June 5, 2024

Next public meeting on White River Innovation District announced for June 24 at Edison School of the Arts

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Department of Public Works (Indy DPW) has launched a new dedicated web page for the White River Innovation District Infrastructure project.

The project, which includes the future Henry Street Bridge connection to Kentucky Avenue, overlaps with a portion of the former Greenlawn Cemetery, the city’s first cemetery.

For more than a year, members of a Community Advisory Group (CAG) have been meeting with City leaders to discuss their research into the site and feedback on the project.

Now, Indy DPW and the CAG are inviting the larger community to submit their own research for possible inclusion on the website and in future memorialization opportunities. Items including documents and photos are welcome for submission.

“This site has a long, complicated and unfortunate history,” said Indy DPW Director Brandon Herget. “The former Greenlawn Cemetery has been negatively compromised by industrial development for well over a century. From the start, we’ve committed to going above and beyond state law when it comes to this project, and this extensive research into who remains buried at the site is part of that. We now hope to incorporate the greater Indianapolis community into this effort.”

Members of the CAG meet monthly and include local historians, as well as representatives of the African American Genealogical Society, the Genealogical Society of Marion County, Indiana Landmarks’ Black Heritage Preservation Program, Crown Hill Cemetery and Daughters of the American Revolution.

“In our research of African Americans buried in Greenlawn, rich stories of Black Hoosier pioneers are emerging, including the story of the Greathouse family, whose patriarch is the great-great-great grandfather of boxing icon Muhammed Ali,” said Eunice Trotter, director of Indiana Landmarks’ Black Heritage Preservation Program. “There is so much that has been undocumented and therefore unknown about Black life in Indianapolis and this cemetery is a treasure trove of this history. The city’s decision to preserve this site is the right decision and one that should have been made 150 years ago.”

Indy DPW’s research consultants are currently uncovering evidence of the cemetery’s deed holders. Recently, they discovered records involving the Indiana Institute for the Blind, a state institution which cared for children with blindness and vision impairments.

In 1853, Marion County deed books recorded that the Institute purchased three lots for student burials within the New Burying Ground, or Union Cemetery. However, the Blind Institute’s Treasurer’s Report only listed the purchase of two lots. This discrepancy reveals a common thread: there are many ]archival obstacles with early cemetery research and it is an iterative process as new sources of information become accessible.

In 1871, the Institute began purchasing lots in Crown Hill Cemetery and two years later reinterred, or relocated some, if not all, of their Union Cemetery burials to Crown Hill Cemetery. This is just one of many stories coming to light through the diligent research of consultants, CAG members, and City staff. “After months of discussions with much back and forth, the City of Indianapolis is going public with a website that will provide accurate and complete information about the new Henry Street and Henry Street Bridge, which will directly impact the historic Greenlawn Cemetery. Greenlawn Cemetery was the final resting place for the pioneers who arrived in what became Indianapolis as early as 1800.

The website is not intended to be static, rather the goal is to be dynamic and reflective of the process,” said historian Leon Bates. “The Henry Street project is unique to Indianapolis, because it will be the first time that a more than 200-year-old cemetery will be intentionally disturbed 100 years after it was abandoned and demolished. As disturbing as this sounds, the Henry Street Bridge project gives Indianapolis the rare opportunity to both correct a wrong and expand the knowledge base about the city’s past. The website will be a big part of healing a great wrong.”

Indy DPW will hold its next public meeting regarding the project on Monday, June 24, at Edison School of the Arts, Inc. 47 (777 S. White River Parkway Dr. W.) at 5 p.m. Interested residents are encouraged to attend to hear project updates, learn about the latest historical research and engage with members of the City’s project team as well as members of the Community Advisory Group.