News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 20, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Historic efforts to open Center Street from Cherry to Swan

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Efforts to open Center Street, from Cherry to Swan, spanned a half century or more.

In early 1922, as the Terre Haute Board of Public Works embarked on a campaign to open the platted street between Sixth and Seventh downtown, book and newspaper dealer Louis D. Smith recalled attempts in years past, commencing during the 1870s.

In 1922, Smith maintained what was described as the city’s most complete book and newspaper store at 673 Wabash Ave.

Long identified as Terre Haute’s premier professional baseball aficionado, Smith was a stockholder in the Terre Haute Baseball Club when it joined the Northwestern League in 1884. He later promoted Terre Haute pro teams in the Three-I and Central leagues.

“Way back in the Spring of 1874, I took Paul Dresser’s place as a clerk in the Post Office lobby,” Smith recalled with a smile on his face.

“The Post Office was located just behind the building that houses the Saturday Spectator newspaper now (later known as Spectator Court).

“Paul Dresser resigned to take a place as singer for Ben Dodge, who sold ‘Speedy Cure,’ a patent medicine, from a hack at the corner of Sixth and Wabash. I do not know whether the cure was very speedy or not but sales were after Dresser began singing for them. At that time, the job as post office clerk paid $3 a week.”

Smith participated in efforts to open Center Street in 1875, 1878, 1880 and 1882.

“A group of us approached Mayor Joseph M. Wildy in 1878, Mayor Benjamin G. Havens in 1880 and Captain William H. Armstrong in 1882. But we grew discouraged and let the matter drop,” he recalled.

“There were no buildings on the north side of Wabash Avenue then and it could have been done with little expense. But we couldn’t get the folks down on Second and Third streets interested in this sparsely settled part of town east of Fifth Street. It was out in the country for them.

“The north side of Wabash Avenue used to be the circus grounds in those days. Whenever I wanted to go to the circus all I had to do was cross the street.

“When they first started to put up buildings along the north side of Wabash I used to sit in a sandpile and watched the men at work. Whenever I had a customer, I would cross the street, wait on him, and then go back again. That’s how rushing business was!

“Later I opened a book store at 645 Wabash Ave. and I paid $12 a month rent. And when the rent was double that amount I thought the landlords were grisly old skin flints. Today many of the rooms along there rent for $450 and $500 a month.”

During March 1922, City Engineer Warren H. Brewer submitted a report to the Board of Works using figures taken from property tax duplicates to estimate the future condemnation cost for land, buildings and improvements taken.

The only improvements needed to be acquired on Cherry Street were a two-story brick residence and a brick barn owned by grain dealer and horse enthusiast Paul Kuhn. Land value on the tax duplicates was $313 a front foot.

Three buildings on the north side of Wabash would have to be taken:

n 634 Wabash, the three-story brick Valentine Building owned by Ben Blumberg and occupied by William G. Valentine’s Economical Rexall Drug Store on the first floor. Upper story tenants included Dr. D. Harley Forsyth, physician; Dr. George W. Russell, dentist; Mrs. Sauer Harrell, chiropodist; Mrs. Mary E. Ristine, masseuse; and Rose Farrington, dance instructor.

n 636 Wabash, brick business building owned by Sophie Wheeler, which housed the offices of Citizens Gas & Fuel Co.

n 640 Wabash, brick business building owned by Ben Blumberg, which was occupied by Julius Goldberg’s Cloak and Millinery Store.

Two brick buildings on the south side of Wabash owned by Charles and Helen Minshall would have to be condemned. 635-639 Wabash was occupied by S.S. Kresge Five and Ten Cent Store. Jeweler Glen C. Brown, photographer Robert B. Hape and attorney Benjamin F. Small were among the Minshalls’ tenants at 641 Wabash.

The only structure needed on the north side of Ohio Street was the YMCA gymnasium, a free standing building valued at about $41,000. The YMCA itself would not be affected.

Former distiller Fred B. Smith’s commercial building at 641 Ohio St. was the only edifice needed on the south side of Ohio. It housed Terre Haute Mutual Fire Insurance Co.; Henry F. Schmidt, watchmaker; Citizens Independent Telephone Co.’s auditing department; Fuller Brush Co.; and Edgar Ainsworth & Son Construction Co. Smith was vice president of the telephone company.

Two units of the apartments owned by Bruce and Helen Bement, popularly known as the “Bement Flats,” on the north side of Walnut Street would be affected. In 1922, land on the south side of Walnut and the north side of Poplar once used as Wiley High School’s athletic field was still a pasture owned by the Deming Land Company.

Mrs. Harriet Sankey’s residence at 649 Poplar St. was destined for razing and a slice from the tract owned by Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church would be taken.

Parts of the residential lot owned by Fannie G. Belden and Rosa Worthington at 644 Swan St. and a tract at 648 Swan in the name of Effie G. Kennedy would be affected by condemnation.

City Engineer Brewer’s initial calculation for property damage was placed at $550,000. It was estimated that losses incurred by merchants would elevate the total damage figure to above $750,000.

Proponents of opening Center Street felt it would transform downtown Terre Haute from “a one street town” into a more complete downtown. Though the Board of Works seemed to have its mind made up to open the street in 1922 or soon thereafter, its efforts remained unsuccessful.

Herman Mayer, a Wabash Avenue landlord, spoke for the opposition when he said, “It will cost too much to open Center Street. There is no demand for it. I believe that we can get Charley Minshall, who owns the Kresge store building, to bring an injunction suit. … Property owners have too many expense burdens now.”