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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The peace and quiet along New Augusta’s streets belie the busy suburban and industrial area that surrounds it.
Many houses from the late 1800s survive and have been well cared for.
This L-plan Queen Anne is one of the houses that fronts 71st Street.
As you can see, all kinds of common Indiana architectural styles are represented in New Augusta.
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.
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.
This building was completed in 1880. Bells still ring on the hour, filling New Augusta with their gentle, sweet notes.
Several additions have been made to the building over the years.
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.