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Jan 8, 2021

As Hoosier History Live kicks off our 13th year on the air, our spotlight will turn to a historic milestone for Indiana's largest city.

Many historians consider Jan. 6, 1821 to be the official birthdate of Indianapolis (it's often called Founders Day for the city) because that's when the Indiana General Assembly approved the site selected for the new state capital. They also approved the new city's name.

Jordan RyanSo it's an ideal opportunity to present another program in our periodic series saluting the Bicentennial era that stretches from June 2020 to May 2021. The celebratory era began with the 200th anniversary of a meeting on June 7, 1820 at a cabin owned by pioneer John McCormick in what is now White River State Park. At that meeting, which also is sometimes called the city's birthdate, state officials selected the site they would recommend to the legislature. 

For this show, we will explore several topics, including some related to upcoming events on Founders Day, exhibits, lost landmarks and how the legislature handled the historic act that approved the site for Indianapolis. To explore more about the latter, our guest, Indianapolis-based Jordan Ryan of The History Concierge, recommends  what she calls an "underused resource:" the Indiana Historical Legislative Documents collection.

Jordan is an architectural historian and archivist who formerly served as the coordinator of the Indianapolis Bicentennial collecting initiative and exhibit for the Indiana Historical Society. In that capacity, she helped organize exhibits at the Indiana History Center related to our topics, including a "Lost Landmarks" exhibit that will open Jan. 9.

Major landmarks that have been demolished during 200 years of Indianapolis history - and that we will explore with Jordan during our show - include the following:

  • The English Theater, Hotel and Opera House was destroyed in 1948 to make way for a JC Penney. Its loss is considered the most regrettable demolition in Indianapolis historyThe English Theater, Hotel and Opera House on Monument Circle. Built in stages beginning during the 1880s, the majestic structure, which included the largest theater stage in the state, was a showplace in the Midwest for nearly 70 years. Amid a public outcry, it was razed in 1948 to make way for construction of a JC Penney department store. Many architectural historians consider the loss of the lavish English Theater and Hotel, with its frescoed walls, massive pillars and an exterior balcony for public figures to address audiences on Monument Circle, to be the most regrettable demolition in city history. (During the 1970s, the J.C. Penney store that replaced it was closed. In recent decades, the site has been an office complex that, until last year, housed the headquarters of Anthem Inc., a health benefits provider.)

  • And the Indianapolis Cyclorama, a distinctive, circular structure with a dome that was built after the Civil War with the singular purpose of showcasing a gigantic, 360-degree mural that was a public attraction. It was a painting of the Battle of Atlanta created by a team of artists who traveled to Georgia to observe the site of the bloody conflict. In 1903, the Cyclorama exhibition hall was demolished. Since then, its site at Market and Illinois streets – about one block from the Indiana Statehouse – has been used in several ways. Currently, a hotel in the Hilton chain is located on the site.

Founders Day events on Jan. 6 will include Lost and Demolished: Preservation Through 200 Years of Indianapolis History, a virtual program co-hosted by Indiana Landmarks and the Historical Society. The Historical Society also has a "You Are There" exhibit about the pageant and other festivities that celebrated the Centennial of Indianapolis in 1920.  Hoosier History Live explored the Centennial celebrations - as well as the ways Indy marked its 175th birthday in 1971 - during our show kicking off the year 2020

Some of the lost landmarks we will explore during our show - including the Cyclorama and English Theater, Hotel and Opera House - are featured in Indianapolis Then and Now (Pavilion Books, 2015 revised edition), a visual history of the city co-written by Nelson, our host, and Joan Hostetler.

Also during this show, Nelson and our guest Jordan Ryan will discuss some of the names that briefly were proposed for the new state capital before the General Assembly approved "Indianapolis." Alternatives included naming the city Tecumseh as a salute to the great Native American leader, a Shawnee chief who was based in Indiana. Even though Tecumseh and his warriors fought white settlers in battle, admiration for his leadership skills was widespread on both sides.

After the site and name for Indianapolis were approved in 1821, surveyors Alexander Ralston and Elias Fordham were hired to design the city; their plan also will be described by during the show.

Related to some of these developments in 1821, on Jan. 6 the Indianapolis Bicentennial Commission will offer a Founders Day virtual activity for students in third through sixth grades. The lesson involves the original city plat map, called the Ralston Plan, and an invitation for students to design their own city maps; details are posted online.