Indianapolis’ Mile Square

A discussion in a Facebook group the other day got me to thinking about the original mile square that was the town of Indianapolis. Now, this topic may seem to venture a lot closer to history and really far from transportation. And mostly, I would agree with you. But today, this focuses on the “map” that someone found of Indianapolis in 1821…and the streets that actually happened.

It started with the “map” above. Someone had commented about Google Maps not having historic maps, and that they would love to see a map of Indianapolis when it appeared like this. There were many great comments about this…and how great the lay out of the town was. But it bothered me.

A map of Indianapolis never actually looked like this. Ever. The image above shows the original ideas of Alexander Ralston for the town. Also, keep in mind that Mr. Ralston only used one square mile…out of the four he was allowed…because he never thought the town would get any bigger. It was, after all, an swampy outpost in the middle of a forest.

Back to the map, and the comments. Someone had mentioned that Indianapolis is one of the most symmetric cities ever built. I had to disagree with that person on that opinion, given the location of Pogue’s Run.

When the town of Indianapolis was actually built, the streets surrounding Pogues Run were never created. Those streets (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Short) were left off of the map of the town. Instead, as shown in the 1831 map of Indianapolis below, the north-south streets were continued across the creek that would be a pain in the neck for the Hoosier capitol for almost 100 years…until it was buried.

This is just a portion of the map. And even then, I am skeptical. This image has a production date of 1906. But I am more apt to believe this one, because I have actually seen other maps within a decade or two of what date it’s supposed to be. Those maps show the same thing – Pennsylvania, Delaware, Alabama and New Jersey continue across Pogues Run.

Another difference between the 1821 plat and the 1831 map is the names of the streets around the Mile Square. Or, more to the point, the INCLUSION of those streets. On Alexander Ralston’s original plat, the streets of the town just dump into the wilderness. There are no North, South, East and West Streets. They weren’t included.

By 1831, the town had overrun the mile square. And, hence, street names were added to the edge of the original area of the Hoosier capitol.

As an aside, it is possible, using the plat of Indianapolis, to prove that 10 times 10 is 101. Look at the last platted square on both maps.

The supposed symmetry of the town was disrupted by Pogues Run. It actually got closer to symmetrical when the Carolinas and Short Street were left out. But the whole idea of symmetry went straight out the window with the very first addition to the town. And it continued from there.

4 thoughts on “Indianapolis’ Mile Square

  1. I always thought Ralston got too much praise for the layout. Those diagonal streets have created nightmare traffic problems (I remember those from the 50’s and 60’s) and all kinds of problems for real estate development and construction. And if you take away those diagonals, it’s just a simple checkerboard that would have worked very simply, and well.
    Thanks for another great article.


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