Who Designed Indianapolis: A Look at the City's Architects

In 1816, the state of Indiana was admitted to the Union and a committee appointed by the state legislature sought a suitable site for a capital city. In 1820, they found a parcel of dense forest near the confluence of the White River and Fall Creek. To design the new city, they commissioned Alexander Ralston and Elias Pym Fordham. Ralston, born in Scotland in 1771, had previously worked with Pierre L'Enfant on the map of Washington D.

C. and was eager to distance himself from Aaron Burr, vice president of Thomas Jefferson and the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Ralston and Fordham began creating a city plan in 1821. Ralston imagined a one-square-mile city with the governor's mansion in the center. He named east-west streets after slave states and north-south streets after free states, with diagonal avenues named after states such as Massachusetts and Virginia. However, his plan didn't always succeed - for example, he had planned to build a street in Maine but city officials thought it would lead to confusion with other cities' main streets. Years later, Ralston's Tennessee and Mississippi Streets were renamed Senate and Capitol Avenues.

Not everything in Indianapolis that bears the name of Ralston is named after the city's architect - Ralston Avenue is named after Samuel Ralston, who rose out of poverty to become Indiana's centennial governor (1913-1917).William Browne Jr., an Indianapolis architect, has pointed out that Ralston seems to have named the streets east-west of the south after slave states and those in the north as free states. The same convention followed with diagonal avenues, such as Massachusetts and Virginia. In addition to its designation as the seat of government, Indianapolis' flat, fertile soil and central location within Indiana and the Midwest helped it become an early agricultural center. May built a strong reputation as an architect of public buildings, designing the Northern Indiana prison in Michigan City, the Indianapolis Hospital for Demented Women's Building, and courthouses in Decatur, Allen, Knox and Hamilton Counties. Despite this temporary setback, Myers had already begun to gain political capital as the architect of the capitol with his winning design for the Michigan House of Representatives. Today, Indianapolis is a thriving city with a rich history. Its original grid pattern was designed by Alexander Ralston and Elias Pym Fordham in 1821 and has been adapted over time to meet its growing needs.

The city is built on a flat plain surrounded by low and gently sloping hills and has a typical Midwest climate with warm to hot summers and cold winters.

Rickie Koning
Rickie Koning

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