In 1886, natural gas was discovered in nearby Eaton, Indiana. As a result many steel and glass factories were founded in Muncie along the converging railroad lines. People flocked to the city to work in the manufacturing industry during the early 1900s. They made glass and a variety of steel products ranging from bridges to boilers. With the economy booming many families moved to neighborhoods near the factories. Many houses in Blaine-Southeast were built in the 1930s to accommodate the increasing number of factory employees. The city experienced steady growth until the late 1980s and 1990s when the factories that had supported the economy for the better part of a century began to move out. As a result, the economy suffered, causing a decline in jobs and population. Over the years, Blaine-Southeast has experienced urban decay and shifted from a predominantly industrial area to a residential neighborhood.
Established in 1886 on the corner of Macedonia and Memorial, Indiana Bridge, Inc. manufactured steel truss bridges and girders for construction projects around the state. They also contributed their steel resources and services for both World Wars. The company has seen many changes in ownership, but has maintained its location in Blaine-Southeast since its establishment.
From 1848-1972, the Hemingray Glass Company was a major manufacturer of glass products (see Figure 3) such as bottles, jars, tableware, lamps, and glass insulators for telegraph and power lines. In 1888, the company opened a large plant in Muncie, on Macedonia Ave., where it held operations until 1972. In 2011, the site was designated a historic landmark (Figure 4).
The Oasis Bar was built in 1910 on the NW corner of Burlington Avenue and Memorial Drive The structure became a supper club in 1952, established by a couple named Hershel and Dorothy Mason. Today it is a bar and a neighborhood landmark. Figure 5 shows the bar’s iconic signage.
The Warner Gear Company, later known as Borg-Warner, was a catalyst for neighborhood growth during the early 1900s (see Figure 6). The factory was located between Blaine St. and Grant St. along the railroad tracks. Most of the factories in the area were placed along the railroads so materials could be shipped to the factories and finished products could be shipped out. The Warner Gear Company employed over 1,000 people at its peak production, attracting residents to Blaine-Southeast in its early days and contributing to the growth that the neighborhood experienced. The Warner Gear Company changed its name to Borg-Warner in 1928 and later moved from Southeast Muncie to the West side of Muncie on Kilgore Ave. The plant continued to act as one of the city’s largest employers until it closed its doors in 2009. After a century of work in Muncie the Warner Gear Company was no longer a community presence.
Like many American cities, the expanding railroad lines in the mid 1800s aided in populating Muncie. Before 1850, Muncie was still primarily a small agricultural and trading area. Aside from a portion of what is now downtown Muncie, not much of the area was populated prior to the existence of railroads. After the Baltimore and Ohio railroads reached Muncie in 1952, industries and people lined themselves between the new railroad lines and the White River. A branch of the Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, and Louisville railroad line served several companies, including the Hemingray Glass Co. and the Ball Brothers plants. The Lake Erie and Western Railroads snaked along the Ball Brothers Glass Corp. buildings and ran through the Blaine and Southeast neighborhoods in 1902 (Sanborn 1902). The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis railroads eventually merged to become the Big 4. Parts of this line still serve Muncie today, operated by CSX (the railroad company formed in 1986 by merging the Chessie System and Seaboard System Railroads). The Sanborn map shown by Figure 7 shows a sample of Muncie’s railroad network in the early 1900s.
Many of the homes in the Blaine-Southeast Neighborhood were built before or during the 1950s. Most of these homes reinforce an efficient and simple sense of design. This is very common for the 1950’s and is based off of places like Levittown, New York (see Figure 8 for an example of a similar home in BSE). These homes were designed to be a cost efficient way to own your own home. This idea was perfectly suitable for the middle-income residents that were employed at factories in Muncie. Very few homes in the area were built before this “Levittown Era,” but those that were are built in the California Bungalow style. This style was very popular in America between 1910 and 1940 and examples of it can be seen all over the country. Two main characteristics of a California Bungalow house are that they are 1 or 1 ½ stories and are deeper than they are wide.
The Muncie region was originally settled by an Algonquin tribe that was pushed out by the Delaware tribe during the Iroquois Wars. Eventually Scottish and Western Europeans took the land and founded Muncie. During World War II, many African Americans moved to Blaine-Southeast and other nearby neighborhoods to work in Muncie’s factories. Figure 9 highlights an aspect of the region’s early history; this statue is featured near downtown Muncie.
The name Blaine, which can be attributed to both the neighborhood and the former neighborhood school, comes from James G. Blaine, a careered politician during the mid to late 1800s. James G. Blaine (Figure 10) served in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and as the Secretary of State. Even though Blaine was not from Muncie he understood the importance it had on the entire region as a main economic hub for industries. During his many different campaigns, Blaine made many stops in Muncie, most likely because of the huge industrial influence the city had. He recognized how important the city’s industry was and that it would later help form the city into what it is today. After all that James G. Blaine had done for the city of Muncie and its residents, the newest neighborhood was named after him.
Recently the neighborhood has begun reinvesting in itself through new community assets and repairing infrastructure like street repaving and a new park at the Cardinal Greenway trailhead. Habitat for Humanity has been purchasing vacant lots in the Blaine-Southeast Neighborhood and now helps low income families build their own homes. With the residents’ continued support and the city’s ongoing involvement in the neighborhood, Blaine-Southeast will continue to grow and prosper for a better future.