Why Indianapolis Hit the Big-Time

In 1820, Indiana found itself in need of a Capital (they probably noticed that before, but you know Congress: always going nowhere fast).

Anyway, Indiana decided to label a city as its capital. They called it (pause for effect) Indianapolis (cymbal crash). Ironically it means “Indiana City”. Polis means “City”, and Indiana literally means, “Pittsburgh”. OK, it actually means “Indiana”. Thus, Indianapolis. (Remind me to congratulate the namer [Jeremiah Sullivan, Indiana Supreme Court Judge] on his utterly amazing naming abilities.)

While most American state capitals tend to be located in the central region of their respective states, Indianapolis is the closest capital to being placed in the exact center of its state.

Its plan was created by Alexander Ralston. Ralston was an apprentice to the French architect Pierre L’Enfant, and he helped L’Enfant plan Washington, D.C.

The size of Indianapolis was originally one square mile. In the exact center there was a large circular commons (basically the town square, with a twist!). In the middle of that, there was a plot of land upon which the Governor’s mansion was to be built. The mansion was constructed, but none of the governors wanted to live in the mansion; there wasn’t enough privacy. In 1857 the Mansion was torn down; 30(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) years after it was built! That is some serious ornamental longevity.

Soldiers_Sailors_Mon_IN_1898

In its place a neoclassical limestone and bronze monument, the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, was constructed. (Above) You can see the circular property, defined by the dark grass, and I believe you can make out the fence–a collection of pillars with chain strung around. You can also see the fish-bowlness of this set up, per the buildings surrounding it, and the major roadways entering the “Monument Circle” as it is titled now.

But that’s not the point! Those are just some cool facts about the old Indianapolis. I’m here to tell you why I think Indianapolis hit the Big-Time. Here goes:

Very basic observance has shown me that major cities, and minor ones too, are always built where there are good resources. Water being the top resource of desire, most cities (minor or major) are built on, or near, waterways.

There are two simple reasons for this. One is the fact that water is necessary for life, wether it be human-, animal-, or plant-life, water is a pervading necessity. Thus, humans, creatures who always attempt to improve, wether faster, stronger, or whateverer, try to live closer to the resource. In this case, and many others, the resource is water.

Two is that water provide(s)(d) good transportation for goods. The Mississippi is quite famous for transportation. (It also has its size going for it.)

Both came into play here in Indianapolis, but one more than the other. Number two was the main reason that Indianapolis was chosen for the state capital. It was located right on the White river. The White River starts up near the highest point in Indiana (Fifteen to twenty miles North of Richmond, IN), from there it goes through Muncie, and Anderson, and then it goes right to Indianapolis. Perfect for trade between Indianapolis, Muncie, and Anderson, right?

Wrong! After settling into Indianapolis, the people realized, after several grounded boats, that the river was too shallow for larger cargo boats. Can’t you just see all of the committee members smacking their faces? I certainly can.

(If you’re the curious type, it runs into the Wabash, and that flows into the Ohio, and then that runs into the Mississippi, and then that flows into the Gulf of Mexico.)

In essence, the committee had put the capital in one of the worst places. It was destined to fail. But Indy was determined to go down swinging.

In 1936, Indianapolis attempted a canal, but that was a financial disaster (I swear they tried to cover it up, because I couldn’t find anything other than a sentence about it.) In 1945, though, twenty-five years after its capitalization ( 🙂 ), the first railway made it to Indy, bringing with it the trade so desperately wanted and needed.

And as far as I can tell, the trains were one of the main factors in the growth of the Indianapolis population. Before the trains there were approximately 8,091 Indianapolisians. In 1860 there were 18,611 Indianpolites. In 1870 (25 years after the railroad came to town) the total of Indianapolisers was 48,244. (None of those names for Indianapolis-Dwellers were correct. Can someone tell me what to call them? Oh! I know! I’ll call them… Indianapolonians!)

The other big factor for population growth was World War II.

In the 1940s, many of the factories converted into war vehicle parts factories. People were recruited far and wide to come and build parts in Indianapolis. Many of the factory workers settled down in Indianapolis after the war. They stayed, and the population of Indianapolonians was bolstered.

It’s kind of funny, actually. Indianapolis was supposed to be one of the biggest Trade-Towns. But the Capital Committee screwed up. They thought that Indianapolis was in such an opportune place.

“Look!” they said. “Liquid clear stuff! I think we should build a city here!”

They forgot to measure the depth of the liquid clear stuff. Unfortunately for them.

In essence, Indianapolis is only the shadow of what it could have been. A ghost. A Ghost-Town, if you will.

Now, to explain how Indy made its way to 372 square miles, and a populace of 829,718 Indianolphians, I’ll tell you a few more HistorChunks*.

One other big factor for population growth was World War II.

In the 1940s, many of the factories converted into war vehicle parts factories. People were recruited far and wide to come and build parts in Indianapolis. Many of the factory workers settled down in Indianapolis after the war. They stayed, and the population of Indianapolonians was bolstered.

Another factor was the car industry. In the early 1900s, Indianapolis broadened its pallet. It dipped its brushes into the drab colors of Factory-gray. Indy manufactured, among other things, lightning rods, saws, stoves, and wagon wheels, but the major production was cars.

Yes, Indianapolis was the Detroit of its time. If I didn’t have a deadline, I would have found out which car companies started in Indianapolis, but, alas, I have a deadline. Anyway, The World Book Encyclopedia (from 1980) said that most of the car companies moved to Detroit by 1920, and none were built after 1937. In context, to me, it sounds as though a whole bunch of them started out there. Maybe all of ’em.

I don’t think driving cars in circles, albeit fast ones, is any fun to watch. But, for those of you who do, the Indianapolis Speedway was built in 1909 to test all of the cars. And in 1911, the first ever Indy 500 was held. Memorial Day weekend.

It’s coming up! You don’t wanna miss the Indy 500. 500 miles of pure circleness!

* HistorChunk. A blip, blurp, blorp, globule, paragraph, or any other small chunk of history, comprised of two or more facts. If it is just one fact, it is in fact, a fact, ironically. This account is factual.