Indianapolis has…has Broad Ripple. It’s a few miles north of downtown Indianapolis.
Any hipster (is that still a word) will tell you that your visit to the self-proclaimed “Crossroads of America”, Indianapolis, is not complete if you don’t at least take an afternoon and hangout in Broad Ripple.
Or take an evening, especially in the summer, and stroll the sidewalks and canal towpath, after dining at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. Then pop in and out of an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants and pubs.
Yes, there is even a left bank to hang out along in Broad Ripple. Take that Paris! Broad Ripple is also gathering place for artists and musicians and the artfully inclined, too. Watch your back Greenwich Village.
Broad Ripple was named by an early settler by observing that this location along the White River was the widest in the region and that the water rippled along and across this “broad” expanse. True story. Things have to be named somehow. This according to the Broad Ripple History web site.
The left bank is the one side of the Central Canal, one time proposed feeder to the Erie Canal, which never was completed, because the state of Indiana went bust trying to make it happen. That was in the 1830’s .
Both the left and right banks of the canal have their own character, but the southern bank has the majority of the shops and restaurants, with the right bank having the housing that morphed from the old summer cottages.
Flash forward to present day Broad Ripple and you will find a little settlement that was once an independent village, but in time was absorbed into the city of Indianapolis.
Today’s Broad Ripple is a definite put on the brakes kind of place. The housing off the commercial strip reflects the early history of the village. At one time harried city residents used to come out to Broad Ripple and enjoy a boat ride, amusement rides from a long gone amusement park, and spend time relaxing at some of the summer cottages built by well off Indy-ites of times gone by.
Ask any frequent visitor or any resident, and I’m sure you will probably hear that Broad Ripple is very much a place physically and mentally.
Physically, Broad Ripple is on a human scale: it’s meant for walking, hanging out and rejuvenating. Though there are a few buildings over two to three stories, they are not in the majority. And, yes, there is a McDonald’s and a Buffalo Wild Wings, and even a Starbucks, but, again, the franchised sameness of America is kept at bay by unique and independent places as the Union Jack Pub and Indy CD’s. These kind of establishments help keep the “Ind” in Indianapolis, as in independence.
If you are more inclined for movement to relieve stress and see the surroundings, the Monon Trail, a rail to trail project, and the Central Canal Towpath can take you through the varied scene of buildings and houses to a little bit of green landscape and restful waters. All the while, you can take yourself back in time.
That is where the mental part of Broad Ripple comes in. Broad Ripple is very much a reminder of more simpler times, but unlike the early settlers, we in the 21 Century get to enjoy all the conveniences and none of the problems. Thank you early settlers for taking care of the ugly problems, like Mud and Malaria, before our arrival.
One favorite view of mine is when I round the corner off the Central Canal towpath and see the Vogue Theater on College Avenue. The Vogue, built in 1938, anchors the west side of Broad Ripple and is still an active movie and performing arts theater. The old fashioned marquee hovering above the sidewalk has seen many first runs. In fact, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (yesteryear’s’ Angela Jolee and Brad Pitt) were there for the opening and signed a bronze star that was embedded in the cement walk in front of the Theater.
In one recent trip I slipped inside the Indy CD shop, and found its mix of music and video and even vinyl records to be a good representation of Broad Ripple itself. There was rock and roll, rap, jazz, country, classical and world music to choose from. The place even had an old fashioned record bin so you could really do some time tripping. I fingered through the old (used) albums and saw a lot of, yes, old favorites.
Usually I’ll make a stop at the Union Jack, which does have a real Union Jack flag on display, and have a pint or two and some Shepard’s Pie, but this time I resisted the urge, having already eaten, and settled for walking and people watching.
Other places to see and visit in Indy’s Greenwich is the Barley Island Brewpub, for some home grown Hoosier hops and good food, La Jolla Mexican Catina, Gourmet Franks for loaded hot dogs and more and even a little taste of the Mediterranean at Canal Bistro.
Stuffed? Concerned about fitting into your clothing?
No worries. Cross the Central Canal at Guilford heading north and turn left and there a vintage clothing shop. Hint, in the older days people were thinner, so do not hesitate to buy a few sizes larger. Nobody will tell and you will feel like a million bucks wearing the latest in oldest fashion.
Get to Broad Ripple on the right day and you might find a music fest going on, held annually. Or maybe you see the latest in art at the annual Broad Ripple Art Fair, a big fundraiser for the Indianapolis Art Center.
You can really argue that Broad Ripple is a work of art itself, constantly evolving as it has for over a hundred and fifty years into some place that can be appreciated by the franchised-exhausted road warrior to the wanna-be hippie to a family looking for a fun way to spend the day.
Come and walk the streets of Broad Ripple Village and let your mind relax and expand with the variety, going from a ripple to a wave.
For a look at present and historical Broad Ripple Village, take a tour of the web site.
Published by Richard Davis
Ottawa, Illinois, some eighty miles southwest of Chicago, along I-80, claims the slogan “Friendly City” for itself. In recent years, Ottawa has been a growing regional “prairie” site for the arts, perhaps spurred on by the increasingly famous outdoor murals that adorn many of the buildings called, “A Bush With History.” Each mural depicts an historical event in the city’s history.
Lincoln in the Friendly City
That slogan must be true. A lawyer and aspiring politician, Abraham Lincoln, was a frequent visitor to then small hamlet. He also made history here.
Ottawa has been a favorite rendezvous spot for centuries due to the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers, so it is natural that when Abraham Lincoln began his quest for a more public life, he would go to this familiar spot and have the first debate with his rival, Stephan Douglas.
It’s doubtful that either candidate knew the historical significance that the first of these Lincoln-Douglas Debates would have on the United States and, indeed, the world, but from a humble spot in the center of this little prairie town on August 21, 1858, is where the voice of Lincoln was first heard by thousands. Both men were trying to convince the citizens of Illinois that they were the better man for the US Senate seat, currently held by Douglas.
In Ottawa, before a huge crowd, estimated to be up to 30,000 people, Lincoln first publicly advanced the anti-slavery ideas that were to consume the nation in just two short years in the bloody Civil War that nearly destroyed the country.
Here it is claimed is where Lincoln’s “voice is first heard”.
Abraham Lincoln’s voice still echoes from the prairie and has gone on to define humanity and humility and courage in elected leaders since that hot August day.
Because Ottawa sill has many historic buildings standing from Lincoln’s time, it is not hard to imagine not only the voice but the man, perhaps finishing the ninety minute debate and heading down the street for refreshment, followed by the entranced throngs.
History in the Friendly City
Besides being the birthplace of the modern debates that Americans have come to love and hate from their politicians, it’s hard to turn a corner without running into a reminder of an event that had a hand in creating the country we know today. Few little cities on the prairie can make such a boast.
The Brush With History Murals help to guide you to some of those historical happenings.
Some notable murals include “The History of Communications”, which traces the growth of communications from river travel and mouth to ear renderings to the Walkers Trading Post to the Caton Telegraph Factory and Ottawa’s Chautauqua.
Early residents are also depicted in the mural “Ottawa’s Earliest Residents”. Before the French paddled down the Illinois Valley river systems, the area was populated by Native American Tribes. The confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers made it a perfect site for trading and so a “grand village” was home to thousands of the first native settlers.
Ottawa was also a canal town and an important link on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which was begun and carved through the tall prairie grass in 1836.
The Civil War didn’t leave Ottawa untouched, but did produce a number of brave soldiers, among them General W.H.L. Wallace. Wallace was killed in the horrible battle of Shiloh, and his wife, as valiant as he, reached the mortally wounded Wallace just as he passed. The general now lies in the Wallace family cemetery on Ottawa’s north bluff.
Millions of boys in the United States can also find a link to Ottawa. The Ottawa Scouting Museumpays homage to Ottawian W.D. Boyce, who started the Scouting movement in the United States in 1910.
The best way to experience the history of Ottawa is to take a stroll through the Historic Downtown. There are over 50 specialty shops with something for everybody.
Adventure and Outdoors in the Friendly City
Ottawa is a year-round recreation hub. Power boating and jet skiing is a popular activity on the two rivers and there are public boat launches available. For those who want to slow it down a bit, canoeing is a favorite sport.
Ottawa is just a few miles form “Starved Rock” State Park. Here, on the soaring limestone cliffs, a group of Native Americans literally died from starvation rather than surrender to the Europeans and their way of life.
The old Illinois and Michigan Canal provides hiking trails and calm waters for canoeing and boating.
All the state parks, with their high limestone cliffs and rock works, carved out by the flow of the rivers over the millennia , are in contrast with the typical flat land one expects to see in this region of Illinois.
The Old Town
Here is the heart of Ottawa.
It’s a walking city, and you can visit the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, dine at a variety ofrestaurants, pubs and coffee shops, and shop at the many unique stores that line the streets.
The architecture of the type of old canal towns, so you will be stepping into the past in a small city that, one might argue, had a role in bringing the country into the future by supporting a rail splitter from backwater Illinois, who believed in equality for all and malice towards none.
Where to Stay