And Then It Was Gone: The Vanishing of Pogue's Run

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

Pogue’s Run has been a constant presence in Indianapolis since its namesake, whose homestead was near the creek,  made his ill fated trip into the wilderness of the present day southside to find his lost horses. Despite his short time actually living in Indianapolis, George Pogue’s disappearance and presumed death resulted in a small creek from the northeast of the mile square and across the south side of present day downtown being named in his memory.


The section of the 1866 Warner map of Marion County and downtown below shows the route of the creek from its crossing at New York Street, to where it empties into the White River in the south. A link to the full map can be found here.

Credit: Library of Congress

For original white settlers in Indianapolis, Pogue’s Run was a source of water and even some fish, as well as a landmark. However, it was also a source of regular flooding and, as the population of the city grew, unsanitary conditions as the waste of humans, agriculture and industry fouled its waters. Additionally, it served as a breeding ground for mosquitos, which in turn brought sickness to those living near the creek. In his 1884 History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, Berry Sulgrove described the creek as running clear and stocked with fish, prior to the diversion of storm and sanitary sewers into its waters. He noted that the industry of the city and the significant railroad activity along its banks on the southside of downtown, "turned the clear little woods stream into an open sewer. Worse still, the rapid inflow of street drainage, with other less artificial influences, made it subject to violent and sudden overflows, which in the last twenty years, have done so much mischief..."


Indianapolis News, April 10, 1911

Over the years there had been discussions about channelizing or modifying the route of Pogue's Run, especially as the city grew up around it. However, in the early part of the 20th century a movement to address Pogue's Run gained steam. Despite the history of flooding and longstanding pollution, the main factor in addressing the creek was to cater to the desires of the various railroads whose routes took them along the southside of downtown, the main one being the Indianapolis Central Railway, which controlled Union Station and the common tracks in the downtown area. In 1911 the railways and the city were in discussions to elevate the railway tracks through downtown in order to facilitate rail traffic and allow surface streets to pass under the railways. The railroad companies expected the city to cover the costs associated with "disposing of Pogue's Run" to allow the elevated rail project to move forward. The project was referred to as the "Pogue's Run Drain, and bids were received and opened in spring of 1914, with Dunn-McCarthy Co., of Chicago being awarded the contract for a total bid of $907,000. Construction was begun in July of 1914, with an anticipated completion date of sometime in 1916, and involved heavy machinery and manual labor to channelize and lower the creek bed to a point where it could be enclosed as a sewer. 

Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1914

Work on the drain continued through 1914 and 1915. Problems were encountered, and the construction resulted in several worker fatalities. In fact, the frequency of worker deaths in 1915, four during a two week period that summer, caused the Indianapolis News to speculate on July 23, 1915, that the deaths had brought "...things to a point where it is about time to reflect that it wasn't the intention of the city to drain off its population." In early 1916, the Department of Public Works reported to the city's Common Council on the status of the project to hide the "unsightly" Pogue's Run: 


The 'Pogue's Run Drain' was completed in late 1916 with Pogue's Run being directed to a outlet on the White River just a few hundred feet south of the present day Kentucky Avenue Bridge. The occasion was marked with Mayor Joseph Bell and his family, along with other city officials and a filmmaker, embarking upon touring cars and attempting to drive the drain. The caravan first attempted to enter the drain at the point Pogue's Run went underground near New York and Pine Streets. The cars were driven down an incline and then with all the autos sitting four abreast, they entered the two openings for the drain. However, as reported by the Indianapolis Star on November 21, 1916, the cars returned from their trip only a few minutes later, having encountered industrial gases and steam from a nearby ice plant and other factories being expelled into the tunnel.

Indianapolis Star, November 21, 1916

After this false start, the cars were driven overland to the point where the creek emptied into the river, and were again lowered down into the opening of the drain. The reporting in the Star made it seem that the cars were arranged to make it appear they had just driven through the entire drain. The newspaper stated that "...the cars were hauled into the drain and the movie man did his work, again "snapping" the illustrious party coming from the huge drain, every man looking as though he had just made the most unusual automobile trip possible in Indiana." The city engineer explained that the accompanying film maker wanted the event staged in that fashion. While this was being done, an assistant engineer and a few others managed to make the trip in a smaller automobile, "just to show the rest of the party how easy it was."


The outlet point for the drain near Kentucky Avenue was far to the north of the original outlet for the creek, which as seen on the 1866 Warner map (above), was near West and between the lines of Palmer and Minnesota Streets. The 1916 Baist map for this section of the city noted the still existing southern outlet of Pogue's Run, adjacent to the railyards which are still present today.

IUPUI Sanborn and Baist Collection, Baist #28, 1916

The course of the White River through downtown has been modified by natural and man made forces over the years. The eastward bend in the river near point where Pogue's Run met the river, as can be seen in the Baist image above, is now gone, the river being re-routed farther west. The image below shows the approximate route of the river (blue line) and the location of the original Pogue's Run/White River confluence (red circle) prior to the re-routing of the river, and the elimination of the southern portion of the creek. The outlet of the Pogue's Run Drain at the point near Kentucky Ave. was a matter of convenience, due to the proximity of the river at that point to the route of the creek, and it would allow the city to shorten the drain and avoid having to enclose the entire length to the south. The southern section of the creek, south of McCarty Street, remained on maps for several years after the completion of the Pogue's Run Drain, but eventually disappeared as development covered the landscape in this part of the city. 

Pogue's Run is still a significant landmark northeast of the city where it flows on the surface through Brookside and Spade Parks. The enclosed section, running from the eastside to the river, is a popular attraction for urban cyclists and hikers to explore, at their own risk. In 2005 artist Sean Derry produced a project mapping the original route of Pogue's Run using blue thermoplastic lines. While many sections of this line have been destroyed due to development on the southside, sections of the line can still be located at various points.


A section of the Pogue's Run tracking project on Delaware Street next to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Credit: Me




References:


Warner, A., Worley & Bracher & Bourquin, F. (1866) Map of Marion County, Indiana. Philadelphia: C.O. Titus, Publisher. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2013593173/.


Indianapolis News, April 10, 1911, July 23, 1915


Indianapolis Star, May 11, 1914, August 2, 1914, November 21, 1916


Journal of the Indianapolis Common Council, 1916


IUPUI Sanborn and Baist Collection, 1916 Baist, #28, http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/collections/sanbornjp2


History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, Berry Sulgrove. 1884 






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