News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 9, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Taking a trip to Twelve Points in the year 1912

Mike McCormick
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As most every denizen knows, Twelve Points in Terre Haute is a commercial area centered near the intersection of Maple Avenue, Lafayette Avenue and North 13th Street.

It was officially designated a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. A triangular park at the “12-Point intersection” now includes a memorial to three Olympic gold medalists — Clyde Lovellette, Greg Bell and Terry Dischinger — who grew up in the Twelve Points neighborhood..

But when Jay Jones, current proprietor of Milford’s 5 and 10 Cents store at 1279 Lafayette, announced that he was closing the business in December 2012, he declared, sadly: “Twelve Points has become a ghost town.”

Jones has been trying to save this significant part of the community's heritage for many years. With a number of historic buildings, he was hopeful the district could become “another Broad Ripple.”

A century ago, and for about six decades thereafter, Twelve Points thrived. By 1912 it was practically a city in itself. All streets which provided access to the district were paved and interurbans to and from Clinton made established stops there daily.

There was good reason. Twelve Points offered numerous stores and shops in a four- to five-block radius. Doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants also were located in the district. Only downtown Terre Haute — on the other side of two railroad tracks — provided more choices.

Rail traffic was a major obstacle. Nine different railroads — the master of transportation from 1860 to 1950 — once served the community. In 1904, no less than 104 passenger trains made stops at Terre Haute’s two major depots daily.

Two buildings about which northside residents were proud 100 years ago were Garfield High School, which opened Sept. 3, 1912, and Maple Avenue M.E. Church. They also boasted about nearby Collett Park, the city’s first public park.

Walter A. Phillips may be the “father of Twelve Points” but there were other pioneers including druggist Charles W. West, 1276-1278 Lafayette Ave.; John H. Swander dry goods, 1262-1264 Lafayette Ave.; and grocer Nathan G. Wallace, 1280 Lafayette Ave. Their stores were situated on U.S. Highway 41, a paved artery leading to downtown.

In 1912, West declared that “this is the best business place in the city except Wabash Avenue. Everybody who wants to work is at work.” He had a grand vision for the district that never reached fruition:

“What we want to do is to boost the building of a bridge across the river at Durkee’s Ferry at the end of Thirteenth Street. That will provide a good road directly into Twelve Points and the construction of a bridge will bring much trade from Fayette Township farmers who have been shopping in Clinton.

“I hope the automobile people will help us push this,” West added. “There are no vacant houses around here. If there were, we would soon have them occupied.”

“We have been here eleven years and have seen this place grow from the beginning,” Swander offered. “The new glass companies (North Baltimore Bottle Glass Co. and Terre Haute Glass Manufacturing Co, which evolved into the north plant of the Root Glass Co. for a short time) have done much to bring business to this part of the city.”

Carl E. Bourne, proprietor of Lincoln Place pharmacy at Thirteenth and Maple, reported that his business was increasing every year.

“We like our location and we like the class of trade,” Bourne told a Terre Haute Tribune reporter in 1913. “The new factories which have located nearby have large payrolls and much of that money is spent in this part of town.”

“The Northside” could boast about industries other than glass manufacturing, including Standard Wheel Works, Columbian Stamping & Enameling Co., Indiana Milling Co., Terre Haute Malleable & Manufacturing Co. and Coca Cola Bottling Co. Chesty Foods became a conspicuous addition during World War II.

DePeugh’s Cigar Store and Harold Crooks Drug Store were important Twelve Points businesses. Tradition, now substantially documented, credits the movement which resulted in the founding of Garfield High School as originating during idle conversation in Crooks, 960 Lafayette Ave., following a 1908 train-street car accident.

By that time Twelve Points was nearly a self-sufficient community. After the Royal Theater opened, the only serious district need was a secondary school.

When a name was sought for the new high school prior to construction, “Twelve Points High School” was a popular choice. Other suggestions included “Northside High School,” “Maple Avenue High School” and “Horace Mann High School.”

The initial enrollment figure at Garfield tallied 432 students. During the 1911-12 school year, Wiley High School — the city’s only public secondary school — had 938 students. On the first day of the 1912-13 academic year, Wiley had 743 students, resulting in a secondary public school enrollment of 1,175.

The total enrollment seemed to confirm the argument that distance and safety concerns were obstacles preventing many from finishing high school.

 By the early 1920s, the Twelve Points Hotel, Twelve Points Tavern, Twelve Points Dry Goods Co., Twelve Points Roofing Co., Twelve Points Savings & Loan Association and the Twelve Points State Bank were flourishing. Cross and Thomas funeral homes established a Twelve Points identity.

Later, there were the Twelve Points Childrens Shop, Twelve Points Pet Shop, Twelve Points Apple House, Twelve Points Barber Shop, Twelve Points Laundry, Twelve Points Washing Machine Co. and Twelve Points Watch Repair. The Royal Theater was succeeded by the Swan and Garfield theaters.

Carosi’s, Shuffle Inn, Loma Linda, Kaperak’s Kitchen, J & O Sandwich Shop, Home Restaurant, Steak ‘N’ Shake, Wagon Wheel Café and A Ring Brings Pizza were among many specializing in food service.

Gradually the reasons Twelve Points initially thrived ceased to exist. Rail traffic declined, passenger rail service halted and the city’s two major depots closed.

Downtown evaporated with the arrival of I-70 and the shopping malls. School consolidation closed Garfield and extinguished the need for McLean Junior High School, another Twelve Points inhabitant. Railroad overpasses on Third Street, Fruitridge Ave. and Fort Harrison Ave. made trans-city access much easier.