History of Ransom Place
Ransom Place is the oldest African-American neighborhood in Indianapolis. It was established in 1897 and had consisted originally of about four dozen houses located on six blocks. The neighborhood was redeveloped by committed residents in 1945 when it received a boost from the newly formed Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission. This then inspired the formation of the National Association from African-American Heritage Preservation to promote the recognition of historically black communities in other cities.
Currently, Ransom Place is the most intact 19th century neighborhood associated with African-Americans in Indianapolis. The neighborhood was named after Freeman B. Ransom who lived from 1882 to 1947. He was an attorney and general manager of the Walker Manufacturing Company, a cosmetics firm founded by Madam C.J. Walker. The area was once a thriving community for African Americans and included both their homes and businesses.
Original construction began in Ransom Place around 1887 with one block being completely built out that year and continuing on through 1920. However, almost immediately the demographics of the neighborhood began to change. From 190 to 1920, the population of Ransom Place changed from an 86-percent white majority to a 96-percent African-American majority. The city council passed a short-lived ordinance in March 1926 upholding residential segregation. It was later deemed unconstitutional and was repealed in November 1926.
Ironically, the loosening of racial discrimination after the 1950’s had the effect of undermining Indiana Avenue businesses when options of African-Americans expanded beyond that district. Construction of homes at Ransom Place continued until about 1950 when the area finally became fully developed. It was during this period of time in the 1950’s that the overall neighborhood began to decline and the Ransom Place properties started to deteriorate. At this time, some of the homes fell into disrepair, become vacant and then were razed.
In the 1960’s, Indiana University and Purdue University started purchasing land in order to establish a downtown campus. IUPUI, in coordination with the City of Indianapolis, systematically acquired nearly 1,000 properties from the 1960’s into the early 1980’s. The expansion of the IUPUI campus and other commercial development continued to grow and surround the Ransom Place neighborhood. In 1970, a proposal was made to establish the position of Vice Chancellor of Community Development at IUPUI to help smooth the growing tensions between IUPUI and the surrounding neighborhoods; however, this did not happen for several decades.
Ransom Place began a period of revitalization when Jean Spears decided to sell her home in Lockerbie Square and move into 849 Camp Street in 1987. Jean Spears had been active in preservation since the 1970’s and took a new challenge in Ransom Place. Spears and others selected the name Ransom Place from Made C.J. Walker’s, General Manager, Freeman B. Ransom, as a wire to inspire upwardly mobile African-Americans.
On August 4, 1991, Spears and four other residents comprised a Board of Directors and were incorporated by the State of Indiana as the Ransom Place Neighborhood Association, Inc. The Ransom Place Historic District was certified by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and was listed on the National Register of Historic Place on December 10, 1998.
Currently, the residential area comprising Ransom Place is zoned D-8, which is a unique district, designed for application in older developed urban areas. Lots included within this zoning district shall have minimum lot widths of thirty feet, minimum rear yards of fifteen feet, minimum side yards of an aggregate ten feet with no side yard less than four feet. There must be a minimum fifty-five percent open space with maximum building height of thirty-five feet and accessory buildings of twenty feet. The minimum main floor area shall be no less than nine hundred square fee for one-story buildings and six hundred feet for multi-level buildings. This district is used for urban dwellings including one of the following: single-family and two-family. This zoning classification limits occupancy to four non-related people per dwelling and requires at least two off-street parking spaces per residence.