Located between the busy retail stretch of Washington Street and Union Station, the Wholesale District comprised most of the southern part of downtown Indianapolis at the turn of the twentieth century. This thriving area adjoined Union Station on the south, industrial areas to the east and west, and the downtown retail and commercial district to the north.Rail Transportation
Georgia Street lies at the heart of Indianapolis' historic Wholesale District, an area once filled with wholesale and jobbing company that served as intermediaries between producers and retailers.
Wholesale companies purchased large quantities of goods from factories, farmers, or other sources and distributed this merchandise to their retail buyers for sale to customers. Jobbing houses were similar in that they would buy goods in bulk from importers, manufacturers, or other wholesalers, distributing the merchandise to retailers. These businesses required easy access to railroad and mass transit systems for freight delivery and for the traveling salesmen who negotiated the companies' agreements with retailers across the country. By the 1890s, Indianapolis was home to more than 300 wholesale and jobbing businesses employing more than 1,000 traveling salesmen.
Wholesale businesses appeared in Indianapolis after the arrival of the first
railroad in 1847. A large volume of business flowed through the city during the Civil war, creating many fortunes. Development of the wholesale district accelerated during the postwar economic boom, spreading south along Meridian Street and onto Maryland and Georgia Streets. Large buildings deigned to house wholesale companies rapidly replaced older houses and commercial buildings. By the 1880s, Indianapolis had ten major wholesale grocery firms serving approximately 300 retail groceries located in neighborhoods throughout the city. Wholesale hardware companies supplied local hardware retailers at the local, state, and national scale. Wholesale dry goods companies supplied textiles, ready-to-wear clothing, and sundries to retail dry goods stores, the predecessor the the modern department store. A variety of other wholesale establishments supplied drug companies, boot and shoe retailers, milliners, and china dealers. Manufacturers including confectionaries, saddle factories, and printing houses also located in the district, benefiting from the transportation connections and the presence of wholesale buyers.
The Wholesale District spread along South Meridian Street following the Civil War. Large buildings designed to house wholesale companies replaced earlier houses and commercial buildings. This 1893 view looks south along Meridian Street from
Maryland Street. The 1862 Schnull's Block, first wholesale building in the district, stands at right.
Wholesale and jobbing businesses required easy access to local, regional and national transportation systems. This 1905 photograph looks north on Delaware Street just south of the intersection with Maryland Street and Virginia Avenue.
Indianapolis became a strategic hub on the national railway network by the late 1850s. The city's superior rail connections attracted businesses from other cities and states and helped Indianapolis develop into an important Midwestern metropolis.
The first railroad completed to Indianapolis, from Madison to Indianapolis, opened in 1847 and was followed by many other railroads during the next decade. By the late 1850s Indianapolis had became a strategic hub of the national railway network. After the Civil War, the city's superior transportation connections attracted wholesale businesses and factories from other cities and states and helped Indianapolis develop into an important Midwestern metropolis. The location of Indianapolis' Union Station at the south end of downtown made the Wholesale District a center of passenger traffic. The old Union Depot (built in 1852-1853) was the first consolidated railway station in the United states, bringing the passengers from all railroad lines into one central facility. The present Union Station (1887-1888) was built just north of the depot site. With 200 daily arrivals and departures on sixteen railroads by 1910, Union Station's twelve tracks of passenger rail provided easy access to all parts of the United States. A huge project between 1915 and 1922 elevated the rail tracks through the southern part of downtown Indianapolis, eliminating grade crossings, increasing efficiency, and greatly expanding the Union Station passenger terminal. Most of the city's major hotels were once located along Illinois Street in close proximity to Union Station.
Between 1900 and 1941, Indianapolis was also the center of a comprehensive interurban electric light rail system extending through much of the central and eastern United States. Interurbans also served to boost commerce throughout the region by providing rapid passenger and freight movement between cities and towns. The Indianapolis Traction Terminal (built 1907) at the corner of Market and Illinois Street provided convenient access to the Wholesale District for the millions of interurban passengers that passed through the city every year.
The Wholesale District also served by the Indianapolis street railway system beginning in 1864. The early streetcars were drawn by mules or horses until the system was electrified between 1890 and 1894. The street railway provided convenient and affordable transportation throughout Indianapolis and fostered the growth of suburbs like Woodruff Place, Haughville, and Irvington. At the turn of the twentieth century, electric mass transit was an essential part life in Indianapolis. The last street car line was shut down in 1953.
The John W. Murphy Building at 30 E. Georgia Street was completed in 1911 and housed many small wholesale and manufacturing companies.
The C. A. Schrader & Company, wholesale grocers, built this building at the corner of Pennsylvania and Maryland Streets in 1901. Typical of many wholesale buildings in the district, the Schrader building contained several floors of warehouse space above street level.
The Ko-We-Ba Building at the corner of Maryland and Delaware Streets was built in 1909 for Arthur Jordan and was occupied by the wholesale grocery business of the Kothe, Wells & Bauer Company. The company's line of Ko-We-Ba food products were sold throughout Indiana and adjacent states.
The McKee and Erwin Buildings at the corner of Meridian and Georgia Streets housed a variety of wholesale businesses including the McKee Shoe Company, dealers in boots and shoes, and D.P. Erwin and Company, one of the largest wholesale dry goods companies in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis was the first city in the United States to have a consolidated railway station serving multiple railroads. The present Union Station was completed in 1888 and was expanded between 1915-1922.
The Wholesale District contains the largest remaining collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings in Indianapolis. Many of these buildings were designed to house wholesale businesses and reflect the evolution of this building type between the 1860s and 1920s. The district also contains historic hotel buildings, office buildings, and a variety of other commercial and mixed-use structures. The district's buildings reflect a wide range of styles popular between the 1860s and 1920s. Information on individual buildings along Georgia Street and their architects can be found on the tablets set into the sidewalk pavement.
The Indianapolis Union Station - Wholesale District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. A number of historic facades were incorporated into the exterior of the Circle Centre Mall during its construction (1989-1995). The district is framed today by Conseco Fieldhouse to the east and the Indiana Convention Center to the west.
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