- Jul 29, 2015
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Washington Park Historic District is significant as a neighborhood illustrating the suburbanization of Indianapolis. At the turn of the 20th century, the city was experiencing extraordinary commercial and industrial growth which, in turn, produced a growing upper middleclass. Washington Park became one of the neighborhoods that these business and civic leaders chose as havens from the workday in the city. The neighborhood was drawn along social and economic lines rather than ethnic and religious lines found in the city of the 19th century. Washington Park is an outstanding example of this changing social trend. Washington Park Historic District also illustrates another trend of 20th century suburbanization: the adoption of building codes and zoning ordinances. At least three groups of property owners designed their own building codes prior to any effort by the city to do so. Throughout the 20th century Washington Park Historic District was home to the city’s business and industrial leaders, politicians, and socialites who wished their homes to reflect their influence within the community. To this end the neighborhood is filled with the work of outstanding residential architects.
The Civil War changed Indianapolis from a small, agriculturally-centered community to a thriving city with a growing industrial base. After the war numerous railroads constructed for the war effort turned to carrying goods to and from the city. By the 1890 U.S. Census, the population of the city was 105,436, far from the sleepy town of 30 years earlier, which then claimed 18,611 residents. An 1888 publication sponsored by the Indianapolis Board of Trade boasted of the city’s fine police and fire departments, good government and municipal improvements in the areas of sewage, lighting, and fresh water. The book listed 560 factories in the city and, with boasts of the area’s rich natural resources, fine transportation, and low prices, concluded that “there are still openings for men of enterprise.” The city was clearly experiencing a growth boom that would continue until the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
With the thriving economy in place to produce a growing number of citizens of financial means came the need to create new residential areas that reflected their inhabitants’ social and economic status. The homes of the city’s elite had always been located north of the downtown area along Meridian, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Delaware Streets and solidly middle class homes extended east to CollegeAvenue. After the Civil War, this northward trend continued with northside neighborhood plats added regularly to the city. But these near northside neighborhoods, were still close to the city traffic, dirt, and noise.