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Samuel Henderson, the first postmaster and first mayor of Indianapolis, was also the first owner of the land now encompassing Herron-Morton Place. He did not believe Indianapolis would ever amount to much, and later sold his substantial real estate here to pursue the Gold Rush in California. In 1859, Indiana’s State Board of Agriculture purchased what are now roughly 19th to 22nd Streets and Delaware Street to Central Avenue to create a permanent Indiana State Fairgrounds.
After hosting only one State Fair in 1860, the area was requisitioned in 1861 to be the Civil War induction center for Indiana volunteers and troop training and renamed “Camp Morton,” in honor of Governor Oliver Perry Morton. In 1862, it became a Confederate prisoner of war camp, hosting more than 15,000 men through the course of the war. At the same time, much of the southern portion of the current neighborhood was home to “Camp Burnside,” with Tinker Street (now 16th street) as its southern border. Volunteers, and later, invalids and members of the Veteran Reserve Corps inhabited Camp Burnside.
With the Civil War over in 1865, the State Fair resumed festivities here. In the ensuing years, improvements were made. In 1872, the giant Exposition Building—designed by Edwin F. May, architect of the current State Capital—was erected. The fair took place in the same location until 1891, when the State Board of Agriculture purchased and relocated to the Voss Farm, where it has continued until this day. Three businessmen purchased the old fairgrounds: Edward Fay Claypool, Elijah Bishop Martindale and Willard W. Hubbard and divided it into 280 residential lots, renaming the area “Morton Place.” On the main streets of the new neighborhood—Delaware, Alabama and New Jersey—were esplanades, which lined the middle of those streets. Soon after, in the southern portion of the neighborhood, the Art Association selected the “Old Tinker” homestead as the site for a new art museum and school. Famed Hoosier artist, T. C. Steele had been residing at this property for a number of years. Art association sponsored classes began out of the old home, which was eventually razed to make way for the Vonnegut & Bohn designed John Herron Art Institute building.
Morton Place quickly became one of the most elite and desirable neighborhoods in Indianapolis. It would become home to multiple leaders in all aspects of Indianapolis life: lawyers, doctors, politicians, artists, architects and many of the most successful businessmen of the time. Unfortunately, the proliferation of the automobile and subsequent expansion of Indianapolis lured the well to do further away from the heart of the city. The automobile is also to blame for the removal of the esplanades on Delaware and Alabama Streets in the 1920’s. When the Great Depression began, many of the large single-family homes were carved up and re-purposed as multi-family dwellings, causing the neighborhood to further lose its appeal. Between 1950-1970, a number of homes were lost to fire or neglect and subsequent demolition.
The listing of Herron-Morton Place in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 helped preserve the majority of the remaining structures. New Jersey Street retains the original esplanades, and thus provides the best example of what the north half of the neighborhood once looked like.