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History of 444 West Vermont St.

444 W. Vermont St.

Front view of 444 W Vermont Street around 1975.

On the corner of West Vermont Street and West Street, near where Bethel AME Church stands, sits a small parking lot. However, before it was cleared and covered in concrete, the site held multiple buildings belonging to part of a vibrant neighborhood. Among these buildings stood a brick, Italianate-style house at what once was known as 444 W Vermont Street. First constructed in the late nineteenth century, this building housed multiple residents and businesses over the course of its history until it was torn down in the 1990s.

Lucy VanDyke

One of the earlier residents to call this address home was a woman named Lucy VanDyke. Lucy was born in Kentucky in 1886 and later moved to Indianapolis where she lived at 444 West Vermont from 1914 until 1933. She lived in this building with her mother Hettie Mae Williams and rented out the extra rooms. Her rooms were advertised as being fully furnished with steam heating, electric lights, and bathrooms; "everything modern" for the time.

Lucy's Vaudevillian Tenants

Some of the many residents that Lucy shared her West Vermont Street home with included different vaudeville performers. One such performer was Joseph "Jolly" Saunders. Saunders performed as a trick juggler, tumbler, and acrobat on vaudeville circuits around the United States. He also performed around the country at colored venues and homes, circuses, fairs, and amusement parks.

444 W. Vermont St.

1928 Indianapolis Recorder article featuring Joseph "Jolly" Saunders.

In Indianapolis, Saunders performed at the Colonial Theater downtown and held novelty shows at Broad Ripple Park. However, his performance at the Colonial Theater in September of 1928 was his last. He was shot and killed at a restaurant on Indiana Avenue by Leroy Moss, another performer. Moss shot Saunders after a dispute about the division of profits from a show in which they both performed.

Another vaudevillian to stay at 444 West Vermont was Curley Brooks, a popular comedian and dancer. Brooks performed at colored revues around the country and was well-known for his tap-dancing skills, described in multiple papers as one of the fastest at the time. He was also often featured on radio programs and in newspapers such as the Indianapolis Recorderdescribing the different cities and venues he performed in and giving his own take on vaudeville news and the latest acts.

Hattie Dunnington and Her Dress Shop

Another enterprising woman at 444 West Vermont Street, Hattie Dunnington owned and operated Indianapolis's first dress shop exclusively for colored people from this location from 1938 into the early 1940s. She offered her patrons quality dresses and accessories in the latest fashions of the day. Local women could visit Hattie’s Dress Shop for millinery, lingerie, hosiery, and clothes produced by manufacturers in Chicago and New York.

444 W. Vermont St.

1942 advertisement for Hattie's Dress Shop.

In addition to running her own business, Hattie Dunnington was also involved with local social groups like the Nifty Nine Club. The Nifty Nine would perform charity work and raise money for different causes. Each week they held meetings at the members’ homes. Hattie hosted the group multiple times at Vermont Street for teas, fundraising events, and prize giveaways.

She was joined in her efforts by her cousin Emma Jackson who lived with her at this address. Emma worked as a nurse in Indianapolis and was a member of the Nifty Nine as well as the Lotus Dames, another women’s social group. Dunnington kept shop at West Vermont Street until she moved her store to 431 Indiana Avenue in 1943 to better manage her growing business.

444 W Vermont Today

After Hattie Dunnington moved out of 444 W Vermont, the final resident of the house, Edward Hayden, moved in in the 1940s. The Hayden lived in the house until 1987 when it was listed as vacant in the Indianapolis City Directory. Today a parking lot is located where 444 W Vermont once stood. 

444 W. Vermont St.

2019 aerial view of 444 W. Vermont St. location. 

Written by Julia Deros

Edited by Hannah Ryker, March 13, 2020

History of 444 West Vermont St.