Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Irvington, an Indianapolis neighborhood on old US 40

In 1870, When Irvington was platted, it was outside the Indianapolis city limits. It was Indianapolis’s first suburb, a quiet town of winding streets bisected by the National Road, known as Washington Street locally.

Imagery ©2021 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2021 Google.

Today, Irvington is a city neighborhood and also the largest historic preservation district in Indianapolis. Its curved streets and older homes are quite lovely. My wife and I are charmed enough by it that we’ve strongly considered moving to this neighborhood.

As I bicycled through on my Ride Across Indiana, I made some photographs of Irvington from Washington Street. This was US 40 and the National Road in its day, but today it’s just a major city thoroughfare. Traffic was heavy and lanes are narrow, so I rode on the sidewalks.

You’ll find a number of apartment buildings on Washington Street, including this one with a Chicago-style central courtyard.

Irvington apartment house

The Irvington United Methodist Church is in many ways Irvington’s centerpiece. It’s about a half block north of Washington Street but is well visible from the street. It was originally the home of Jacob Dorsey Thomas, a professor at Butler University, which was located in Irvington from 1875 to 1928. It was then home of Thomas Carr Howe, then University President. He sold the home in 1924 to the Methodist church, which expanded it greatly in making it into a church.

Irvington on old US 40

Washington Street in the center of Irvington is lined with small businesses.

Irvington on old US 40

This building was originally a freemason’s lodge, but today it houses various businesses.

Irvington on old US 40

Just down the street is the Irving Theater, built in 1913. It was a first-run theater until about 1969, when it became an adult theater. By the early 1980s it had become a second-run theater. In the late 1980s a group of Irvington businessmen bought it and turned it into a theater showing foreign and art films. I saw a film here in about 1989. It closed in 1994 and remained that way until 2008 and is now primarily a live entertainment venue.

Irvington on old US 40

After you pass out of Irvington, the neighborhood becomes rather sketchy. I kept riding and didn’t stop for photographs. I was delighted to find that it’s slightly downhill all the way to Downtown.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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14 thoughts on “Irvington, an Indianapolis neighborhood on old US 40

  1. In the late 80s and very early 90s the Irving Theater was showing classic films, and it was one of the places Marianne and I frequented.

    One of our sons lived there for about a year and I got fairly familiar with it during that time. Some parts of the neighborhood are nicer than others, but it is indeed a pleasant little oasis in the city.

      • JP says:

        The Cinemark chain is the closest we have. When our kids were younger we hit the one near Washington Square a lot until Marianne felt it got too sketchy then we went to the one in Greenwood. I just looked and it is still there. But from where you live, the time and gas probably balances out the cheap ticket.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    When I first moved to Indianapolis, I immediately identified Irvington as one of the neighborhoods I would be interested in possibly buying a house in or living in. The attraction was the small and “alt style” shopping district, and as a renter, I’ve spent most of my life in those 1920’s era “Chicago Style” courtyard apartments (in Chicago and Milwaukee). The 70’s and 80’s era “motor hotel” type of apartments like I first ended up living in, in the Pike district, are a horror for me.

    I asked people where the predominance of those types of apartments are/were in Indy, and was told there were plenty on the Old North Side, but instead of keeping them up or converting them, they got torn down. I could tell the Old North Side would probably have been another place I would’ve liked to live before they wrecked it.

    Irvington always had one of those “alt” vibes, like being in Madison Wisconsin (the Berkeley of the Mid-west). I literally learned a ton about Indy from a guy about my age who owned Irvington Vinyl, from why the city seemed so large and ungainly (Unigov, and Richard Lugar), to what passed for the punk scene in Indy back in the day. I used to buy Christmas gifts there for my pals. A great source, but possibly no longer there, I believe he was also closing shop and leaving around the time I left.

    Hopefully there are more businesses that take advantage of those small shops available in Irvington and keep it “alt”. I met people who had been born and raised there, and still lived there and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in Indy!

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Unfortunate, but true. Some of my staff lived in Irvington, and all had stories of people they knew getting beaten and robbed on evening walks, not even what I would consider late night. Irvington is a “bridge neighborhood” (i.e. a buffer between the bad neighborhood and the better one), which I usually have a lot of experience living in, but is always a target for criminals from the “bad side” of the area. The older I get, the less I am willing to trade “architecturally wonderful” for being a crime target.

        • Margaret and I are equally considering the neighborhood I used to live in, essentially along the Kessler corridor between 38th and 56th. It’s neither hip nor cool, and the yards are huge (and therefore a lot of work), but crime is very low.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          I also loved the “Little Flower” neighborhood, but everything you had to do you had to drive to. Kind f defeats the purpose of living in the city, if you have to get in the car to get a paper and a soda.

  3. Patrick F Chase says:

    Jim,
    I now have a copy of Jonathan Knight’s 1827 original survey map of the National Road. I could send you a copy electronically if you would be interested. I would be glad to share it.

  4. One of my friends, the guitarist in my old band, lives in Irvington on Kitley south of the Pleasant Run Golf Course. He loves it there but, as others have mentioned, safety is a concern. My sister lives further east on German Church Road, where safety is also a concern.

    When I worked for a real estate investor in Carmel several years ago, Irvington, Little Flower, Holy Cross, and even portions of Twinaire were ones that we identified as possibly being the next Fountain Square, Bates-Hendricks, or Fletcher Place. Conversely and across the river, we wouldn’t touch anything in Haughville or Mars Hill with a ten-foot pole, and neither would the investors we sold to.

    • It’s funny, Irvington et. al. has been the next Fountain Square for 10 years now, and it keeps not happening.

      I go to church in Hawthorne, which is the neighborhood immediately south of Haughville. (Most people think Hawthorne is part of Haughville.) The revitalization at Central State is starting to drive up prices in those neighborhoods.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        It’s interesting to me that people always name check Fountain Square as some sort of success story, and when I moved to Indy, people would suggest I might like it there. Fountain Square is basically about 6 square blocks surrounded by some pretty run-down and disgusting housing, with some pretty marginal sociology. Didn’t “get it” when I looked, and I met people in other areas of the city that lived there for a while and their properties were robbed and vandalized repeatedly, and they wouldn’t move back. I guess it’s all based on your experience, because I’ve lived in many other cites of similar size, that had literally had dozens of neighborhoods like Fountain Square, being developed by the people moving in, not “real-estate investors”.

        For me TCS’s comment about working for a real estate invertor in Carmel says it all for me about my experience in Indy. Most all the hip and upcoming neighborhoods in many cities I’ve lived in, were “developed” by out-liers, like artists, moving in and improving them, owning the properties, and making the deals they needed to make to get their friends in, etc. My experience in Indy was that a lot of the rental properties were owned by almost criminal level “developers” doing things to renters that weren’t even legal in many cities I had lived in (like my rent that went up 40% in two years). It took me two years to find a small, family run rental property, that was more like what I was used to in Chicago, Milwaukee, and even Washington DC. Some members of my staff literally lived out of duffle bag, so that every years when their rents got raised to “unaffordable” they could vacate for another place.

        I met so many people in Indy that had virtually zero life experience living in other places, and they thought all this was normal!

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