History of Indianapolis and Old Southside

In 1820 the Indiana state legislature chose the site of a trading post on the White River as its future capital. The city was platted and began to be settled within a year. To plan Indianapolis, officials brought in Alexander Ralston, assistant to Pierre L’ Enfant, designer of the nation’s capital. By 1825 Indianapolis had become the seat of government.

By the early 1830s Irish and Germans arrived as builders of the Central Canal or workers on the National Road. With the development of the National Road and a Union Station, the nation’s first of its kind, Indianapolis went on to become the second-largest capital in the nation.

The Southside of Indianapolis was shaped by the histories of Jewish immigrants from Europe and African Americans immigrants from the south. The end of the Civil War and the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation attracted more African Americans from southern states.

Many of the early immigrants were of the Catholic and Jewish faith. St. John’s was the first Catholic church built in the mid 1850s., followed by St. Mary’s. However a large number of German Catholics had settled in the Old Southside and the need was growing for another church. So in 1875 nine lots were purchased on the northwest corner of Union and Palmer for Sacred Heart Catholic Church. This was a rural location with farmland north of Palmer and extending east to Madison Gravel Road.

Many of the African American immigrants settled on the Southside and by 1875, South Calvary Baptist Church was erected for the spiritual encouragement and assistance with social and economic issues. The influx of Jewish citizens into this same neighborhood 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 and two temples were located in the Old Southside. In 1914, the Jewish Federation built a settlement house on the Southside on Morris Street just east of Meridian Street.

By 1890 Indianapolis’ near Southside was densely populated and had the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any district in the city. The diversity of the neighborhood remained and continues to present day.

The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis' Southside

The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis’ Southside

In 2010, Anthropology students from IUPUI began collecting oral histories, photographs, and other memorabilia from African-American and Jewish elders, former residents of what once had been one of the most multi-ethnic neighborhoods in Indianapolis – the Near South-side. The Jewish and African-American communities had not only lived side-by-side; they once shared deep bonds of friendship that were renewed when they began meeting with the students and one another to share their memories of that beloved time and place. This book tells the stories of those residents, their neighborhood, and the project that brought them back together nearly 50 years later.

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