Association History

Founding

When Don Heady, a Ball State professor of speech and drama, his wife Sue, and their two children moved into their home at 816 E. Adams in 1976, they quickly discovered there were problems they hadn’t encountered in their former home on Muncie’s west side. Awakened early one morning they found one of their neighbors hammering on scrap metal that he had assembled in a vacant lot near them. Finding city government largely unresponsive to his complaints regarding this and other city code violations, Don decided that the neighborhood needed to form an organization of area residents which might have greater success in remedying these problems than would be possible from individual efforts.

Don found among both long-time residents and newly-arrived ones great enthusiasm for this idea. It was decided that the association would draw its members from an area of about 40 blocks on the near east side of the the downtown. The area was mainly residential with mixed business use along its major thoroughfares. Bounded by Wysor Street on the north, the CSX/Norfolk & Western tracks on the south and east, and Madison Street on the west, the contiguous area seemed to share many of the problems associated with older residential areas of the city. (see map)

In the fall of 1976 a meeting was held in which Don explained the advantages of the proposed organization and enlisting those in attendance who wished to join. During that meeting officers and a board of 12 members were selected. (See the by-laws of the organization.)

The concerns of that first ECNA organization were very much the concerns of the organization today. The problems of vacant structures, weed infested lots, traffic, junk vehicles, and the enforcement of building and housing codes occupied much of the organization’s time. The need for a food market to serve area residents without transportation was also seen as a major problem.

In the late 1970’s ECNA opened and staffed an outreach office. Originally located in the Main Street Church Fellowship Center on Pershing Street, the office operated primarily to take complaints from neighbors. These were then forwarded to appropriate city officials.

Origins of the Old Washington Street Festival

Among the earliest goals of the organization was that of attracting responsible persons back into the neighborhood. Pursuant to this goal and as a fund-raising project the organization planned an event to be called the Old Washington Street Festival. The first festival was held in September of 1977 and consisted of booths staffed by local organizations, crafts persons, and artisans. Food was provided by a neighborhood-staffed bean booth and local entertainment was featured on a stage area. A narrated horse-drawn trolley tour acquainted riders with many of the historic structures. The festival information booth sold tee-shirts and sweatshirts with the ECNA name and logo. Note cards and children’s coloring books featuring the drawings of historic homes in the area were also sold. The area of Washington Street between Hackley and Madison was selected as the site for the event and efforts were made to create an ambiance in keeping with the turn of the century. Commercial concession wagons were banned and efforts were make to certain that exhibits did not detract from the charm of the streetscape. Through the more than 25 years of its existence the festival has attracted a loyal following of persons who are drawn to an event which celebrates the neighborhood as it was in a more genteel time.

Historic Preservation and Neighborhood Improvement

ECNA served as an important force in promoting the historic preservation movement in Muncie during the late 1970’s. Board members quickly decided that creating a historic district out of at least part of the association area would be a valuable way to attract reinvestment of a type which was compatible with the unique cultural significance of the neighborhood. Under the leadership of the late Althea Stoeckel, the city of Muncie created a Muncie Historic Preservation and Rehabilitation Commission in 1976 with the goal of protecting significant structures and neighborhood’s in the city. With the guidance of David Hermanson, a historic preservation specialist with the Ball State College of Architecture, an area consisting of approximately 12 blocks was selected as the potential site for Muncie’s first historic district. The Emily Kimbrough Historic District was created in 1978 after ECNA convinced a majority of property owners in that 12 block area to be part of the district. Since 1978 this district has not only been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but has remained the only historic district in the city which is truly protected from inappropriate change. Under the provisions of a local historic preservation ordinance, a city commission must approve all exterior changes to structures and the landscape in the Emily Kimbrough District.

In addition to its important role in creating Muncie’s first historic district the Association has collected old photographs and other historic material relating to the neighborhood. Part of the collection may be seen in a slide show/lecture that covers the period of 1975-1995 that has been presented to school students and various service clubs and organizations throughout the area. Portions of the collection are also on display at the annual Old Washington Street Festival. ECNA members played important roles in other preservation organizations.

Among these groups was Historic Muncie, Inc., a preservation interest group formed in the the early 1980s which functioned until 1986. Its first project was the purchase and restoration of Emily Kimbrough’s childhood home at 715 East Washington Street. For a time, the East Central Reinvestment Corporation (now defunct), a spin off organization of ECNA, owned and maintained this important structure as a house museum/library. A second project undertaken by Historic Muncie was the purchase and exterior restoration of the substantial Italianate home at 725 E. Jackson, commonly referred to as the Crystal Baker house.

In 1978, the East Central Neighborhood Association itself undertook efforts to save two historic buildings. The first of these was the two-story duplex apartment house at the corner of Main and Hackley Streets. With the aid of a grant from Community Development, ECNA oversaw the exterior restoration of this structure and its interior renovation. which created two spacious three-bedroom apartments. ECNA volunteers did the exterior landscaping and interior painting on this structure at 900-902 East Main Street.

The second project was the acquisition and mothballing of a turn of the century grocery store/apartment building at 1107 E. Adams Street. The brick structure, commonly referred to as the Washateria, was in a rapidly deteriorating state when acquired by the association in the late 1970’s. ECNA put on a badly-needed new roof and secured the structure from being further vandalized. It was sold some years later to a responsible owner who completed an extensive renovation of the interior.

From 1986 to 2007, the work of acquiring dilapidated structures, then restoring or renovating them was performed by the East Central Reinvestment Corporation. This organization also included many persons who had been active in ECNA for many years.

Perhaps the most significant contribution to the neighborhood has been the work done through the years by ECNA members as they have sought to restore and otherwise improve their own homes. More than 30 houses in the ECNA area have benefited significantly from the efforts of people who have also found time to be an important part of the East Central Neighborhood Association. For many, working for ECNA has been in a way like working on their houses. They see that time spent improving the area they live in, makes their own homes a better, more secure investment.