores, and one small manufacturer. The town was fully absorbed into Indianapolis when the city and the county merged in 1970. Through the 1980s and 1990s, this once rural township filled in rapidly with housing subdivisions and an enormous industrial park. You can see both in the Google Earth image below.

NewAugusta2015

Imagery © 2015 Google. Map data © 2015 Google.

I drive by New Augusta every day as I go to work, along both major roads that border it. If you didn’t know the town was there, you might never know of it. The only clues are a short row of late-1800s homes that front 71st Street.

I might never have known of New Augusta were it not for an old friend who attended a church there a long time ago. I lived in Terre Haute then, but attended church with her when I was in town.

And then several years later I wound up living just three miles away. New Augusta became a convenient venue for my hobby of taking pictures with old film cameras. Let me show you New Augusta as I’ve seen it through various camera lenses over the years.

New Augusta Station

Yashica MG-1, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2010

Augusta Station fronts the railroad tracks a short walk north of 71st Street. This depot was built in the early 1890s to replace an earlier one that burned down. It has been owned by the Purdy family and its descendants all these years. Purdy Street runs behind the station.

New Augusta Train Station

Olympus Trip 500, Fujicolor Superia X-tra 400, 2012

I don’t know what became of the Indianapolis and Lafayette Railroad, but these tracks remain and do get a little use. I hear engine whistles once in a while when I’m at home. Even though these tracks intersect several roads I use all the time, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been stopped by trains on these tracks over the past 20 years.

Tracks Diverging

Pentax ES II, SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.8, Arista 400 Premium, 2015

New Augusta’s business district lies just two blocks away, where 72nd Street intersects Dobson Street. All of New Augusta’s north-south streets are named for original residents. The east-west streets used to be, too. I assume they got their Indianapolis-style numbers when the city and county merged.

The brick building is an Odd Fellows building. It’s held all manner of businesses over the years, but currently houses a small Web/software company and offices for an attorney and an accountant. Every time I visit New Augusta, the cheerful red building seems to contain a different business.

New Augusta, Indiana

Yashica MG-1, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2010

I’m pretty sure the church I used to attend with my friend was in this building, which I believe once contained the New Augusta State Bank.

Doors

Pentax ES II, 50mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar, Arista Premium 400, 2015

The peace and quiet along New Augusta’s streets belie the busy suburban and industrial area that surrounds it.

New Augusta street 3

Pentax ME, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Many houses from the late 1800s survive and have been well cared for.

New Augusta street 2

Pentax ME, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

This L-plan Queen Anne is one of the houses that fronts 71st Street.

House in New Augusta

Olympus Trip 500, Fujicolor Superia X-tra 400, 2012

As you can see, all kinds of common Indiana architectural styles are represented in New Augusta.

House in New Augusta

Olympus Trip 500, Fujicolor Superia X-tra 400, 2012

This is my favorite house in town. It stands on New Augusta Road across from the train station. I photograph it pretty much every time I visit, and I’ve never seen signs that anybody lives here. But it does appear that work is being done on the house. Perhaps it’s undergoing a long restoration.

House in New Augusta

Olympus Trip 500, Fujicolor Superia X-tra 400, 2012

The centerpiece of New Augusta is the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church. It’s been part of this township since 1836, but moved to New Augusta in 1858.

Church sign

Argus A2B, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2011

This building was completed in 1880. Bells still ring on the hour, filling New Augusta with their gentle, sweet notes.

Salem Lutheran

Pentax ME, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Several additions have been made to the building over the years.

Church courtyard

Argus A2B, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2011

New Augusta is on the short list of places around Indianapolis where I’d like to live. I enjoy its peaceful, historic character. I can imagine taking evening strolls along its streets and saying hello to the neighbors as I pass by. It’s close to where I work and it’s close to good shopping, yet it’s miles away from anywhere.


Many of nearby Augusta’s buildings remain. One is among the oldest houses in Indianapolis: the Boardman House. See it here.

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12 thoughts on “A walking tour of historic New Augusta, Indiana

  1. Forrest Johnson says:

    Thanks for the pictures of New Augusta. I use to work up the road from there on New Agusta Rd and traveled past it everyday. They have blocked off the road just north of the station house as people were cutting thru town if a train was blocking the crossing at 71st St. In my opinion this further isolates the town.

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    • Thanks for explaining why they removed the RR crossing at 72nd St. I imagine residents like how their town is isolated, and didn’t feel any loss when the crossing went out.

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  2. James Jacocks says:

    That was a nice photo essay. With yesterday’s post and now this you are on a roll! The picture of the Victorian on Dobson street has a sign that actually reads “not a through street” instead of the primitive “no thru street” of common signage. Really wonderful, Jim. I would like to see the town. I bet the residents hated to pay that toll daily.

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    • There’s a “Not a Through Street” sign at the corner of 71st St. and every street in New Augusta. They weren’t always there. I wonder if they went in when the railroad crossing was removed at 72nd where it T’d into New Augusta Road.

      Fortunately, what is now 71st St. was a free road, I believe — but nearby Michigan Road was not. The state bought Michigan Road back in the 1910s when it formed its fledgling highway network. If tolls had not ended earlier than that, they certainly did at that time.

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  3. hmunro says:

    What a charming town! It’s wonderful to see that some of the buildings have been preserved, and that Augusta still retains a bit of its old character. Wonderful post, Jim.

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    • What’s even more wonderful is discovering this little town tucked away amid strip malls, cul-de-sac subdivisions, and that enormous industrial park. Even when I first visited it 25 years ago, I was delighted to be there. It felt like stepping back in time.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is interesting to see a town like this surviving urban sprawl. I think you did a good job capturing the feel of the place. Although they might be over-run with visitors if too many people see your photos. Around here a lot of towns pulled up stakes and moved to the railroad. There are stories of putting sleds under buildings and pulling them to the railroad when winter came. Of course with all the flat land in central Illinois we have ideal conditions for such an undertaking.

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    • Wow, sledding buildings to new locations! I’ve never heard of that before. Kinda cool.

      Indiana Landmarks is organizing a walking tour of New Augusta next month. That’s more likely to attract attention to the town than my little blog post!

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