January 18, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS ‐‐ Prior to starting construction of the new Henry Street bridge across the White River, the City of Indianapolis pledged transparency to community members.

Portions of the project area overlap with the former first City Cemetery, in what may be the original Burying Ground, which was the city’s first cemetery in 1821. “The Department of Public Works has made the commitment to go above and beyond what is required by state law regarding accidental discoveries found during construction of the Henry Street Bridge,” said Indy DPW Director Brandon Herget.

“By working with the community, we have made significant changes to both our construction practices and how we will report out findings to the community so that the complex story of this site will not be lost to history. And now that we have finalized contracts for an Indiana University Indianapolis laboratory supervised by bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropology professionals, we can begin providing detailed updates regarding the process to our residents.”

During subsurface utility excavation on July 18, 2023, work was done to document multiple buried fiber optic lines at the former Diamond Chain complex, on the east side of the White River. This property is currently owned by 402 Kentucky Avenue
LLC and the right‐of‐way is pending acquisition by the City of Indianapolis.

During this work, an isolated human skeletal element was found by archaeologists inspecting soil in the vacuum truck holding tank. The discovery was determined to be the fourth metacarpal from an adult’s right hand. It was recovered from a depth of less than five feet, but from soils exhibiting no obvious soil stratification, being indicative of infilled materials.

The principal investigator did not see any further evidence of human remains and an established chain of command notifications list was initiated.

The Indiana DNR Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology and Indy DPW were contacted on July 20, 2023. A deputy with the Marion County Coroner’s Office then arranged a site visit and cleared the site upon learning that the bone had been recovered. The United States Army Corps of Engineers were also contacted, per the stipulations of the Memorandum of Agreement signed for the Henry Street Bridge project.

Upon the finalization of contractual agreements, Dr. Jeremy Wilson with Indiana University Indianapolis received the remains on Jan. 16, 2024. Personal information such as age, race/ethnicity, and year of death or range of years of the decedent is not yet known. Remains will be reinterred at a later date. City leadership has been meeting with members of the community since May of 2023 to help inform and develop construction and reporting processes, creating a Community Advisory Group (CAG) to provide transparency and accountability regarding the Henry Street Bridge project. This group will continue to work with the city to help guide how the site’s history will be memorialized.

“This is an opportunity to make connections with our lost history. We can develop an anthology on the earliest citizens of Indianapolis – we can better understand what life was like for Indianapolis citizens the first 50 years or so of our city’s history,” said Deputy Mayor Judith Thomas.

“Indy DPW’s announcement of the unearthing of human remains in the original four‐acre ‘Bury Grounds’ should be seen as a positive, long‐overdue step toward community engagement. Under Indiana law, the unearthing of human remains in an unmarked ‘burial ground’ is considered accidental, even in the case of Greenlawn Cemetery,” said Community Advisory Group member and local historian Leon Bates. “Human remains have been repeatedly unearthed at the site since the 1917 construction of the Diamond Chain building, meaning unearthing in 2023 should have been anticipated. The unearthing’s are exactly what some members of the city’s CAG have expected, and there is every reason at this point to expect more remains to be uncovered before the projects are completed. It is my hope that Keystone Group will join with DPW, CAG, and the community in being open and forthcoming with discoveries on their projects at the old Greenlawn Cemetery site.”

The White River Innovation District project includes a new Henry Street Bridge over the White River, adding pedestrian connectivity and improving the local roadway network, including the approach to the bridge on Henry Street from Kentucky Avenue. The purpose of the Henry Street Bridge is to provide added connectivity between the near west side and downtown and reduce existing congestion on adjacent roadways.