Riverside Historic District

Muncie City, Delaware County, IN

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Homes in Munci's Riverside Historic District

The Riverside Historic District [†] is largely unchanged in form and appearance since the time of its development in the first decades of the twentieth century, and features a variety of middle class homes representative of that era. Its period of significance is from 1895, the date of construction of the district's oldest surviving building, to 1949, the date of construction of the district's newest contributing building. The latter building, a home designed by architect C. Wave Garrard in the Tudor Revival style for Mr. and Mrs. Archie Lapin, is located at 1422 West North Street.

Many events in the history of Muncie are clearly reflected in the development of the Riverside neighborhood. Munseytown, as it was first known, was laid out in 1826 by Goldsmith Gilbert, Lemuel Jackson and William Brown. Although it became the county seat soon afterward, the town grew relatively slowly until the 1886 discovery of natural gas in the area. The ensuing 'gas boom' lasted for approximately fifteen years and brought great increases in population and prosperity to East Central Indiana. Manufacturers flocked to the area because of the inexpensive fuel, and Muncie quickly became a major Midwestern industrial center. The city experienced a brief period of stagnation after the depletion of natural gas, but rebounded in the 1910s and 1920s due to the manufacturing demands of World War I and the growth of the auto industry. Each of these key occurrences in Muncie's history had a direct impact on Riverside.

Suburban settlement north of the White River, in the area that would eventually become Riverside, first began in 1887. The discovery of gas the year before and the subsequent flood of new industries and people into the area necessitated the development of new housing, away from the densely populated city center. The Riverside Addition was officially platted in April 1893, with a free trip to the Columbian Exposition offered to buyers of lots in the suburb. The boundaries of this new development were Riverside Avenue, Light, Main and Reserve Streets, just east of the portion of the neighborhood included in this nomination. Riverside was developed solely as a suburb of Muncie, and as such had very little commercial development and no industry. There was discussion in a Muncie newspaper in 1892 about a university being an appropriate addition to the neighborhood, "as it brings a quiet and progressive class of people," although this plan was never realized. Eastern Indiana Normal University, predecessor of Ball State University, opened seven years later a short distance to the west. Two residential additions were laid out to the east and the north of the original plat in the next few years, and the area became a popular middle class residential district.

Two factors concerning Riverside came to a head shortly after the turn of the century, and caused a change in the suburb's situation. First, the suburb's streets, sidewalks, and other infrastructure elements needed to be repaired and modernized, and there was no established way to fund these improvements other than by voluntary assessment. Second, leaders in both Muncie and Normal City, a suburb just to the west of Riverside, began to look covetously at this "beautiful suburb to the north." Muncie in particular was interested in annexing Riverside, to increase its tax base during this period of stagnation for the city's economy. In order to avoid annexation by either of these rival towns, and to enable taxation to pay for civic improvements, Riverside was incorporated in May 1903. Riverside City was divided into five wards and was administered by five trustees, a clerk, a treasurer and a marshal. Additions made in 1906 and 1913 expanded the town limits westward, to include most of the area of this nomination.

Annexation, the next major occurrence in the history of Riverside, occurred in 1919 and again was closely related to events hi Muncie. Just days before the Muncie City Council passed the annexation ordinance in March 1919, General Motors announced that it was planning to locate a plant in Muncie. Anticipating an increase in population because of the plant, and hoping to increase the number of taxpayers within the city limits, Muncie officials moved to annex all the platted territory within the township. The annexation of these areas would also increase the city's bond limit, and push it into the category of second class city. This latter designation would allow Muncie to keep pace with Ft. Wayne, Evansville, Terre Haute and South Bend, an important consideration hi that age of intense civic pride and boosterism. Normal City and the other suburbs went along with the annexation with little controversy, but Riverside City residents fought the change by filing a remonstrance. Supporters of an autonomous Riverside cited the suburb's lower tax rates, adequate public services, and solvency, as well as the negative moral influence of the big city. Their opponents argued that city taxes could be lowered if the tax base was increased, and that Riverside residents were already essentially a part of Muncie, enjoying all of its benefits without helping to pay the costs. After a bitter battle, annexation eventually carried the day, and Riverside City officially became part of Muncie in June 1919.

The Riverside neighborhood continued to grow after annexation, and the majority of its homes were constructed by the mid-1930s. Since that time all but three of the remaining vacant lots in the nominated district have been built upon. No homes have been demolished in the district, and the generally good maintenance of the homes has precluded the need for any significant restoration activity. The growth of Ball State University nearby has increased the demand for rental housing for students, but the majority of homes in the district remain owneroccupied.

Riverside is significant as an example of characteristic early suburban development. In Muncie's early years, as in most cities, the majority of the population lived downtown, and the traffic was predominantly pedestrian. Rich and poor tended to live side by side, and there was little differentiation of "good" and "bad" neighborhoods. As roads and transportation methods were improved during the late 1800s, however, the upper and middle classes were able to move away from the city center, while the poorer, less mobile residents remained downtown. As transportation continued to improve, particularly with the invention and mass production of the automobile, suburbs gradually moved farther and farther away from downtown. Riverside City followed this pattern. Its earliest subdivisions were located close to downtown and along a major street, while later development moved westward, away from the city center. Streetcar service, which was introduced in Muncie in 1890, was particularly important in allowing the growth of suburbs such as Riverside and Normal City. At the time of its incorporation in 1903, streetcar lines ran along the east and southwest edges of Riverside City. The interurban electric traction system, which provided relatively rapid access to more distant communities, also ran through the area by the turn of the century.

The increased noise and pollution which came as a result of industrialization also contributed to the suburban migration in Muncie and other cities in the late Victorian era. This would eventually lead to greater separation between residential and industrial areas, a distinction which was not common in earlier cities. Like today, suburban living at that time was designed to remove residents as far away from the crowded, chaotic city as possible (or at least give that illusion), while still being close enough to allow easy access to services and a convenient commute to work. The ultimate manifestation of this idea was the garden suburb of the early- to midtwentieth century. These were carefully planned developments with winding roads, many trees, greenspaces, and large lots combined to give the feeling of country living without sacrificing the conveniences of the city. Riverside represents a transition phase between city and garden suburb living, both in time and in style. It offered relatively spacious 50' x 125' lots and tree-lined streets, but still had a rigid grid of streets inherited from the city. It also grew in bits and pieces, rather than being planned and laid out all at once, as many later suburbs were.

Beyond its value as an example of suburban development, the primary significance of Riverside is its architecture. Both the architecture and the overall character of the neighborhood are highly representative of the decades of its development, and are virtually unchanged from that time. The architectural styles found in Riverside are typical of a middle class suburb of the early twentieth century. Contrasting to the ostentation of the Gilded Age, these styles tended to stress relatively simple forms which emphasize economy and efficiency rather than ornamentation. The bungalow and the American Foursquare are prime examples of this tendency, and are two of the most common styles in the Riverside neighborhood. The Colonial Revival grew out of the nation's Centennial celebration to become the most ubiquitous architectural style from the late-1800s to the mid-1900s. It is represented in Riverside by a wide variety of examples, from modest one-story cottages like those found at 1413 and 1424 West Gilbert, to large, elaborate examples at 1401 West University and 1400 West North. The Tudor Revival, another common style in the district, also arose from the growing interest in this nation's roots, and was widely used in residential architecture during this period.

Like many middle class suburbs of the time, most of the homes here were not architect-designed, and the plans and materials for some could have been purchased from mail-order catalogs. The exterior materials visible on these homes, primarily brick veneer and wood siding, are also typical of the period and have largely been retained. These representative styles and authentic materials, as well as the brick streets, contribute to the sense of time past. Subtle elements, such as the presence of front porches and the lack of driveways, also indicate that this neighborhood is the product of a different era. Other than the growth of the trees, which were originally saplings, the neighborhood appears much as it would have in the early twentieth century.

The Riverside district is a unit, with distinct boundaries and character. To the north, the expansive lawn of the former Kitselman estate and the relatively heavy traffic of University Avenue break up the intimate feeling of the neighborhood, while to the east and west, the houses have generally been more heavily altered. Alterations are also common immediately south of the district, and a factory there breaks up the residential nature of the area.

When compared to other Muncie neighborhoods of similar vintage, Riverside is unique in both the integrity and the origins of its homes. Westwood, a National Register district dating from the 1920s-1940s, overlaps the latter half of Riverside's period of significance. It was a planned garden suburb, however, and as such has a much different layout and developmental history than Riverside. Westwood was also a relatively elite neighborhood, housing many of Muncie's industrial leaders, and therefore offers a view of a different segment of society than does Riverside. Wysor Heights, another National Register district, was founded as a result of Muncie's gas boom, as was Riverside. In Wysor Heights' case, however, the neighborhood was developed by industrialist Henry Wysor primarily for himself and employees of his plant. Normal City, the neighboring suburb whose development paralleled that of Riverside, retains much less of its integrity. It is located adjacent to the Ball State University campus and many of the homes have been converted for use as student housing, and as such have generally not been appropriately altered or well-maintained. A similar fate has befallen much of Riverside City to the east and south of this nominated portion.

Although Riverside was and is a middle class neighborhood, it nonetheless has always featured a diverse population. Lawyers, doctors, professors and business owners have lived side by side with factory workers, shop clerks and students throughout Riverside's history. Generally, the more prosperous residents have lived on University Avenue and North Street, while Gilbert Street residents were more likely to be laborers. The presence of the Ontario Silver Company, which was located in a factory just south of the district by 1896, is partially responsible for the presence of smaller, working-class houses along Gilbert Street. However, this general tendency of larger houses in the north and smaller in the south should not be overstated; large and small houses, and more or less prosperous residents have always been intermingled throughout the neighborhood.

The Riverside neighborhood deserves recognition for its excellent collection of architecturally significant homes. They are remarkably intact, as a whole, and represent a variety of styles typical of the first decades of the twentieth century. The neighborhood also offers a view of the historical development of a typical middle class suburb of that era. For these reasons, the Riverside neighborhood deserves the protection and honor of listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

† Laura Renwick Dreistadt, Graduate Assistant, Mnncie Community Development, Riverside Historic Districtt, nomination document, 1997, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Golbert Street West • North Street West • University Avenue West


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