INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) Indiana Landmarks, an organization dedicated to restoring and repurposing historic buildings, has released its annual 10 Most Endangered list.
The list is comprised of places that face a combination of problems ranging from neglect, dilapidation, abandonment, obsolete use, unreasonable above-market asking price or have owners who lack money for repairs.
“Indiana Landmarks uses its 10 Most Endangered list in several ways. Sometimes it serves an educational role. It functions as an advocacy tool. And it can assist in raising funds needed to save a place,” says Marsh Davis, president of the nonprofit preservation organization. “Every listing comes with significant challenges. In all cases, when an endangered place lands on our list, we commit to seeking solutions that lead to rescue and revitalization.”
10 Most Endangered
Located at 511 West Colfax in South Bend, this home was built in 1898.
Born into a manufacturing dynasty, J.B. “Ben” Birdsell was one of the city’s industrial titans. His father, agricultural inventor John C. Birdsell, moved to South Bend from New York in 1864 to produce an innovative machine for threshing and hulling clover. Eventually, J.B. took over operations at the company and commissioned the city’s leading architectural firm, Parker & Austin, to design a suitably prominent home for his family. With hardwood paneling, ornate fireplaces, and a third-floor ballroom, the new house fit the bill.
An absentee owner holds the house today. It’s been vacant for more than a decade, with a growing list of code violations. Water seeping in through missing windows and leaking gutters is cause for increasing concern. The size of the house and extent of damage will make repurposing it a challenge, but the Birdsell Mansion deserves a chance to recapture its elite status.
Cades Mill Covered Bridge
Located in Fountain County, this covered bridge was built in 1854.
It is the state’s oldest covered bridge still in its original location, but it’s a distinction in peril. In 2019, a covered bridge contractor assessing the bridge discovered a broken chord, a serious structural compromise that unless repaired could cause the 150-foot bridge to collapse.
Built to help Fountain County’s early settlers travel to a mill at Coal Creek, the span is one of three historic covered bridges remaining in Fountain County. It has served as a pedestrian bridge for decades, bypassed after construction of a newer concrete bridge in 1976. Deferred maintenance in the intervening years hastened the historic bridge’s decline.
The Fountain County Art Council Historical Committee has been raising money for complete rehabilitation. Repairs are estimated at over $800,000, and ongoing pandemic-related labor and materials shortages are expected to increase the price tag. In an area with limited resources, finding money to rehabilitate Cades Mill Covered Bridge is a daunting challenge.
Geter Means House
Located at 2044 Monroe Lane in Gary, this home was built in 1954.
In the 1920s, brothers Andrew and Geter Means launched a home-building business in Gary, and by the 1950s, Means Brothers, Inc., was one of the largest Black-owned real estate development companies in the Midwest, building almost 2,000 homes and rental units in Gary alone.
Means Manor is one of the company’s greatest imprints on the city. With nearly 200 houses—including the brothers’ own homes—the neighborhood quickly became the preferred area for middle-class African American home buyers. Today, it remains a close-knit neighborhood where many residents have lived their entire lives, an anchor of stability in a city struggling with deterioration and disinvestment.
The Geter Means’ mid-century ranch house served as a neighborhood focal point. However, over the last decade, vacancy, vandalism, and neglect have transformed the property into a blight among Means Manor’s well-kept homes. As the house continues to languish, neighbors mow the lawn and pick up the trash. But they also fret; without action, one of Means Manor’s cornerstone properties could deteriorate to the point of no return.
Hulman Building and Garage
Located at 20 Northwest 4th Street, 109-111 Northwest 3rd Street, Evansville, the building was constructed in 1929.
The 10-story commercial building has dominated Evansville’s downtown skyline. Commonly known as the Hulman Building after the company that acquired the site in the 1930s, the building exemplifies Art Deco style as applied to a city skyscraper.
The downtown landmark has been largely vacant and neglected for years, with water leaking in through the roof and windows. In spring 2022, an out-of-state buyer purchased the Hulman Building and neighboring 1927 garage in an online auction, relisting the properties for sale as separate parcels. Splitting up the properties and access to sufficient parking for the Hulman Building makes it less desirable for re-development, further jeopardizing the building’s future.
Without a reuse plan for the property, its high-style period lobby is at risk of being stripped and sold. The Hulman Building is an anchor landmark in an area of downtown that has lost several buildings. The Art Deco standout needs a preservation-minded developer with a vision for making its rare architectural features shine once again.
Knox County Poor Asylum
Built in 1882, the building is located at 2830 Arc Avenue in Vincennes.
In the nineteenth century, Indiana’s plan for caring for the poor and disabled centered on the development of poor farms, where people in need could work in exchange for housing and food. All 92 counties created poor farms between 1831 and 1860, but as federal agencies supplanted them, county homes gradually lost their purpose, leaving county governments and private owners struggling to find new uses for the historic complexes. Today, only 47 remain.
In 2014, Indiana Landmarks supported a multiple property National Register nomination for all of Indiana’s county homes, paving the way for individual homes to be listed, including the Knox County Poor Asylum in Vincennes. The 1882 building, built to replace an earlier predecessor, is now vacant and deteriorating.
The building was last occupied in 2004, and in 2020 the County transferred ownership of the property to a nonprofit that wants to rehabilitate the property as a hospice facility. After nearly 20 years of vacancy, the historic building needs significant investment to stabilize the structure and ensure its future. Without substantial resources to make urgently needed repairs, the Knox County Poor Asylum faces demolition by neglect.
First Friends Church
Located at 1501 S. Adams Street in Marion, the church was designed in 1914.
For nearly 20 years, trailblazing African American architect Samuel Plato, lived and worked in Marion, designing houses, schools, stores, an apartment complex, and churches. Today, only a few of his designs remain in the city, and another one—First Friends Church on Adams Street—is in serious danger.
In the nineteenth century, the Quaker congregation that established First Friends Church championed efforts to treat the local Black community equitably, supporting Abolitionist efforts and aiding residents of Weaver, a nearby African American settlement. When the congregation outgrew its first church, members hired Plato in 1914 to design a new house of worship.
The Friends’ forward-thinking approach to race relations harmonized with Plato’s own practices. He promoted social progress in a white-dominated field by hiring integrated crews for his projects, creating training and jobs for African Americans, and insisting that Black contractors on his projects be allowed to join the same local workers’ unions as their white counterparts.
First Friends Church has been empty for over a decade, languishing in the hands of an out-of-state owner who has made no improvements. Plywood covers one of the large stained-glass windows—damaged a few years ago in a windstorm—while plaster crumbles and paint peels from the walls inside. Without action to halt deterioration, Marion could lose yet another significant landmark designed by one of the early twentieth century’s most prominent African American architects.
Stinesville Commercial Buildings
Located on West Main Street in Stinesville, about 15 miles northwest of Bloomington, the buildings were built between 1884 and 1894.
The two-story I.O.O.F. Lodge and four limestone-faced commercial buildings on Main Street are all that remain of Stinesville’s once-bustling downtown. The historic lodge houses the Stinesville Mercantile and local post office, but the other buildings have been vacant for decades. The block first appeared on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list in the 1990s.
With their handsome limestone facades and large storefront windows, the four commercial buildings don’t look bad from the front, but behind the facades, their serious deterioration becomes obvious. Last year, the City offered the block of four for $1 to anyone who could stabilize and restore them, but got no takers.
The group is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Stinesville Commercial Historic District, which makes the buildings eligible for rehabilitation tax credits, but with each passing year, prospects for saving them fade.
Located in New Castle, the three-story Classical Revival edifice has terra cotta details and large windows that reflect the 1869 courthouse across the street.
The building remains attractive, but its condition is precarious. It needs a new roof, and the demolition of its neighbor to the west left a formerly interior wall exposed. The structure has been vacant for years, used primarily as an overflow storage facility for county records. With no funds to address long-deferred maintenance, county officials have repeatedly discussed demolishing the building and using the space as a parking lot.
Following our 10 Most listing last year, Henry County commissioners issued a request for redevelopment proposals and received a number of responses. As they consider options, the building’s fate remains in limbo. In a community that’s already lost so much, demolishing the Courthouse Annex would rob New Castle’s courthouse square of its historic character and deal a devastating blow to the city’s downtown district.
James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium
Located in Seymour, the gym was one of Indiana’s largest high school gymnasiums when it was built by Works Progress Administration workers in 1941.
The James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium provided the backdrop for decades of local basketball memories, hosting 21 sectional titles from 1942-1970. A local family purchased the long-vacant property in 1996 and later had to demolish the seriously dilapidated 1910 high school nearby, leaving the gym as the last tangible school tie to the site for many Seymour alumni.
Today the gym remains empty. Vandals continue to break windows and cover walls with graffiti, despite the current owner’s attempts to secure the property. Though roof leaks have allowed water to infiltrate the building, an architectural assessment showed the steel and concrete gym to be structurally sound.
The building occupies a city block in the National Register-listed Walnut Street Historic District, surrounded by open land that could make it a target for residential development. In other areas of the state, historic high school gyms have found new use as community recreational centers, event centers, and restaurants. There is community support for saving the Shields Gym, but the shot clock is counting down.
Kamm and Schellinger Brewery
Located in Mishawaka, the brewery operated from 1887 to 1951 with the original building dating back to 1853.
After the brewery closed, developers adapted the site in the 1970s as 100 Center, a thriving complex of shops, residences, restaurants, and businesses. Beginning in the late ‘80s, 100 Center began losing tenants to newer malls, and earlier this year one of the few remaining businesses—a restaurant housed in the brewery’s former boiler house—closed for good. Several other structures in the historic complex are vacant and dilapidated, including the original four-story brewery building dating to 1853.
Since we added Kamm and Schellinger to our 10 Most Endangered list last year, the City purchased a vacant adjacent building with plans to demolish it—a move that boosts development potential for the historic complex. Buyers have expressed interest in the brewery, but the owner remains unresponsive. In the meantime, a tax sale on the property complicates the site’s prospects.
The Kamm and Schellinger Brewery is the last of a thriving industrial area along the Mishawaka riverfront and one of the area’s few remaining examples of pre-Civil War architecture. With a long list of code violations and accelerating decay, finding a viable plan for the complex is challenging. But the buildings’ solid masonry construction and significant local history merit a chance at rehabilitation.