Wednesday, May 17, 2023

A Cemetery and A Stadium - A Brief History of the Eleven Park site

Keystone/Indy Eleven - Eleven Park (River View)
At some point this month, Indy Eleven plans to have a groundbreaking ceremony as they begin the process of converting the existing Diamond Chain Company facility into what will become Eleven Park, complete with a 20,000 seat stadium, apartments, hotel, offices, retail & restaurants, public parking, and even a 4,000 seat music venue. At least that's the current plan. Having sat through more meetings recently than I care to think about where my engineering projects have been further and further reduced due to the current rising costs and the long lead times of construction materials, what Eleven Park actually looks like is something that I look at with intense curiosity. Assuming all the components of their proposed design goes forward as planned, Indy Eleven and Keystone still have a massive undertaking in front of them before fans will ever sit in the stands to cheer on the Boys and Girls in Blue.

Once the ceremonial golden shovels and the television cameras have left the site after the groundbreaking, the first major work that the public will be able to see taking place in the progress of the development will be the demolition of the existing Diamond Chain factory and buildings. I doubt that will be via implosion, but given what is under Diamond Chain, Keystone may want as much time as possible and, as a result, decide to bring the facility down as quickly as possible. Assuming they bring the buildings down in a more controlled, less explosive, manner, there's still a plethora of unknowns underneath that building.

The Diamond Chain factory has been around for more than 100 years and the environmental rules over those years have not always been the strictest. So the possibility is immense that when demolition starts and excavators starting digging, things are going to delay this project. The only question in my mind is "how long will the delays persist?" It's been a factory for 100 years. There are going to be chemicals in the ground. How much remediation is going to be required before Keystone and Indy Eleven can start building on the ground? Before the factory was there, there was another structure that I'm going to talk about in a minute, but before that structure, the entire site was Greenlawn Cemetery. 

1866 Warner Map - Library of Congress
Let me say that again for the people in the back or those that haven't been paying attention lately. 

The Diamond Chain site was a cemetery.  In fact, it was Indianapolis' first public cemetery (1).

"Greenlawn was the first public cemetery in Indianapolis. Established in 1821 near the White River and present-day Kentucky Avenue, many of the earliest residents of the city were buried here. As the main city cemetery, Greenlawn served as the final resting place for everyone from those buried at public expense to prestigious Hoosiers Indiana Governor James Whitcomb and early settler Matthias Nowland."

It wasn't just for the City's residents as Greenlawn Cemetery (2):

"Reached from the city by Kentucky Avenue the cemetery and its monuments honored Alexander Ralston, town planner and designer of Indianapolis, Noah Noble and James Whitcomb, both Governors and US Senators, Caleb Blood Smith, US Representative, Secretary of the Interior and US District Judge, Union war dead from the Civil War, as well as receiving for burial Confederate POWs who died at Camp Morton of disease or the lingering effects of wounds suffered in battle." 

And those descriptions still haven't mentioned the area of the site where some people believe "that the “Colored Cemetery” at Greenlawn Cemetery is the largest burial site of African Americans in the state" (3), and that likely wasn't given the same level of relocation of the dead as other portions of the site. As development occurred, and the cemetery fell into disarray, many of the "families began to exhume and re-bury the bodies of early pioneers, and other citizens to Floral Park, Holy Cross and Crown Hill Cemeteries beginning in 1866 when the War Department relocated 700 union war dead." (2) Many believe that the "Colored Cemetery" wasn't given the same level of respect and that remains, well, remain on the site. 

So we've touched on potential environmental issues, and social issues of how to properly handle the deceased that have been found relatively recently in Diamond Chain expansion projects, and I'm not the proper person to be talking about all of that. However, it doesn't take much effort to find really good sources of information to find out about the Greenlawn Cemetery/Diamond Chain site.

Including a YouTube video titled, "What Lies Beneath Diamond Chain?" (4) Very on-the-nose, right? The video was a webinar presented by Indiana Landmarks, and was presented by DeeDee Davis, a visual resources specialist for the Herron Art Library.

"...but that's not the end of the story with this site. Diamond Chain is relocating soon and the site will likely be changing from industrial to commercial or residential and any activity here will likely uncover those who didn't relocate. So we can look forward to this with our own slightly morbid curiosity, but it's bound to uncover some stories and interesting lives of ordinary folks who called Indianapolis home. So keep an eye on this spot."

While all the cemetery information is important and interesting and sent me into a internet rabbit hole to find out more (see above), Ms. Davis pointed out something a little earlier in the webinar (direct link in the video) that is relevant to this website.

There was a stadium on the site between its cemetery function and its supplying of chains function.

That's right, Eleven Park won't be the first stadium to grace the site. Nor will it be its largest (at least by capacity).

Screen Capture from Indiana Landmarks Webinar

"Now after the removals from the Peck Burial ground, the site was sold to Diamond Chain in 1913 and held as investment property. The section that was the new burial ground or the Union Cemetery was dated to the first Presbyterian Church. After the first of the original owners died, the first Presbyterian Church then donated the ground to the city for use as a park, and then the city sold it to developers to build a baseball park and grandstand for the newly formed Federal League. That's right, we have a baseball diamond being built on top of a graveyard. Construction was started in January of 1914. ... Unlike were completed at the burial ground north of it, there is no mention in the papers of workers uncovering any bodies in this section, but they did have a contest for a nickname for this new team. I like that cemetery names were barred, but people suggested them anyway. ... In the end, they were known as the Hoosier Federals or the Hoo Feds or the Greenlawn Feds. The park was known as Federal League Park or Greenlawn Park and the first game was in April of 1914."

That's right folks. If Ersal Ozdemir, Keystone, and Indy Eleven open Eleven Park for the start of the 2025 season as planned (see all above for why that could be optimistic), that game could take place in April of 2025. Or 111 years after the site was first used for a sports stadium. 

Enter internet stadium rabbit hole. 

While Ms. Davis' information is going to turn up again later, the absolute best information that I found on Federal League Park was an article I found written by the Society of American Baseball Research. (5)

Federal League Park in Indianapolis, looking in from the right-field fence.
(Indianapolis News, January 27, 1917)
(Photo from the Society of American Baseball Research article)

Seriously, the amount of research that went into the article was impressive, to the point where I wondered if they were just fabricating facts. There are also some interesting facts about the Hoo Feds' concurrent time in Indianapolis with the Indianapolis Indians. I highly recommend the article for Indy sports fans and/or fans of Indianapolis. I have included portions of the article here, with emphasis added at times.

"This is the story of the final major-league club to call Indianapolis home — the Deadball Era Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Federal League.

Unlike its predecessors, this edition of the Hoosiers was an unqualified success on the field, capturing the Federal League pennant in the circuit’s inaugural campaign as an independent minor league in 1913. And when the outlaw Federals declared themselves a major league the following year, the Hoosiers repeated as league best."

It's good to know that building a stadium on a former cemetery didn't curse the team to failure. Hopefully, the same will be said when Indy Eleven begin playing in Eleven Park over that same former cemetery ground. Unless, of course, the ghosts didn't mind baseball, but know nothing about the beautiful game and take offense to the sport of soccer. However, the team and the stadium were short-lived, as the team was forced to sell to an investor, due to poor attendance, who promptly moved the franchise to Newark, New Jersey. The article describes the construction between October 1914 and opening day 1915, as well as the championship winning season.

"As the league’s October 31 ballpark deadline approached, club officials announced the location of the Hoosiers’ new playing grounds: a swath of Greenlawn Cemetery, a venerable burial ground situated in downtown Indianapolis. For the short term, however, the cemetery property was not bought outright. Rather, the property was leased “with privilege to purchase” for five years at $4,200 annually. Nor was the new ballpark to be a club asset. Rather, club shareholders were given a five-year option to purchase the structure for $76,000.

Under the direction of contractor Lynn B. Millikan, himself a member of the Hoosiers board of directors and a substantial club investor, construction of Federal League Park commenced at a furious pace. Grandstand construction costs were estimated at $75,000, and total ballpark expenditures would eventually creep over the $100,000 mark [Editor's note, this would translate to a $3.1M facility in today's dollars based upon an online Consumer Price Index inflation calculator, which "represents changes in the prices of all goods and services purchased for consumption by urban households." I'm assuming for this article that the construction costs would be similar.].


More vexing was the slowdown in delivery of needed building material occasioned by labor problems at a Bethlehem Steel Company plant. Notwithstanding construction snags, by late April the Indianapolis Hoosiers had a modern single-tier, state-of-the-art concrete-and-steel ballpark to call home. The question then became how many of Federal League Park’s almost 23,000 seats the Indianapolis Hoosiers would be able to fill. 

On April 23, 1914, major-league baseball returned to Indianapolis for the first time in 25 years. Preceding the game was a half-mile-long parade through downtown to the ballpark, complete with marching bands and festooned automobiles carrying local dignitaries and officials from the two opposing ballclubs. Upon arrival, a crowd of about 18,000 paid their way into Federal League Park to see the Hoosiers face the St. Louis Terriers. Following a welcoming speech by club President Krause, Governor Ralston took the mound to throw a ceremonial first pitch — high and outside — to Mayor Bell.

Those in attendance then settled down to witness a scoreless pitching duel between Hoosiers ace Cy Falkenberg and Terriers left-hander Hank Keupper through eight innings. A final-inning Terriers rally proved the difference in a 3-0 St. Louis victory that disappointed hometown fans, but otherwise did little to detract from the success of the ballpark opening.


In the main, the 1914 season was déjà vu for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. As in the year before, the club enjoyed success on the playing field but insufficient patronage at the ballpark. Complete and reliable attendance figures do not exist for the Federal League. But for the 15 specific Indianapolis home dates for which Retrosheet provides attendance numbers, the Hoosiers lured an average crowd of 2,677 to their 23,000-seat ballpark. This draw made the club unable to meet expenses as the season progressed.


For the time being, the club’s financial turmoil was not publicized. And it did not subvert the quality of Hoosiers performance on the diamond. Paced by an MVP-like season by Benny Kauff (who in addition to his league-leading .370 batting average paced the circuit in seven other offensive categories) and standout pitching by 25-game winner Cy Falkenberg, Indianapolis went 88-65 (.575) and captured the maiden flag of the Federals as a major league.

Hoosiers brass delighted in the championship, hosting a late-September celebration at Federal League Park complete with pregame parade and floral tributes presented to the players. Pennant-winning manager Bill Phillips was bestowed with a large silver loving cup. The festive occasion, however, soon gave way to harsh financial realities. Unbeknownst to the crowd, the continued existence of the Indianapolis Hoosiers was in jeopardy."

Success on the field, financial ruin for the owners. I think Indy Eleven fans would love to see the first, but will hope for a more sustainable, and long-lasting presence of Indy Eleven in Indianapolis. 

Screen Capture from Indiana Landmarks Webinar
The webinar from Ms. Davis also included a list of nicknames for the team that were submitted to The Star by the residents of Indianapolis before the team officially became known as the Indianapolis Hoosiers. The list is shown in the screen capture to the right, but I have included the full list below:

  • Shawnees...................A. A. Hoffman
  • Warriors...................T. M. VanDerVere
  • Boosters...................Lawrence Lafforge
  • Hoosier Cemeteries...................Maurice Selpo
  • Graveyard Feds...................Elmer Poehler
  • Auto Dodgers...................J. J. Grinsteiner
  • Literary Lads...................John G. Selfres
  • Greenlawns...................J. C. Shultz
  • Undertakers...................C. E. Owen
  • The Racers...................M. D. Rinker
  • Capitols...................Fred Schnetser
  • Diamond Edge...................C. E. White
  • Capitols...................J. L. Booth
  • Bears...................P. O. Decker
  • Boosters...................R. M. Spaan
  • Grave Diggers...................T. A. Deckert
  • The Braves...................W. J. Pray
  • Speedways...................McFarland Berham
  • Shepherds...................D. M. Outland
  • Kosher Feds...................Bob Stolkin
  • Black Sox...................Walter Raanch
  • Indianapolis Warriors...................Louis Gemmer
  • White Caps...................O. J. Boulders
  • Kaskets...................W. S. Jones
  • Biers...................R. B. Brown
  • Tangoes...................Issy Brill

I think we can all agree that some of those should never be used (I hope I'm wrong in my fear of "Kaskets" being spelled that way due to a certain organization). While the stadium development continues to be called Eleven Park, with the stadium as the anchor, it will undoubtedly be called something different once naming rights have been acquired. Lilly Park? Yet, wouldn't it be a kind of interesting homage to the original stadium to have fans sitting in the Greenlawns section or the Federals section? Or how about a new supporters group called the Undertaker Ultras? 

Screen Capture from History Marker Database
Whatever happens, I think it's in the best interest of Ozdemir, Keystone, and Indy Eleven to incorporate some of the history of the site, from its beginnings as the City's first cemetery (including all of its inhabitants from the African-American to the Union soldiers) to its 100-year history as a chain manufacturer. As it stands, there are existing historical markers for both the cemetery and the stadium (6) located across the river. Based on the Street View image, both have seen better days. I think it would be nice if both of those markers (and maybe even the third one that is with them), get recreated at (or relocated to) the Eleven Park site. 

Indy Eleven is founded on the history of the state and the Indiana Eleventh Regiment led by Lew Wallace. Incorporating the old markers, and the history of the site where the stadium, hotel, offices, apartments, music venue, etc. will reside will help ensure that the history is not lost.

Screen Capture from History Marker Database

1 comment:

Don Thompson said...

Interesting history of the site.