Indianapolis is a big city with a small town feel. It has a little bit of everything – shopping, fine dining, the arts, historical museums, and a foundation in sports. With this 2 – 4 hour walking tour of downtown Indianapolis, you will see sites which are unique to Indianapolis. It will give you ideas for further exploration according to your particular tastes.
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) Monument CircleMonument Circle is at the heart of the city. There are several attractions of note here. The most visible is the Soldiers and Sailor Monument. Almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty, it is dedicated to veterans of the American Civil War, and up to the Spanish-American War. Bruno Schmitz built it in 1902 at a price of $600,000, equivalent to $500 million dollars today. Sculptures built into the monument include “War,” “Peace,” “The Dying Soldier” and “The Home Front.” Four more statues adorn each of the corners, representing the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Navy. Lady Victory sits at the top. Inside the monument is the Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, free to tour. See the Civil War through the eyes of families, soldiers, and Indiana’s governor at the time, Oliver P. Morton.
Also of note on the circle is the Hilbert Circle Theatre. Home to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra since 1984,it was originally a movie palace when it opened in 1916. On the northeast corner, Christ Church Cathedral is the oldest religious building still operating in Indianapolis. An example of early Gothic revival architecture, it is a cathedral for the Episcopal Church. The building was designed and built by an Irish immigrant, William Tinsley, in 1857, with the spire added in 1869. The stained glass windows are worth noting for their workmanship. Also on the circle is the headquarters for Wellpoint, the national health benefits company.
2) City MarketThis area was set aside for a market in 1821 and still operates that way today, although it has seen its ups and downs.
Tomlinson Hall was constructed on the site in 1886 at a cost of approximately $30,000. It was a multi-purpose space, containing an auditorium, gymnasium, meeting rooms and retail and vegetable stands. It also was a public gathering place for political rallies, concerts and other social functions. With Indiana’s strong agricultural background, City Market was a busy place throughout the early 1900’s. However, once the flight to suburbia began in the mid to later 1900’s, City Market began to lose vendors.
Tomlinson Hall was demolished in 1958 after being damaged in a fire. Restoration work was completed around 1970 and on March 27, 1974, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
Recently, the market has again gone through hard times. However, with residential development increasing on the east side of Indianapolis, and a new appreciation for fresh market foods, City Market is expected to go through another resurgence as a market and gathering place. The popular Indianapolis Farmers' Market is currently held here every Wednesday from May through October.
3) James Whitcomb Riley MuseumWith quaint homes and tree-lined streets, and close to the city center, Lockerbie Square is the oldest neighborhood in Indianapolis. It was named for George Murray Lockerbie, from Lockerbie, Scotland, site of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. He arrived in 1831 to join his daughter, Janet, and her husband and the family built several homes in the area. More than 60 homes in the area between New York, East, Michigan, and College are designated as historic places. German immigrants were especially instrumental in shaping the character of this neighborhood.
The main attraction and where you stand now is the home at 528 Lockerbie Street where beloved poet and writer, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), spent the last twenty-three years of his life. The home was built in 1872 of Italianate design. After Riley's death the home was purchased by a group of people, one of which was the author Booth Tarington, with the intention of preserving it as an historical place. It is open daily for tours.
James Whitcomb Riley is known as the “Hoosier poet,” because he was born near Indianapolis, but also because his poems reflect life in the midwest. He wrote about nature, rural life, and, childhood memories. Take, for example, his poem, The Old Swimmin' Hole, which begins, "Oh ! the old swimmin'-hole! where the crick so still and deep
Looked like a baby-river that was laying half asleep."
4) The AthenaeumContinuing with the German heritage in Indianapolis, The Athenæum/Das Deutsche Haus was built between 1893 and 1898 as a place of culture for developing a sound mind and body.
Over the years, it has housed the Indiana Repertory Theatre as well as the American Cabaret Theater. It continues to operate as a cultural and community center, and also contains Indianapolis’ oldest German restaurant and biergarten, The Rathskellar, and a YMCA fitness facility.
Intersecting Michigan Street, just west of The Athenaeum, is Massachusetts Avenue, one of four diagonal streets (the others are Indiana, Virginia, and Kentucky) leading into the heart of downtown. Built in 1821, it has seen its ups and downs. The building of the interstate I-65 in the 1960’s hampered its accessibility at the time, but it is now a mecca for art, dining, and unique shops - a destination you might consider exploring further. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
5) Murat Shrine Temple / Old National CentreBuilt in 1909 as a Shriners temple, this is one of the most exotic buildings in Indianapolis. With its Moorish arches, domes and tower, it is the Shriner organization’s largest temple.
The Shiners were founded in 1872, and now include more than 775,000 members throughout North America. They are best known for their philanthropy, mainly through Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children.
In 1922, with the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, many places were decorated with Egyptian themes and the Murat Shrine Temple was no exception. They added the Egyptian Room, complete with hieroglyphics. In 1996, the building became the Murat Center, and has hosted Broadway shows and big name concerts ever since. Recently, the name was changed to the Old National Centre. Be sure to walk around to the north side of the building to see the Arabic-inspired wall mural.
6) Indianapolis Central LIbraryThe Indianapolis Central library, where you are now standing, has a modern new addition, which was added to the back of the historic, old library. James Whitcomb Riley, the poet, originally donated the land for the old building and it was constructed in October 1917. The designer, Paul Cret, built in the style of the Greeks, and it was an outstanding architectural achievement at the time. Made of Indiana limestone and Vermont marble, its simple and powerful looking columns and decorative cornices make for an impressive sight. Visit the Simon Reading Room to view its painted ceiling which tells the history of Indiana.
The atrium that connects the old building to the new is a wonderful place to visit and has a café if you are ready for a cold drink or cup of coffee. You are about halfway through the tour and this is a perfect time to take a break.
Also, if you take the escalator to the top of the new addition, you will find one of the best views of downtown Indianapolis.
7) American Legion Mall / Veterans PlazaLooking back towards the library, the expanse of lawn you just passed through contains the American Legion’s national headquarters, built in 1950, on the east side, and the headquarters of the American Legion's Department of Indiana, built in 1925, on the west. The Sunken Garden and Cenotaph, in the center, was constructed in 1931 as a tribute to those who died in World War I. The cenotaph, or tomb, made of black granite, is empty. It is there in tribute to James B. Gresham of Evansville, Indiana, the first U.S. combat death from the War.
South of where you are standing is Veteran's Memorial Plaza, also known as Obelisk Square. This plaza honors all Indiana veterans. The Obelisk, made of black granite, stands 100 feet high and symbolizes hope. At its base are bronze tablets representing law, science, religion and education. The fountain, a popular stopping place, is constructed of pink Georgia marble. You will find all fifty state flags and the American flag at the north end of the plaza. At the South end is the imposing World War Memorial Museum, a free military museum that shows the history of Indiana's veterans from the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, between Governor William Henry Harrison's forces and Tecumseh's Indian tribes, to the present.
8) Glick Peace WalkYou are now standing at the beginning of the Glick Peace Walk, part of Indianapolis' Cultural Trail, a designated walking trail that joins Indianapolis' cultural institutions. To your left is the Scottish Rite Cathedral, an example of neo-gothic architecture and the largest building in the United States devoted to Freemasonry, which is a fraternal organization. The main tower contains a 54-bell carillon or bell tower. Free guided tours are available.
The Peace Walk is dedicated to what they call "luminaries," such as Benjamin Franklin and Susan B. Anthony, people who achieved greatness through peaceful means. As you walk, you will encounter 12 different gardens with sculpture which pay tribute to these great peacemakers. Enjoy and be inspired by a peaceful walk through history.
9) USS IndianapolisYou are now standing at the north end of the Canal and the site of the USS Indianapolis Memorial, dedicated to the worst naval disaster in U.S. history. A Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea torpedoed the USS Indianapolis, a naval ship, on July 30, 1945. It sank in 12 minutes. There were almost 1,200 men aboard, and 300 were immediately lost at sea. The remaining men floated in waters infested with sharks for almost four days before they were noticed. Only 316 survived.
Survivors worked for 50 years to have a memorial erected for their missing shipmates. The names of the entire company are engraved on the south side of the memorial. Photos from the ship and the disaster can be found at the World War II memorial, located in Veteran’s Plaza.
Now, you will begin walking along the canal towards White River State Park, and the last leg of the tour.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and U.S. Federal Government
10) The Indiana State MuseumI hope you enjoyed your walk along the Central Canal, built in 1836, with its murals, and people walking, running, and riding paddle boats.
Did you notice the Indiana History Center, where jazz concerts are held outside every Thursday during the summer? And the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art? You are now at the Indiana State Museum, which tells the story of Indiana's past, present, and future. It also houses an IMAX Theatre. If you are hungry, there are two restaurants here, the Canal Café & Terrace and the L.S. Ayres Tea Room, which is a re-creation of the former L.S. Ayres department store tea room, which operated from 1905 to 1990. Note the 17-foot tall steam clock outside the Museum's north entrance, which regularly plays the famous song, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” during the day.
Beyond the State Museum is the NCAA Hall of Champions at 700 W. Washington Street and the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens at 1200 W. Washington Street. Victory Field, across the street from the Eiteljorg is home to the Triple A baseball affiliate, Indianapolis Indians, for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and is often called the best minor league ballpark in America.
11) Indiana State CapitolYou are now at the Indiana State Capitol, the final stop of the Hoosier Highlights tour. The Statehouse has been home for the government of Indiana since 1887. Its design is drawn from classical Greek architecture. Like many historic buildings, it is made of Indiana limestone. The sculpture across the top portico illustrates the westward journey. On the left side, Native Americans are forced west, while Euro-American pioneers enter from the right side.
Monuments on the lawn include Christopher Columbus (southwest), a coal miner (northwest), the National Road (south), George Washington (south), Governor Thomas Hendricks, also Vice-President under Grover Cleveland (southeast), and Governor Oliver Morton, Civil War governor (east)
The interior, restored in the late 1980’s, includes marble columns and paneling, large oak doorways, stencil work, brass chandeliers, and gorgeous skylights. Tours can be arranged in the rotunda.