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Mystery Buildings along MLK Jr. Street

Early last year I was driving down Martin Luther King Jr. Street in between 21st and 16th Streets on my way downtown. Off to my right, or the westside of the road, I spotted two old, dilapidated, brick buildings. I had seen these many times, but on that day, I had some spare time, so I pulled over to check them out.

Upon investigation, I concluded the buildings were some type of pumping station, since the larger of the two structures was situated on the berm of an un-watered section of Central Canal. This part of the canal was known as the “broad cut” due to its greater width and was heavily used for ice harvesting in the winter, and recreational boating in warmer months. There was also a grate on the canal side of the larger building for water intake (image below).

The interior is not readily accessible, but looking in through openings, various pieces of equipment and machinery can be seen.


Going to the old, reliable Sanborn maps, both of these structures appear on the 1948 Sanborn, below, which identify them as “Indianapolis Power & Light Co. Water Intake Hos.” (hereafter “IPL”)


Where the IPL intake houses being located here make more sense if you look at a wider view of the area available on the 1915 Map Indy composite image, below.* Across the street (at this time it was called Northwestern Ave.) from the intake houses is IPL’s Mill Street Power Station, a massive coal fired facility which was in operation in the 1890's and first part of the 20th Century. The water from the canal would be converted to steam by the coal plant which would turn turbines and create power. In a 1922 memorandum about the city's water supply, the Indianapolis Water Company noted that 50-60 million gallons was being drawn from the canal daily for use in condensing, i.e. power production. The report also said that the water would be returned to the canal after its use, meaning the steam used to turn the turbines is cooled, and condensed back into water. The railroad to the right in the image provided coal for the plant.

The railroad tracks adjacent to the power station was also the site of the 1903 train crash which killed 17 while enroute to Purdue football game. Viewed aerially, the scene in 1937, when the Mill Street Power Plant was still standing and today is much changed. Note the rail yard on the far side of the 1937 image which today is a storage and staging area for AES materials.


The image below from the Indiana Historical Society shows the Mill Street Station in 1955. The intake houses are just off to the right, out of frame. The station was demolished between 1962 and 1966, although the property is still used by AES, the successor to IPL, as the Mill Street Substation.

Indianapolis history coal power plant abandoned buildings
Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society (1955)

A few more images of the larger of the two intake houses are below. The first image is from the top of the canal berm, looking south.


If you drive past, the grassy area in front of the intake houses used to have homes, as can be seen on the Sanborn maps above, but these were demolished in the 1940's and 1950's. This land is also still owned by AES, and the original lots are still numbered on property maps.


And now, to justify bringing my drone back to the site for images which weren't really needed above, here is a drone shot of the intake houses. The canal is off to the right of the image.




Sources


*A quick note about the 1915 Sanborn on Map Indy. While its dated ‘1915,’ the map actually contains components of several Sanborn maps and updates from 1915 going forward. If you explore the IUPUI Sanborn map collection, you can find the accurate dates.


IUPUI Sanborn Collection, 1948


Map Indy Aerial Images, 1937-present


Factory with Smokestacks, Indiana Historical Society, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/12990/rec/1


Memorandum Relating to the Water Supply System of Indianapolis (1922), https://www.digitalindy.org/digital/collection/iwc/id/4808/rec/14






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