In its heyday, Broad Ripple Park was unrivaled. It had everything you could dream of: water sports, picnicking and one of the most modern amusements parks in the Midwest.
It started when Jonas Huffman purchased a 60-acre tract of land from the federal government in 1822. The Huffman farm, later owned by son, James Huffman and partner Charles Dawson, was a perfect spot for boating and picnics because of its shade trees and proximity to the White River and Central Canal.
The railroad arrived in Broad Ripple in 1883 and the following year, Broad Ripple Park was established on the land along the river banks and quickly became a mecca for swimming, boating and fishing (but never on Sunday, mind you).
The park celebrated its opening on July 4, 1884, in grand patriotic style with fireworks and balloon ascensions. The highlight was the appearance by Capt. Paul Bouton and his nautical exhibition, a regatta and canoe races.
Over the decades, the park would see numerous owners with ambitious plans.
When the Indianapolis and Broad Ripple Transit Co. was formed, it brought even more visitors to the park.
Riverside Amusement Park: The summer resort within city limits
Wonderland: The Coney Island of the east side
In 1904, building contractors Morton and Stanton purchased the land and constructed an amusement park. W.H. Tabb and Dr. Robert C. Light began operating the short-lived White City Amusement Park in 1906. A roller coaster, midway, miniature boats, Venetian canal were among the attractions — not to mention star attractions, King and Queen, the diving horses.
The park burned to the ground in 1908. The 4-acre swimming pool was all that survived the blaze.
The Union Traction Co. purchased the remains in 1911, rebuilt the park and added new attractions including a boathouse.
In 1922, the park was sold to the Broad Ripple Amusement Co. and the name officially became Broad Ripple Park – and touted itself as “Nature’s Gift to the Amusement World.” The part was completely overhauled. A giant roller coaster, huge carousel, arcades and pony track were added as well as baseball diamonds, football field and two bathhouses, a miniature train and a 10,000-square-foot dance hall.
Baur Carbonic Co. owner Oscar Baur purchased a controlling interest in 1924 with the goal of enlarging the park and making it “the show spot of the city,” said Baur.
The swimming pool was the site of the National Swimming Event in 1922 and the Olympic tryouts in 1924. Before his stint as Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller won the 100-meter freestyle qualification at Broad Ripple. The pool also hosted the 1952 Olympic Trials.
In 1945, the City of Indianapolis purchased the 60-acre park, dismantled the rides and redeveloped the site into a city park.
The Nickel Plate Railroad gifted the old 587 steam locomotive to Indianapolis in 1955. The locomotive was moved to Broad Ripple Park and remained at the entrance until 1983 when it was moved to Amtrak’s Beech Grove Shop for restoration. Once completed, the train was moved to the Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville.
The carousel went into storage in 1956 and was restored and moved to The Children’s Museum in time for its grand opening in 1976.
Public meetings will be held in May to discuss the Broad Ripple Park Master Plan, which includes design concepts and developing a long-term vision for the park.
Dawn Mitchell is a photo coordinator and RetroIndy writer. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_mitchell61.
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