Historic Ninth Street Hill Neighborhood: Lafayette, Indiana


Long recognized for its heritage and architecture, Ninth Street Hill is known today as much for its community activism as its historic attributes. Residents here believe that preservation is the result of not only bricks-and-mortar maintenance, but vision, enthusiasm, and teamwork.

Designated Area

The neighborhood lies between South Street to the north, Kossuth Street to the south, Seventh Street to the east and Ninth Street to the west.

Listed on the national and local register of historic places, Ninth Street Hill boasts over 80 architecturally significant houses, some dating to the mid-19th century. Photo courtesy of Emily Gross.

Planning Excellence

Long recognized for its heritage and architecture, Ninth Street Hill is known today as much for its community activism as its historic attributes. Residents here believe that preservation is not just the result of bricks-and-mortar maintenance, but vision, enthusiasm, and teamwork.

Platted by a river trader in 1825, Lafayette was intended to be a shipping center on the Wabash River. It was the 1853 arrival of the railroad, whose tracks border the neighborhood, that cemented the city's regional prominence. Stunning country estates with rear carriage houses, expansive front lawns, iron fences and brick sidewalks were erected in nearly every style of domestic architecture from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries.

During the Depression, some homes were altered to take in boarders, and others carved out small apartments to house returning servicemen after World War II. By the 1960s, families flocked to the suburbs, and many of the neighborhood's houses became rentals — some with multiple apartments. As Ninth Street Hill fell into decline, several landmark structures were razed.

The 1986 formation of a neighborhood association by determined residents served as a catalyst for beautification, preservation, and safety efforts. As families returned to Ninth Street Hill, the association expanded its calendar of events to meet the needs of residents from many generations.

While two historic homes were added to the National Register in 1971 and 1984, it was the Ninth Street Hill Neighborhood Association that pushed through local and national historic district designation, development of a neighborhood-specific plan, and zoning changes. These efforts not only have stabilized this historic area, but they transformed Ninth Street Hill into one of the country's most welcoming, attractive, and active neighborhoods.

Like many urban neighborhoods, Ninth Street Hill fell into decline after World War II. The formation of a neighborhood association in the 1980s served as a catalyst for beautification, safety, and preservation efforts. Today, the neighborhood is alive with street-side activity. Photo courtesy of Emily Gross.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Rooted in History

  • During era of railroad expansion (1853-1872), Lafayette's most affluent built country estates on what was then known as Prospect Hill
  • Neighborhood and street grid was designed for pedestrians; early residents walked to work, shopping, and worship; as Lafayette grew, Ninth Street became one of the busiest arterial streets and served as neighborhood namesake
  • Streetcar line extension into neighborhood (1880) popularized Hill living
  • Moses Fowler House (1851) purchased in 1940 by Tippecanoe County Historical Association as headquarters and museum; considered best residential example of Gothic Revival style in Indiana; designated national historic landmark (1971)
  • Cyrus Ball Mansion (built 1865-69) blends Second Empire and Italianate styles, includes elaborate brick, wood and wrought iron details; added to National Register (1984)
  • Eighteen blocks designated national (1997) and local (1999) historic districts

Emphasis on Aesthetics

  • Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission (1993) must approve all exterior changes to 81 architecturally significant structures in the historic district
  • Historic Preservation Ordinance (2003) offers guidelines for changes to historic properties, provides compatibility guidance for new construction
  • New sidewalks, curbs, and trees installed by neighborhood association with some assistance from city; enhanced pedestrian experience and beautified area
  • Neighborhood-funded community garden, created on site of abandoned rail tracks, provides colorful display and serves as gathering place

Reliance on Planning, Smart Growth Principles

  • Neighborhood plan (1998) seeks to protect heritage, character, and form of early neighborhood; recommends downzoning
  • Rezoning (1999) eliminates R3 district, which allowed relatively high-density housing, to preserve residential character and protect against nonconforming uses
  • Houses are grand but lot size is modest, minimizing distances and making neighborhood convenient and enjoyable for walking
  • Initially home to street car line, today area is well served by public bus system
  • Larger homes used as apartments, increasing neighborhood density and diversity

Engaged Residents

  • Ninth Street Hill embraced development of more modest housing (early to mid-1900s), welcomed more diverse population
  • Following neighborhood decline, residents created dues-free neighborhood association (1986) which assumes automatic membership of homeowners, renters, and landlords
  • Residents established Lafayette's first neighborhood watches in the late 1980s

Amenities, Events, Activities

  • Home and Garden tours market neighborhood as a special place; walking tours guide visitors to 20 homes and attractions with interpretive markers
  • Art Museum of Greater Lafayette (1909) sits on neighborhood's northern border and is home to some 800 works, many focusing on art of Indiana
  • Tippecanoe County Historical Association opened Moses Fowler House as historical museum (1941); currently undergoing renovation
  • Neighborhood association sponsors full calendar of events such as Festooned Fourth Flag Display, Children's Box Parade, winter Luminaria Display, Movie Nights

Residents young and old march down the hill as part of the Festooned Fourth Box Parade, one of many events put on by the neighborhood association. Photo courtesy of Jane Boswell.