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Blue Ridge: The Way It Was

These notes were made by Beverly Watkins, daughter of Odell and Velma Watkins, residents at 2908 Bankers Drive in “Blue Ridge Estates” from September, 1962 until May, 1973.

My father had his eye on the grassy hill that was later to become Blue Ridge Estates as early as the late fifties. He would drive us to a spot on Dunn Road – where he would slow down so that we could gaze up at the hill and he would say “If ever they develop this property I’d like to build a house here.” There were no roads….it was still farmland…only a grassy knoll above a rolling field, spotted with cows, but there was speculation that the area might one day become a sub- division.

Later, maybe ’59 or ’60, when it was announced that Urban Developers were, indeed, developing the property, Dad was one of the first in line to purchase a lot. He picked a spot that he had walked many times before the roads were ever cut, on the north side of the hill below the crest, a location that looked out to the horizon on three sides….to Cascades Addition across the valley to the west, north as far as the eye could see, down to Griffy Lake and the heavily wooded hilly terrain that wrapped around to the east. The half-acre lot was on a corner….the street in front was to be named Ramble Road West and the street on the side was to be called Drane Drive. Later, when Bankers Growth took over the development, Ramble Road was changed to Bankers Drive and Drane Drive thankfully changed to Blue Ridge Drive. The first winter after the lot was purchased, Dad would take my best friend and me to the “hill” and we would all three go sledding down “Drane Drive”!!

For the next two years my dad spent many a late night alone at his desk, working on a floor plan that would take advantage of the tremendous vista. Harold Bender, local architect, finalized those plans and Howard Young was hired as the builder. The house was begun in the early spring of ’62. I think we drove out to inspect almost every evening and we moved in over Labor Day weekend. (Our dachshund, Heidi, formerly a “city” dog, had her first encounter with a skunk and spent her first night in the garage following a tomato juice bath. Ugh!)

Our house was, I believe, the third house completed, following Delbert and Rosemary Miller’s and Russ and Joan Ide’s (who lived just east of us). The vacant lots surrounding us were covered in high grass and weeds. (Heidi would sneak into the weeds and spend hours digging for field mice and rabbits, coming home with her mouth and front paws caked with mud, flopping down on the kitchen floor with satisfied exhaustion! There were few trees on the north side of the hill, and the wind swept freely across the open space, rattling the windows, blowing patio furniture into the wrought iron railing and occasionally blowing out the gas lamp at the end of our driveway.

I was starting seventh grade that first fall at Dyer Junior High and we learned that there was no school bus service planned for Blue Ridge. My mother would take me to school and I would ride the bus home to the edge of Matlock Heights on Dunn and walk home. In the meantime, my dad and one other neighbor battled with the school board to get them to provide bus service to our addition. One day that first winter, while attempting to walk home, it was so cold that I finally had to drop my books in the snow at the entrance to Blue Ridge and run to the nearest house (the
Johnsons’, the only house east of the Millers’) where Mrs. Johnson tried to warm my frost-bitten hands while waiting for my dad to arrive. Shortly thereafter, the school board agreed to extend the bus route through Blue Ridge!

By the summer of ’63, many more houses were going up, and, with every new rooftop, someone, including us, lost a part of their beautiful “view.” In spite of that, it was exciting to see new families, some with small children, beginning to populate the neighborhood. The Berkleys (Dean and Dottie) lived just down from us, across the street, and had two small boys and a new baby. The Rockwells (Perry and Kathy) lived on the lower drive and had a young daughter and son. Together with the Ides’ young son, these little kiddies provided ample opportunity to earn baby- sitting money and I took full advantage! There were also a few children in junior high and high school (my sister was in college at IU).

Most of the homes ran down the hill in front of our house and around the “loop,” across to Dunn and back up the hill beside us. Beyond the bottom of the “loop,” just across the road to the northwest, there was still a farm house, complete with barn and silo. The family living there later moved and their land became part of the new phase of Blue Ridge, but the silo remained for a long time.

I remember a tumultuous time growing up at that time. 1963 was a year of protest marches and violence in the South, all captured on TV. In June, Medgar Evers was gunned down. In September, four little girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham. For me and my friend, Nancy Hall (daughter of Wayne and Martha who had moved in across the street), the grim realities we were watching every night rocked our young world. Then on Halloween night, there was an explosion at the Coliseum in Indianapolis, during the Holiday on Ice show, killing over sixty people. And of course, the event that rocked everyone’s world occurred in November, when President Kennedy was assassinated. Nancy and I said that 1963 was the worst year ever and celebrated its end on New Year’s Eve.

However, the tragedies kept coming and hitting closer to home. In May of ’64 there was a fiery and fatal crash at the Indy 500, killing two drivers, including Eddie Sachs, Nancy’s favorite driver, in full view of Nancy and her family who attended the race every year. But the tragedy that struck next was the one that ripped away any sense of safety that Nancy and I might have had. The Masseys lived at the bottom of the “loop” and they had a son that was close to our age. We didn’t know him but had seen him riding his bike around the neighborhood. One afternoon, he and some friends rode their bikes down Dunn near the Griffy dam, where there is a short but very steep hill that makes a sharp turn at the bottom near the treatment plant, a hill that no one I knew would ever risk biking down. The Massey boy, on that day, took the risk, went airborne, and crashed. He died a few days later. Nancy and I were so distraught that her father sat us down and tried to tell us that tragedies will always be a part of life…..not a lesson we wanted to learn at thirteen.

Sadly, this was to be only the first of three tragedies involving young Blue Ridge residents during my time there. Jody Miller, University High School cheerleader and daughter of Tom and Ruthie Miller, was severely injured in a car crash near the stadium and has been in a
convalescent center ever since. And one of the young sons of the Enguidanos family, who lived down the hill from us, was walking down Dunn when he was struck by a car and killed.

Living in Blue Ridge, however, was a wonderful experience. It was a favorite place for my classmates to bring their skateboards (yes, my dad took a few turns on mine) and a great place to walk your dog. Some neighbors kept to themselves and others were, well, neighborly! The wives met for coffee, the men would visit when they were out working on their yards. And the yards were immaculately kept back then…it was a matter of personal pride! There was a Blue Ridge “picnic” every summer and holiday lights decorated the yards at Christmas-time.

My dad and his good friend and neighbor, Wayne Hall, were always playing little tricks on each other. Once, Wayne, who envied my dad’s fruit trees, planted an apple tree and kept waiting for apples to appear that first fall. My dad knew that Wayne probably wouldn’t see any apples until the second season so he took an apple and tied it onto Wayne’s bare tree. The next day Wayne came over and proudly said “look, Odie, my first apple!” My dad finally confessed. So the following summer, Wayne tied a pear on my dad’s apple tree, shocking my dad until he realized he’d been “paid back.”

I moved away from home in 1973 but my parents continued to live there until my mother’s death in 2002. My dad lived there alone until he was moved to Indianapolis in 2006, where he died in 2007. My sister and I kept and maintained the home as our little weekend getaway until we sold it in 2011.We will always miss our home in Blue Ridge!

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