History of Indianapolis and Old Southside

A New State Capital

In 1820 the 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.

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.

Diversity of the Southside

By the early 1830s Irish and Germans arrived as builders of the Central Canal or workers on the National Road. 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 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.

The influx of African Americans into Indianapolis by the hundreds took place between the 1840s and 1850s. They 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 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.

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

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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