Jun 12, 2020
As the city of Indianapolis celebrates its 200th birthday - and on the eve of what was supposed to have been a mass, public kickoff event for the Bicentennial era of the Hoosier capital - Hoosier History Live will explore a malaria epidemic during the early 1820s that almost wiped out the city just as it was getting underway.
We also will look back on the city's history at various proposals for its improvement, including some ideas that fizzled or needed to be reworked.
A Bicentennial era (2020-2021) launch had been planned for early June that involved a major public community gathering on Monument Circle. Instead, as our guest Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett explains, civic leaders have been conferring to come up with a celebratory kickoff scheduled for June 28 that can happen amid COVID-era public health guidelines. Jeff will share more details during our show.
And listeners are invited to call in to share their visions and dreams for Indianapolis during the next 200 years. The phone number of the WICR-FM studio is 317-788-3314; Nelson will open the phone lines early during the show.
The coronavirus pandemic certainly isn't the first public health crisis Indianapolis has faced. During the summer of 1821, the new city confronted a devastating malaria epidemic that killed 72 men, women and children, according to Indianapolis: The Story of a City by Edward A. Leary. Dozens of terrified residents packed up and left.
Many victims were nursed back to health by Dr. Isaac Coe (1782-1855), a Rutgers-educated New Jersey native who was the second physician to arrive in the city. Dr. Coe scolded state leaders for choosing a swampy site as the location for the new state capital merely because it was the geographic center of Indiana. More than 20 of the children who died in the malaria epidemic were buried in Plague Cemetery, the city's first graveyard. A commemorative plaque marks the approximate site of the cemetery on the campus of today's IUPUI.
Despite that inauspicious start, the city endured. During the next 200 years, visionaries proposed various plans for Indianapolis and its historic sites. Our guest Jeff Bennett will discuss some plans involving transformations for City Market at E. Market and N. Alabama streets that never unfolded.
Nelson and Jeff also will discuss Lockerbie Fair, a proposal first suggested in the late 1950s by city planners to transform the Lockerbie Square neighborhood into a historic "theme park" with costumed reenactors. The concept gained steam as interest in history increased with the buildup to the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976.
However, the Lockerbie Fair plan drew strenuous protests from historic preservationists, who wanted to protect Lockerbie as a residential neighborhood and were restoring its 19th century cottages. Opposition from Indiana Landmarks (then the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana) was a key factor in causing the Lockerbie Fair concept to be scuttled.
The proposal in 1958 from the Metropolitan Planning Commission that advocated for the creation of Lockerbie Fair also suggested demolishing City Market and historic Union Station, replacing the latter with a "modern heliport and transportation hub." The planners predicted that city residents soon would be relying on helicopters for transportation to Broad Ripple and other neighborhoods beyond downtown's Mile Square.
The planners advocated for demolition of City Market so it could be replaced "with a cube-like structure ... which would give a festive atmosphere for the market shopper."
That didn't happen at the site, which was first envisioned as the location for a food market when Scottish-born surveyor Alexander Ralston laid out Indianapolis in 1821. Initially, an outdoor market flourished there. The current City Market building, which was constructed in 1886, has been renovated several times; a substantial redevelopment in the 1970s included construction of its two wings.
Both City Market and Union Station, which was also built in the 1880s, have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. An attempt in the mid-1980s to convert Union Station into a "festival marketplace" of boutique shops and restaurants failed after a few years. Today, Crowne Plaza leases most of the historic train station from the city for use as a hotel, banquet hall and conference center.
Earlier in his career, our guest Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett worked for Indiana Landmarks. He also was our guest last January for a show about how the Centennial of Indianapolis was celebrated in 1920 as well as the 150th birthday festivities in the early 1970s.