Photographs of Indianapolis buildings prior to the 1890s are difficult to find. Clients typically requested portraits, so most photograph galleries specialized in capturing the likenesses of individuals. Fortunately a few local photographers added landscape and architectural photography to their repertoire in the 1870s and 1880s and some of their stereoviews have survived, including this rare ca. 1876 bird’s-eye view looking north at the city from the tower of the Marion County Courthouse, then under construction.
In 1876, photographer John W. Pendergast (1851-1928) had connections allowing him access to the not-yet-finished courthouse. His uncle John Pendergast served as general contractor for the grand $1.5 million structure designed by architect Isaac Hodgson. After several years of construction, the young photographer was likely excited to carry his wet collodion camera and glass negatives up the clock tower stairs in one the tallest buildings in the city.
Pendergast’s stereoview backlist, advertising the 67 views he offered for sale, includes 12 “bird eye views of the City taken from the new Court House steeple.” Other images listed are churches, street scenes, houses, hotels, public buildings, and the recently developed Woodruff Place. On this list he underlined the view printed on the front of the 3 1/2 x 7 in. mount. Although the photograph is not dated, there are several clues that indicate it was taken in about 1876. Orange mounts were at the height of popularity in the 1870s. Pendergast began photography in 1872 when he was age 21 and was known to have had a gallery in Zionsville in 1874 before coming to Indianapolis in about 1875 or 1876. His studio was for sale in 1877 and he moved to Danville, Indiana by 1880. (He returned to Indianapolis in the 1890s where he worked as a photographer until about 1918 and ended his career as an optician.) Although it is not known how many stereoviews he made of each print–perhaps dozens or even hundreds–he was known to have promoted his work by mailing prints to professional photography magazines. In August 1876 the Philadelphia Photographer reported “ Received stereos from Mr. J. W. Pendergast, Indianapolis, being a number of panoramic views of the city.”
Many newspaper accounts expressed surprise that Indianapolis was quickly expanding beyond Ralston’s original plan and this view shows the city stretching north as far as the eye can see. The smaller wood-frame houses and businesses were rapidly being replaced with more substantial brick structures and within a few decades many of these buildings would be gone. By 2014, only a couple of the buildings survive, including in the upper right corner the Hammond Block and Roberts Park Methodist Church. Here is a key to some of the most prominent buildings shown.
1. Marion County Courthouse. A wooden barricade, lumber, and other construction debris indicate that the courthouse was not yet completed when this view was made. The Courthouse was razed in 1963 and today the 28-story City-County Building stands in the open yard along Market Street.
2. A barn and the former Indianapolis City Market, described as an partially open wood and brick structure, stood on the lot originally designated for a market. This building was commonly called the hay market or the East Market (to distinguish it from the West Market). Within a decade, work began on Tomlinson Hall and the current Indianapolis City Market.
3. Warman Livery Stable
4. The Hammond Block, built in 1874 by Rezin R. Hammond, still stands at 301 Massachusetts Avenue.
5. Roberts Park Methodist Church, a limestone church constructed between 1869 and 1876, still stands at 401 N. Delaware Street.
6. Christian Chapel
7. Roosevelt House
8. The Denison Hotel, seen here from the rear, was located at 135 N. Pennsylvania Street. The hotel was started in 1870, burned in 1874, and was rebuilt a couple of years later.
9. First Presbyterian Church
10. First Baptist Church
11. The Second Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1870 at the northwest corner of E. Vermont and N. Pennsylvania Streets, stood until the 1960s. Today the Indiana War Memorial is on this block.
12. Indianapolis Fire Headquarters
13. University Park. Originally Ralston divided Square 25 into 12 lots, but in 1827 the Indiana General Assembly vacated the alleys and designated the land for a university.
14. Indiana Institute for the Education of the Blind
Through the years this view was a popular one with photographers.
With the placement of the City-County Building closer to Market Street it is impossible to recreate the same view, but these two photographs capture the buildings that stand on the land today.
Check out these other stereoviews. With the high cost of stereoviews, sometimes exceeding $200 on eBay, we would like to borrow and scan any known stereoviews of Indianapolis. Are any great photographs hidden in your albums or attics? Do you have any to add to the list?
By C. S. Judd
Fourth Presbyterian Church
By Ingraham & Claflin
Second Presbyterian Church
By William H. Potter
T. J. Davies
Women reading letter