Perhaps because June makes my mouth water for strawberry shortcake from the Christ Church Strawberry Festival, I’m focusing this week on Christ Church Cathedral. Tiffany recently wrote about the lesser known facts about Christ Church, so I’ll not get into the history but will let the photos speak for themselves. These images show how the church once towered over other houses and churches on the Circle, but today “the little church on the circle” is dwarfed by its neighbors.

The Episcopal congregation built this Gothic Revival church (seen in the center of this ca. 1875 photograph) in 1857-59 and it opened in May 1859. During the Civil War era five protestant churches, including Plymouth Church to the left, stood on what was then known as Governor’s Circle. In 1857 the intended governors’  home was demolished and the land became known as Circle Park until the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was constructed. Today, Christ Church is the only church remaining on the Circle and is Indianapolis’s oldest religious structure in continuous use.  (Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company #298598)

Here Christ Church is viewed from the newly constructed Soldiers and Sailors Monument in about 1897. The Morrison home (on the right) was purchased by the Columbia Club in 1889 and razed in 1899 to make way for a new Columbia Club building. (Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company #42037)

By 1905 the English Hotel and Opera House stood on the northwest quadrant; the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse had recently been finished; and the Pyle House, a former hotel and boarding house with the Owl Cigars billboard, would soon make way for the Board of Trade building. The lychgate, extending south from the tower entry, was added to the church in 1900. (Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company #4359)

The Board of Trade building is under construction in this ca. 1906 view. (Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection)


Christ Church was photographed in April 1934 for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Although the church looks the same on the exterior, the congregation expanded underground in 1927 to add educational rooms. (Library of Congress, HABS Collection, W. W. Bonns, photographer)


Through the years the congregation refused offers from businesses and developers clamoring for the desirable real estate. Philanthropist and church member Eli Lilly had much to do with preserving this gem, even writing its centennial history book “The Little Church on the Circle” in 1957. One of my favorite preservation stories, although I can not vouch for its accuracy, is that American Fletcher Bank wanted to expand and even discussed buying air rights above the church. A person who was familiar with the negotiations told me that the normally modest and mild-mannered Eli Lilly quipped “I’ll buy that bank before I let them tear down my church.”  (Wikipedia, 2010)

The 47th-annual Christ Church Cathedral Women’s Strawberry Festival will take place on Thursday, June 14, 2012, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (or until supplies run out!).

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]