Created By: Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis
WELCOME TO FORT BENJAMIN HARRISON
This tour is a part of the Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis Tour Series.
This tour is a biking tour.
Parking is most available along the Lawton Loop East Drive or in the parking lot across from the theatre.
Long before the first settlers arrived in Lawrence, Native Americans such as the Delaware and Miami tribes lived along Fall Creek, just west of here. In the 1820s, pioneers began to migrate into the area, including the Reddick family who purchased land for farming in Lawrence in 1823.
So, that’s a snapshot of early Lawrence. What’s the story of the fort – how and when did it get here?
The fort is named for “Indianapolis’ own,” Benjamin Harrison, who, though born in Ohio, moved to Indianapolis in 1853 at age 20 and established a law practice in Indianapolis. Harrison had a good American pedigree; he was the grandson of the 9th President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, and the great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison the 5th, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. During the Civil War, Benjamin Harrison served in the Union Army as a colonel and was promoted in 1865 to brevet brigadier general. Harrison, a Republican, returned to his Indianapolis law practice, served for a term in the U.S. Senate, and from there was elected as the 23rd President of the United States, serving one term from 1889-1893. The Harrisons, Benjamin and W. H., are the only grandfather-grandson duo to occupy the Oval Office. Harrison died in Indianapolis in 1901.
In 1902, the federal government announced the closing of the Civil War arsenal in Indianapolis, where Arsenal Tech High School gets its name and is located today. Because of the loss of city revenue from the arsenal, Russell Harrison, Benjamin’s son and a recent Spanish-American War veteran, proposed the establishment of an infantry base in the area and worked to find a suitable location. The location selected was northeast of the city where Uncle Sam purchased land from the farmers near Lawrence, including 312 acres from the Reddick family. Towards the end of the transaction, a few of the farmers drove the price up, exceeding the budget. Local merchants stepped in to cover the difference, knowing that their shops would benefit from having the fort nearby. These merchants included L.S. Ayres and Bobbs-Merrill Company. The merchants, in a sense, saved the fort. In total, 2,417 acres were purchased for $279,000. That’s about $115 per acre.
Russell Harrison championed the naming of the new fort to then President Teddy Roosevelt rather than after his late President father. Russell did so only to further the Indiana fortunes of the Republican Party and of Teddy Roosevelt, as he had had a falling out with his father, who left him out of his will. With the land purchase finalized in 1904, construction of the fort began in 1906. President Roosevelt did honor the former Hoosier president, naming it Fort Benjamin Harrison.
When the Base Realignment and Closure Commission closed the Fort in 1991, about 1,700 acres were conveyed to the State of Indiana for the Fort Harrison State Park and Golf Course. The Fort Harrison Reuse Authority purchased the rest of the land from the Army for $9 million. A significant portion of that land was given to the City of Lawrence for parks and recreational uses. The Reuse Authority demolished over 800,000 square feet of dilapidated buildings and prepared the land for redevelopment for residential and office use. Today there are two major housing projects, outdoor art sculptures, and property values have increased. The Fort’s development is widely recognized as a success story for the reuse and redevelopment of a vacated military installation.
WANT TO LEARN MORE OR TAKE OTHER TOURS?
This program has been made possible through a Historic Preservation Education Grant from Indiana Landmarks, Indiana Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Funding provided in part by Indiana Landmarks.