The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Indianapolis, Indiana

The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Indianapolis, Indiana

There is nothing like a road trip to renew my familiarity with some of Indianapolis’ old neighborhoods and visit the never-ending construction of nouveau riche mansions in Carmel and Clay Township. As of this posting, there are six Higley 1000 neighborhoods with a total of 3,841 households in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Area (SMSA).

Indianapolis’ best neighborhoods are very segregated. When one compares the racial make-up of Indianapolis’ highest income neighborhoods with the racial make-up of the entire Metro area, there is an glaring lack of Black households found in the wealthy neighborhoods. Asians and Non-Hispanic Whites are greatly over-represented. This is a common pattern that is found throughout the country and the big industrial cities of the Midwest are no exception.

The Metro are is primarily Non-Hispanic White and Black (82.9% and 13.2% respectively). Asians (1.0%) and Hispanics (1.7%) were found in small numbers in the metro area. (2000 Census) The six Higley 1000 neighborhoods are 91.3% Non-Hispanic White, 4.1% Black, 3.0% Asian, and 1.2% Hispanic.

From Meridian-Kessler to the Village of WestClay

I never tire of driving up Meridian Street in the city and viewing all the wonderful mansions that were built in the city’s industrial heyday. They are typical of their period: Eclectic, Georgian, and Tudor Revivals amidst countless variations of bourgeois good taste.

This trip I wanted to see just if the adjoining North-South streets of Illinois and Pennsylvania (and the lower 40’s) of Washington Boulevard were equally beautiful and well maintained as the big houses on Indianapolis’ Alpha Street, Meridian Street. The adjacent North-South arterials are lovely and for the most part, nicely maintained. The quality of the neighborhood falls off rather quickly past Illinois to the West and Washington to the East, but it is clear that many of Indianapolis’ elite still want to live in the neighborhood that has been christened Meridian-Kessler. I made Meridian-Kessler a Higley Designated Place as the elite homes are strewn across several Census Tracts and too many Block Groups to make any sense of the mean income numbers. The wealth of the area is obscured by the inclusion of downscale houses and apartment buildings in the Census Tracts and Block Groups on the East and West sides of the rather narrow strip of elite homes running North from 40th Street to 56th Street centered on Meridian.

One of the more unusual tiny enclaves of old wealth in Indianapolis is the 40 house enclave of Golden Hill. Golden Hill was developed in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century and has working class homes immediately to it’s east and south. Somehow, this island of wealth has managed to maintain its cache and is still a lovely neighborhood. Like Crows Nest and North Crows Nest (18 Households; Population 42, LOL), Golden Hill is to small to register on the Higley 1000, but none-the-less it is certainly worth a quick drive through if you are interested in historic neighborhoods.

On this trip I did not visit the tiny, most elite of Indianapolis’ suburbs, the aforementioned Crows Nest. When the city merged with Marion County in the early 70s, a bevy of small and micro suburbs retained their identity and enough autonomy that the Census enumerates them separately from Indianapolis. Crows Nest is one those tiny enclaves. Crows Nest consists of a mere 34 households, found primarily along Sunset Lane. This is where one finds the truly impressive mansions of Indy’s elite residing in baronial splendor. With a mean income of $248,705, Crows Nest would come in at 238th in the Higley 1000, if it was big enough to qualify for the list (a suburb or neighborhood has to have at least 100 households to qualify for the Higley 1000). The sampling procedure that the Census Bureau uses for income (one of every six households) means one has to take the Mean Household Income statistics of tiny places like Crows Nest with a grain of salt. In the case of Crows Nest, the Mean Household Income would be drawn from 5 households! If one of those five households were live-in servants (with separate housekeeping facilities), it would skew the mean income statistics hopelessly downwards. Considering the size of the homes, my bet is that there is live-in help and therefore the income numbers are useless. Oh well, it is an imperfect world!

Further North on Meridian, between 64th and 82nd Streets are two newer elite suburbs that share the same semi-autonomous status as Crows Nest. Meridian Hills straddles Meridian Street and is filled with commodious ranches, forgettable architecture and an occasional teardown. Meridian Hills mean household income of $154, 832 was too low to qualify for the Higley 1000. Meridian Hills is upper-middle class and pleasant enough, but rather uninspiring compared to the grand mansions of Meridian Street to the South!

The tiny village of Williams Creek found just north of Meridian Hills ranks #298 on the Higley 1000 (at this writing). Williams Creek appears to be simply an incorporated sub-division. With a household count of 155, Williams Creek just made the cut in qualifying for my list (minimum 100). Williams CreekMost of the homes appear to be post-World War II and they are uniformly large and lovely.

I snapped this picture of what has to be the biggest lawn in Williams Creek. The cross hatching design of the mowing of this lawn was wonderful! Click the picture for a full size view

I didn’t get a chance to drive by Lake Kesslerwood and its smaller sibling Lake Charlevoix (Higley 1000 #532) on this trip. From Microsoft Live Local it appears that the approximately 200 homes built around appears to be a man-made lake diverted from the White River. Lake Kesslerwood-Lake Charlevoix is the only neighborhood in Indianapolis where African-Americans households are found proportionately as they are in the Metro area in general. Just south of Lake Kesslerwood and Lake Charlevoix one finds an exclusive subdivision by the name of Brendonwood.  According to the Homeowner’s Association website, Brendonwood’s 113 homes were built starting in 1895. It was formally incorporated as a planned “City Beautiful” subdivision in 1917 and the heavily wooded site not only features homes that are on 1-7 acres, but there is even a 9 hole golf club for the residents pleasure.

In the tradition of Homer Hoyt’s pioneering studies in the 30s, Indianapolis’ sector and wedge growth for elite homes has moved North on the Meridian axis across the Hamilton County line into the nouveau riche suburb of Carmel and it’s subordinate township of Clay.

Carmel had 37,802 people in the 2000 Census and Clay Township had an additional 26,907 residents. The Census estimated that as of 2005 Carmel had grown strongly to an estimated 59,243 (Census estimate, 2005). A good portion of Carmel’s growth can be attributed to annexing a large chunk of the Northwest section of Clay Township. Clay Township has correspondingly lost population over the last five years to an estimated 19,147. Carmel and Clay Township together account for the vast majority of the new McMansions in Indy’s suburbs. Carmel is geographically boxed off with Zionsville to the West, Westfield and Noblesville to the North. To the East, Carmel is geographically hemmed in by the exploding lower-middle class sub-divisions of Fishers. It makes sense for the city to annex West and eventually take in all of Clay Township.

At this writing, the Southwest corner of Clay Township maintains its independence. There is one Higley 1000 neighborhoods in the township: Crooked Stick Golf Course-Winterwood (Mean Household Income:$221, 914). Twin Lakes-Laurelwood (Mean Income: 182,915) was close, but no cigar. Both of these “neighborhoods” are collections of sub-divisions.

The Crooked Stick-Winterwood neighborhood is a combination of sub-divisions around the Crooked Stick Golf Course (e.g. Crooked Stick Estates, Spring Run Estates, Sutton Place, & Huntington Chase) as well as the the smaller but more exclusive gated neighborhoods of Winterwood and Estancia to the East.
Queens Manor I drove into the tiny ungated neighborhood of the Queens Manor and snapped this impressively fountained arriviste mansion. The lots are huge and the houses ranged from the pictured monument to wealth (left), to more prosaic large, run-of-the-mill houses found in anywhere upper middle Class America.

The other Higley 1000 neighborhood found in unincorporated Clay County I dubbed Twin Lakes-Laurelwood (Mean Household Income $182,915). This neighborhood was was named for the Twin Lakes Golf Course to the west of this block group and Laurelwood on the eastern edge. Laurelwood is gated filled with large homes and is similar to the equally impressive gated community of Coppergate found in the Block Group that statistically makes up this neighborhood.

The Northwest quadrant of Clay Township that Carmel recently annexed has a plethora of standard issue upper middle class sub-divisions such as Hayden Run and Laurel Lakes.

The wealthiest neighborhood in Indianapolis as reported in the 2000 Census was part of Clay Township at the time of the Census. It is now part of the city of Carmel. I have dubbed this neighborhood Claridge Farms-Springmill Ridge after two of the larger sub-divisions of this area. With an Median household income of $267,013, it is the wealthiest Block Group in the Indianapolis metro area.

In my opinion, the most ambitious and interesting new addition to Carmel is the large master planned community of the Village of WestClay (yes, that’s the affected way the developers spell it…). It appears to be built in the popular “New Urbanist” tradition although when these places are planned and built on the further reaches of the suburban sprawl frontier, I don’t know just how “New Urbanist” the developers can actually claim to be.

The Village of WestClay, which didn’t exist when the 2000 Census was taken, appears to be a rather dense and intensely planned affair. Visit their website by clicking here: Village of WestClay. I found some very interesting and unique architecture in one of WestClay’s many sub-divisions.

The Painted Lady at WestClay

Here is a picture wonderfully thought out, brand new Painted Lady from one of WestClay’s brand new sub-divisions. This is a wonderful way for history to repeat itself! Of course, this is my opinion. Evidently the gaudy colors on this house have caused at least some controversy. One woman even wrote me and said this house is NOT emblematic of WestClay and implored me to steal some more conservative house pictures from the builders website. I declined.

Posted in Metro Briefs on Jun 9th, 2008, 7:37 am by Stephen Higley   

29 Responses to “The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Indianapolis, Indiana”

  1. Steven Sears
    October 18th, 2007 | 10:33 pm

    If that Williams Creek lawn were in Montevallo, it would be rezoned for fifty townhomes.

    PS: I’d like to see that lawn mower

  2. January 25th, 2009 | 7:42 pm

    Great article!

  3. brian white
    February 8th, 2009 | 5:12 pm

    Your web site explains exactly what’s wrong with indy people run from experiences or chances to intermingle.It holds a city back .World class is how indy describes itself. not even close!

  4. Dan
    April 3rd, 2009 | 7:56 pm

    Interesting to see the statistics prove our personal theories of wealthy enclaves in and surrounding metro Indy. Thank you for shedding light on the neighborhoods in our city which are something to strive for.

  5. Matt
    July 23rd, 2009 | 8:01 pm

    Fishers-“lower middle-class”. Obviously the author of this article has never been to the east side of Fishers and the Geist area. You can easily find multimillion dollar mansions just as big as in Carmel.

  6. Matt
    July 23rd, 2009 | 8:17 pm

    If you need facts to back it up: 2007 census – median income for a family and % of population below the poverty line

    Fishers- $103,176 and 1.8% of population below the poverty line(And this is before Fishers annexed the “affluent” 5,500 residents around Geist)

    Carmel – $110, 549 and 2.5% of population below the poverty line

    There is not that much of a difference. So when you call Fishers lower middle class please get the facts straight. Thank you.

  7. Stephen Higley
    July 30th, 2009 | 10:21 pm

    It will be extremely interesting to see Fishers’ Census statistics for 2010 at the Block Group level. The growth has been so spectacular it reminds me of parts of Phoenix or Las Vegas before the bust. However your umbrage at characterizing Fishers as lower-middle class is off base. I’m not saying there aren’t upper middle class people in Fishers, it was a general characterization. Consider these statistics in comparison to Carmel, another large city that is by no means uniformly upper-middle class. In the 2005-7 American Community Survey statistics, Carmel has 199 million dollar plus homes (plus many more in what hasn’t been annexed of Clay Township). Fishers had 14. Carmel had 2,149 homes valued at more than a half a million. Fishers had 883. Since they both are about the same size, (Carmel’s population was estimated at 64,490, Fishers 63,420) it is a valid comparison. Furthermore the mean single family value in Carmel was $251,400 compared to Fishers $193,900. Another fact about Fishers that does not say upper-middle class is the fact that 21.6% of the housing units were not single family homes. Carmel’s multi-unit housing was comparable (21.0%), but, not all of Carmel is upper-middle class either.

    Going Back to the 2000 Census, I looked up and computed the mean household income for the unincorporated eastern part of Fall River Township along Geist Lake and the rest of the area that has been annexed into Fishers since the last Census. The mean household income for this area was $132,626. The thousandth neighborhood in the Higley 1000 had a mean income of about $190,000. This area would not make the top 2000 neighborhoods in the US. This is a really nice place!

    I think you are offended because you don’t really understand the difference between upper-middle class and lower-middle class. The upper-middle class is not only defined by its income (approximately the top 15% of households), it is also defined by it’s style of life and values. Would a moneyed family with social connections and a membership in one of Indy’s most exclusive country clubs consider Fishers a highly desired place to live? Simply put, most would not. That doesn’t make it a “bad” place that you seem to equate with lower-middle class status. I live in a lower-middle class suburb of Birmingham (Alabaster) that has lovely homes on wooded lots, but, nobody in Mountain Brook (our Meridian Avenue) would consider it a proper place for a Radiologist or top executive.

    Only a sifted few are upper class in Indianapolis (as everywhere) and they tend to live in houses like those found in Crows Nest or along and near Meridian Avenue. The upper-middle class clusters close by as found in Williams Creek, Meridian Hills and many subdivisions of Carmel and unincorporated Clay Township. I’ve driven Fishers and it is overwhelmingly lower-middle class and where there is a lot of money, virtually all nouveau riche.

    I stand by my characterization of Fishers as lower-middle class. Stephen R. Higley Ph.D.

  8. Stephen Higley
    August 1st, 2009 | 10:17 am

    Just to confirm my characterization of Fishers as “lower-middle class” I approached Dr. Owen Dwyer, Geographer from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI)and this is his quote:

    “… I think your statement is quite right: “To the East, Carmel is geographically hemmed in by the exploding lower-middle class sub-divisions of Fishers.” There’s plenty of income in Fishers but the growth you’re describing is very different from, say, the V of WestClay.”

  9. September 26th, 2009 | 2:10 pm

    The exterior is nice, but the interior I would like to see.
    So I would like to get a chance to actually make it as my own
    home. Of the impressivly fountained arriviste mansion of queens manor.

  10. Bebe
    November 30th, 2009 | 5:22 pm

    I guess it is all in how you define “upper-middle class” and “lower-middle class.” But if Fishers is “lower-middle class,” heaven help the rest of the city; not to mention the rest of the world.

  11. Stephen Higley
    December 2nd, 2009 | 1:24 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me that Americans are offended by a frank discussion of social class. The designation “lower-middle class” is commonly used in academic literature most notably in Sociology. The class designations are Upper Class, Upper-Middle Class, Lower-Middle Class, Working Class, and sometimes Underclass. As a proud resident of a lower-middle class suburb of Birmingham that is very similar to Fishers, I’m not bothered a bit. Maybe I should be bothered because I was brought up in a classic upper-middle class family and it is my lot in life to be downwardly mobile…. and I’m a professor (but, of course in Alabama).

    Can’t join a country club, can’t drive a Mercedes, oh my….

  12. February 11th, 2010 | 11:59 pm

    I lived in Golden Hill and was groomed for my residence in Mt. Brook! (Ha)! No mention of land mass of these neighborhoods. I find it hard to call Williams Creek a “village.” No commercial properties there, except Hollyhock Inn (fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans, biscuits, and brownies). Enjoyed the article!

  13. Eric
    March 8th, 2010 | 10:55 am

    It looks to me like Brendonwood is missing from your survey.

    It is a private residential neighborhood on the northeast side, south of the Lake Kesslerwood neighborhood mentioned. It has pre-war Meridian-Kessler type homes on lots averaging more than 2 acres in size. 150 acres of the 350 acre neighborhood is commonly held and includes a 9-hole golf course, hiking trails, a tennis court and swimming pool exclusively for the use of the residents. Many of Indianapolis’ civic leaders, leading doctors, attorneys and celebrities are residents.

  14. Stephen Higley
    March 18th, 2010 | 10:09 am

    Thanks for the Heads-up on Brendonwood! I will take a look at the Census Data for the neighborhood and check it out. Of course I’ll also visit the neighorhood on Bing Live Local, Google Streetview and until I have the fortune to drive the streets myself on my next visit to Indianapolis. I’ll let you know what I find… Steve Higley

  15. Stephen Higley
    March 21st, 2010 | 10:08 am

    Mr/Ms Rowland…. I see the problem as to why Brendon Wood was undetected. The 115 beautiful single family homes in the neighborhood share a Census Block Group with a gigantic apartment complex to the East that has 749 units. I will have to count the racial makeup of Brendon Wood on a block by block basis and then make an estimate of the household income and add the neighborhood to the Higley 1000. Again, thanks for the heads-up

  16. Ryan
    June 17th, 2010 | 2:21 am

    You must be crazy to think even for a second that Fishers is “lower-middle” class. I have lived in this area my whole life and I actually maybe only know a handful of this type of class. A town with professionals (i.e. teachers, lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, engineers,nurses,etc.) could never be anything lower than middle class. That must mean that the rest of the state of Indiana is on the poverty line, right? Please get your facts straight.

  17. Stephen Higley
    June 21st, 2010 | 5:40 pm

    Fishers certainly has upper-middle class people that live in it. However, it is NOT upper-middle class in character. It is lower-middle class. This was attested to by an Urban Geographer at IUPUI. If Fishers is so upper-middle class in your opinion, why is it that not a single block group even comes close to making the Higley 1000 and that includes the newly annexed neighborhoods around Geist Lake. Two of the professions you mentioned (nurses and teachers) are definitely lower-middle class. Have you ever read a book about class in the United States? I wrote a dissertation on it! Trust me, I’m the expert on these matters. When you’ve researched 8,000 neighborhoods and driven 5,000 of them, I might take your word that Fishers is upper middle class. But then, I don’t believe in Creationism or that Global Warming is a hoax either

  18. James
    June 21st, 2010 | 6:17 pm

    Excellent analysis!

    Thank you for spending time on Indy.

    I don’t understand how people could be offended by the term lower middle.. then again were talking about people living in Fishers and Carmel.

  19. July 28th, 2010 | 8:57 pm

    It is always interesting to see how one’s city is viewed by those who don’t live here. As someone who previously lived in Crows Nest and for a longer time in what you are calling Meridian-Kessler (actually it is two neighborhoods divided down the middle by Meridian Street, the other being Butler-Tarkington), it looks as if you are spot on.

    I think the flak you are receiving regarding Fishers is simply that of definition and how it is viewed by the public. The academic terms you are using are upper middle-class and lower middle-class. If the label were available to use, Fishers (overall) would simply be dead-on middle-class in terms of housing stock. It is a combination of newer starter and move-up homes. The word “lower” conjures up “messiness” in the non-academic public’s mind. It would be hard to find any messiness in Fishers in terms of condition, types of businesses operating there, and so forth. There are certainly several Fishers neighborhoods near Geist Reservoir and elsewhere that would fit in the upper groups, but they are apparently individually too small or suffer from some statistical anomaly that rendered them unusable for your work.

    Indianapolis probably does differ in some ways from other cities in that many of its upper-end neighborhoods tend to be smaller and separated from each other. We are clumped. Tiny North Side neighborhoods such as Buttonwood Crescent, Pickwick Drive, Wynnedale, sections of Cedar Knolls, and other less-defined areas of Washington Township are resistant to analysis when viewed only from statistics. One zip code or census tract may reflect both the wealthiest and poorest homes. Things are clearer when geographical elements are seen in person. A street here, a commercial zone there. In person, the situation with Brendonwood would be very clear. Some mention of the Zionsville area would probably also be warranted in the future.

    Fortunately, you made the effort to see our city and did your best with the time you had available.

  20. Josh
    August 23rd, 2010 | 4:14 pm

    I can tell you that the house you took a picture of in Queens Manor is as impressive inside as it is outside. I worked on the home when it was built. We still talk about that house! The master shower, the elevator, and the “mens” and “womens” restrooms are just a few of its features. This is a “secondary home” for its owner.

  21. Terry
    September 7th, 2010 | 8:27 am

    I think part of the misunderstanding of the folks defending Fisher’s status is that they do not understand the fact that there is no “middle” middle class, only upper and lower. The term “lower” just won’t do for them. Excellent work and thanks for the analysis!

  22. Brent
    October 1st, 2010 | 3:44 pm

    For real estate search purposes, it would have been helpful to have cited the zip codes in which these “better” neighborhoods are located. We are contemplating a move from the East Coast to the Indianapolis area, and searching real estate sites by zip code is easier.

  23. Stephen Higley
    October 5th, 2010 | 6:45 pm

    Now, that is a good idea! Maybe I will add Zip Code info when I update all the income and racial info for the one thousand neighborhoods in the Higley 1000 for the 2010 Census. Oh boy! Looking up one thousand Zip Codes! LOL… Now I know what I’ll be doing when I retire to Tucson.

    Since the net doesn’t do much of a job with sarcasm. That was indeed it.

    PS. All professors that are within two years of retirement are sarcastic and cynical. It’s an occupational hazard that they don’t tell you about in grad school

  24. October 19th, 2010 | 7:12 pm

    For Brent,

    Unfortunately, as hinted at by Dr. Higley, zip codes are not reliable for Indianapolis as they tend to span very large areas, often miles in each direction. 46208, for example, includes both very wealthy and very modest neighborhoods. As a Realtor who has served these areas for 25 years, I would be more than happy to help you as you consider moving to Indianapolis. (And, yes, I do apologize for my commercialization of this blog!)

  25. Janes
    January 31st, 2011 | 4:51 pm

    Maybe some sort of ‘Straight-middle class’ is needed in between upper-middle and lower-middle.

  26. Stephen Higley
    February 6th, 2011 | 4:09 pm

    But then there is the problem of “gay middle class”…….

  27. Amy M.
    April 27th, 2011 | 7:50 pm

    I just checked out the Village of WestClay site, and to me it looks like a replica of Hinsdale, Illinois – outside of Chicago (only Hinsdale actually looks authentic imho). If you search real estate in Hinsdale, you may see the similarities as well. Hinsdale prides itself on being a real neighborhood instead of a suburb.

  28. July 9th, 2011 | 4:26 pm


    Your analysis is very good and correct about Fishers. I am a local appraiser in Indianapolis.

    No one is saying Fishers is not desirable. It is perhaps the most affordable and easiest to acquire (supply) of the desirable. If one wants to buy a home in Fishers, a builder will see to it…if you want to buy a home in Crows Nest (very small supply), you better have some cash because even some of the newer homes in there did not skimp on quality!

    It is very important to separate Geist, a waterfront community, from Fishers. A simple home price median analysis will show you a striking difference between Geist and Fishers.

    In aggregate, Geist construction quality is often comparable to that typical in Carmel.

    Readers should drive around Carmel where it is hard to find vinyl box additions and then drive a round Fishers where that is more than typical. The same visual difference can be seen crossing the line from Carmel to Westfield.

    However, Fishers growth has come with a heavy price: construction quality and zoning density have created a tremendous supply of low to average quality homes in Fishers (not found on Geist). Zoning density has created traffic jambs that are now having a negative affect on desirability.

    That is the difference in the older neighborhoods you correctly sighted and a modern pop-up ones like Fishers. The older ones, because of their construction quality hold their value and their appeal.

  29. Barbara
    September 26th, 2012 | 6:53 pm

    Painted Lady: Similar houses in Sho-Low, Arizona,(a business)and across from Steak & Shake on Rockville Road,(dilapidated).vWho wants to clean all the nooks & crannies? Ya gotta get a maid!

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