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The Memory Remains: The Brick Ruin On The Downtown Canal Walk

If you've every walked along the downtown canal, you may have passed a section of landscaping on the east bank adjacent to the Ohio Street bridge, and opposite the Indiana Historical Society. A feature of this landscaping is what looks like the remains of a brick foundation or structure jutting out from the side of the canal bank. So, what used to stand here?

The first thing to remember is that the downtown section of the canal as it appears today, is not how the canal appeared 35 years ago. Prior to the mid 1980's the canal was at street level, similar to the section of the canal which runs south from Broad Ripple to Fall Creek.  The route of the canal is the same, although the existing steep banks were once level ground. 

In 1972, prior to the modification of the canal, the location of the brick foundation was likely underground (red dot on the image below), and the land was occupied by a parking lot. Note the railroad tracks running along the eastern bank of canal, adjacent to the western (left in this image) side of the parking lot. The railroad tracks run about where the canal walkway is today. The shadow at the bottom of the image is from the Indiana State Office Building.

Map Indy, 1972

Looking even farther back to 1937 (below), reveals a structure at the site of the ruins (red dot). Note the old Western Electric Plant building on the opposite bank, which is also seen in the 1972 image. The Indiana Historical Society now occupies that land. Also, in 1937 the canal route was still straight south of Ohio Street. Only after the construction of the Indiana State Office Building (completed in 1961) was the canal course modified with an angle to the west as seen in the 1972 image. Around the time of the office building's construction the site of our brick ruins was turned into the parking lot pictured in 1972, likely for the new state offices.

Map Indy, 1937

Looking to the IUPUI Sanborn Map and Baist Atlas Collection provides more information about the building at this site. The 1915 Sanborn Map shows the site of the brick ruins being occupied by a structure which housed the Artificial Ice & Cold Storage Company. The pink color of the building means it was constructed of brick. Railroad tracks are still in place between the building and the canal itself, like in the aerial images above. Artificial Ice was purchased by the larger Polar Ice Company in 1935 (history of the Indianapolis ice industry was covered in a previous posting). 

Sanborn Atlas, 1915

The 1941 Baist Atlas map shows the ice building being owned by Polar Ice & Fuel Co., with the artificial ice plant still in operation:

Baist Atlas, 1941

Earlier Sanborn maps showed no brick structures at this site. The 1887 Sanborn shows this intersection of the canal and Ohio Street consisted of wooden homes. By the time the 1898 Sanborn Map was published the ice facility depicted in 1915 (above) had been constructed.

I looked for an actual photograph of the ice building, but many of the photos were taken after the State Office Building was completed and the area had been turned into the parking lot seen in the 1972 aerial image. Other photos from this area of the canal pre-1960'swere at the wrong angle, or the ice building was just out of frame. However,  I was able to locate one image from the Indiana Historical Society which shows the area west of the statehouse in 1944. On the far right side of the photo is Ohio Street and you can just see the ice building, the remains of which I believe are now serving as a landscape feature on the canal walk. 

Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society. (red arrow added)


IUPUI Indianapolis Sanborn Map and Baist Atlas Collection, as noted above.

Map Indy, as noted above.

Indiana Historical Society Digital Images Collection

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1 Comment

Jan 31, 2020

Wonderful post! I want to point you to some photos, recently donated to the Indiana Historical Society.

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