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Historic Bloomington Walking Tours

Whether you want to learn more about the city's limestone architecture, are curious about local history or are looking for a fun-filled walk, Bloomington's Historic Districts are waiting for you.

In addition to the appealing campus of Indiana University, the international cuisine and eclectic shops, the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival and the arts community, Bloomington boasts thirteen Historic Walking Tours. Each self-paced walking tour highlights the architecture and local history of Bloomington--Indiana's limestone capital.



Cottage Grove Historic District Walking Tour

Cottage Grove Historic District is one of Bloomington's most architecturally diverse neighborhoods. A section of it was platted as early as 1853. At that time, 10th Street was a rural road called Unionville Pike. Several simple two room vernacular structures from that era are still standing along 10th Street. These double pen, saddle bag and central passage structures were among the earliest house forms in the county and are still seen more commonly in rural areas. The district also boasts the only brick Queen Anne structure remaining in Bloomington. Built in an early subdivision called Hunter's Addition, it was once part of lengthy corridor of impressive homes. Among these was the General Morton C. Hunter House. With its grand two story columns, it was a memorable part of Bloomington's most important street. In the 1970's a much-neglected Hunter House was at the center of a controversial rezoning from residential to commercial. The attempt was defeated, however the house was demolished anyway, giving rise to the local historic preservation movement. North Walnut House Western Bungalow The uniquely Bloomington bungalow depicted is sturdily built of rockfaced limestone block, a material that is more familiar on post offices and churches than residences anywhere else in the country.

Courthouse Square Walking Tour

Bloomington and Monroe County boast one of the most intact historic squares in Indiana, containing a thriving business district with unique shops and spaces. Around the square there are virtual layers of history. For example, Mike Black, proprietor of Black's Mercantile, discovered an old foundry furnace built into the foundation of his building, believed to have been built for the Seward iron works. At one time, Seward was the oldest continuously run business in Indiana, but it is most famous locally as the fabricator of the fish weathervane that you see on the dome of the Monroe County Courthouse.Buskirk and Hoagy In 1981 there was a lengthy community debate about building a modern courthouse and demolishing the old one. As a consequence of that discussion, the courthouse was finally restored. Shortly after, CFC, Inc., a local company, began the monumental job of rehabilitating the south side of the square. Since those two groundbreaking projects, downtown owners have steadily reinvested in the idea of a historic square. So much restoration has been done, in fact, that archaeological artifacts are being found constantly: A bottle of "Green River" whiskey was found during the restoration of the Redman Building also known as the Knight of Pythias Building on North Walnut. This "sour mash" was purchased from a local billiard parlor and saloon, Troutman and DeMoss, which operated in 1910 on West Kirkwood.

Historic Monroe County Courthouse

Like many other Midwestern communities, Monroe County chose to construct a new courthouse in the Beau Arts style early in the 20th century. The old courthouse was built in 1826 and remodeled on several occasions. It was a cobbled mixture of classical Greek Revival and French Second Empire styles. About the time that the old courthouse started to show its age, the nation adopted a new style of institutional architecture featured at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Courthouse fish Classically inspired exhibit halls encrusted with sculpture and carving were replicated in courthouses, libraries, city halls and post offices all over the country. Fortunately for Bloomington, limestone was the material of choice and the wealth of our community increased dramatically with the national building boom. In 1912, there were 17 stone quarries, 22 mills and 15 cut stone plants operating in Monroe county. mural photograph Bloomington lavishly borrowed from the St. Louis designers, hiring Albert Molnar, who carved the entrance sculpture "The Light of the World" and Gustav Brand whose restored murals decorate the rotunda. Saved from demolition in 1984, the Monroe County Courthouse has become a centerpiece of community pride and commitment to historic preservation.

McDoel Gardens Neighborhood Historic District

McDoel Gardens is Bloomington's most altered neighborhood from past to present. In the early 20th century, McDoel was a thriving industrial community with factories and limestone mills and was home of the Monon Railroad yard.RCA Warehouse Today the bungalows of the yard workers, featuring rows and rows of characteristic front porches, line Dodds and Dixie Streets. However, not much evidence remains of Bloomington's historic native businesses that once thrived near this district, including the Gentry Brothers Circus and Showers Brothers Kitchen Cabinet Plant. Many legends about this district still circulate today. For instance, a current homeowner on Dixie Street discovered a slab with an iron hoop built into the foundation of her basement. A former owner claimed that it was an elephant tie down from the days when the circus wintered in McDoel. Also, several neighbors suspect that the enthusiasm for gardening in this area is a covert attempt to find the graves of exotic animals that may be buried in backyards. Henderson House Hoosier Cabinets, coveted by antique collectors, were also produced in McDoel, beginning in 1919. That factory evolved and was purchased by RCA in 1927 when it began to build more modern radio cabinets. All of this land is currently being redeveloped. In order to stabilize and encourage homeownership, McDoel Gardens Neighborhood Association spearheaded the effort to make McDoel a conservation district in 2001. It was the largest Conservation District in Indiana. It became a historic district in 2004.

North Indiana Historic District

The McCalla School, built in 1907, is adapted by Indiana University for its Art School. It is perfectly suited for this use because its 10 foot high ribbon windows wrap the front of the building. Most of the houses in this neighborhood were built to capture new residents for the area being developed adjacent to Dunn's Woods where the University had moved in 1884. North 321 North Indiana Indiana Avenue was home to many prominent local businessmen, like the Wylies, the Registers, and the Sewards, but was truly a neighborhood composed of diverse economic and social backgrounds. 317 N. Indiana Hoagy Carmichael's family lived on North Dunn Street for a short time. His home was in close proximity to Bloomington's early black community which centered at 9th and Grant, the second location of the Showers Brothers Furniture Factory. In his memoirs, Hoagy readily acknowledged the influence of local black musicians on his music. Nickelodeons downtown and Fraternity dances just a few houses away provided a local testing ground for his world- famous talent.

North Washington Street Historic District

This is a new tour brochure, revised from the 1988 template to include new information on the history and revitalization of the North Washington Street National Register District. Research on Bloomington's local history is ongoing and, in particular, much has been discovered about the work of the J.L. Nichols architectural firm and the activities of the Showers family in the development of this area. Developed by W.N. and J.D Showers for their friends and family, the North Washington Street Historic District developed near the brothers' grand homes on Walnut Street, both of which are demolished. For his daughters Nellie and Jennie, William Showers built two homes with identical floor plans and similar elaborate Queen Anne decoration.Although the neighborhood is memorable for its Victorian atmosphere, it also boasts a large number of Free Classic style homes, which would have appeared refreshingly "modern" in those days. 514 North Washington Dr. Harris built the incredible craftsman style bungalow pictured below in 1915. Its massive scale and multiple gables illustrate the influence of Greene and Greene on this style. Dr. Harris House limestone steps Also found in the neighborhood are artifacts from the Victorian era like the carved limestone rails that connect houses elevated above the grade to the sidewalk below. These same curvilinear rails were common along North Walnut Street as well, although most of these homes have been lost.

Prospect Hill Historic District Walking Tour

Prospect Hill was platted in 1893 on a rounded knoll overlooking the town square. Homes in the neighborhood date from 1840 to 1936 and unlike most Bloomington neighborhoods, many, along the Rogers Street corridor are architect-designed.Restored Paris Dunning House Prospect Hill created its identity as a neighborhood when it took a stand against the demolition of the Paris Dunning House (above), which had fallen into decay. The house was located in the path of the proposed straightening of Third Steet a thoroughfare that would have been built through the center of the property. Bloomington Restorations Inc. Bloomington Restorations, Inc. saved the building in 1984. The neighbors banded together to save the surrounding houses, placing their neighborhood on the National Register in 1991 and creating the first local residential historic district that same year.

West Side Historic District

The site of Bloomington, Indiana's City Hall was once home to the Showers Brothers Furniture Factory. At its peak in the 1920s, the Showers Brothers Company produced more than 700,000 pieces of furniture a year, enough to fill 16 train-car loads a day. Producing more than half of all the furniture made in the United States, the company declared itself "the world's largest producer of bedroom and dining room furniture." Learn more about the factory in the walking tour.

Vinegar Hill Limestone Historic District

Developed in the heyday of Indiana's limestone industry, 1912-1935, Vinegar Hill Historic District is a community treasure and exuberant expression of local craft and folk art within a residential setting. The same carvers responsible for buildings and churches across the U.S., built their own limestone homes with whimsical figures and portraits as seen above. It is the only neighborhood in Indiana where yard objects are identified as folk art and contribute to the historic significance of an area.Limestone House Vinegar Hill was also a family neighborhood preferred by the academic community at Indiana University. After the university's early 20th century expansion along Third Street and the construction of Elm Heights School in 1926, young families purchased the homes along First Street. Herman J. Muller, a geneticist who won the Nobel Prize in 1946, B. Winfred Merrill, the founder of I.U.'s School of Music, and Alfred Kinsey, all lived along this illustrious strip in Bloomington.

University Courts Walking Tour

Canopied by mature trees, drawn together by Bloomington's only brick streets and bounded by limestone and brick walls, University Courts is the city's most comprehensive historic environment. A stroll through the neighborhood recalls the ambience of the 1920's and 30's. Folklore Institute The neighborhood also illustrates Bloomington's earliest apartment and mixed housing development and, for this reason, is unusual among Bloomington's historic districts. There are twins (duplexes) and flats as well as housing designed around a central courtyard. All of these concepts were a reflection of Bloomington's rapid urbanization and the growth of the university. Because University Courts was built to attract university professionals, the houses are substantial and constructed of brick, limestone, slate and clay tile. Several of the designs were created by John Nichols, Bloomington's first architect. All of the houses are one-of-a-kind in contrast to working class neighborhoods like McDoel and the Near West Side. University Courts boasts Bloomington's only true Prairie style house as well as an outstanding example of a Mission style bungalow. Mission Bungalow The neighborhood was also home to many famous local industrialists like the Johnson Brothers who co-owned the local creamery and William Hoadley, the stone company owner. University history is just as rich. Stith Thompson, eminent folklorist, lived on Fess along with William Book, a psychologist and Beatrice Geiger, long time chair of the Home Economics Department.