Trails in Indiana

Cultural Trail - Indy


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We tend to think of Indiana and Indianapolis as a crossroads. That’s not just a recent historic reference or words to lure tourists, as it turns out. Hundreds of millions of years ago, some think “ Indiana ” also formed the central portion of a supercontinent in southern latitudes, which later broke up and spread apart.

In 1820, Indianapolis was founded at a place that was, again, a crossroads, the geographic center of the state. When the capital was moved north from its southern Indiana location, it was designed as a square mile, centered around the governor’s mansion site, then called Governor’s Circle. An assistant planner for the District of Columbia , Alexander Ralston, helped design Indiana ’s capital city. So we have four main diagonal arteries extending out from Governor’s Circle, which is now Monument Circle .

These four streets became Indianapolis cultural centers. Railroads and interurban trains carried workers, shoppers, and goods to the center of the growing city. Businesses thrived there. Indy’s heartland developed into a bustling, lively place.

The newest crossroad is a soon-to-be-completed Indianapolis Cultural Trail. It’s a walking and bicycling tour tying together these urban districts that have grown up for nearly 200 years, branching out from the initial diagonal design, each with its own personality. If you drive these routes, there are parking meters and garages sprinkled along the way.

An appropriate place to begin exploring Indianapolis ’ Cultural Trail is the downtown City Market, at 222 East Market Street . This location was designated as a market site way back in 1821 by city planners. Down through the years, consumers could buy their variety of staples here. In 1886, City Market underwent major renovation when a new and larger indoor facility was built. This is the German-style structure that’s here today. In the 1970s it had another facelift, but its framework remains the same.

So, you can start your Cultural Trail tour here, with a breakfast or lunch in a variety of cuisines, and top off your tank with coffee or desserts. In addition, the downtown Farmers Market is here on Wednesdays in summer, plus there’s now a winter market, too. Market Plaza hosts special events as well.

After you’ve perused City Market, travel north on the Cultural Trail via Alabama Street . College and pro-basketball fans will remember the old Market Square Arena. Its former site is vacant, south of Market Street , and probably awaiting redevelopment. However, the parking lot that’s now in this space does hold a memorial to Elvis—he performed his final concert here in June of 1977.

Going further north on the Trail, the grand, distinguished old City Hall Building presents itself as a classical-style structure. It was completed in 1910. Inside is a rotunda in stained glass. This building once served as the Indiana State Museum , the natural and historical collections now located in the Canal District.

All cities go through ups and downs and Indianapolis was no different a generation ago or thereabouts. After suburbia drew populations to their new grounds, the urban areas suffered. They are now well on their way back, however. You pass the old Sears Building north of New York Street . When urban renewal was coming in, Omalia’s Grocery Store located here. With the hardware store nearby, such vital businesses helped the downtown resurgence immensely.

Up the trail again, at the intersection of lower Mass Ave District and Alabama is the “Ann Dancing” sculpture. She is an outdoor, animated and lighted-image artwork by Julian Opie.

Massachusetts Avenue , or Mass Ave is the northeast prong of the original diagonal street plan, and a major corridor for the Trail. In its beginnings, the road known as Mass Avenue connected up with roads to the northeast. An interurban rail line ran that way to Pendleton , Indiana . As such, Mass Ave was an early magnet for businesses serving those coming into and going out of the capital city.

Today, Mass Ave is known for its rebirth as an arts and entertainment Mecca . It is home to numerous studio and gallery establishments. There are a number of examples of historic and notable buildings on Mass Ave. The Art Bank, for example, was actually a bank at one time, but now houses artist work and display spaces.

Mass Avenue along the Cultural Trail also is home to some unusual architecture in the Midwest . The Murat Shrine is a Masonic temple first conceived of in the late 1800s and built in a Middle Eastern style. It’s named for a French general and desert oasis. Today, it is known locally as the Murat Center , and it hosts live theatre and concerts. Look for it, too, under the Old National Center . A recent name change was disputed by the building’s owners. In the same area on the trail, but across the street from Murat Center is the Athenaeum. This was a German heritage gathering place, still used, and it houses a theatre, fitness center, event spaces and a German restaurant, the Rathskeller, which is open to the public at 401 E Michigan Street .

In the 800 block of Mass Ave , another commercial complex of note is the Coca-Cola Building . This Art Deco bottling plant was built in the 1930s and has photography-worthy exterior ornamentation. It is currently owned and used as a service center for Indianapolis Public Schools, but was at one time the largest Coca-Cola plant of its kind in the U. S.

Retrace your steps on the Cultural Trail from the Mass Ave District and head west. At Walnut Street the trail jogs a bit, but keep heading West. You come to a large open space and a massive tall, squarish building with columns in its midst. This is the Indiana War Memorial and Plaza, built in the late 1920s. The public is welcome to visit inside to see the Shrine Room and Museum.

This plaza area has two museums on its 24 acres, benches, fountains, sculptures, the Vietnam Memorial. Indianapolis claims the second largest number of veteran-memorial statues and monuments outside of Washington D. C.

Continue on the trail north and one sees the Marion County Public Library’s main branch and its newly completed expansion building. For a bird’s eye view of Indy, go up to the Nina Mason Pulliam Special Collections Room. The long, classical-style original structure is Indiana limestone. Land for it was donated by James Whitcomb Riley and its construction was completed in 1917. Its bronze gates were purchased with pennies that children collected for that purpose.

Sit and take a breather or explore the new library lobby; however you’re not finished yet with the Cultural Trail tour. Continue west and the dominant building on Meridian Street is the Masonic Scottish Rite Cathedral. It is of Tudor-Gothic architecture. The Cathedral was built in the late 1920s; it is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is the largest Masonic structure in the United States . Tours are available on weekdays.

An inspirational Cultural Trail segment begins here called the Glick Peace Walk, on the north side of the Cathedral and across from War Memorial Plaza . A line of fine old Ginko trees lines the street. Amid native and ornamental gardens and benches, there are night-lighted plaques. These recognize individuals or luminaries in history who contributed their life gifts to advance all of us on the peace path and who encourage others to do the same.

The Peace Walk ends at Capitol Avenue , but the Cultural Trail leads on and across Indy’s downtown Canal Walk. The Canal has its own place in history. Begun in the early 1800s before the heyday of the iron horse, it was intended to be part of a network that would tie together the Great Lakes and Ohio River . Cost, weather, engineering, and other hardships prevented much of that dream from completion, not to mention that rail came along and pre-empted canals as a transportation system.

As a trail, however, the Canal has finally achieved spectacular success. It attracts large numbers of bicyclists, walkers, and commuters every day. Go south, or left, on this to find downtown museums, outdoor concerts in summer, White River State Park , restaurants, NCAA Hall of Champions, a well-stocked Visitor Center , plus hotels, and the government district is nearby. Connection to the White River Wapahani Trail is downtown, as well as the intersection of two historic roadways—the east-west National Road , now U. S. 40, and also U. S. 421, often called the Michigan Road . Both were first built in the 1820s and 1830s, respectively.

Kentucky is a third street in this vicinity that was one of the initial diagonal avenues. It has undergone much redevelopment in the city center location in its 200 years and little or no trace remains of where it originally intersected the mile square.

The Wholesale District is not far east from where the Kentucky Avenue corridor used to connect. Take the Cultural Trail south on Capitol to get to Conseco Fieldhouse, or Lucas Oil Stadium, or Cultural Trail offices. Long before these modern sports venues were built, however, this area prospered from activities of the farm and dry goods merchants. The railroad network also enabled the success of these various businesses and was vital to growth of the capital city, up to the time of the Great Depression. Much investment and rebuilding in recent decades have revitalized this district.

Back to the Downtown Canal ’s opposite end, north of the museum and Wholesale District areas, is Indiana Avenue Cultural District, known for being an African American culture center. A short way before you reach the Indiana segment, along the West Walnut Street approach to the canal, you pass by the U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial. She was torpedoed in the Pacific late during World War II. Details about her fate and crew are best appreciated by reading the moving account given there.

Walking west, jogging around to St Clair Street , you come to Indiana Avenue , the final street of the four diagonals designed to radiate from Monument Circle . It’s an important gathering place for jazz fans and musicians. Not least, it’s also known for the Madame Walker Theatre Center . Madame C. J. Walker became America ’s first self-made, female millionaire. She achieved her success via building her own cosmetics business. Though she passed away in 1919, the Walker Center , where her manufacturing site was located, is now an arts education and performance facility, and it hosts other events as well.

For now, these are most of the completed segments of the eventual eight-mile trail. As yet, the final leg, Virginia Avenue , is incomplete and not open. Virginia leads to the cultural area of Fountain Square . In the 1800s, one could find water here for a horse as well as the rider or driver. The fountain has been rebuilt several times since then. This area was important, too, for commerce and transportation. Rail and trolley lines went this way. A large cigar factory operated here, and it was a major theatre and movie theatre destination. It has historic architecture to view as well, some dating to the 1870s time period. Today, it’s also known for its duckpin bowling facilities and still has a variety of restaurants and theatres.

An important note is that the Cultural Trail does now tie in to the multi-use Monon Rail Trail. The Monon starts at Mass Avenue ’s northeast Cultural Trail terminus. From there, you can now make an uninterrupted journey through Broad Ripple, to north Marion County , and then on into Hamilton County . So far, the Monon extends some 17 miles from the Mass Ave 10th Street trailhead.

These descriptions are only a tasting of what The Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick, has to offer. There are many arts, architectural examples, entertainment, educational, and restaurant venues along its route. Planners expect to complete its entire eight-mile course by 2012, when it will unite the major urban centers of Indianapolis , and once again, create a Crossroads for America .

Type of Trail: 
Urban Trail
Total Length of all segments: 
7 miles
asphalt, sidewalk
Uses allowed: 
walking, hiking, biking, wheelchair,
Wheelchairs allowed: 
Agency, Group Owned: 
Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Inc.
Kaeren Haley
615 N. Alabama St. Ste. 119 Indianapolis, IN 46204
317.631.6542 ext. 139