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Windows to the Past: Harrison's Indianapolis

February to November, 2011

bhh-first-residenceThe exhibit followed the Harrisons to their Delaware Street home and traced the progress of Indianapolis from a small state capital to a large metropolitan city.

Indianapolis from 1854 to 1913 was a city growing in commerce, population, political influence, diversity, entertainment and educational opportunities.  Looking into the windows of the past, we see the city leadership and the remarkable men and women who interacted to create a thriving, accomplished society.  We see the strong businesses that established themselves, built buildings in which to operate, contributed products and jobs to grow the economy.  We see the lifestyle, culture and educational attainment that allowed for enhanced living.  The Harrisons were part of the population who moved north as the hustle, bustle, noise and pollution of the city increased.  The material culture left behind will teach us much about the strength, courage, insight and inspiration of the Harrisons and their city.  The exhibit opened windows to moments in time to discover remarkable facts and amazing figures about the growing city that would become known as the Crossroads of America.

In 1821 Elias P. Fordham and Alexander Ralston plotted the map for the new Indiana state capital.  The “Mile Square” plan provided 100 twelve-lot blocks bordered by broad streets in a grid pattern. A central circle with four diagonal streets completed the design. 

delaware-street-residenceThe Harrisons moved to Indianapolis in April 1854.  Here Benjamin found that establishing a law practice was much more difficult than he had anticipated.  In September of 1854, he wrote: “... I should feel contented if only I had some business to occupy my attention, however trifling the profits might be... But, however much I may be discouraged at the prospect, I never suffer myself to falter in my purpose. I have long since made up my mind that with God’s blessing and good health, I would succeed, and I never allow myself to doubt the result.” 

In 1888, a supplement of Harper’s Weekly featured Indianapolis and presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison.  The article commended the residents for their “wide, well-shaded streets.”  The article described Harrison’s home as “a fair specimen of the most comfortable house in the city.”  The city had expanded well out from the mile square. More affluent citizens were moving to subdivisions to the north.

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“An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” ~ Benjamin Harrison

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