Americans of Indianapolis
Indianapolis Wholesale District between Maryland and South, and Illinois
and Delaware Streets, draws its name from the wholesale businesses that
once lined its streets. It once boasted over 300 businesses, employing
over 2,500 people, that distributed goods across the nation. The advent
of automobiles and trucks led to the decline of the railroad and the Wholesale
In 1847 the first train arrived in Indianapolis, and in 1852-1853 the original Union Depot was built-the first union passenger depot in the United States. When railroads began to connect the city with the outside region, wholesale merchants began to open their doors. During the business boom after the Civil War the wholesale trade expanded, and by 1881 the station was accommodating over 85 trains per day.
"Union Station," located in the Wholesale District at Jackson Place, was completed in 1888. It was the first station in the country to house three separate railroad companies in one building thus forming a "union" station. Then considered one of the finest examples of Neo-Romanesque architecture in the nation, it has a red brick and pink granite exterior with an enormous clock tower. The interior has a spectacular 70-foot high barrel-vaulted ceiling with skylight and large rose windows.
In the pre-railroad era the capital's merchants were typically retailers. Once the city had its rail connections, merchants began to open their doors in what came to be known as the "Wholesale District." It began in 1863 when two Westphalian emigrants, the brothers August and Henry Schnull, built the first wholesale house on the southwest corner of S. Meridian and W. Maryland Streets. Schnull's Block comprised 102-108 S. Meridian and housed their wholesale grocery business. The Schnulls bought other properties and built speculative commercial buildings to house their other wholesale enterprises. With their profits the brothers founded Merchants National Bank in 1865. While August returned to Germany, Henry became one of the city's most successful businessmen of the 19th century.
His efforts won Henry Schnull the epithet "Father of the Wholesale District." The wholesale trade and district attracted many German-Americans whose names are associated with some of the district's surviving historic buildings. A number of these structures were incorporated into the Circle Centre. Today the Wholesale District lives as a testimony to the adaptability of solidly-built historic structures.
Circle Centre development did not follow the usual formula and easy course for the development of the downtown mall. It would have meant demolition of entire blocks of historic buildings in the city's historic Wholesale District, listed in the national Register of Historic Places. Circle Centre developers set aside the formula and took up the challenge of sparing significant landmarks, restoring others, and reusing facades-the original fronts-of still other historic buildings. The mall's unusual design resulted from a formal process that included the developer and architects, government agencies, and historic preservation groups, led by Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana-collectively known as the "Preservation Task Force."
For a Walking Tour Guide of the Indianapolis Wholesale District & Circle Centre contact Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana at 317-639-4534 or 800-450-4534; www.historiclandmarks.org
Sources: Wholesale District Historic Area Plan: A part
of the Comprehensive Plan for Marion County, Indianapolis Historic
Preservation Commission, 1990
Regional Center Draft Plan 1990/2010, Department of Metropolitan Development,
Division of Planning, Indianapolis-Marion County, Indiana, 1991
William R. Selm, Wegweiser: A Self-Guided Tour of German-American Sites in Indianapolis, Published by Indiana German-Heritage Society, Inc., 1998