Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v14n05)
Everything you always wanted to know about the canal...part sixteen - Downtown canal
posted: Mar. 03, 2017
The Downtown Canal
The Broad Ripple Gazette presented (in various issues from Volume 12 #18 through Volume 13 #9) the history and workings of the Indiana Central Canal as it exists today, from the canal's creation at the dam on the White River in Broad Ripple, down to the Citizens White River Treatment Plant near the Fall Creek and 16th Street. Those articles came from an interview conducted at Citizens Energy in 2015 with Ed Malone, Director of Water Production for Citizens Energy Group, Edwin Morris, Operation Maintenance Supervisor for Citizens Energy Group, and Sarah Holsapple, Media Relations for Citizens Energy Group.
This article covers the portion of the canal that was past the water treatment plant. It currently runs from 11th Street, through downtown and White River State Park, emptying in the White River near the southwest corner of the NCAA Hall of Champions.
I had always believed that when the interstate was built downtown, the construction cut off the canal path. I had been told that the canal was piped underground at this point and then it re-emerged at 11th Street and flowed on the rest of the way to the White River in White River State Park. I thought the only changes were the construction of a concrete basin to replace the original earthen structure dug in the 1800s. I was wrong. During my interview with Citizens, the owners of the active canal from Broad Ripple to the White River Treatment Plant, I learned that the canal, in fact, ends at the treatment plant, with all its 8-million gallons a day emptying into the facility, to be treated and delivered to the water users in the city. The real story of the water in the downtown canal was a more complicated one and I would find those details at the Department of Metropolitan Development.
In 2016, I met with John Bartholomew, Public Information Officer for City of Indianapolis, Department of Metropolitan Development and Steve Schulmeyer, Project manager at City of Indianapolis, Department of Metropolitan Development, at their City-County Building office to discuss the history of the downtown Canal Walk project.
A little background on the history of the original Indiana Central Canal as it pertains to the downtown portion.
According to a report by the Mid-Atlantic Region National Park Service, "The Internal Improvement Bill of 1836 provided for almost 1,300 miles of canals and railroads to be funded by $10 million in bonds and loans. The fact that this figure was twenty times the state government's estimated revenues for 1836 indicates the magnitude of the undertaking."
The original Indianapolis portion of the canal ran from Broad Ripple on the north to Pleasant Run on the south. This eight miles was the only watered portion of the 11 miles of canal that was dug, before the program was abandoned in 1839 due to the State of Indiana going bankrupt.
In part one of this series, I described how the canal fed power to downtown industries. In the 1870s the canal was abandoned south of Market Street. In 1960, during the construction of the State Office Building, the right angle bend to the west, south of Ohio Street, was altered to form two smooth 45 degree bends. In 1970, during the construction of the Interstate 65 ramp system, the canal was moved underground into a 60" pipe between 11th Street and 13th Street. (This is where I got the idea that today's canal is a continuation of the river water canal from Broad Ripple, more about that later). In 1984, during the replacement of the West Street Bridge, the canal was moved underground into 48" and 24" pipes along the southern edge of Military Park.
The canal south of 11th Street had become a wet, muddy area of a fast-developing downtown. In 1972, the Indianapolis Water Company started to title this part of the canal to the City of Indianapolis "for park and recreational purposes". The agreement stated that the City had five years to take action on the canal. A 22-person Waterways Task Force was created by the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. A Lilly Endowment grant funded a feasibility study on transforming the canal into a usable public space. The study was complete in 1974, but the projected costs were high and the project was tabled.