By Michael Sandy
Author of “485 West Pine Street: A Brief History of People and Place”
The SullivanMunce Cultural Center is a Zionsville treasure and I spent many afternoons there researching our home and our Village. Knowledgeable, helpful staff and fascinating resources made this project a joy, and I ended up creating a 40-page “coffee table” book. Art, genealogy, a museum, (and my book!) are waiting for your visit.
Just a bit of what I learned:
If you take a walk from our front porch at 485 West Pine, you can travel almost 200 years in just 200 steps. Head out to Pine Street, look east toward Fourth Street, and then turn west and walk up to Sixth and Pine. You will pass homes built as recently as 2015, as early as 1862, and if you look carefully up Sixth Street to the corner of Oak, you will see the site of David Hoover’s first log cabin, built in 1823. From Fourth and Pine to Laurel and Pine, you have walked nearly 200 years in 200 steps and enjoyed what makes the Village a special place.
There are 19 homes along those two and a half blocks, and 14 of them are at least a century old.
Was Zionsville just a happy accident? After all, this story began with a modest house on Main Street in a small midwestern town – the very definition of nondescript. Yet 150+ years later, it’s 485 West Pine and a designated Century Structure nestled in the “Village of Zionsville.” A beautiful old home in a much-desired place to live among Indiana communities.
Happy, yes…but no accident.An excerpt from: “485 West Pine Street: A Brief History of People and Place”
Founded in 1852, Zionsville’s population was right around 1,000 in 1870 and did not exceed that number until after 1930. Things were quiet around here, right through 1970 (population 2,000). But then, local leaders woke up one morning and had the vision to limit growth and discourage “updating” old buildings with the worst trappings of 1970’s architecture. Thus, while nearby towns spent most of the last quarter of the 20th century plowing under or vinyl siding over their old town center, Zionsville managed to retain its Main Street and small-town homes with their patina of age and family life. Believe it or not, by the 1980’s, while Carmel was busy planting houses on every available farm field, Zionsville was limiting new construction permits by law to no more than 50 per year.
Exclusionary? Perhaps…but visionary too, with benefits everyone living here now enjoys. Those leaders and those laws are long past, but they saved the past. Zionsville owes them much, payable by remembering and continuing their efforts to protect the future by respecting our history.
Today we hear the marching boot-heels of retail armies encircling Zionsville, but we don’t need to spend millions creating a faux town because we have a real town, a vibrant time capsule filled with homes that practically live and breathe. It’s the rapidly fading history of 19th and 20th century America…the story of our country… told through architecture and preservation. How can we maintain this authenticity in our 21st century wind tunnel world? We all accept that change will come under any circumstances, but change does not always need to include a bulldozer. Maybe…just maybe…if you know the history of the houses, you can help preserve them and their Village.
As for 485 West Pine, longevity isn’t just fortunate happenstance either…it’s here because generations stood with it. Each owner made it part of the family, helped it thrive and grow and become perfectly not perfect. Aren’t the most interesting parts of life oddly shaped spaces and scratched floors anyway?
So walk around the tree-lined (and tree-named) streets. Admire the “doll houses” and wince just a little at the “tear-downs,” understanding why those neighbors want to live here too. The homes are filled with fascinating and often untold stories. This book tells a few about one of them, ours for a while as stewards of its future and the future of Zionsville.
The book is on sale at the SullivanMunce Cultural Center, and 100% of the purchase price goes directly to the SullivanMunce.