A History of the Northern Indianapolis Community Built
Around the Construction of The Central Canal
from a personal chronicle by
Mrs. Esther Dawson
They came west from over the Appalachians:
The first owners of land which became Broad Ripple were Jesse McKay and John Calip.
They purchased 88 and 59 acres from the United States on September 18, 1822.
In 1836, Jacob Coil and family moved in from Virginia and purchased land from the McKays and Calips.
He called his section Broad Ripple because people traveling from the north had to ford the river and the river at that point was broader and the "riffle" was shallow.
There were at this time great plans by the government to build canals for transportation at various places in the states.
A canal was expected to be built from Peru to Evansville.
In 1836, work began through surveying with the start of the canal at the now Westfield Boulevard and river.
Jacob Coil platted 48 lots and, four weeks later, James and Adam Nelson platted 32 lots on the proposed south side of the proposed canal.
Their new addition was called Wellington, in honor of the Duke of Wellington, for his great victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.
The two communities became intense rivals with the now canal separating them.
When the canal was opened for transportation, an elaborately decorated silvercoated boat appropriately called the "Silver Bell" offered the fastest travel in the United States - 8 miles per hour.
A line of cargo boats pulled by mules on the tow path was operated by an industrious person, Robert Earl.
He also ran a passenger boat to and from Indianapolis.
A flat platoon-type boat was built for social picnics during the "hot" election of presidential candidates -- Clay and Polk.
During a trip on the canal, a brawl between political enemies became an intense fight.
One of the men, accidentally stepped back and fell into the canal and drowned.
The canal transportation effort failed when the first railroad began to cross the state in 1847.
The canal cost Indiana as a government project $1,600,000, and left the state treasury bankrupt with only 8.79 miles of canal finished out of a possible 800 miles.
In 1851, the state finally sold the canal for $2,500 to a private investor.
After that sale, the ownership changed several times.
In 1869, the canal was sold to the Hydraulic Company, now the Indianapolis Water Company, as a main source of water for Indianapolis.
-PHOTO IN PAMPLET-
White River Dam holds back water to supply the Canal.
-PHOTO IN PAMPLET-
The first post office, located on the south side of Broad Ripple in the Wellington area.
Broad Ripple's first house and store was built in 1836, when a Joseph Wray built a home, grocery and saloon near the location of the river dam.
A saw mill and grist mill was built in 1843.
The Union Church was built in 1851 at 6330 Guilford; First Methodist Church built in 1884, now located at 6145 Guilford; the first physician to maintain a practice was Dr. Harry Kerr, from 1851 to 1880.
Roads were poor at best.
In the beginning of roadways, farmers, with teams of horses and wagons would grade and gravel roads, and either set up a 10 cents toll or have their work equalled to money to deduct from their taxes.
The Odd Fellows organization was the first of its kind to meet here in 1877.
They bought the upper floor of the building which is now occupied by Lobraico's Drug Store.
The Broad Ripple Masons organized in 1890, met in different places until Jacob Mustard donated $23,000 for the present building at Guilford and Broad Ripple Avenue, providing a room was reserved for his wife's organization of Women's Christian Temperance Union.
The first year of schooling in Broad Ripple was held in a district school near Fairview Park.
In 1854, Washington Township No. 14 was built at the corner of Broad Ripple Avenue and Evanston, a one-room building.
School was taught by Thomas Kisling of New York.
In 1882, George Lancaster, trustee of Washington Township, approved a contract to build a two-story building to be erected where the river makes a sharp turn, on the south bank, and far enough away from the river to be protected from floods.
Built with brick and rubble limestone foundation, four rooms furnished in modern style, to be the best school outside Indianapolis.
The cost of the building, including out-buildings, furniture,etc., about $7,400.
One out-building was a barn to accommodate the horses and some buggies that high school pupils drove to school.
The pupils always brought their lunch, and on good days they would eat in their buggies if the buggies were outdoors.
In 1882, Broad Ripple High School was established for a two-year course.
It increased to a three-year course the following year.
Mr. Pruett taught all the subjects and was a classroom "veritable Czar."
His simple method of discipline was when a boy needed a thrashing, he politely asked the culprit to accompany him to a little cell-like room reserved for such purpose, on the second floor.
The application had its desired effect, because no boy ever made the second trip.
In 1884, Broad Ripple was incorporated as a town by the County Commissioners.
First act of the board was to make streets available by surveying. Early pioneers had built homes and buildings in a haphazard way.
Some streets and alleys had to be "dead ended," some houses had to be moved onto lots.
Streets took names of some early settlers as Ferguson, Coil, Light, Marion.
Eventually, when the city annexed Broad Ripple in 1922, streets were named to coincide with Indianapolis streets such as Shelby Street, which became Broad Ripple Avenue.
Bellefountaine became Guilford, Cornell became Winthrop, and Marion became Compton.
Very few, if any, recreation and amusement centers at the time could rival the White City Park.
The first owner of the 60-acres of land was Jonas Huffman who bought the tract from the government in 1822.
Later, the park was owned by Jones Huffman, Jr., and Charles Dawson.
It was a picnic ground where old settlers organized and met driving their horse and buggy.
From 1866-1904, Charles Dawson, Sr., had completed ownership of the land, excluding a small strip along the river and Broad Ripple Avenue, which he sold to the Broad Ripple Transit Company.
In 1904, two sons -- Morton and Stanton Dawson -- began construction of a park.
Three years later, W. H. Tabb and Dr. R. C. Light (1907) formed the White City Corporation of Indianapolis and began operating the park on a large scale on a nineyear lease.
It was White City, but also called Broad Ripple Park for its location.
There was a large merry-go-round with imported German handmade animals.
They imported the caliope-type music.
It was originally in the north part of the park, but later moved toward the south and still was operating when the city bought the park in 1945.
A few years later, it was dismantled and some of the animals are in the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. There was a large roller skating rink which was a gathering place for young and old skaters. Also, a zoo with monkeys, lions, and birds. The lions were the only animals left. In the mornings and evenings, the lions roar and call could be heard over the surrounding neighborhood.
-PHOTO IN PAMPLET-
Ravenswood, located on White River, provided recreation.
On the Fourth of July, crowds would attend and stay to see the balloon ascension.
A regular Sunday afternoon amusement was the two snow white Belgian horses that would ascend a high shoot and jump into a tank of water.
The large swimming pool was built to the north of the park in 1908.
It was then the third largest pool in the United States and several international swim meets were held in the pool.
Johnny Weismuller, famous for his role as Tarzen, received acclaim for swimming in the pool.
Besides the ground amusements, boating was very popular from the Green City Boat House.
Large passenger boats operated on the river.
The steamer, "Sunshine," operated from 1897 to 1905.
For an unknown reason, the boat sank, but was raised and restored.
Then in 1905, about 175 employees from the Union Stock Yards were aboard the "Sunshine."
It sunk again when all the men rushed to one side of the boat to look at a pretty girl in a canoe, and that ended the "Sunshine."
The "Sunbeam" and "Moonriver" had bands for dancing and food was served on them, until 1938 when they were destroyed by ice gorges in the river.
The "Perseverance", owned and built by Bob Fitch, once went over the dam in White River without loss of life or much damage to the boat.
In 1908, the park burned, including most of the amusements in the center of the park, as all buildings were wood as were the walks.
In 1911, the Union Traction bought the park and rebuilt some of the amusements.
In 1912, the park was sold again to the Broad Ripple Amusement Company, headed by James Makin who later originated the Riviera Club.
In 1924, the park recreation included a large roller coaster and baseball diamond.
In 1927, it was sold to Oscar and Joseph Bauer, who removed many old rides, kept the merry-goround, train and swimming pool as the main attraction.
Broad Ripple began to prosper after it was incorporated. Ripple Hotel was built.
It is still standing as a commercial and apartment complex at the corner of Winthrop and Westfield Boulevard.
A dinner place, the Brennaman House, was where the Kroger store is today.
The first lumber yard, the Buddenbaum Lumber Yard, was located east of the Monon tracks on Broad Ripple Avenue.
It burned down and was rebuilt just west of the tracks on the corner of Winthrop and Broad Ripple Avenue.
It is now the Dawson's Broad Ripple Lumber Company.
There was a livery stable on Broad Ripple Avenue, west of Guilford and a Town Hall which was used as a jail and volunteer fire department.
A new jail was built around 1890 at the corner of Broad Ripple Avenue and Winthrop.
-PHOTO IN PAMPLET-
The first fire truck in Broad Ripple was built by Knox Motors. Photo was taken about 1922.
In 1887, Kingan Meat Packing Company erected an ice house, 40-ft x 200-ft, east of Monon tracks along the river.
They chose that spot because the river was deeper and wider.
Men would saw ice blocks nine inches thick. Horses would pull sleds with blocks of ice to a ramp where men would raise them inside the building and pack sawdust around each block to prevent them from freezing together.
In the spring, the blocks were moved outside to flat cars on the railroad spur and hauled to the Kingan plant in Indianapolis.
Broad Ripple had its troubles through the years. In 1875, floods destroyed the grist mill and the oldest house and grocery on the north side.
Volunteers worked for two days and nights with sand bags to form a levee at the north bend of the river.
The levee lasted until 1884 when a high flood water broke through the levee and flooded the town.
In 1903, a lighter flood hit again, but the 1913 flood did more damage than any before.
The Monon tracks at Westfield Boulevard and Winthrop were washed from underneath so deep that a six foot man could stand under the tracks.
Many houses were washed from their foundations.
Trains had their share of accidents in Broad Ripple.
Their worst was in 1884, when the railroad bridge over White River to the north near 64th Street collapsed as the train passed over it.
People were killed, drowned and injured. Four years later, a Monon train left the tracks at the station and several people were injured.
A streetcar accident occurred at Broad Ripple Avenue and College Avenue when an inexperienced streetcar motorman failed to make the turn onto Broad Ripple Avenue and sent the car into the canal.
The few people in the car managed to get out.
In 1906, fire from sparks of a Monon freight engine supposedly caused a gas explosion in the north of Broad Ripple at 64th and Guilford to the Jackson store and Huffman's restaurant and Floranders' Blacksmith Shop.
The fire burned for two hours before equipment came from 15th and Kenwood.
In 1904, the Liberty Bell passed through Broad Ripple during an exhibition tour of the United States.
The 146-ton steam locomotive located in Broad Ripple Park is the old 587 coalburner built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which had run 1,500,000 miles for the Nickel Plate Railroad.
It is known as the "Belle of Broad Ripple" and was donated in 1955.
Broad Ripple has retained its identity since 1837 even though it has been annexed to Indianapolis.
Thus, fire protection, sanitary sewers and good streets are provided.
The Merchants Association in the area continues a long-term refurbishing project.
This kind of interest and investment must continue if the community is to survive.
After all, where else can you park on top of a canal? Only Broad Ripple!
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