The current real estate boom that we are experiencing today is not the first one that the city of Indianapolis has seen. Far from it, in fact, Indianapolis exists sturdily today partly due to two major economic periods not long after the founding of the capital city. Although the Indianapolis area was not initially the state capital, (it was Corydon) officials understood a need for a more centrally located state capital thus, the swamp land that was previously known as the “Fall Creek Settlement” became Indianapolis or “Indiana-city”, regrettably less regal post translation (MIBOR, XII).
The state leaders would decide to hire famed Washington D.C. architect Alexander Ralston and Elias P. Fordham in 1821 to design the new capital city. They began by carving a “one-mile square radius around the core, divided into 100, 12-lot blocks”, with four large diagonal streets converging into a “circular commons area” (MIBOR, 2012). This new commons area would be named “Governor’s Circle” although no governor would ever keep residence there as it was a nightmare location plagued with flooding, lack of privacy, and public horse and carriages slogging through the muddy front lawn. Still though, the sale of lots within the one-mile square began in 1821 and “ambitious and hearty” pioneer families moved into the new city.
The first real estate sale to take place in the new capital city was in October 1821 at Matthias Nowland’s tavern near what is today the intersection of Washington and Missouri streets. The purchase price of “lot 3, square 70” by Mr. Jesse McKay was $152.75.
One major downside to the new capital was its lack of paved streets, sidewalks, or other public amenities throughout the 1820s. The basic design of the first settler homes in Indianapolis is described as “a log cabin, 18 by 20 feet, with a dirt floor and a large fireplace at one end capable of taking 10 foot logs” by settler John Nowland who ran a tavern from his home (MIBOR, 2012). This was often the case in the early years of Indianapolis with several homesteads doubling as local business establishments including: hat making, taverns, even the city’s first grist mill.
In the 1850s wealthy landowners including Calvin Fletcher (Indiana’s first lawyer) and Nicholas McCarty among others, platted territories along eastern and northern edges of the city for residential development. This sale of these 458 lots along with the first electric streetcar system provided the first economic boom in the Indy area, stretching the outer limits of the city. Developers would go on to sell and develop another 100 lots within a year.
Around the same time an attorney and teacher, Ovid Butler, a partner of Fletcher, donated 20 acres of his land to North Western Christian University to relocate from the intersection of 13th & College Avenue. In 1877 this school would be renamed in honor of Mr. Butler and was relocated to its current location in 1928.
At the opening of the 20th century Harper’s Weekly wrote complementing Indianapolis as hosting “wide, well-shaded streets which provided a restful, home-like appearance”, making it “more pleasant” than many large cities (MIBOR, 2012). Within a hundred years of its foundation the new capital had become one of the top manufacturing zones in all of the Unites States. Sneaking up on the big city competition, not unlike the feeling of the current times. Hoosier favorite?
Metropolitan Indianapolis Board or Realtors (2011). Realtors opening doors for 100 years (1st ed.). Indianpolis, IN: IBJ Book Publishing.