Although faded and discolored, this extremely rare stereoview shows Meridian Street looking south from the middle of Circle Park (now Monument Circle) prior to 1870. Photographers and stereoview publishers Salter and Judd worked together for a short period from 1873 through early 1875, helping to narrow the date of this pair of albumen prints mounted onto a flat stereograph mount. They specialized in landscapes and views and most of their surviving stereoviews include a handwritten print or plate number and description. However, one must be cautious when assigning dates based solely on the name and dates of the photograph studio since photographers often acquired negative archives from their predecessors. In this case, the photograph gallery at 45 E. Washington Street dates as early as the mid-1860, successively housing the studios of Adam R. Miller, Miller & Frank, Miller & Salter, William H. Salter, and at this point Salter & Judd. Most of these studios advertised stereoviews and might have made the glass negative from which this print was made.
Originally named Governor’s Circle, the three-acre site became a public gathering place after the governor’s mansion–which was never used for that purpose–was razed in 1857. [A local daguerreotypist made images of the rubble after the house was demolished, but it is not known if the photographs survive. Does anyone have the originals or copies of these daguerreotypes?] Athough the site was cleaned up, fenced, and officially named Circle Park in 1867, it did not have many amenities such as benches or paths. William English recalled that it was primarily a playground for neighborhood boys. During the 1870s, newspapers mentioned the poor condition of Circle Park, lamenting the mud, a fence in disrepair, and the fact that livestock could be found grazing on the sparse grass.
The three taller buildings from the left are Indianapolis Printing and Publishing House (completed in 1860 by the Indianapolis Journal and alternatively known as the Tilford Building), Yohn’s Block (built in the early 1850s), and Blackford’s Block (1850s). Although the Tilford Building was curved on the north side to conform to the circular street, it is interesting that its decorative facade was designed to face Meridian Street instead of the Circle. The rather plain park-facing side had few doors and a stairway leading to a second-floor entrance.
The best dating clue for this image is the barely visible Wesley Chapel, set back from Meridian Street on the far right. Long located on this site, the Methodist Church built this structure in 1846 and in 1868 or 1869 sold it to Richard J. Bright, owner of the Indiana Sentinel, the state’s leading Democrat newspaper. By late 1869 the Sentinel added onto the east side of the church filling in the yard that is visible here, therefore this photograph dates to 1869 or earlier.
Due to the many complaints about the condition of the park in the center of the city, Circle Park (shown above looking west toward the English Hotel and the State House) was greatly improved by 1884 with the addition of sidewalks, benches, landscaping, and a bronze statue of Governor Oliver P. Morton. After Morton’s death in 1877, his friends formed the Morton Memorial Association and raised funds for a $14,000 statue created by sculptor Franklin Simmons. It was dedicated in June 1884 and had the central location in the park until it was moved to make way for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The Morton statue now stands on the southeast edge of the circle, one of four sculptures representing eras in Indiana’s military history. [A second statue of Morton, created by Rudolph Schwarz in 1907, stands on the State House grounds.]
None of the structures from the pre-1870 stereoview survive. Buildings south of the circle today include (left) the IPL Building (1924), the Kahn Building (also known as the King Cole Building, 1915), and Merchants National Bank (Barnes and Thornburg Building, 1907). On the right are the H. P. Wasson Building (1936) and the Guaranty Building (1923)