There are a lot of details that make up the vibrant city of Indianapolis: the famous Indianapolis 500, Indiana’s capital city, wonderful museums, great food, and much, much more! Even though this bustling Midwest city has a population of over 870,000 and counting, it took time for Indianapolis to grow into the major city it is today.

From the original indigenous population to the industrial revolution to supporting modern-day families, let’s take a closer look at the history of Indianapolis, Indiana, and how we got to where we are today.

history of indianapolis infographic

Pre-Settlement to 1800: Indigenous Land

Before settlement occurred in the United States, the entire country was of course occupied by indigenous tribes that called this land home. Modern-day Indianapolis was occupied by the Lenape people (also called the Delaware Nation). “Lenape” translates into “real people.”

While the Delaware Nation originally occupied the eastern region in what is now modern-day Delaware, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and southern New York, complications with the American Revolutionary War forced the tribe further west.

The Lenape people worked the land with agricultural labor, hunting, and fishing. This nation was famously known for its incredible skill in fashioning clothing from natural materials. The sense of community was strong, and Lenape people would play ball games, dance, and practice natural medicine.

In 1800, a large portion of land in present-day Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota was enacted as the Indiana Territory. This attracted many settlers, and settlement ultimately pushed the Lenape people out of Indianapolis.

1816-1850: Early Settlement and Development

Indiana officially became a state in 1816, and in 1818, the Treaty of St. Mary’s was signed. Under this treaty, the Delaware Nation relinquished its right to tribal lands in central Indiana and agreed to leave the area by 1821.

In 1820, the Indiana General Assembly selected a location in central Indiana for a new state capital. Indianapolis was mapped out in 1821. The original plan for Indianapolis was a town of 1-square-mile. This square mile was nicknamed Mile Square, and Governor’s Circle sits directly in the center. This original grid pattern is still evident in the center of today’s Downtown Indianapolis.

Indianapolis officially became the state capital in 1825.

history of indianapolis

1850- 1890: Growing Industry and Population

Thanks to the implementation of railroads, Indianapolis became a major rail center by the start of the Civil War in 1861. The hope was also that Indianapolis would be a major water transportation center since it was situated along the White River, but the river was found to be difficult to navigate and too shallow for steamboats.

Road construction proved to be even more successful, and the growing railroad line encouraged further improvement of city streets. The railroad and city streets allowed Indianapolis merchants to export goods to other cities and states.

Agricultural production was an integral part of Indianapolis’s early industry. As rail transportation continued to improve, Indianapolis established more businesses like:

  • Mills
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Meat-packing plants
  • Breweries
  • Banks
  • Insurance institutions

During the Civil War era in the 1860s, Indianapolis was loyal to the Union cause. During these years, the population continued to increase, and more businesses and industries offered exciting employment opportunities. With the increasing population came more schools, churches, libraries, and neighborhoods.

history of indianapolis- statehouse

1890-1908: Developing Character

By 1890, the population of Indianapolis exceeded 100,000 people, and it continued to grow over the years. Industries continued to grow, and the headquarters of numerous trade unions were located there:

  • Carpenters and Joiners Union
  • International Typographical Union
  • United Mine Workers of America

The 1880s and 1890s were considered the golden age of Indianapolis. Indianapolis resident Benjamin Harrison was elected as the 23rd president of the United States in 1888. This era in the city also saw a boom in excellent literature.

As automobiles became more common and popular, Indianapolis became a major hub of regional transport, as roadways connected to Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbus, and St. Louis.

The introduction of automobiles would shortly become a defining characteristic of the city.

1909-1960: The Indy 500 Begins

Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909 as a test track for local automobile factories. Two years later in 1911, the first 500-mile auto race was held at the Speedway, and a locally-made car won the competition.

Automobile manufacturing eventually slowed down in the city, but the Indianapolis 500 stuck around. The Indy 500 is one of the most elite auto races in the entire world. It’s held annually each May and attracts huge crowds each year.

indianapolis motor speedway

1960-Present Day: A Contemporary City

By 1960, the city’s population reached 500,000 people. In 1970, Indianapolis and Marion County were consolidated into one entity. Since the city limits became the same as that of the county, the population boomed overnight.

As one of the most populous cities in the country, Indianapolis has continued to grow to support families, young professionals, and retirees alike. Even though most people don’t consider Indiana to be a cultural center, Indianapolis boasts tourism, thriving industries, museums, and world-class higher education.

If you’re planning a visit to Indianapolis, be sure to check out these sites and events:

  • The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
  • Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (The largest in the world!)
  • The Indianapolis Zoo
  • The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
  • The Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration
  • Indy Jazz Fest
  • The Indiana State Fair
  • Lucas Oil Stadium— The Indianapolis Colts

We Love Our Indianapolis Community

There’s no hiding that Indianapolis is a fantastic city with wonderful people and booming industries. If you’re lucky enough to call Indianapolis home, you know how important it is to support the local community.

The Heartland Builders have been serving the greater Indianapolis area for years with top-rated home service solutions. If you ever need roofing, siding, or interior remodeling services from a trusted local team, you can count on us to help.

Reach out today with any questions!