Thoms & Co.

View from
House to
Market Square

View to
House and
St. Mary's




A two-sided historic marker, located on the corner of Lockerbie and East Streets reads: 

"Lockerbie Square. This historic neighborhood was originally platted in 1847 and 1850. Its name was derived from Lockerbie Street, which was named after George M. Lockerbie, an early Indianapolis resident. James Whitcomb Riley, who resided on Lockerbie Street (1893-1916), made it famous in an 1880 poem. Lockerbie was home to business leaders, skilled laborers and craftsmen.
Side Two reads: 
     "Lockerbie Square includes residential, commercial, religious and educational structures built mainly between 1855 and 1930 in a mix of architectural styles. Neighborhood revitalization begun in 1960s resulted in first historic preservation area in Indianapolis. Listed in National Register of Historic Places, 1973; area enlarged 1987."
This marker tells us that these early residents were "business leaders, skilled laborers and craftsmen" but does not mention that this area was once known as "Germantown," a neighborhood in which German immigrants had bought property and built their houses, shops and churches. The Locomotive, an 1849 newspaper, described "Germantown" as a four-block area bound by College Avenue, New York, Market and East Sts. Surrounding parcels of real estate, including the area north of old Germantown, now known as "Lockerbie Square," were platted as German immigrants filled up the blocks to the south with their wood-frame cottages and gardens. 

In 1846 Elizabeth and Ovid Butler had purchased the last undivided parcel of land from the State of Indiana and sold it later that year to Janet McQuat. In 1850 Mrs. McQuat filed a plat subdividing a portion of the land into lots for sale. Laying out streets and alleys, she named the major street in the middle of the subdivision "Lockerbie" in honor of her father, George Murray Lockerbie, who had come to this country from Scotland. It would, eventually give this area its name: "Lockerbie Square." The construction of houses in Janet McQuat's subdivision progressed slowly until the Civil War, when the economic boom created a great demand for skilled labor. According to the Historic Area Preservation Plan of 1987: 

The Civil War saw a veritable flood of German immigrants into the subdivision of what is now Lockerbie Square. Previously located in the area south of New York Street, the German residential district rapidly spread north and east of old "Germantown" (originally located between East and Noble, New York and Market Streets (p H7). 
In 1859 T. R. Fletcher sold two lots on Noble Street (College Avenue); one to Joseph W. Staub, one of the city's first merchant tailors, and the other to Hermann Koch, a boot and shoe maker. Both began construction on their houses immediately. The next year August Spiegel and Friedrich Thoms, partners in Spiegel, Thoms and Co., a furniture manufacturing and retailing firm, bought corner lots at Vermont and Liberty Streets and erected substantial houses (now 401 and 353 North Park Avenue.) 

Advertisement for Spiegel, Thoms & Co., 1851.

The Vajen Subdivision was platted by John Henry Vajen on March 2, 1857 and recorded 13 days later. It is located in today's Lockerbie Square Secondary Area, which almost encircles the Lockerbie Square Historic Core, and is composed of nine subdivisions platted between 1845 and ca. 1900. 

During and after the Civil War, Germantown expanded north, east and westward. Germans of varying incomes moved into today's Lockerbie and built small frame houses and cottages alongside more substantial brick town-houses and they built their houses of worship. St. Paul Lutheran Church no longer exists, however others are still there: St. Joseph Catholic Church, Marienkirche - St. Mary Catholic Church, Erste Deutsche Evangelische Kirche (First German Evangelical Church) now Lockerbie Square United Methodist Church, and Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ. The Deutsche Haus-Athenaeum was the meeting place of the freethinkers. Remodeling and enlargement of buildings became common in the Germantown area in the late 19th century. Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley so loved this very German area that he spent the last 23 years (1893-1916) of his life as a paying guest of Major and Mrs. Charles L. Holstein in the Nickum-Holstein House on Lockerbie Street. 

View of parking lot from Tate-Gaunt House to Market Square Arena
    View of parking lot from Tate-Gaunt House to Market Square Arena

In the 20th century the neighborhood, described over a century ago by Riley as "Such a dear little street it is, nestled away from the noise of the city and heat of the day," fell victim to the urban blight and neglect so common in America's cities. With the encroachment of industrial buildings, owners moved, houses were demolished. Interstate I-65 access, Market Square Arena (now demolished) and parking lots, took over the old "Germantown." The area between New York and Ohio Sts., mentioned by The Locomotive in 1849, is now a part of Lockerbie Square. 

After the death of Riley and the subsequent deaths of the Holsteins, the property was acquired by the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association. It was restored and designated as the James Whitcomb Riley Home, a National Historic Landmark. A dedicated core group of "urban pioneers" led the neighborhood's revitalization. Listed in 1973 in the National Register of Historic Places as "Lockerbie Square," the area was enlarged in 1987. It is the oldest surviving historic neighborhood in Indianapolis, a nationally recognized example of successful restoration. 

Lockerbie Square succeeded Germantown as the cradle of German Indianapolis. The records of these homes tell us about the people who built their home or had it built, moved it from somewhere else, remodeled or enlarged it. There were many German names among the early residents. They attended one of the German churches in the area, and many sent their children to the German-English Independent School, a private non-sectarian school established in 1859. Its regular curriculum included physical education, and it had a manual training aspect based on the German Gewerbeschule (trade school). 

View to St. Mary's Catholic Church and Tate-Gaunt House.
View to St. Mary's Catholic Church and Tate-Gaunt House. 

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Source: Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, Lockerbie Square Historic Area Preservation Plan: A part of the Comprehensive Plan for Marion County, adopted January 1987. 

Updated: 16 November 2007, BAS
Comments to: IUPUI Max Kade German-American Center,
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