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Holt, Pershing, Belleview, Morris: How the west side roads got named

A street sign at the intersection of Belleview Place and Ray Street May 31, 2024. (Provided Photo/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

INDIANAPOLIS (MIRROR INDY) — History is everywhere in Indianapolis, and it’s closer to home than many of us know.

Every day thousands of city residents live on or drive by streets named after people important to the city’s development — names that are commonly shared or typed into mapping apps without many people knowing who they are or what they’ve done.

Mirror Indy looked into several of their stories on the west side.

Anti-German sentiment led to Pershing Avenue and Belleview Place

Pershing Avenue, which stretches from 16th Street in the Haughville neighborhood to Raymond Street in West Indianapolis, and Belleview Place, which stretches from Lafayette Road to West Wilkins Street, are products of anti-German sentiment during World War I.

Germans were the largest non-English-speaking minority group in the U.S. by 1910. When the war began in 1914, most ethnic Germans wanted the U.S. to remain neutral. Some Americans who considered themselves patriots, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, warned immigrants to abandon their homeland loyalties or risk being branded a “traitor.”

When the U.S. formally joined the war on April 4, 1917, things got worse for German Americans. Egged on by government officials and a government propaganda agency called the Committee on Public Information, communities across the country changed the names of schools, foods, streets and towns with German names. 

Here in Indianapolis, city councilors Otto B. Pettijohn and Lee J. Kirsch introduced Special Ordinance No. 3 on March 18, 1918, which, among other changes, sought to change the name of Bismarck Avenue to Pershing Avenue and Germania Avenue to Flora Avenue.

Bismarck Avenue shared the name with Otto Von Bismarck, the Prussian president who led the reunification of several independent German states into a united German Empire. 

Bismarck Avenue would be renamed in honor of Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, the U.S. military presence in Europe during World War I. 

The changes were approved on April 15, 1918, but instead of being named Flora Avenue, Germania Avenue would be renamed Belleview Place, or “beautiful view” in French, a name selected by some property owners on that street, according to the April 16, 1918 edition of The Indianapolis Star.

The war would last until Nov. 11, 1918. In all, about 130,000 Hoosiers would serve during the war. About 3,000 lost their lives.

Holt Road named after wealthy politico

Holt Road, which stretches from Kentucky Avenue in the Mars Hill neighborhood on the southwest side to 11th Street just east of Speedway, was named after Sterling R. Holt, who built a fortune in Indiana after his wealthy North Carolina family lost most of its wealth during the Civil War.

Holt was a major landowner in Mars Hill who later chaired the Democratic Party in Indiana and Marion County in the late 1800s. He also headed several businesses in Indianapolis and later became the city controller. 

Holt caused a minor scandal when he resigned his state party chairmanship in 1896 due to a disagreement with the state party’s decision to back the use of silver, in addition to gold, to back up the U.S. dollar. Supporters of the “Free Silver” movement, as it was called, believed using silver would expand the amount of money available to farmers and other needy Americans, calling it “poor man’s money,” but opponents, like Holt, worried it would dilute the power and influence of people who had already built their fortunes. 

According to a 1910 biography, Holt came to Indianapolis in 1869 and attended the Bryant & Stratton Business College on North Pennsylvania Street near Market Street, which is now a parking garage. He served as a clerk at a dry goods store for three years then left to start a drug store at 164 W. Washington St., which is now the site of the One North Capitol Center. He sold the business and invested in the Indianapolis Ice Co., which eventually became Holt Ice and Storage Co. The profits from that business allowed him to invest in many other businesses, which allowed him to gain influence in the city. 

He died in 1931 and is buried in the Danville South Cemetery in Hendricks County along with his wife, Mary Holt.

Morris Street

Morris Street stretches from Raceway Road at the very western edge of Marion County to Prospect Street in Fountain Square. The street was named after a wealthy landowning family that established itself in Indiana just as the city was being founded in 1821.

Morris Morris — yes, you read that correctly — was the head of the family. He was born in Virginia in 1780, moved to Kentucky as a child and later practiced law there. 

According to the 1884 History of Indianapolis and Marion County, he quit practicing law because he believed it interfered with his Christian life. Morris opposed slavery and moved out of Kentucky to Indianapolis in 1821.

Morris bought many lots of land in and near Indianapolis. He was elected to the Indiana House in 1826 and served one term. He was elected state auditor in 1828 and stayed in office until 1844. He also spent two years on the Indianapolis City Council beginning in 1847 to finish a councilor’s term.

One of Morris’ sons, Thomas A. Morris, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1834. He was in the same 1830 freshman class as Edgar Allan Poe, who would later be kicked out of the academy. 

Thomas A. Morris later briefly served as the state’s quartermaster general and as a brigadier general at the beginning of the Civil War. He later became president of several railroad companies and was part of the committee that selected the land that would become the Crown Hill Cemetery. He also served on the state committee that arranged the construction of the Indiana Statehouse and was later president of the Indianapolis Water Co.

Another of Morris Morris’ sons, John D. Morris, became a businessman. He built the Morris-Butler House in the Old Northside neighborhood in 1864.

Any other places?

Are there any other places on the west side you’d like to know more about? 

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Mirror Indy reporter Enrique Saenz covers west Indianapolis. Contact him at 317-983-4203 or enrique.saenz@mirrorindy.org. Follow him on X @heyEnriqueSaenz.