By Sherri Coner
Nearly every dirt-road rural town has a special story explaining how some lucky breaks led to growth.
For Beech Grove, it was a $5 million complex for repair work on steam locomotives.
Anticipating in 1905 how the area would change, a group of Beech Grove investors formed the Beech Grove Improvement Company.
First, the group purchased 2,640 acres of ground, sold 640 acres for the construction of the railroad facility and earmarked the remaining acres for housing and businesses.
By late 1906, Beech Grove was officially incorporated.
When the facility, known as the “railroad shops” opened in 1908, residents hit the ground running. Many went to work there. Others grabbed tool belts to help build area homes as well as new businesses along Main Street.
By the time Richard “Dick” Templin came along in 1948, Beech Grove was a much more exciting place to be. Since he lived two blocks from Main Street, Templin often walked to town, just to grab some ice cream at Bosma’s Dairy.
“The biggest day of my bike riding life was when I took my training wheels off my bike,” said Templin, president of the Beech Grove Historical Society.
With a generous pick of grocery stores, pharmacies and meat markets on the main drag, Templin learned quickly about kid-friendly places to show up. For example, occasionally pressing his face against the screen door at Haag’s Meat Market until the owner, Joe, noticed him, would result in a snack.
“Joe would say, ‘What do you want? Does your mother know where you are?’” Templin said with a laugh. “Then he would give me a bologna sandwich and tell me not to tell my mother he fed me.”
Though Haag’s stayed on Main Street until the 1970s, a lot of yesterday is long gone with the exception of 417-419 Main Street, where the first grocery opened its doors in 1907.
According to Templin, Clifford Wheat, the son of William Wheat, who opened the store in partnership with John Mitchell, used coal lamps since there was no electricity, got water from a nearby well and drove a wagon, powered for a team of horses, to downtown Indianapolis to buy meat for customers. The town’s first school was housed above Wheat’s Grocery until 1913.
“Through the years, a lot of small businesses and little shops have been in there,” Templin said.