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Indianapolis’ History & Heritage

From its humble beginnings as a Native American settlement and trading outpost, Indianapolis has grown over the past 200 years into a bright metropolis known for its cultural ambience, thriving downtown and growing high-tech industries.

A city shaped by immigrants

Constructed in 1821 in the image of Washington, D.C., Indianapolis took shape around a mile square formed by a grid of perpendicular streets, with the state’s Capitol building situated on its west perimeter.

As the city expanded, manufacturing and wholesale districts grew, and immigrants from Germany, Italy, Ireland and Denmark, as well as newly freed African Americans, began moving to Indianapolis. These groups became the heart of the city’s working community.

Their native cultures are still evident and celebrated in the city today with festivities such as the Italian Street Festival, Greek Festival, Irish Fest, and German Fest. Grand buildings, such as the Madame Walker Theatre and the Athenaeum, still serve the community in much the same way as when they were built more than 100 years ago.

Crossroads of America

With the completion of the Union Station railway hub in 1888, Indianapolis’ economy, population and reputation boomed. With numerous trains moving in and out of the city every day, Indianapolis was soon dubbed the “Crossroads of America,” a moniker that still sticks today.

As one of the Midwest’s most significant cities, Indianapolis routinely attracts national and international attention with the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500; the popular Indianapolis Colts; its world-renowned Children’s Museum; and the country’s first Black Expo.

Truly a city of multiple dimensions, Indianapolis continues to lead with its high-tech industries and prominent corporations while remaining linked to its legacy of dedication and perseverance.

Learn more at the Indiana State Museum and the Indiana Historical Society

Indianapolis is lucky to host two great institutions that celebrate the Hoosier experience.

The world-class Indiana State Museum features unique exhibits and hands-on experiences that showcase the stories, events and characters that have helped shape Indiana’s history. Located in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis, the Indiana State Museum brings the best of the museum world to Indiana.

The Indiana Historical Society maintains the nation’s premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest. Since its inception in 1830, it has worked to collect, preserve, interpret and share information about the unique heritage of the Hoosier state.