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943 Camp Street

<a href="">943 Camp St.</a>

943 Camp Street in 1975.

This shotgun house, built prior to 1887, still stands in Ransom Place, one of the oldest intact historically African American neighborhoods in Indianapolis. Most of the houses in this neighborhood were constructed in the 1870s, when the neighborhood was home to both white and black residents, including immigrant families. As the city’s African American population grew, especially during the Great Migration in the first few decades of the 20th century, discrimination against the community also increased. The city became more segregated as realtors and city officials severely restricted the opportunities African Americans had to move into new neighborhoods. As result, Ransom Place’s residents were nearly all African American by 1930. 943 Camp’s history demonstrates how Ransom place was a vital community of both renters and owner-occupants with many extended families, individuals who worked in the neighborhood, and people with close ties to civic and social organizations.  

As early as the 1920s, residents of 943 Camp Street were active in African American organizations. Miss Eddye May Whitaker, who lived in the house from about 1925-1930, hosted meetings of the Junior Chummies Club, later known as the Iota Girls, one of the many civic clubs for African American women in the city. The group held literary meetings, birthday parties, and supported charity activities like the “Spring Vacation Frolic” in 1930 to benefit a tuberculosis hospital on Agnes Street.


<a href="">943 Camp St.</a>

Iota Girls supports the "Spring Vacation Frolic."

Eddye Whitaker did domestic work, as did the next resident, Ethel Vaughn. By 1940 an African American family who had migrated from Oklahoma was living at 943 Camp Street. Jasper Henard, who worked at a meat packing plant, lived in the house with his wife Mattie, daughter Barbara, a brother-in-law, and a sister-in-law who worked as a maid in a hotel.

<a href="">943 Camp St.</a>

James Cox shot in stomach at Paradise Dance Hall in 1942.

Not long after, the Cox family moved into 943 Camp Street. The records from this period start to show very clear connections between the house and the activity going on over on Indiana Avenue. In one particularly dramatic event in 1942, James Roy Cox, 20 years old, was shot in the stomach in a fight at the Paradise Dance Hall on the Avenue. James Cox lived at 943 Camp with his mother Mary L Cox. 

The Cowherd Family

The longest residents of 943 Camp Street were the Cowherd family. From at least 1930, John Henry Cowherd and Doris Anna Simms Cowherd lived two houses down at 947 Camp Street, moving to 943 Camp Street between 1945 and 1948. John Cowherd was born in Campbellsville, Kentucky in 1879 and came to Indianapolis sometime prior to 1900 with members of his large extended family. William Henry Cowherd, a possible cousin, lived just across the street at 944 Camp Street.

John and Doris’s grown son, Robert Augustus Cowherd and his wife Virginia also lived at 943 Camp in the 1940s. Robert, born in 1923, graduated from Crispus Attucks High School and then served in the army in World War II. Robert and Virginia had a baby boy in 1948 while living at 943 Camp.

The Cowherd family was connected to many significant African American Indianapolis institutions. John had worked as a general laborer and a porter as a young man. By the time he and Doris were living on Camp Street he was a custodian for Flanner House, a job he would hold for many years. Over at 944 Camp, William Henry Cowherd worked as both a barber and a shop owner on Indiana Avenue. William’s daughter Betty was a teacher for many years at Flanner House.

<a href="">943 Camp St.</a>

Doris Cowherd hosting one year anniversary celebration of the Lyric Theater in 1966.

John Cowherd passed away in 1964 while Doris lived at 943 Camp Street for several more years, renting out the back of the house. After nearly 40 years, Doris moved out of the house around 1970. Following her departure, multiple short-term tenants rented 943 Camp Street. 

943 Camp Street Today

Today, 943 Camp Street remains standing with many of its original 1870s features intact. The surrounding block is still filled with Queen Anne cottages and the Ransom Place Historic District is recognized as one of the oldest historically African American neighborhoods in Indianapolis. In 2018, the 2-bedroom house was listed for rent for $1300 a month. 

<a href="">943 Camp St.</a>

943 Camp Street as it looks today.

Written by Nancy Yerian

Edited by Hannah Ryker, May 28, 2020

943 Camp Street