Strolling through Zionsville Village and dreaming of walkable neighborhoods

I finished the roll of Fomapan 100 on a photo stroll with Margaret. We have a few places we like to walk, and the original residential/commercial district in Zionsville, known locally as the Village, is one of them. There’s lots of great old architecture, and it’s all so well kept.

Antiques and Lighting

This little building, which has a shape consistent with being a log cabin beneath that wood siding, is tucked away on a side street. The sun was setting, making for sometimes challenging shooting with ISO 100 film.


We walked along Main Street and dreamed of how wonderful it would be to live here. Alas, neither of us is willing to spend what that would take. The least of the houses in the Village, such as an 800-square-foot bungalow, can set you back a quarter million. From the perspective of Indiana cost of living, that’s outrageous. The same house in Broad Ripple in Indianapolis would cost half that, and in a non-named neighborhood it would probably go for just less than $100k.

Zionsville house

We’ve talked a lot about how much we’d like to live in a walkable neighborhood after we’re married. We’ve even casually priced some of those neighborhoods in Indy. The more we do that, the more we think maybe the ticket is to buy in a neighborhood just beginning to come back after years of neglect and decay. Get in on the ground floor.

Zionsville house

It’s not that we can’t afford more. It’s just that I have a life goal of owning outright whatever home I live in at about age 65. I’m almost out of debt now — except for my mortgage and still paying to have my stupid dead ash trees removed last year. I’m not eager to get into debt I can’t pay off, just for the sake of living in a place like this.

Zionsville house

Still, it’s too easy to be deeply drawn in by the Village’s aesthetic and walkability.

Front door

This house is so appealing to me. It faces Main Street at its very end. It’s forest green in real life, which makes it a great subject for black-and-white film.

House at the end of Main St.

Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Foma Fomapan 100


15 responses to “Strolling through Zionsville Village and dreaming of walkable neighborhoods”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Hey Jim, quit following me around! I’ve been in Indy for two years, and since I did most of my adult living in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, I really have never warmed up to the lack of “real” neighborhoods here in Indy, and by that I mean “walkable” neighborhoods. Took me a while to figure out why a lot of the city looks like what we would have considered “bad” far west side suburbs in Milwaukee and Chicago, until a guy I met told me to google “uni-gov”, then it all made sense (but it wasn’t better).

    Anyway, lived for two years in an area that must be near you, around 56th and Lafayette (like the place, easy to get downtown or to SoBro, or out to the cigar store in Brownsburg), but the criminal quality landlords raised my rent 250 bucks in that period (something I found out is very common here in Indy, a co-worker told me he had to move 4 times in 5 years because the rents went up too much, until he scrimped for a down-payment), so I went looking for a walk-able neighborhood. Tried to get into Irvington, but I couldn’t find an open apartment. Broadripple was either unafforable, or rife with college kids throwing parties all hours, and SoBro was nice, but ditto on unaffordable, and also a lot of street crime.

    So I make it a policy to drive around neighborhoods I like looking for rental signs, and it’s how I ended up in: ta-da- Zionsville! I finally saw a rental sign for seniors, no pets, no smoking, on a lawn a few blocks from the downtown area and three blocks from the library! I could never afford to buy in Z-ville, or even to rent one of the newer places out by the highway, but this was actually slightly cheaper than my last rent before they wanted to raise it; and it lacked all the weird lease “add-ons” like paying for trash and made-up water bills that most of the rental properties in Indy have.

    Even before I moved to Zionsville, I and my ex-pat Chicago friends were lamenting the lack of walk-able neighborhoods in Indy, and talked about how Zionsville would be one of those really great ones. They were pretty jealous when they found out I moved here. Been living here three weeks, and when I get home at night, I just walk around downtown and look in the shops and cafes and decide where I want to save up and eat. No more driving 15 minutes to get a soda and the newspaper! It’s sad too, tho, as I realize that I would never be able to afford a house here, or if they raise the rent, I’d have to move. I’m going to hopefully have one great year here, tho!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I live just down 56th St., near Saddlebrook Golf Course. My house backs up to the 14th fairway.

      You seriously lucked out with your Zionsville rental! Zionsville Village is enormously charming. It would be wonderful to live there! Here’s hoping you get more than one affordable year.

      And I know the guy who owns the cigar store. He goes to my church. I lived near 52nd and Lafayette for a while; used to do my shopping in B’burg because it was so darned pleasant.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Yeah, I think that guy is Dave? His Brownsburg store has one of the largest and competitive humidors in the whole area, and bigger than my hang-outs in Milwaukee and Chicago (and better priced!)! Good staff there too, funny bunch, which is always good. You’re correct about Brownsburg, I did my shopping there as well, and looked for an apartment there: nothing right-sized for me with commensurate rent fee, but pleasant area and fast commutes. I know an amazing amount of people that are getting good house deals off of 56th and Dandy, and 56th and Reed. Apparently a lot of houses back there that have been on the market for a while, at reduced prices. Nice neighborhoods and walkable to Eagle Creek Park for the summer music series.

        If I could find a job I loved, I’d certainly look for an affordable house in a neighborhood called Little Flower, or in Irvington. I’ve had my eye on Irvington for a while now, and just read that there are going to be 5 new restaurants opening there within the next few months. I always thought it’d be a great neighborhood for a cigar store or a vintage camera shop, down near Bookmama and Irvington Vinyl.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I know the 56th/Dandy area. Good proximity to I-65 and I-465 yet feels remote.

          There are some neighborhoods nearer Downtown that appear to be trying to come back from decay, with some pioneers already having renovated homes there. Maybe Margaret and I will luck out and get in on one of those. Proximity to I-65 is important to us as we both work in Zionsville.

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          I’ve said since the day I arrived here, that 75% of Milwaukee and Chicago basically look like what they call in Indianapolis: the “Old North-side”; roughly from 16th street down to downtown, and around the ‘state streets’, like Pennsylvania, Alabama, Illinois…really beautiful neighborhoods, altho many blocks have fallen on hard times with some urban pioneers trying to hold on…

          I’ve lived for years in Milwaukee and Chicago in beautiful brick courtyard apartment buildings built sometime in the 20’s, and very well kept up, and in relatively safe lower middle to middle working class neighborhoods. There are very few of those here, and if they are, then they are in that Old North-side neighborhood. I looked for affordable places to rent down there, and either the rental companies were gouging on prices too much for the safety of the neighborhood, or they just wouldn’t return my calls.

          Basically Indy never expanded as a city back in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and the only way they could get any traction was Richard Lugar’s plan in the 60’s to annex every suburban town and make it into Indianapolis (in one fell swoop, it jumped from something like 33rd largest city to 11th, now dropped to 13th, but it wasn’t a city like we all know a city). That’s what happened, and that why all us x-pats from other cities walk around and say “Huh?”, “Where’s the city?” (and even more: “where the heck is the bus, why isn’t it on every main drag, and why isn’t it running every 20 minutes?”).

          I salute you if you’re going to try and get into one of those old neighborhood, if I had a decent job here I wanted to keep, I’d be scouring Irvington, Little Flower, and Old North-side right now looking for the right place…

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          Those are great neighborhoods, to be sure, but given the work situation for Margaret and me, the Eastside just doesn’t make any sense for us. I love the Old Northside, to death, but there’s no way I’m paying what it costs to buy there.

          I grew up in South Bend and lived 9 years in Terre Haute before moving here. In both cities I had much more a “city life” experience, with walkability, than I’ve ever had living in old-suburban Indy. I chose old-suburban Indy because I got Washington Township schools for my kids and because I got a ton of house and yard for my money. I don’t need those things anymore and am wistful for sidewalks, straight streets, and the possibility of nipping off to the pub or running to the corner for milk, all on foot.

  2. Bob Burt Avatar
    Bob Burt

    Do you do your own B&W developing and printing? If not, where do you send it & $?
    I enjoy your work. Bob

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t process my own. Not opposed, just find scanning to be a time-consuming drag. I send my film to Old School Photo Lab, Processing and scans are $16/roll, incl. shipping. That price is competitive among mail-in photo labs.

  3. Steve Miller Avatar
    Steve Miller

    Not only do you pay for location, location, location, in the Village (of Zionsville) you can pay for the gentile aroma of mildew. A summer’s early morning walk will make that clear… But it’s close to home.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds …delightful. :-(

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        That’s the smell of old money!

  4. Richard Scholl Avatar
    Richard Scholl

    It’s too bad that the east side doesn’t work for you. The way Irvington is coming back looks really attractive to me (I grew up there in the 1950s)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Irvington is charming – I’ve always liked it! It’s just not geographically convenient to anything else we do unfortunately.

  5. NeverWriter Avatar

    I lived several years in San Francisco, where there’s an excellent infrastructure for pedestrians and people without cars. I never owned a car out there and while I had many friends, only one had a car. I could write a whole post about all of the great things about living in a town that has a great sidewalk system.

    The best thing is your health. I never weighed more than 110 pounds when I lived there. I won’t tell you how much I gained since I moved to Indy, but it’s a heck of a lot.

    I live around 63rd and Sunnyside in Lawrence. We have a park a few blocks from our house. There are sidewalks, but they don’t connect. There’s a stretch of road that has no sidewalk, no shoulders and it’s uphill so you can’t see cars coming. If we had a sidewalk, it’s close enough that my daughter could walk to the park alone. Right now I wouldn’t feel safe walking it as an adult. It’s a shame.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve written before here about growing up in a small city in a walkable neighborhood, before anybody ever heard the word walkable. Here it is:

      I walked or rode my bike everywhere, and I was in pretty good shape. Now that I’m pushing 50 and live in old suburbia, I drive everywhere. From where I live, there’s nowhere to go on foot; the main road is not safe for pedestrians anyway.

      Being able to walk places is a lot of what’s driving me Downtown. Here’s hoping we can afford a neighborhood that is close enough to the heart of it all.

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