Fountain Square has a history almost as old as the city of Indianapolis itself, and a large number of its early inhabitants were Irish immigrants. With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, we decided to investigate how the Irish shaped the Square.
Working for the Rail Road
The Irish first came to Indianapolis in search of jobs in the 1840s, in the yards of the Pennsylvania Rail Road and Four Squares Depot, and in the mud of the Central Canal that was under construction.
Initially, most of the Irish population lived on the city's west side near the White River and Central Canal sites they helped dig. Then, once tracks were laid for the Pennsylvania Railroad through the southeast side of town in 1847, there was a quick migration to an area just north of Fountain Square called Irish Hill, a name it still holds today.
Hanging Tough in Irish Hill
These laborers spent their days loading an unloading freight cars that rumbled through the rail yard and spent their nights in southeast side public houses like Scallion's Saloon, Tom McKinney's, and Jim Riley's. After the War, Irish in Indianapolis mostly resided at Irish Hill, which gained a reputation as the toughest part of town.
Keeping the Faith
As their numbers grew, the Irish quickly established other community centers, namely churches. The first was Saint John the Evangelist—built in 1840 where it still stands today on West Georgia Street. The second, built in 1865, was St. Patrick Church, pictured above; it too still stands on Prospect Street.
The End of an Irish Era
The Irish prospered in Irish Hill and Fountain Square from the 1850s until the end of World War I. Then, the Pennsylvania Rail Road — that had attracted so many Irish to the area for work — made a decision that changed the neighborhood.
In the 1920s, the rail road built an elevated line directly into downtown Indy's Union Station, and Irish Hill was left to rot on the vine. Many Irish homes were destroyed and never replaced. Neighbors dispersed; Irish families found other parts of the city to call home.
While the number of Irish residents has dwindled over the years in Fountain Square, now we know what an integral part they played in the our neighborhood's history. And to that we say, Slainte!
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