An Indianapolis Neighborhood: Woodruff Place

James O. Woodruff laid the groundwork for his namesake Woodruff Place neighborhood on the near eastside of Indianapolis in 1872. His development, which consisted of three boulevards that featured multi-tiered fountains at their centers, would boast wide, grassy esplanades. Each of these esplanades, adorned with a statuary and urns throughout, sat in the shade of mammoth, age-old trees.

The ornamentation and canopies of foliage at Woodruff Place created a hushed neighborhood plan that drew the attention of Indianapolis residents looking to live in a park-like setting. Though not many homes were built in the early days of the development, by 1876, Woodruff Place had incorporated to become its own town, and many famous people of Indianapolis started building homes there. Colonel Eli Lilly was one of them, and he coined the term “Woodruffian” to describe the independent nature of the people who were relocating there.

Though James Woodruff died in 1879 and never saw the full development of Woodruff Place, the neighborhood continued to grow. By the late 1880s, Woodruff Place was thriving with residential life. Most of the homes in the neighborhood were built between 1898 and 1910, and they represent a wealth of architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Victorian, Edwardian, Classic, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and American Foursquare homes. By the early 20th century, many of the large residences being built were duplexes meant to serve as rental units.

By the 1930s, however, interest in Woodruff Place began to wane. The introduction of the automobile brought more factories to the Circle City, and Woodruff’s proximity to downtown and its many factories caused residents to want to move farther away from the city. The economic depression also took its toll on the neighborhood’s popularity. After the second World War, Indy, like most American cities, saw a mass exodus of residents opting for suburban living. This further hurt Woodruff’s popularity until well into the 1960s.

After a long battle with the city, Woodruff lost its status as a town, and the area was annexed under city jurisdiction. By now, urban decay was well under way, and upkeep of the neighborhood’s esplanades and fountains stopped until a few saw the potential for the neighborhood and began to move back in during the 1970s. In 1972, Woodruff Place was added to the National Register. By the 1980s, the homes were restored and preserved, further attracting Indianapolis business owners, families, Indianapolis artists, and urban dwellers back to the area to live.

These days, Woodruff Place is a historically protected neighborhood through the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. The Woodruff Place Civic League boasts a large membership, and hosts many things to do in Indianapolis, such as the Woodruff Place Flea Market, the Victorian Home Tour, the White Trash Tour, a Fourth of July parade, and more. The Historic Woodruff Place Foundation raises funds for the preservation of the neighborhood, and because of its efforts, the esplanades and fountains of Woodruff Place, which at one time had fallen to such disrepair, provide a beautiful, sought-after backdrop for urban living.

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