German Footprints on the
Crossroads of America
Southside became a mix of manufacturing, farming, businesses and residences.
Germans who came during this major growth period found some early
countrymen already in the area. Those
early settlers were vegetable growers who came to the south side community when
it was still forest were attracted by the available fertile land near White
River. The greenhouses of some of
those early growers are still producing today.
the opportunities of the transportation center grew, entrepreneurs and craftsmen
flocked to the area. In the
Wholesale District located adjacent to this rapidly growing Midwest railroad
hub, businessmen hired German architects and builders to erect what became some
of the city’s landmark buildings. The
commercial district called Fountain Square developed to the southeast composed
of many German-owned small businesses, such as bakers, shoemakers and grocers.
Though the city’s landscape has changed, Fountain Square has been
functioning continually as a commercial district since the 1870s.
On the city’s southwest side manufacturers, mills, furniture companies,
stockyards and other businesses generated the employment for many German
laborers. While others recognizing the need of these laborers, built boarding
houses in the southwest area. Cottage
homes were interspersed with the residences of the more affluent in Fountain
Square and in the adjacent Fletcher Place district. By 1870 almost 50% of the
total foreign-born inhabitants of Indianapolis were German and 58% lived south
of Washington Street.
German southsiders influenced many developmental aspects of Indianapolis.
They built breweries, furniture and dry goods stores, stone works and
stockyards. Southside businessmen
such as Diedrich Bohlen, Jacob Woessner, Charles Schmidt and Samuel Rauh held
positions of leadership in the city. In
the spirit of song and dance that permeated their lives, Germans instilled their
love for music in the inhabitants of the city. The
area’s Von Tilzer Brothers wrote such standards as “Take Me Out To
The Ball Game.” Their strong commitment to education, including vocational
training is evidenced in the city’s current school system.
The Southside’s Emmerich Manual High School when established in 1891
through the influence of German city leaders was the only high school in the
country that taught manual training along with academic subjects.
new Americans were as varied in their religious and political views as they were
in their economic and educational backgrounds. The Lutherans and Catholics were
the earliest to establish German parishes, followed by many other congregations.
Political viewpoints varied and were expressed openly in the several
German language papers within the community.
However, a universal commitment among Germans was to preservation of
their culture and traditions. One
of those customs was that of the club life, the Turnverein. It was and is a
means of cultural celebration. The
Southside Turners participated wholeheartedly in supporting their own
Turnverein, which sponsored gymnastics events, musical festivals, parades and a
beer garden at the club on Prospect Street.
The Southside Turners organization and the German American Klub are still
preserving the traditions within the families of the area.
Indianapolis German footprints were integral in the paving of what is the
Crossroads of America. The next
time your path leads you to downtown Indianapolis, perhaps you might find it
interesting to take your own footsteps into the Southside community.
The merchants and residents of the area will welcome you to explore their
community. There’s more to learn
(Nancy Hurley, August 16, 2003)