INDIANAPOLIS (750 alt., 781,870 pop.) is the capital of Indiana and seat of Marion County. Embracing 54.13 square miles in the heart of a fertile, undulating agricultural area, it is the largest city in the United States not on navigable water.
The site of Indianapolis was selected for the State capital because of its central location, which also became a great commercial advantage. More than half of all the farming in Indiana is done within 75 miles of this city, now the third largest corn and livestock market in the United States as well as an important banking center and the home of several insurance companies. Also because of its location Indianapolis has become one of the leading railway centers of the country. The first Union Station was built here in 1853; in 1877 the first Belt Railroad in the country was completed here. This 14-mile double-track belt, surrounding much of the city, greatly facilitates freight transportation. Most large cities have since adopted the idea.
Although the location of Indianapolis was a great advantage commercially, it was less beneficial to the development of industry. In spite of excellent railway facilities, the absence of navigable water has been a real handicap; the great quantities of coal and iron required for the basic industries cannot be transported cheaply enough by rail to attract large-scale enterprises. Hence Indianapolis has remained the home of relatively smaller manufacturing plants, highly diversified in their products and scattered widely throughout the city.
As an agricultural market, Indianapolis has attracted the meatpacking and milling industries, and large quantities of canned goods are produced. Industries using wood are also important -- with a number of plants devoted to the manufacture of paper and furniture.
The visitor's first impression is one of spacious friendliness -- broad streets, an almost Southern leisureliness, and fewer tall buildings than are seen in most cities of comparable size. Washington Street, the chief east-west thoroughfare, is nine miles long and as wide as any village Main Street; Meridian Street, less important commercially but first in residential stateliness, expands northward into a broad avenue.
This quiet spaciousness of Indianapolis results both from the terrain and from deliberate planning. Built on level ground with plenty of room to expand, the city was patterned after Washington, D. C. Its streets intersect at right angles and four great avenues cut away diagonally from the business section. Central to this plan and most memorable to the visitor is Monument Circle, from the heart of which towers the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Also in the center of the city, scattered among stores and office buildings, are the State Capitol, the State and city libraries, and the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
South of the theater and shopping section are the warehouses of the wholesale district, freight yards, and the smoke stacks of many of the city's factories. Beginning several blocks south of Washington, Meridian Street is a miniature New York Lower East Side, with a large proportion of foreign and Jewish shops and restaurants; still farther south are neighborhoods of trim houses, here and there a belt of slums, and Garfield Park with its sunken gardens. Westward along White River lie packing houses and factories, rising in the midst of drab streets of workers' homes; and Indiana Avenue, slanting northwest into the densely populated Negro section, is lined with little shops and stores. Northwest along White River is Riverside Park, a kind of inland Coney Island. Farther north are the Gothic halls of Butler University set in a park-like campus; a few miles westward on 16th Street is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A mile and a half east of Monument Circle between Michigan and 10th Streets is an incorporated town within the city -- Woodruff Place, which has never been annexed by Indianapolis, although it is wholly surrounded by it. A residential district, platted in 1872 and incorporated four years later as a suburb of Indianapolis, it covers 80 acres and has a population of about 1,200. Grass and flowers in the center of drives ornamented by fountains, urns, and Victorian statuary, together with tall trees, wide lawns, and gingerbread architectural details give this district an air of respectable old age. No business building of any kind is permitted.
North on such streets as Delaware and Pennsylvania are many fine old houses, set deep in shaded lawns and still inhabited by the descendants of their builders. Many newer residences of architectural distinction are on the curving, well-shaded lanes of Irvington, the extreme eastern section of the city, and in large sections in the north, where winding drives and wooded avenues provide desirable residential areas for the well-to-do. Probably the most beautiful of these drives is Fall Creek Parkway. Beginning at the Thomas Taggart Memorial Archway in Riverside Park it follows the meanderings of Fall Creek for nearly 12 miles past small parks and playgrounds. East of Keystone Avenue the drive is flanked by a bicycle path and a bridle path and, after passing Woollen's Gardens of Birds and Botany and the Boy Scout Reservation, ends near Fort Benjamin Harrison.