BROAD RIPPLE HISTORY
The Town of Broad Ripple was established on the banks of the White River in 1836 by Jacob Coil. One year later construction of the Canal began. The town of Wellington was platted on the south side of the canal. In 1884 Wellington became part of Broad Ripple. In 1922 the town of Broad Ripple was annexed into Indianapolis. Today Broad Ripple is known for the ducks on the canal, the Monon Trail, unique shops, dining and nightclubs.
The first owners of land which became Broad Ripple were Jesse McKay and John Calip. They purchased 88 and 59 acres from the United States on September 18, 1822. In 1836, Jacob Coil and family moved in from Virginia and purchased land from the McKays and Calips. He called his section Broad Ripple because people traveling from the north had to ford the river and the river at that point was broader and the "riffle" was shallow. There were at this time great plans by the government to build canals for transportation at various places in the states. A canal was expected to be built from Peru to Evansville. In 1836, work began through surveying with the start of the canal at the now Westfield Boulevard and river. Jacob Coil platted 48 lots and, four weeks later, James and Adam Nelson platted 32 lots on the proposed south side of the proposed canal. Their new addition was called Wellington, in honor of the Duke of Wellington, for his great victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The two communities became intense rivals with the now canal separating them. When the canal was opened for transportation, an elaborately decorated silvercoated boat appropriately called the "Silver Bell" offered the fastest travel in the United States - 8 miles per hour. A line of cargo boats pulled by mules on the tow path was operated by an industrious person, Robert Earl. He also ran a passenger boat to and from Indianapolis. A flat platoon-type boat was built for social picnics during the "hot" election of presidential candidates -- Clay and Polk. The canal transportation effort failed when the first railroad began to cross the state in 1847. The canal cost Indiana as a government project $1,600,000, and left the state treasury bankrupt with only 8.79 miles of canal finished out of a possible 800 miles. In 1851, the state finally sold the canal for $2,500 to a private investor. After that sale, the ownership changed several times. In 1869, the canal was sold to the Hydraulic Company, now the Indianapolis Water Company, as a main source of water for Indianapolis.
Broad Ripple's first house and store was built in 1836, when a Joseph Wray built a home, grocery and saloon near the location of the river dam. A saw mill and grist mill was built in 1843. The Union Church was built in 1851 at 6330 Guilford; First Methodist Church built in 1884, now located at 6145 Guilford; the first physician to maintain a practice was Dr. Harry Kerr, from 1851 to 1880.
The first year of schooling in Broad Ripple was held in a district school near Fairview Park. In 1854, Washington Township No. 14 was built at the corner of Broad Ripple Avenue and Evanston, a one-room building. School was taught by Thomas Kisling of New York. In 1882, George Lancaster, trustee of Washington Township, approved a contract to build a two-story building to be erected where the river makes a sharp turn, on the south bank, and far enough away from the river to be protected from floods. Built with brick and rubble limestone foundation, four rooms furnished in modern style, to be the best school outside Indianapolis. The cost of the building, including out-buildings, furniture,etc., about $7,400. One out-building was a barn to accommodate the horses and some buggies that high school pupils drove to school. The pupils always brought their lunch, and on good days they would eat in their buggies if the buggies were outdoors. In 1882, Broad Ripple High School was established for a two-year course. It increased to a three-year course the following year.
In 1884, Broad Ripple was incorporated as a town by the County Commissioners. First act of the board was to make streets available by surveying. Early pioneers had built homes and buildings in a haphazard way. Some streets and alleys had to be "dead ended," some houses had to be moved onto lots. Streets took names of some early settlers as Ferguson, Coil, Light, Marion. Eventually, when the city annexed Broad Ripple in 1922, streets were named to coincide with Indianapolis streets such as Shelby Street, which became Broad Ripple Avenue. Bellefountaine became Guilford, Cornell became Winthrop, and Marion became Compton.
Very few, if any, recreation and amusement centers at the time could rival the White City Park. The first owner of the 60-acres of land was Jonas Huffman who bought the tract from the government in 1822. Later, the park was owned by Jones Huffman, Jr., and Charles Dawson. It was a picnic ground where old settlers organized and met driving their horse and buggy. From 1866-1904, Charles Dawson, Sr., had completed ownership of the land, excluding a small strip along the river and Broad Ripple Avenue, which he sold to the Broad Ripple Transit Company. In 1904, two sons -- Morton and Stanton Dawson -- began construction of a park. Three years later, W. H. Tabb and Dr. R. C. Light (1907) formed the White City Corporation of Indianapolis and began operating the park on a large scale on a nineyear lease. It was White City, but also called Broad Ripple Park for its location. There was a large merry-go-round with imported German handmade animals. They imported the caliope-type music. It was originally in the north part of the park, but later moved toward the south and still was operating when the city bought the park in 1945. A few years later, it was dismantled and some of the animals are in the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. There was a large roller skating rink which was a gathering place for young and old skaters. Also, a zoo with monkeys, lions, and birds. The lions were the only animals left. In the mornings and evenings, the lions roar and call could be heard over the surrounding neighborhood.
The large swimming pool was built to the north of the park in 1908. It was then the third largest pool in the United States and several international swim meets were held in the pool. Johnny Weismuller, famous for his role as Tarzen, received acclaim for swimming in the pool. Besides the ground amusements, boating was very popular from the Green City Boat House. Large passenger boats operated on the river. The steamer, "Sunshine," operated from 1897 to 1905. For an unknown reason, the boat sank, but was raised and restored. Then in 1905, about 175 employees from the Union Stock Yards were aboard the "Sunshine." It sunk again when all the men rushed to one side of the boat to look at a pretty girl in a canoe, and that ended the "Sunshine." The "Sunbeam" and "Moonriver" had bands for dancing and food was served on them, until 1938 when they were destroyed by ice gorges in the river. The "Perseverance", owned and built by Bob Fitch, once went over the dam in White River without loss of life or much damage to the boat. In 1908, the park burned, including most of the amusements in the center of the park, as all buildings were wood as were the walks. In 1911, the Union Traction bought the park and rebuilt some of the amusements. In 1912, the park was sold again to the Broad Ripple Amusement Company, headed by James Makin who later originated the Riviera Club. In 1924, the park recreation included a large roller coaster and baseball diamond. In 1927, it was sold to Oscar and Joseph Bauer, who removed many old rides, kept the merry-goround, train and swimming pool as the main attraction.
Broad Ripple began to prosper after it was incorporated. Ripple Hotel was built. It is still standing as a commercial and apartment complex at the corner of Winthrop and Westfield Boulevard. A dinner place, the Brennaman House, was where the Kroger store is today. The first lumber yard, the Buddenbaum Lumber Yard, was located east of the Monon tracks on Broad Ripple Avenue. It burned down and was rebuilt just west of the tracks on the corner of Winthrop and Broad Ripple Avenue. It is now the Dawson's Broad Ripple Lumber Company. There was a livery stable on Broad Ripple Avenue, west of Guilford and a Town Hall which was used as a jail and volunteer fire department. A new jail was built around 1890 at the corner of Broad Ripple Avenue and Winthrop.
In 1887, Kingan Meat Packing Company erected an ice house, 40-ft x 200-ft, east of Monon tracks along the river. They chose that spot because the river was deeper and wider. Men would saw ice blocks nine inches thick. Horses would pull sleds with blocks of ice to a ramp where men would raise them inside the building and pack sawdust around each block to prevent them from freezing together. In the spring, the blocks were moved outside to flat cars on the railroad spur and hauled to the Kingan plant in Indianapolis.
Broad Ripple had its troubles through the years. In 1875, floods destroyed the grist mill and the oldest house and grocery on the north side. Volunteers worked for two days and nights with sand bags to form a levee at the north bend of the river. The levee lasted until 1884 when a high flood water broke through the levee and flooded the town. In 1903, a lighter flood hit again, but the 1913 flood did more damage than any before. The Monon tracks at Westfield Boulevard and Winthrop were washed from underneath so deep that a six foot man could stand under the tracks. Many houses were washed from their foundations.
Trains had their share of accidents in Broad Ripple. Their worst was in 1884, when the railroad bridge over White River to the north near 64th Street collapsed as the train passed over it. People were killed, drowned and injured. Four years later, a Monon train left the tracks at the station and several people were injured. A streetcar accident occurred at Broad Ripple Avenue and College Avenue when an inexperienced streetcar motorman failed to make the turn onto Broad Ripple Avenue and sent the car into the canal. The few people in the car managed to get out. In 1906, fire from sparks of a Monon freight engine supposedly caused a gas explosion in the north of Broad Ripple at 64th and Guilford to the Jackson store and Huffman's restaurant and Floranders' Blacksmith Shop. The fire burned for two hours before equipment came from 15th and Kenwood. In 1904, the Liberty Bell passed through Broad Ripple during an exhibition tour of the United States. The 146-ton steam locomotive located in Broad Ripple Park is the old 587 coalburner built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which had run 1,500,000 miles for the Nickel Plate Railroad. It is known as the "Belle of Broad Ripple" and was donated in 1955.
Broad Ripple has retained its identity since 1837 even though it has been annexed to Indianapolis. Thus, fire protection, sanitary sewers and good streets are provided. The Merchants Association in the area continues a long-term refurbishing project. This kind of interest and investment must continue if the community is to survive. After all, where else can you park on top of a canal? Only Broad Ripple!
The curves along the White River through Broad Ripple have witnessed quite a bit in the last hundred years. And while you may never step into the same river twice, the residents along the White River know the secrets of its past. A Bygone Era. Along the river, there used to be Millionaire’s Row, a speakeasy, brothels, bars, and a dance hall with names such as Lovely Lassie’s, the Gold Doubloon, and Happy Landings Bar. A Chicago gangster named Toughie Mitchell was shot and killed at Happy Landings Bar, which was located at Ravenswood Beach. In the early 1930s, Terrace Beach was host to many parties, one of which included Steve McQueen’s mom as a guest. Steve McQueen grew up in Beech Grove. The 1950 romantic drama, “To Please A Lady,” starring Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwick was filmed, in part, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During filming, Clark Gable stayed with and partied at the home of the IMS publicist, who lived on the White River next door to Mike and Lynne Boone. If These Walls Could Talk Director of The Forum, Tim Yale, inherited quite a history when he purchased his waterfront home. The home was built in 1951 by LaRue Supper Club owner Harley Horton to accommodate the after hours parties once his club closed at midnight. “The LaRue was the first dinner club in Indianapolis,” said Yale. “And by law, the club had to close at midnight, so our home was built for after-hours entertaining.” The home was professionally decorated, utilizing zebra rugs and accents and featuring female nude frescos lining the stairs and certain walls. LaRue’s supper club hosted talent such as Rudy Valli, Roan & Martin, and Carol Channing. These performers as well as celebrity guests Johnny Weissmuller (the original Tarzan), Clark Gable, and our own “Voice of the 500” Tom Carnegie, all partied at the Horton House into the wee hours. An article from the Indianapolis News indicates that the home caught on fire in 1952 and was extinguished by pumping 65,000 gallons of water from the 30′ x 66′ swimming pool.
Presidential Visit, May 4, 1980, Rex and Barbara Early hosted a political fundraiser for then Gov. Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Secret Service closed off their street in either direction during the three-hour event. Fifty guests mingled with the Reagan’s around the Early pool and deck for the afternoon. What made the event notable, aside from the high profile guest of honor, was the arrival of the uninvited guests via the river. The event was crashed by a boat load of beer enthusiasts who were fellow members of the White River Yacht Club with the Early’s. The intoxicated men obnoxiously called out, “Hey Ronnie!” to the guest of honor, who graciously waved back. “The Secret Service did not know whether to laugh or open fire,” said Rex Early, who was Gov. Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Campaign Chairman for the state of Indiana.
Champion skier and river resident, Jim Kemna, recalls when the White River was known for its barefoot skiing. “Back in the ’80s, the river was the place to train for barefoot skiing,” said Kemna, who was a state champion and ranked nationally at that time. “Boats were cheap and gas was cheap.” Boat companies targeted the area for promotional deals for new boats and skiing equipment. “Barefoot regionals were held nearby, but Broad Ripple held a Free Event Skiing, slalom, ski jump course also on the river,” said Kemna. “There used to be lots of people out on the river.” Barefoot skiers and boat racing wasn’t the only daredevil attempts along the river. “Rumor has it Winston Knauss flew his helicopter under the Keystone Avenue bridge,” said Kemna. “There used to be houseboats that the race drivers would use for parties on the White River across from the garden shop,” said McDowell.
The Dawson family has been linked to Broad Ripple and the White River for generations. Esther Dawson, Bob Dawson’s grandmother, even wrote a history of the Broad Ripple area. Esther and her husband owned a large farm with their original home now a part of Joy’s House on Broad Ripple Avenue. Esther’s husband was Lt. Governor under Gov. Henry Schricker. For recent generations, Dawson Lake, owned by the Dawson family, was where every youth on the north side of Indianapolis went to party on the weekends. “My ancestors bought their land from the Native Americans,” said Bob Dawson. “The river was significant, because it was a property boundary for the land.”