Our History

Timeline of Indianapolis provided by the Indiana Historical Society

1820-1821

The New State Capital

In 1820, the Indiana legislature selected commissioners to locate the state’s new capital as near as possible to the center of the state to take advantage of western migration, and the legislature approved the site as the new capital in early 1821.

1818

1818-1850

10/3/1818: The Treaty of St. Mary’s is signed. The Delaware and Miami tribes agree to leave central Indiana by 1821.

1820

2/26/1820: John McCormick settles on the east bank of White River, near present-day Washington Street.

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1820

6/7/1820: State capital selection committee meets at the McCormick cabin and decides the new state capital should be at White River and Fall Creek.

1821

1/6/1821: The General Assembly approves the site selected by commissioners and picks the name “Indianapolis.”

1821

10/8/1821: First city lots go on sale.

1824

1824: The first Marion County Courthouse is built, which also serves as the first State House in Indianapolis.

1824

1/20/1824: General Assembly makes Indianapolis the state capitol, to be effective on 1/1/1825.

1829

12/26/1829: Marion County Circuit Court Judge Bethuel F. Morris hands down one of the nation’s first rulings against a slaveholder’s right to transport slaves through a free state. Indiana Supreme Court rulings slowly eliminated slavery and indentured servitude in Indiana, however, nothing was done to restore civil rights to the growing black population.

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1836

1836: Construction on the Central Canal begins.

1838

2/17/1838: General Assembly reincorporates Indianapolis with a new charter that provides a town council with taxing, licensing, and legislative powers.

1847

4/24/1847: Samuel Henderson elected first mayor.

1847

10/1/1847: Madison & Indianapolis Railroad, first steam railroad completed in Indiana, arrives.

1848

1848: Indiana Hospital for the Insane (later Central State Hospital) admits its first five patients.

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The Treaty of St. Mary's

1818

The Treaty of St. Mary's

In September and October of 1818, U.S. government commissioners and the Potawatomies, Weas, Delawares, and Miamis signed the most significant and far-reaching agreement that shaped the Indiana territory in St. Mary’s, Ohio. In the agreement, the tribes ceded the middle third of Indiana in return for compensations, annuities, and individual plots. The treaties specified land grants for the Miamis and Weas, promised the Delawares western territories, and allowed the tribes to remain on their land until 1821.

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In September and October of 1818, U.S. government commissioners and the Potawatomies, Weas, Delawares, and Miamis signed the most significant and far-reaching agreement that shaped the Indiana territory in St. Mary’s, Ohio. In the agreement, the tribes ceded the middle third of Indiana in return for compensations, annuities, and individual plots. The treaties specified land grants for the Miamis and Weas, promised the Delawares western territories, and allowed the tribes to remain on their land until 1821.

1820: John McCormick settles on the east bank of White River

1820

1820: John McCormick settles on the east bank of White River

Image: Graphic, scene of Indianapolis in 1820, cabin in the woods (Bass #204918) Indiana Historical Society

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The Mile Square

1821

The Mile Square

Before anything was built, the city existed on paper. The Mile Square is the original plat of the town designed by Alexander Ralston in 1821. The state government chose Ralston to design the layout for the new capital city in a four-mile square area of dense forest, however, Ralston only planned one mile because he doubted that the city would ever encompass four. Ralston’s plan is distinguished by diagonal arteries – Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana avenues – that connect the corners of the square mile, and there is a circle at the center that was designated for the governor’s mansion. The plan is largely intact with its grid, and 3 of the 4 diagonal streets still radiate outward from the distinctive Circle Street, which later became Monument Circle.

Picture: Plat of the Town of Indianapolis, 1821 (Indiana Historical Society)

The Central Canal

1836

The Central Canal

In 1836, construction began on the Central Canal. The Central Canal was intended to connect Indianapolis to the Ohio River and Lake Erie via the Wabash and Erie Canal, however, only 8 miles were finished due to a lack of funding.

Image: Men fishing along the canal, O. James Fox Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Central State Hospital

1848

Central State Hospital

Image of 1870s Women’s Ward, Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

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Indianapolis Literary Figures

Indianapolis Literary Figures

“Hoosier Poet” and Indianapolis resident James Whitcomb Riley was beloved by many across the country, and he was especially popular among children. Riley rose to fame because of his use of humor and the Midwest dialect, and his popular works include his famous “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man.” He grew in popularity during the 1880s through poetry reading tours. His circuit grew from the Midwest to a national tour, and he held shows and making joint appearances on stage with other famous talents. In the 1890s, Riley became a bestselling author. His children’s poems were compiled into a book called The Rhymes of Childhood, and it sold millions of copies. As a poet, Riley achieved an uncommon level of fame during his own lifetime and was regularly called on to perform readings at national civic events.

Indianapolis has a long and rich literary history which includes such notable figures as Booth Tarkington, Kurt Vonnegut, Mari Evans, and many more.

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1852

1850-1900

1852: Construction of nation’s first “union station,” a central station for the common use of several rail lines.

1853

9/1/1853: Indianapolis High School, the city’s first public high school, opens. The school closed in 1858 when the Indiana Supreme Court declares local taxation for schools to be unconstitutional.

1861

2/11/1861: President-elect Abraham Lincoln visits Indianapolis and speaks from the balcony of the Bates House.

1864

6/1/1864: Crown Hill Cemetery is dedicated.

1864

10/3/1864: Mule-drawn streetcars begin service between Union Station and Military Park.

1866

1866: Indianapolis City Hospital opens.

1869

1869: Following the General Assembly’s adoption of the School Act of May 13, 1869, Indianapolis opens elementary schools for African-American children only.

1872

1872: Local women establish Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society.

1875

2/18/1875: Indianapolis Woman’s Club is founded.

1882

1882: Indianapolis Free Kindergarten Society is established by early childhood education crusader Eliza Blaker.

1883

1883: Flower Mission Training School for Nurses, city’s first nurse training program, established.

1886

6/1/1886: City market opens; Tomlinson Hall is dedicated.

1887

1887: New Union Station built.

1890

1890: City changes its address numbering system; also eliminates all duplicate street names and erect street name signs.

1890

1890: First electric streetcars are placed into operation; electrification of the system completed in 1894.

1897

1897: City annexes Haughville, Stringtown, and West Indianapolis.

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The Old Southside

1851

The Old Southside

By 1890 Indianapolis’ near south side was densely populated and had the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any district in the city.

Irish and Germans arrived in Indianapolis in the early 1830s as builders of the Central Canal and workers on the National Road. Many of the early immigrants were of the Roman Catholic and Jewish faiths, so throughout the mid-1850s and the mid-1870s, they erected the first Catholic churches on the city’s south side: St. John’s, St. Mary’s, and Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

In the 1840s and 1850s, hundreds of African Americans settled on the south side, and by 1875, South Calvary Baptist Church was erected for spiritual encouragement and assistance with social and economic issues.

The influx of Jewish citizens into Indianapolis created a need for organizations designed to help them settle into their new urban homes. In 1856, the first Jewish congregation, the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, was organized. In 1914, the Jewish Federation built a settlement house on the Southside on Morris Street.

Photo: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

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Construction of Nation’s First “Union Station”

1852

Construction of Nation’s First “Union Station”

Indianapolis was the first city in the world to devise a union station. The station building opened on Jackson Place, and it was operated by the Indianapolis Union Railway. A much larger station was designed by Pittsburgh architect Thomas Rodd and constructed at the same location beginning in 1886.

Photograph of Etching of Original Union Station: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Indianapolis was the first city in the world to devise a union station. The station building opened on Jackson Place, and it was operated by the Indianapolis Union Railway. A much larger station was designed by Pittsburgh architect Thomas Rodd and constructed at the same location beginning in 1886.

Photograph of Etching of Original Union Station: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Illustration of the original Indianapolis City Hospital

1866

Illustration of the original Indianapolis City Hospital

The Indianapolis City Hospital, later known as Wishard and then Eskenazi, opened in 1866.
Image: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

The Indiana Statehouse

1888

The Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana Statehouse was completed in 1888, and it houses the seats of Government for the State of Indiana. The story of the Indiana Statehouse begins in Vincennes, the Indiana territory’s first seat of government. As westward-bound settlers and supplies started to arrive in the territory via the Ohio River, territorial government was moved to Corydon. As more roads were built and settlement moved northward, a centrally located seat of government was needed. In January 1821, a site was selected and the city of Indianapolis was founded. While the Statehouse location has remained fixed since 1835, the original building no longer stands. The Statehouse in use today replaced it in 1888.

Photo: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

The Indiana Statehouse was completed in 1888, and it houses the seats of Government for the State of Indiana. The story of the Indiana Statehouse begins in Vincennes, the Indiana territory’s first seat of government. As westward-bound settlers and supplies started to arrive in the territory via the Ohio River, territorial government was moved to Corydon. As more roads were built and settlement moved northward, a centrally located seat of government was needed. In January 1821, a site was selected and the city of Indianapolis was founded. While the Statehouse location has remained fixed since 1835, the original building no longer stands. The Statehouse in use today replaced it in 1888.

Photo: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Das Deutsche Haus (Athenaeum)

1893

Das Deutsche Haus (Athenaeum)

This photo shows the exterior of Das Deutsche Haus in 1905. Das Detusche Haus (“The German House”) was constructed in two phases from 1893 to 1898 with the goal of being able to house many German clubs under a single roof. Over the years it has hosted numerous German organizations. In 1918 it was renamed the Athenaeum because of anti-German sentiment stemming from World War I.

 

Photo: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

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1900

1900-1950

1/1/1900: First interurban car enters downtown from Greenwood.

1902

1/13/1902: Herron School of Art opens.

1902

May 15, 1902: The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is formally dedicated.

1906

1906: Wonderland Amusement Park and White City Amusement Park open.

1909

1909: George Kessler completes parks & boulevards landscape plan.

1910

1910: Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company relocates to Indianapolis.

1911

5/30/1911: First Indy 500 race.

1913

3/22/1913: The Flood of 1913.

1913

10/31-11/7/1913: 800 streetcar operators strike, known as the “Streetcar Strike of 1913.”

1920

1920: League of Women Voters, Indianapolis branch established.

1920

6/5-6/10/1920: City celebrates centennial.

1922

1922: Indianapolis becomes first Indiana city to pass zoning legislation.

1927

1927: Walker Theatre is built.

1927

1927: Crispus Attucks High School opens.

1928

1928: Indianapolis Times wins Pulitzer Prize for its 1927 series exposing the KKK activities in Indiana.

1931

1931: Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, largest in the world, built on Mass Ave.

1931

9/25/1931: Indianapolis Municipal Airport is dedicated.

1938

1938: Lockefield Gardens opens. Lockefield Gardens was the first public housing built in Indianapolis. Constructed during the years of 1935 to 1938, it was built exclusively for low income blacks in Indianapolis. The complex was closed in 1976, and a number of structures were demolished in the early 1980s. Today, the only original structures remaining are those along Blake Street.

1943

1943: Geist Reservoir begins supplying water to city.

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Soldiers and Sailors Monument

1902

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Located on Monument Circle in the center of downtown, the Soldiers and Sailors monument has come to symbolize the city of Indianapolis. This National Historic Landmark, which was formally dedicated on May 15, 1902, is America’s greatest Civil War monument, and it commemorates the valor of Hoosier veterans who served in all wars prior to WWI, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Frontier Wars and the Spanish-American War.

Located on Monument Circle in the center of downtown, the Soldiers and Sailors monument has come to symbolize the city of Indianapolis. This National Historic Landmark, which was formally dedicated on May 15, 1902, is America’s greatest Civil War monument, and it commemorates the valor of Hoosier veterans who served in all wars prior to WWI, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Frontier Wars and the Spanish-American War.

The First Indianapolis 500

1911

The First Indianapolis 500

May 30, 1911: 40 cars lined up at the starting line for the first Indianapolis 500, which is now one of the world’s most famous motor racing competitions. At an average speed of 74.59 mph, Ray Harroun drove his single-seater Marmon Wasp to victory. The Wasp was the first car with a rear-view mirror, which Harroun had installed to compensate for not having a mechanic in the seat next to him to warn him of passing cars. The racetrack at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was originally built to be a test track for the many local automobile factories.

Image: Ray Harroun in his Marmon “Wasp,” Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

The Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center

1911

The Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center

In 1919, Mary Rigg moved to Indianapolis to help juvenile delinquents with the Church Federation, and she simultaneously earned her master’s degree at the Indiana University School of Social Work. Her thesis work revolved around immigrant communities in the city, and as a result, she was hired as the director of the American Settlement in 1924, which was a center of learning and recreation for immigrants who came to Indianapolis to work in industrial and meatpacking plants. As one of the first professionally trained social workers in Indianapolis, she transformed the struggling center into a thriving community center for immigrants and children by implementing modern social and educational programming. Mary Rigg directed the center until 1960, and it is now named in her honor.

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In 1919, Mary Rigg moved to Indianapolis to help juvenile delinquents with the Church Federation, and she simultaneously earned her master’s degree at the Indiana University School of Social Work. Her thesis work revolved around immigrant communities in the city, and as a result, she was hired as the director of the American Settlement in 1924, which was a center of learning and recreation for immigrants who came to Indianapolis to work in industrial and meatpacking plants. As one of the first professionally trained social workers in Indianapolis, she transformed the struggling center into a thriving community center for immigrants and children by implementing modern social and educational programming. Mary Rigg directed the center until 1960, and it is now named in her honor.

The Indiana World War Memorial Plaza

1919

The Indiana World War Memorial Plaza

In 1919, the Indiana War Memorial Plaza was dedicated as a location for the national headquarters of the American Legion and a memorial to honor Hoosier veterans. The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919, and it is an organization of veterans that sponsors youth programs, promotes patriotism and national security, and provides commitment to Americans who have served in the armed forces. Indianapolis was an attractive location for the organization’s headquarters because of the city’s central location and patriotic spirit. In addition to the headquarters, the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District includes a 30,000 square foot museum that houses military equipment and artifacts and 25 acres of monuments, statues, and sculptures in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. The IWM Commission operates these facilities in pursuit of its primary mission: to commemorate the valor and sacrifice of the United States Armed Forces and to honor Hoosier veterans and Indiana’s role in the nation’s conflicts.

Crispus Attucks High School

1927

Crispus Attucks High School

In 1927, the Indianapolis School Board opened Crispus Attucks High School as the first and only public high school for African Americans in the city. The school was named “Crispus Attucks High School” in honor of the former slave killed in the 1770 Boston Massacre, who is generally considered the first to die in the American Revolution. Crispus Attucks High School became a strong source of pride in Indy’s black community, from hiring the best faculty available from traditionally black colleges in the south to having a special course in black history. School segregation was outlawed in Indiana in 1949, but the student body remained almost exclusively African American until the 1970s when busing for racial integration began.

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In 1927, the Indianapolis School Board opened Crispus Attucks High School as the first and only public high school for African Americans in the city. The school was named “Crispus Attucks High School” in honor of the former slave killed in the 1770 Boston Massacre, who is generally considered the first to die in the American Revolution. Crispus Attucks High School became a strong source of pride in Indy’s black community, from hiring the best faculty available from traditionally black colleges in the south to having a special course in black history. School segregation was outlawed in Indiana in 1949, but the student body remained almost exclusively African American until the 1970s when busing for racial integration began.

Indiana Avenue

Indiana Avenue

For decades, Indiana Ave served as an African American cultural center, with a vibrant social, commercial, residential, spiritual, educational and economic community. Indiana Avenue was a hub for the local jazz scene and at the height of the jazz era in the 1920s and ‘30s, “The Avenue” featured over 33 jazz clubs with performances from Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and more. Indiana Avenue is still one of Indy’s cultural districts that stretches between the Central Canal and White River, encompassing many neighborhoods and IUPUI, as well as the Madame CJ Walker Theatre. The community keeps their traditions and history alive by hosting festivals and performances and showcasing jazz-themed outdoor art.

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The Essex House

1952

The Essex House

The Essex House was the youngest mid-rise apartment & hotel building in the city to be demolished. Built in 1952, the 14-story structure sat on Pennsylvania Street overlooking the Indiana World War Memorial. Used as the decoy hotel during The Beatles’ 1964 performance, the Essex House was also the site of the first Pride Brunch in 1981. Event guests entered the building wearing masks as to not be identified by onlookers. Demolished in the 1990s, the site is still used as a parking lot. From the W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

1968

Robert F. Kennedy announces the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

4/4/1968: United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York delivered an improvised speech in Indianapolis several hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy offered brief, impassioned remarks for peace in the heart of Indianapolis’ African-American neighborhood. His speech is considered to be one of the great public addresses of the modern era. Video via Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights YouTube channel

The Colts Relocate to Indianapolis

1984

The Colts Relocate to Indianapolis

In 1984, the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indy. Since their move, the Indianapolis Colts have made 17 playoff appearances, and they won the 44th Super Bowl.

Image: Visit Indy

In 1984, the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indy. Since their move, the Indianapolis Colts have made 17 playoff appearances, and they won the 44th Super Bowl.

Image: Visit Indy

1953

1950-Present

1953: Integration of all city high schools is complete.

1957

1957: Restaurant equipment inventor opens first Burger Chef and establishes a national chain.

1958

1958: Tomlinson Hall burns.

1962

1962: City-County Building completed.

1964

1964: Zoo established.

1967

6/9/1967: Indiana National Bank demolishes the Knights of Pythias Building to construct first modern skyscraper.

1967

1967-1974: Construction of I-65/70 inner loop.

1968

4/4/1968: United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York delivers an improvised speech in Indianapolis several hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

1970s-1980s

1970s: The Famous Door venue played a prominent role in gay nightlife and hosted some of the earliest contemporary drag shows in the city. Note that early drag performers were also referred to as “female impersonators” at this time. The venue was located at 252 North Capitol Avenue.

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1970

1/1/1970: UNIGOV legislation in effect.

1971

1971: Year long sesquicentennial celebration.

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1972

1972: The Pyramids office complex is built.

1974

9/15/1974: Market Square Arena opens as nation’s fifth largest sports arena.

1975

1975: U.S. District Court orders transfer of African-American students to surrounding suburban school districts within Marion County.

1977

10/7/1977: The Coalition for Human Rights organized a picket line to protest the “Rally for Decency” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The rally included speakers Jerry Falwell and entertainer Anita Bryant. The Gay Peoples Union of Indiana protest is largely considered to be the first grassroots organizing event for the local LGBTQ community.

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1979

10/14/1979: Indianapolis sends a group to participate in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which was one of the earliest political organizing events for the local LGBTQ community.

1980s

1980s: White River State Park redevelopment project.

1981

1981: First Pride in Indianapolis is held at the Essex House.

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1982

1982: American United Life completes the AUL Tower, becoming the state’s tallest structure at 38-stories.

1983

1983: At the initiative of the queer community, leaders of the Indianapolis Gay/Lesbian Coalition (IGLC)—comprised of fourteen educational, religious, political, business, and social organizations—met with police officials to volunteer their help in solving the murders and improve relations with the IPD.

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1984

1984: The Hoosier Dome is completed and the Baltimore Colts relocate to Indianapolis.

1985

1985: The Bag Ladies, a charitable organization that raises money for AIDS relief in Indianapolis, created the character Nurse Safe Sexx in 1985 to promote safe sex practices and appeared in local LGBTQ newspapers in cartoon form.

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1987

1987: The Arts Council of Indianapolis incorporates.

1987

8/7 – 8/23/1987: Indianapolis hosts the Pan American Games.

1989

1989: Circle Centre Mall project begins.

1990

6/30/1990: A celebration for the 20th anniversary of Gay Pride Week was held on Monument Circle on. Several thousand people from throughout Indiana and the Chicago area attended.

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1992

1992: The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus performs at the Indy Pride festival at the Indiana World War Memorial.

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1996

A church group walks in the 1996 AIDS Walk in Indianapolis.

2013

6/26/2013: Over three hundred people celebrated the defeat of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, by the Supreme Court. Celebration attendees displayed a rainbow flag on the steps of the Indiana State Capitol.

2014

6/25/2014 U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young ruled that Indiana’s law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Several Indiana County Clerk offices, including Marion County, issued same-sex marriage licenses and many couples were married in civil services on this day.

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