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Vinegar Hill Historic District

The surge of prosperity brought by the thriving limestone industry and the expansion of Indiana University on its new east side campus, led to the steady spread of residential development south and east of downtown between 1900 and 1940. The vigorous expansion of the limestone industry played out upon the landscape in many ways. At one time, seventeen separate mills and quarries were located within the city limits. In Vinegar Hill, its influence created a unique collection of homes, a majority of which are associated with stone construction in some way. The coming of rail transportation, power extraction tools and new building styles augmented the desirability of oolitic stone. Ideally traditional Greek Revival and Beaux Arts styles were best expressed in limestone. Its fine texture and color expressed a purity and elegance that was much valued in institutional architecture. Among its champions was Richard Morris Hunt, who was commissioned by the Vanderbilts to interpret a fantastic French chateau in the highly adaptable white stone.

Bloomington's rolling topography suggested the name Vinegar Hill, likening it to the several neighborhoods: Prospect, Fairview, Rose and Pigeon named after various knolls in town. Local stories imply that the smell of orchards and fallen apples further distinguished the area. Construction was spurred by the completion of the Elm Heights School in 1926 and the expansion of the University along East Third Street.

The first to build houses along First Street were stonecarvers, many of Italian or German birth, who had been brought to Bloomington by quarry owners who valued their skills and artistry. Among those skilled artisans who made their homes in Vinegar Hill were Chris Donato, Dominick Mazullo, Fred Bruner, Joseph Anthony, Josef Graf and William Franzman. The homes themselves are exceptionally detailed, with interior stone mantles and balustrades, as well as exterior carved transoms and window surrounds. The styles range from Classical, Craftsman through Art Deco. Revival architecture allowed the artisans a broad range of expression in stone. Both as social history and as exceptional architectural expression, the district is unique in the State of Indiana.

Along with the quarry owners and stonecarvers, homeowners in the area included many renowned Indiana University faculty and administrators. Hermann Muller, Indiana University's only Nobel Laureate, lived in the classic Dutch Colonial house at the corner of Woodlawn and First. Muller's pioneering research was on the effect of radiation on genetics and particularly established the use of fruit flies for genetic inquiry. Professor Alfred Kinsey designed his own home at 1320 E. First Widely known for his research in human sexuality, Kinsey had a storm tossed career at Indiana University. The heated controversies surrounding his research were in stark contrast with his more domestic preference for gardens and nature. The first Dean of Indiana University's renowned School of Music, Winfred Merrill resided in an unusual French Provincial style home that was designed by Ernest Flagg. Highly crafted and individualized, the home's modernity belies its actual construction date of 1927. The rubble filled walls and central courtyard, are unique among Vinegar Hill's historic resources.

Christopher Donato is responsible for four homes in the Vinegar Hill District and another on the corner of 3rd and Dunn is associated with his family. Each home is distinguished by custom carved designs on transoms, balustrades, and lintels. The styles range from Renaissance garlands to geometric Art Deco. Bloomington photographer Charles Gilbert Shaw photographed many of these houses when they were newly constructed, so excellent documentation is available of the builders' intent.

News Release June 2005:

Bloomington's Vinegar Hill Historic District has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places effective June 17, 2005. The listing is the result of almost two years' worth of effort on the part of the Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) Department, neighborhood residents, an Indiana University class, and consultant, Joanne Stuttgen"Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this nomination was the opportunity for people in the neighborhood to sort through their memories and recover information about the neighborhood and its houses," said Nancy Hiestand, HAND Program Manager for historic preservation. "The role that historic preservation plays in preserving community history should always be acknowledged." The nomination was made possible by a Historic Preservation Fund Grant administered through the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. This fund also assisted in the publication of Bloomington's Historic Sites and Structures Inventory, the nomination of the Steele Dunning Historic District and The Legg House. Interest in the Vinegar Hill area was sparked by a book published 25 years ago, "Bloomington Discovered," by Diana Hawes and Karen Craig. This book first identified the corridor along East 1st Street as an area unique in its illustration of the city's limestone history. In the fall of 2003, students from IU's Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design course, taught by Marleen Lipsick-Newman, gathered oral histories and photographs and culled the archives of the Indiana Room for information about individual homes in the area. Several neighborhood meetings were held at the old Elm Heights School, now Harmony School. Neighbors were enthusiastic in their support of the nomination and many volunteered to be interviewed. As part of their research, the students were invited to tour several homes and they took photographs and documented many unknown limestone artifacts. Vinegar Hill now joins an inventory of seven Bloomington historic districts and 20 buildings and sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. A lecture on Vinegar Hill's history by Joanne Stuttgen featuring comments by several early residents aired on CATS-TV and is available for replay on request.