The city of Indianapolis was incorporated in January 1821, founded as the site for the new state capital by an act of the Indiana General Assembly. Now that 200+ years have passed, the city and its streets are chock-full of vibrant history.
It’s safe to say that over the years, the city has been touched by countless historical figures and happenings — many of which have shaped the names of Indy’s buildings, parks, and streets. In this guide, we’re delving into the history of the Circle City’s streets — specifically how they were named.
Ever noticed that a lot of the streets in the heart of downtown Indianapolis are named after other states? That’s 22 out of 50 states to be exact. It was all part of city planner Alexander Ralston’s plan.
Meridian Street — Acting as the city’s main stem, Meridian Street serves as the axis separating east addresses from west addresses, and intersects Monument Circle and Washington Street downtown. There was even discussion about changing the name to “Lincoln Boulevard” since the city’s main east-west artery was named after George Washington. The argument was that it made sense to name the primary north-south street after Abraham Lincoln, but it was opposed because Meridian Street was more unique.
Washington Street — This is the primary east-west street in Indianapolis and has historically been the main commercial corridor in the city. From 1885 to 1893, a transfer car stood on West Washington Street about 50 ft east of Illinois Street — where passengers would wait to change from one line to another in the center of the street.
Massachusetts Avenue — Mass Ave. was created to be a thoroughfare where residents could travel from outer neighborhoods to reach the commercial areas of the city. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the diagonal street running through the northeast quadrant of the Mile Square was a vibrant retail, art, and commercial district — and that continues to ring true today.
As the city of Indianapolis grew beyond the original mile square, streets were named as a way to honor those who had a major impact on the city. Streets were also often named after original property owners and their families, and some were eventually renamed in an 1897 project that aimed to make street names less confusing and remove any duplicate names. Here are some street names you may recognize and the people behind those names.
Kessler Boulevard — named after George Edward Kessler, a highly respected city planner, landscape architect, and parks consultant. The city hired George in 1908 to help improve its parks system and adopted his Indianapolis Park and Boulevard system a year later.
Fletcher Avenue — Fletcher Place, and the street that runs through the neighborhood of the same name, is derived from Calvin Fletcher, Sr. (1798-1866), whose farm originally encompassed most of the land in the area. Gradually, the Fletchers and their associates platted the area into individual lots, beginning in 1857.
Binford Boulevard — named after Tom Binford, an Indianapolis businessman who was a co-founder of the city’s Urban League and who helped steer the Indianapolis 500 through two crises. He was also one of the city’s leaders in civil rights, education and downtown development.
Alexander Ralston’s original plat for the town of Indianapolis included a total of 38 streets that were given the name of a state — but some have come and gone, and some never were. For example, running parallel to each other on either side of Pogue’s Run were North Carolina and South Carolina streets, but those names disappeared from the map in 1831, a decade after the platting for the Hoosier capitol city.
Capitol Avenue — Originally named Tennessee Street, the ordinance to rename it to Capitol Avenue in honor of the new state capitol was approved by City Council in 1894.
Senate Avenue — An African-American city councilman pushed for the original Mississippi Street to be renamed to Senate Avenue the year after the ordinance was approved for Capitol Avenue.
Georgia Street — Although the name remains today, the campaign to change the name of Georgia Street around the $12 million transformation for the Big Ten Championship and the Super Bowl caused quite the debate, with objections from the public. Ideas for a new name included “Hospitality Boulevard” and “Championship Way.”