Georgia Street lies at the heart of Indianapolis’ historic Wholesale District, an area once filled with wholesale and jobbing companies that served as intermediaries between producers and retailers. Wholesale companies purchased large quantities of goods from factories, farmers, or other sources and distributed this merchandise to their retail buyers for sale to customers. Jobbing houses were similar in that they would buy goods in bulk from importers, manufacturers, or other wholesalers, distributing the merchandise to retailers. These businesses required easy access to railroad and mass transit systems for freight delivery and for the traveling salesmen who negotiated the companies’ agreements with retailers across the country. By the 1890s, Indianapolis was home to more than 300 wholesale and jobbing businesses employing more than 1,000 traveling salesmen.
Wholesale businesses appeared in Indianapolis after the arrival of the first railroad in 1847. A huge volume of business flowed through the city during the Civil War, creating many fortunes. Development of the wholesale district accelerated during the postwar economic boom, spreading south along Meridian Street and onto Maryland and Georgia Streets. Large buildings designed to house wholesale companies rapidly replaced older houses and commercial buildings. By the 1880s, Indianapolis had ten major wholesale grocery firms serving approximately 300 retail groceries located in neighborhoods throughout the city. Wholesale hardware companies supplied local hardware retailers at the local, state, and national scale. Wholesale dry goods companies supplied textiles, ready-to-wear clothing, and sundries to retail dry goods stores, the predecessor of the modern department store. A variety of other wholesale establishments supplied drug companies, boot and shoe retailers, milliners, and china dealers. Manufacturers including confectionaries, saddle factories, and printing houses also located in the district, benefiting from the transportation connections and the presence of wholesale buyers.
The first railroad completed to Indianapolis opened in 1847 and was followed by many other railroads during the next decade. By the late 1850s Indianapolis had became a strategic hub of the national railway network. After the Civil War, the city’s superior transportation connections attracted wholesale businesses from other cities and states and helped Indianapolis develop into an important Midwestern metropolis. The location of Indianapolis’ Union Station made the Wholesale District a center of passenger traffic. The old Union Depot (built in 1852-1853) was the first consolidated railway station in the United States, bringing the passengers from all railroad lines into one central facility. The present Union Station (1887-1888) was built on the same site. With more than 180 daily arrivals and departures on sixteen railroads at the turn of the twentieth century, Union Station’s twelve tracks of passenger rail provided easy access to all parts of the United States. A huge project between 1915 and 1922 elevated the rail corridor through Indianapolis, eliminating grade crossings, increasing efficiency, and greatly expanding the Union Station passenger terminal. Most of the city’s major hotels were once located along Illinois Street in close proximity to Union Station.
Between 1900 and 1941, Indianapolis’ location at the center of the most comprehensive interurban electric light rail system ever built in the United States also served to boost commerce throughout the region by providing rapid passenger and freight movement between cities. The Indianapolis Traction Terminal (built 1907) at the corner of Market and Illinois Street provided convenient access to the Wholesale District for the millions of interurban passengers that passed through it every year.
The Wholesale District was also served by the Indianapolis street railway system beginning in 1864. The early streetcars were drawn by mules or horses until the system was electrified between 1890 and 1894. The street railway provided convenient and affordable transportation throughout Indianapolis and fostered the growth of suburbs like Woodruff Place, Haughville, and Irvington. At the turn of the twentieth century, electric mass transit was an essential part life in Indianapolis. The street railway system was shut down in 1953.
The Wholesale District contains the largest remaining collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings in Indianapolis. Many of these buildings were designed to house wholesale businesses and reflect the evolution of this building type between the 1860s and the 1920s. The district also contains historic hotel buildings, office buildings, and a variety of other commercial and mixed-use structures. The district’s buildings reflect a wide range of styles popular between the 1860s and 1920s. Information on individual buildings along Georgia Street can be found on the plaques set into the sidewalk pavement.
The Indianapolis Union Station – Wholesale District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. A number of historic facades were incorporated into the exterior of the Circle Centre Mall during its construction (1989-1995). The district is framed today by Bankers Life Fieldhouse to the east and the Indiana Convention Center to the west.
Pavement Exhibit – located west of pavement cross over on west block of Georgia Street
When the state capital was moved from Corydon to Indianapolis in 1825, the streets of the new town were dirt or mud, depending on weather conditions. Part of Washington Street was paved with Macadam gravel pavement in 1838, during the construction of the federally-funded National Road. In 1842 the City of Indianapolis adopted a plan for street improvements and began grading and graveling streets. Gas street lamps were installed along Washington Street and adjacent streets between 1854 and 1860.
Granite block pavement, called “bouldering” in the nineteenth century, was first tried on a stretch of Washington Street in 1859. Bouldering was extended in particularly high traffic areas through the 1870s with gravel used on other streets. Sidewalks were paved and graveled at roughly twice the rate of streets during the 1860s, as most travel would have been on foot. Many side streets remained unpaved into the 1920s.
Nicholson wood block pavement was first used in Indianapolis in 1870 and was noted for being much quieter than bouldering. Asphalt pavement was first used in Indianapolis in 1889. During the 1890s, brick pavers and asphalt pavement became the preferred material for city streets, the former being more durable and having a much longer lifespan.
Indianapolis’ first street railway opened in 1864 and the system expanded with the growth of the city over the next several decades. Street railways were permitted to lay a double or single track down the center of any street under the condition that they provide granite bouldering between the tracks and on two feet at either side. The remainder of the street was maintained by the city and could be dirt, gravel, granite bouldering, wood block pavers, brick pavers, or asphalt pavement.
The early streetcars were drawn by mules or horses until the system was electrified between 1890 and 1894. The street railway provided convenient and affordable transportation throughout Indianapolis and fostered the growth of suburbs like Woodruff Place, Haughville, and Irvington. At the turn of the twentieth century, electric mass transit was an essential part life in Indianapolis. A strike by street railway employees in 1913 prompted Governor Samuel Ralston and the Indiana General Assembly to pass the state’s first laws setting a minimum wage, regular working hours, and workplace safety regulations. The street railway system was shut down in 1953.
Providing an enhanced understanding of the historic structures that line Georgia Street, Story Stones can be discovered in the walkway paving throughout the corridor. Set off by a stainless steel number that indicates the building establishment date, these pavers provide an indication of the location and background of an adjacent historic building.
30 E. Georgia Street
John W. Murphy Building
The John W. Murphy Building (1910-11) was designed by Samuel H. Brubaker & Company, also the architects of the nearby Century Building (1901) at 36 S. Pennsylvania Street. Originally occupied by several small wholesale and manufacturing establishments, the Murphy Building was the first modern fireproof building in the Wholesale District and is one of the earliest reinforced concrete buildings in Indianapolis.
141-143 S. Meridian Street
Hibben, Hollweg & Company Building
This building (1911-12) was designed by Vonnegut & Bohn for the oldest and largest dry goods firm in the Wholesale District. Established in 1867, Hibben, Hollweg & Company carried a wide range of foreign and domestic dry goods and notions (miscellaneous small items) including curtains, window shades, floor coverings, linens, woolens, hosiery, and its own line of work clothing. The company operated on this site from 1871 until 1936.
126 W. Georgia Street
St. John’s Rectory
The south wing of St. John’s Rectory (1863-67) was built to house the clergy from St. John the Evangelist Parish. The west wing was added in 1878, when the building became the residence of the Bishop of Vincennes. St. John’s Parish served as pro-cathedral until the completion of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in 1907. The Diocese of Vincennes was renamed the Diocese of Indianapolis in 1898.
126 W. Georgia Street
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
St. John the Evangelist Parish was established in 1837 and was the first Roman Catholic parish in Marion County. The present church (1867-71) was designed by Diedrich A. Bohlen following French Gothic precedents. The spires, added in 1893, were designed by his son Oscar D. Bohlen. From 1878-1907, this church served as pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Vincennes, renamed the Diocese of Indianapolis in 1898.
230 S. Pennsylvania Street
Indiana Terminal Warehouse
The Indiana Terminal Warehouse (1923) was designed by Rubush & Hunter for the Terminal Building Corporation. It was designed to provide street-level storefronts on Georgia and Pennsylvania Street with four floors of general warehouse space above. The warehouse offered direct connection to the elevated freight yards via a concrete viaduct over Pennsylvania Street.
201 S. Meridian Street
Byram, Cornelius & Company Building
Byram, Cornelius & Company, purveyors of wholesale dry goods and notions (miscellaneous small items), built this building during 1871-72. It was occupied by the A. Kiefer Drug Company during the 1890s and by the factory of the National Candy Company from 1903 until the 1920s. The building’s Italian Renaissance style facade is made of cast iron components resembling cut stone. It is one of the earliest remaining cast iron facades in Indianapolis.
202-204 S. Meridian Street
This building (1888-89) was designed by Robert Platt Daggett & Company, architects, for the McKee Shoe Company, wholesale boot and shoe dealers. The Havens & Geddes Company, a large dry goods wholesaler, expanded into the building in 1914. The Meridian Street facade features galvanized iron components and large windows to bring light deep into the building. The McKee Building was rehabilitated in 1982-83.
17-25 W. Georgia Street
D. P. Erwin & Company Building
D. P. Erwin & Company, established in 1884, was one of the largest wholesale dry goods companies in Indianapolis during the 1890s. This building is an addition to the D. P. Erwin & Company Building (1889-90) at 206-214 S. Meridian Street. The eastern half was built in 1890, while the western half was built in 1915. The Havens & Geddes Company bought out D. P. Erwin in 1899 and occupied the building until 1928.
43 W. Georgia Street (40 W. Jackson Place)
The Hotel Severin (1912-13), designed by Vonnegut & Bohn, was one of Indianapolis’ premier hotels in the early twentieth century. Among the hotel’s investors was Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, promoter of the Lincoln Highway, and developer of Miami Beach, Florida. An exterior rehabilitation and addition were completed in 1990, when the building reopened as the Omni Severin Hotel.