Indy Culture and History
This walking tour starts just north of downtown Indy and makes its way to the downtown area, complete with stops at monuments and historic buildings, museums, and cultural landmarks.
Located in the Old Northside District, the building known as the Indianapolis Propylaeum was originally a private residence built by John Schmidt, a beer baron. In 1923, the structure was sold to the Indianapolis Propylaeum, an organization founded in 1888. The Propylaeum was a cultural and literary organization open exclusively to women.
The Benjamin Harris Presidential Site stands as one of Indianapolis’s greatest historic and political charms. Located in the Old Northside Historic District and featuring an Italianate style architecture common in the 1870s and ‘80s, the Benjamin Harris Presidential Site also marks the spot where Harris created his famous Front Porch Campaign during the 1888 Presidential Elections. Benjamin and Caroline Harrison built the home in 1874-1875. Harrison lived in the home until he died in 1901, except for his U.S. Senate and presidential years. His family continued to live in the home until 1913. His second wife, Mary Lord Harrison, made the home a rental property until 1937, when she sold it to the Jordan Conservatory of Music with the understanding the home and its artifacts would be forever preserved. The school used the home as a dormitory while maintaining certain rooms as presidential museum space. In 1966, a not-for-profit operating foundation was established to run home as a historic site open to the public. From the 1950s until 1974, tours were by appointment only. After a 1974 renovation, the entire home was opened for regular daily tours. The Benjamin Harris Presidential Site is a U.S. National Landmark and it is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Born in New York, Ovid Butler would leave his mark in many ways in Indianapolis after moving here as a teenager. Throughout his life he was involved in abolitionism, education, and news media (as a newspaper publisher). Butler was also an attorney, recruiter for a regiment of African American soldiers during the Civil War, and founded Indianapolis's Butler University, a Christian university that bears his name. This marker sits where Butler's home, "Forest Home," still stands.
The Morris-Butler House is located in a neighborhood in Indiana known as the Old Northside, which is surrounded by Pennsylvania Street, College Avenue, 16th Street, and I-65. The Morris-Butler house, which is a Second Empire-style home, was designed by an architect named Diedrich A. Bolen. Diedrich built the home between the years of 1864 and 1865 for the Morris family. John D. Morris, the son of an Indianapolis pioneer, purchased a lot from Butler University’s founder Ovid Butler, in the Old Northside. Restorations have been made to the home, and it looks much like it did when the renovations were complete. Now, several educational programs, cultural events, and holiday performances are held at the home.
John Freeman, a free African American, became an Indianapolis landowner in 1844. Nine years later, he was falsely claimed as a fugitive slave by Pleasant Ellington of Missouri and arrested. The ensuing trial was widely publicized, and though Freeman and his lawyers won the case, Freeman lost his life savings and suffered humiliating treatment at the hands of U.S. Deputy Marshal John L. Robinson. Thanks to donations from churches in Indiana and Freeman's native state of Georgia, he and his family were able to retain their home and garden plot and eventually move to Canada [1; 2].
Visitors to the memorial mall will find the Central Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library and its Indianapolis Special Collections Room at the far north end of the mall. The library was built in 1917, using Indiana limestone upon a base of Vermont marble. The city doubled the size of the library in 2001, combining the original neoclassical building with a modern glass structure featuring an enclosed glass atrium supported by a latticework of columnns. The Indianapolis Special Collections Room features rare photographs, scrapbooks, typescripts, manuscripts, autographed editions, letters, newspapers, and other one-of-a-kind items related to the city's history.
The Sylvania, built in 1906, is an historic apartment complex in Indianapolis. The building faces 801 North Pennsylvania Street. It was built by Elizabeth Palmer, a wealthy widow who moved to Indianapolis a few years prior. She built the property as an investment after demolishing her own large family home at the site, a popular building trend at the time. At the time of its construction, the Sylvania was directly across the street from the Girls Classical School, making the apartments a popular choice for well-heeled young Indianapolis women.
This historic marker is located just north of the Central Christian Church and pays tribute to Zerelda G. Wallace, the first president of the Indiana Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Wallace presented a petition calling for a ban on alcohol signed by over 21,000 residents to the Indiana General Assembly in 1875. She would later become a leading voice on behalf of voting rights for women through her membership within the Equal Suffrage Society of Indianapolis. She also served as First Lady of Indiana when her husband became the governor in 1837.
Located in the Mass Ave cultural district, Art Bank, a gallery showcasing roughly twenty artists, has another distinction: it was once a bank which was robbed by Indiana gangster John Dillinger and his accomplices.
The Murat Shrine and the Old National Centre complex serve as both an entertainment facility and the largest Shrine temple in North America. The building was constructed in 1909 to serve as the headquarters for the Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Order. The complex includes the Murat Theatre and the Egyptian Room, which can both accommodate large audiences.
Das Deutsche Haus (presently known as The Athenaeum) was built in 1893 and served as a headquarters and meeting space for for German resident of Indianapolis. This German Romanesque building has been restored and is home to a theater, art gallery, and biergarten . The building is also home to the Rathskeller restaurant. Established in 1894, this is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant for hundreds of miles. It is also home to the Indiana German Heritage Society. This historic structure provided a gymnasium for members, a central part of the uniquely German phenomenon known as the Turnverein Movement that stressed physical and mental well-being through rigorous gymnastic exercise. The building also held meeting rooms, classrooms, a theater and beer hall, and even a bowling alley.
This historic marker is located at the first spot of St. Vincent's Infirmary, one of the largest Catholic Health Ministries in Indiana. The infirmary was located here from 1881-1889. Deeming the building to be too small for its increasing numbers, a fundraiser was held for a larger building. The infirmary was moved to the South and Delaware streets area. It was at this located that the infirmary received its most famous patient in 1902: US President Teddy Roosevelt, who was suffering from an infected cut to his shin. With industry rapidly taking over Indianapolis, the infirmary moved again in 1913 to the north side of Fall Creek Boulevard between Capitol Avenue and Illinois Street. There it became a full fledged hospital and moved again in 1974 to its current location of West 86th Street. In 2007, former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, was instrumental in the creation of the Children's Hospital at St. Vincent's.
In 1893, Indiana's celebrated "Hoosier Poet," James Whitcomb Riley was invited by his longtime friends Charles and Magdalena Holstein to move in with them at their Victorian two-story, red brick house on Lockerbie Street in Indianapolis. Technically, Riley was a boarder, as he paid rent to the Holsteins. However, Riley lived as if he were a family member and became deeply fond of this house, which he considered his home. Riley remained there until his death at age 66 in 1916. Very soon afterward, local fans of the poet formed the Riley Memorial Association to purchase and preserve the house in Riley's memory, and this Association later became the Riley Children's Foundation. The Riley Home was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Built in 1863, the Johan Despa House is among a number of historic homes within Lockerbie Square, the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in Indianapolis. Many immigrants, settled in this area of the city, particularly Scottish, Scots-Irish, and German settlers. The neighborhood takes its name from Lockerbie Street, which was named for the Lockerbie family.
One of the most well-known dolls in American history, Raggedy Ann was created by Indianapolis cartoonist Johnny Gruelle. As a young man, Gruelle grew up at 537 Tacoma Avenue, a home that has fallen into disrepair. Gruelle became an illustrator and children's book author and lived near this location (his home was demolished with many others in order to facilitate the interstate). According to some, Gruelle first conceived of the Raggedy Ann character at this location in 1915. At that time, the property at 234 N. Davidson was a general store. This structure was built in 1879 and served numerous roles before being converted into a private home.