Indianapolis: In Sickness and in Health

Tour curated by: Brittany D. Kropf, Jordan B. Ryan, Gail Gráinne Whitchurch

Since Indianapolis became the Indiana state capital in 1825, issues of illness and health have had an impact on the city and its citizens, in part because of rapid population growth and density.

Like a human body, a metropolis may grow and evolve, but it can also sicken from troubles within its boundaries. In its history, Indianapolis has experienced its own chronic and acute medical and social maladies, stemming from industrialization, urban expansion, human disease, and social injustice. In response, innumerable groups, like components of an immune system, have worked to alleviate the problems' symptoms, if not the disorders themselves. A rich array of medical innovations and institutions has also arisen to meet the healthcare needs of the Circle City and beyond: from pharmaceuticals and nursing to philanthropic groups and healthcare facilities.

This tour highlights some of the city’s ills, past and present, as well as frontline efforts to treat those problems: a city’s waterways defiled; a vaccine that spared the lives of thousands; a female bacteriologist found murdered in her home; a neighborhood revitalized through acts of cooperation and self-help. These and the other stories featured in the tour explore the myriad facets of Indianapolis's history of sickness and wellbeing from the level of the city itself to its communities, from institutions to individuals.

The tour covers a distance of approximately 15 miles but many of the downtown stops are within walking distance of one another.

Locations for Tour

Early History: 1840’s-1900’s Two and a half miles west of downtown sits the remnants of Central State Hospital, Indiana’s first hospital for the mentally ill. The term “hospital” rather than “asylum” signaled the institution’s intent…

Early History: 1820’s-1860’s In 1820, Indiana pioneer John McCormick and his brother James McCormick constructed a cabin along the White River in Delaware Native American territory. The White River’s west fork spans the entire width of the…

One of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly and Company sits on McCarty Street, where it has resided and grown for more than one hundred years. In 1876, after serving during the Civil War and failing at a series of other business…

This state historic marker near the northwest corner of East Vermont Street and North Park Avenue commemorates the first location of St. Vincent's Infirmary. From 1881-1889, the first location was here and, from 1889-1913, the second location…

The "Delaware Flats," the building farthest to the right (south) at the corner of North Delaware and East Michigan Streets, was the location of the combination office-apartment home of Helene Knabe, M.D. She was a bacteriologist whose…

Establishment: 1847-1850 Founded in 1847 by an act of the Indiana General Assembly, the earliest School for the Blind originated in the blocks bounded by Meridian, Pennsylvania, North, and St. Clair streets. Interestingly, the call for…

A women’s charity organization, the Indianapolis Flower Mission served the sick poor of the Circle City for over one hundred years. Part of a national movement, the charity began in 1876 when Alice Wright, the daughter of a prominent railroad…

Flanner House provides services and resources to sustain and empower individuals in order to build a self-sufficient community. Established in 1898, Flanner Guild, as it was then called, began as a settlement house for African Americans in…

Hook's Drug Stores were Indiana fixtures throughout most of the twentieth century. Founder John A. Hook opened his first Indianapolis store in 1900 in a building at 1101 S. East Street (now the Fountain Square neighborhood; the building has…

Following the failed revolutions of 1848, many Germans emigrated to the United States to escape turmoil. They incorporated aspects of German culture into their lives in the United States. By 1860, 20% of Indianapolis residents came from a…