By Nicole Davis
In 1881, the red brick building at 7006 Southeastern Ave. in Franklin Township served as a blacksmith shop where people would travel for miles to have their wagons repaired and plow points sharpened. Its purpose hasn’t strayed far from its origin of transportation reparation. Today, it is home to Indy Auto Center, a full-service ASC certified automotive repair shop for foreign and domestic cars.
The building was first owned by Henry A. Waterman, the son of German immigrants who came to Indiana after they first went to California searching for gold (which they didn’t find).
Nancy VanArendonk of the Franklin Township Historical Society wrote, “Henry was an apprentice blacksmith in New Palestine for five years before opening his own blacksmith shop in 1881, at the intersection of Five Points Road and the Michigan Road (now Southeastern Ave). Farmers came from miles around to have their horses shod, wagons repaired, and plow points sharpened. The shop also built wagons. In time, as automobiles began to compete with horses and wagons as a means of transportation, Henry enlarged his shop and in 1914 added a garage, hardware department, and truck and machinery repair building. Henry’s five children all worked in the business starting in childhood, when they were paid 10 cents a day (the amount was worth more back then) for working before and after school.”
Until last year, the H.A. Waterman Company was run by Donald Waterman, the grandson of the founder, and by his wife, Connie. The business did lawnmower repair and sold hardware, among other things.
Parts of the building’s history still remain untouched. Upstairs, there are parts belonging to wagons and horse-drawn carriages, left behind as the world transitioned to automobiles.
“Upstairs, there is a passage written on the wall that was written in 1913 by Mr. Waterman’s grandmother when she was a little girl,” Greg Hearl, owner of Indy Auto Center, said. “They used to live up there. It was saying ‘it’s 38 below zero now, a storm has hit Indianapolis, the likes Indianapolis has never seen, and we have no heat.’ She was fearful. She was writing a message in case they died. Where it’s at is an extremely unsafe part of the building. This building being this old, it has some areas that are a little rickety.”
Greg and Kristine Hearl started Indy Auto Center in 2021 and said they were so well received by the Franklin Township community, that they quickly outgrew their former space. They purchased the Waterman building in 2022 to have a larger space to give them the capability to service more cars.
Greg said that after they purchased the building, he was surprised to notice that on the walls of Meijer on Washington Street and the Kroger on Southport Road, there is an image of the building.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “The building has so much history.”
They have been working to repair the old structure, as the building has seen its better days. They have shored up the walls and roof, replaced all of the plumbing and mechanicals, redone the drains and are looking at how to fix up the parking lot. Where Donald Waterman, formerly had the hardware store, Hearl has welcomed Margaret Burton who is running God’s Love Offerings and Donations Store, a “name your price” thrift shop.
“Our plan is to be a staple to Wanamaker for the next 20 years,” Greg said. “Our plan is to continue to improve the building and taking care of the township.”