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District History

The McDoel Historic District began as a movement to conserve neighborhood housing in an area being slowly eroded by the surrounding institutional uses. The struggle to recognize McDoel was concurrent with a new respect for vernacular architecture and working class neighborhoods on the part of the preservation movement generally.

New guidelines, adopted in August of 2014, reflect the wishes of residents to retain protection as well as to develop a flexibility that encourages diverse incomes and flexible review within the district. McDoel Gardens continues to thrive because of their participation and concern in neighborhood issues. This revision of the McDoel guidelines reflects the belief that the district should be regulated in a manner that is consistent with the successful guidelines adopted in 2000.

"The intent of the guidelines is to maintain a high quality of life within the neighborhood for residential and non-residential owners alike. Livability should be supported by maintaining affordability and property values, fostering energy conservation, fostering the visual compatibility of the neighborhood, promoting aging in place, and sustaining the character of contributing buildings."

McDoel Historic District Design Guidelines

History of the McDoel Gardens Neighborhood

Named for a local president of the Monon Railroad, in 1910, McDoel Neighborhood had its roots in Bloomington's early twentieth-century industrial boom. Residential development in the McDoel area took place in two stages roughly reflecting the southern and northern part of the current district. The southern part, including development along Rogers and Madison South of Grimes, was platted as the Dodds Subdivision in 1891. By the time that the construction of the Showers Cabinet Factory was completed in 1919, many houses were already built along Rogers Street. These gabled-ell form homes are most similar to those found on the Near West Side on 6th and 7th Streets.

The area north of Grimes developed at a relatively later time and reflects a different esthetic of residential construction. However, it was built for the same working class community. These later homes, placed on the Dixie Highway plat after 1923, show the change in housing style from gabled-ell's to the bungalows and kit homes. During the intervening years construction styles were modified to reflect a new interest in efficiency of production. The clean interior lines of the bungalow, with its flat undecorated millwork as well as the mass production of housing kits by Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aladdin and other home manufacturers are in dramatic evidence along Wylie, Dixie and Dodds.

Historic Housing Forms

The gabled-ell form is not specifically rural or urban in nature, but is associated with the houses of working class people. Commonly called in their day, "carpenter architecture," stylistic flourishes were discretionary rather than of a piece. If details were desired then they were applied to a standard house design. The homes on Rogers and Madison date from between 1890 and 1920 and are pattern book construction of an earlier era than the Sears Catalogue homes evident on Dixie and Dodds. Two forms of the L-plan house predominate: the pyramidal roof and the simple cross-gabled ell. There is a very high concentration of these forms on Madison both north and south of Grimes and on South Rogers. At the time of their construction, they housed limestone and railroad workers from mills located near the neighborhood (Bowman. Bloomington, Fagan, Cline, Nolan and Son, Hoadley, Tribune, Radley and McDoel Mills were all located within 1000 feet of the district).

Sears and Roebuck Company included house plans in its mail order catalogue as early as 1908. In 1911, Sears was offering its own mortgages and required a down payment of 25%. The boom in kit homes came after WWI, coinciding locally with the Dixie Highway subdivision of 1923. The bungalow was among several popular and affordable forms available through Sears catalogue. The small bungalows that line the streets along Dixie, Dodds and Allen display the minimal detailing associated with speculative construction.

The Dixie Highway subdivision was quickly filled by working class people who were employed at surrounding limestone, railroad, and furniture industries. The lots are closely spaced (48' wide) and crossed by both north and south and east and west running alleys. This allows approximately 26 single-family homes per block face or just over 8 units per acre, all freestanding homes are placed near the street with deep backyards. This compares with the 700 block of South Lincoln in density; however, the houses in Bryan Park are larger with more lot coverage. The distinctive rhythm of the housing in the neighborhood is characteristically linked by continuous limestone walls.

Other examples of Sears kit homes are the Rodessa (503 West Dodds), the Grant (708 West Wylie), the Homewood (603 West Wylie), the Farnum (709 West Dodds) and the Kimball (609 West Dodds). Most of these plans are two bedroom with a separate kitchen. The exteriors show small arts and crafts flourishes in the exposed rafter tails, battered columns, and 4 over one double hung windows. Some, like the Rodessa or Grant, exhibit Colonial Revival or Dutch Colonial influences on a modest scale.

The proximity of 11 stone mills within three blocks of the modern boundaries of the McDoel neighborhood influenced both demographic and construction patterns in the area. In terms of sequence, the limestone industry's greatest influence on the neighborhood would have been from 1905 through the 1930's when the mills began to close.

Earlier mills were located in the Near West Side and Prospect Hill neighborhoods. Populations in these areas were heavily represented by laborers, planermen and carvers. Showers Brother constructed a kitchen cabinet plant on South Roger in 1919. The Dixie Highway subdivision, platted shortly after, in 1923, is probably the best example of the housing influenced by the factory location. Houses are uniformly placed on narrow lots with shallow setbacks. The neighborhood has a thematic use of limestone retaining walls. Most were made of found material at the quarries where many residents were employed.