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Indiana’s landscape ranges from the forested hills of Southern Indiana to the open farmland of the northern counties, marked by the Ohio and Wabash river valleys and their numerous tributaries as well as the shore of Lake Michigan. Indiana’s cities vary widely in age and culture, from Vincennes, established in 1732 as a French and Native American village, to Gary, founded by U.S. Steel in 1906 as a home town for its new plant. Many Indiana cities, including Madison, New Albany, Evansville, Terre Haute, and Lafayette, boomed as important river and canal ports during the mid-nineteenth century, while others sprung up along the railroads that were built across the state between the 1840s and the 1870s. The gas boom of east central Indiana spanned from the 1880s to the 1900s and rapidly transformed sleepy farm towns like Muncie, Anderson, and Kokomo into thriving industrial cities. The first decades of the twentieth century saw the state’s cities connected by the most comprehensive network of electric interurban light rail lines ever built in the United States. Northwest Indiana, known as “The Region” or “Chicagoland,” developed as a distinct industrial and cultural region during the twentieth century, closely linked to neighboring Chicago. Southern Indiana emerged as a scenic natural and cultural destination during the twentieth century. Bloomington and Lafayette experienced additional growth as respective homes of Indiana University and Purdue University, the state’s largest public universities. Continued development and growth through the twentieth century followed the patterns of suburban sprawl that typified the post–World War II era across the country; from the 1970s onward Indiana experienced a return to historic, mixed-use urban neighborhoods.

Indiana’s built environment reflects the diversity of ancestry, ethnicity, and culture that has informed the unique character of the state’s individual communities. These places range from ancient earthworks at Angel Mounts to twentieth-century modernist landmarks. Early Euro-American architecture in Indiana reflected the traditions of the first French settlers at Fort Ouiatenon and Vincennes. The varying adaptations of the Federal style during the territorial period (1800–1816) and the years following statehood in 1816 are revealed in buildings such as Grouseland at Vincennes, the Corydon Capitol, the Harmonist Community House No. 2, and the Levi and Catherine Coffin House. The Greek Revival style dominated high-style architecture in Indiana from the 1830s through the 1850s, defining the architectural character of civic, commercial, and residential architecture. Examples include the Richardville House at Fort Wayne, the Indiana State Bank at New Albany, Eleutherian College at Lancaster, the Mount Pleasant Beech Church near Carthage, and the Francis Costigan House and Shrewsbury-Windle House at Madison.

The mid-nineteenth century saw extensive infrastructure development in Indiana, including the construction of the Wabash and Erie Canal (1832–1853), the longest canal ever built in North America, as well as the development of the Whitewater Canal and the state’s early railroads. The state’s major ports on the Ohio and Wabash rivers and key towns along canals and early highways also flourished in this period. Transportation improvements brought more ready access to design publications, spreading the influence of east-coast tastemakers throughout much of the state during this period. This period saw the development of many large, high-style buildings, including the Moses and Eliza Fowler House at Lafayette, Hillforest at Aurora, the David Dale Owen Laboratory at New Harmony, and the Culbertson Mansion at New Albany.

The influx of large numbers of immigrants during the mid-nineteenth century changed the demographics of the state. Immigrants from Ireland and the German states—including many Roman Catholics and Freethinkers—developed large ethnic communities with language, traditions, and beliefs distinct from the predominant Anglo-American Protestant population. These immigrants retained the language, religion, and social connections of their homeland, creating landmark institutions like St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception at Ferdinand, and the Athenaeum in Indianapolis. African American Hoosiers settled in many cities and towns and developed rural farming communities around the state, leaving landmarks like the Mount Pleasant Beech Church and the Lyles Station School.

The Italianate style dominated during the last half of the nineteenth century and was popular for residential, commercial, and civic buildings of all scales. The Benjamin Harrison House and the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home are two notable examples. The century from 1840 to 1940 saw the construction of large, high style courthouses in each of Indiana’s ninety-two counties, reflecting civic pride while leaving a community icon and legacy for future generations. Examples at Tippecanoe County, Allen County, and Fountain County reflect a range of stylistic expressions tailored to the local needs and budgets of their respective communities. The Indiana State Capitol and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, both in Indianapolis, reflect major civic investments of the late nineteenth century.

As in much of the rest of the United States, the styles of mid-nineteenth century Romanticism would transition into late Victorian eclecticism. Indiana’s economy boomed after the Civil War, leading to rapid growth in many cities. Buildings of the period ranged from modest Queen Anne residences like the Eugene V. Debs House at Terre Haute to the immense Romanesque Revival Clement Studebaker House at South Bend, and included individualistic projects like the Lew Wallace Studyat Crawfordsville and the Fraser and Isham Buildingat Fowler. Technological advancement was seen in innovative solutions like the rotary jail built for Montgomery County, the immense West Baden Springs Hotel, and in progressive agricultural structures like the Frank Littleton Round Barn. The growth and expansion of state government and social services is reflected in buildings like the Indiana Medical History Museum and the Indiana Reformatory.

The period between the 1890s and the 1910s is often regarded as Indiana’s “Golden Age,” a period of intense growth and development accompanied by cultural accomplishments. The state was home to numerous best-selling writers during this period, including Lew Wallace, James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, and Gene Stratton Porter, as well as the Hoosier Group of impressionist painters, including T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, and J. Otis Adams. Prominent cartoonists and illustrators included John T. McCutcheon and Johnny Gruelle. It is a testament to the importance of their contributions to Indiana culture that many of their houses have been preserved as museums.

Between the 1840s and the 1910s, Indiana experienced rapid industrial growth, from the Cannelton Cotton Millto the Cayuga Brick and Coal Company. Railroad growth and development was reflected in projects ranging from Indianapolis’s Union Station to Linden’s Monon Depot, and in rural engineering works like the Greene County Viaduct. The spread of interurban electric railways connected small communities like Plainfield to the region’s large cities. The turn of the twentieth century ushered in a wave of automobile-related development, from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg and Stutz automobile companies. The growth of new industries, including the steel industry at Gary, led to the development of associated communities like Marktown in East Chicago.

The proliferation of period revivals and new movements, like the Arts and Crafts and the more regional Prairie Style, shaped architectural development through the first quarter of the twentieth century. Projects as varied as the Murat Templeand Scottish Rite Cathedral at Indianapolis, the Paramount Theatre at Anderson, and the Wingate Pagoda show the range of expressions seen during this period. Major civic investments in the early twentieth century included the development of Indiana’s state parks, Turkey Run being the first, the George Rogers Clark Memorial at Vincennes, and the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza at Indianapolis.

The 1910s and 1920s were a period of significant growth in Indiana, accompanied by the terrors of the Ku Klux Klan and the imposition of Jim Crow segregation across the state. School segregation and its legacy, exemplified by Indianapolis’s Crispus Attucks High School and the Lyles Station School, presented a major challenge for generations to come. It was within this context that Madam C. J. Walker developed her line of cosmetics for African American women, becoming the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, and leaving the Walker Theater as a legacy to Indianapolis’s African American community.

In the 1920s and 1930s the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles flourished in Indiana, with examples ranging from the Lincoln Bank Tower at Fort Wayne to the Armco-Ferro House. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian concept was manifested in the Margedant House in Evansville, designed by his protégé William Wesley Peters, and later by Wright himself in Samara at West Lafayette. New Deal programs led to the construction of numerous improvements to Indiana’s state parks and created thousands of jobs through public works projects ranging from the Pendleton Post Office to Purdue University’s Elliott Hall of Music.

The post–World War II period saw the development of the interstate highway system and the spread of automobile-centric suburban development. National Homes Corporation of Lafayette, the country’s largest homebuilder from the 1950s through the 1970s, influenced prefabricated house construction across the country, while projects by architect-builders like Avriel Shull provided customized living environments. Flanner House Homes in Indianapolis gave African American Hoosiers access to the postwar suburban lifestyle barred by redlining and segregationist policies at all levels of government. J. Irwin Miller, president of Cummins Engine Company of Columbus, Indiana, sought to improve the quality of life in his small town by commissioning churches from modernist architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen. In a similar fashion, Jane Blaffer Owen sought to build on the socially progressive heritage of New Harmony by bringing in architects like Philip Johnson and Richard Meier to design new public buildings for the community. Indianapolis architect Evans Woollen designed several notable Brutalist examples, including Butler University’s Clowes Hall and the Minton Capehart Federal Building.

Postmodernism in the late twentieth century drove projects like the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where a free approach to shapes and colors created a whimsical, exciting environment for learning. The increasing importance of urban redevelopment through rehabilitation of historic buildings became apparent through early projects like the Circle Centre Mallredevelopment in downtown Indianapolis and by later neighborhood-based projects like the CommonWealth. The early twenty-first century saw significant infrastructure improvements to serve pedestrians and bicyclists alongside automobiles, and the creation of new civic spaces to serve all Hoosiers. Foremost among these is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, accompanied by projects like White River State Park, Georgia Street, the Monon Trail, the Cardinal Greenway, and other regional transportation systems. The combined effect of these trends is most readily apparent in the historic preservation-based revitalization of Indianapolis neighborhoods like Lockerbie Square, the Old Northside, Mass Ave, and Fountain Square, as well as the development of the Indiana Cultural Trail, but similar movements can be found in communities of all sizes across the state.

Writing Credits

Benjamin L. Ross

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