Indianapolis Canal Walk, White River State Park
Text and images Copyright © 1998, 1999 John A. Lind


Within the heart of downtown Indianapolis is the White River State Park.  Having a state park in the middle of a major city is unusual.  It is an oasis free of automobile traffic, tight spaces and din of an urban environment.  The only noise is the sound from the waterfalls and fountains with a feeling of spaciousness from enormous expanses of lawn and wide pedestrian malls.  The sole reminders of its central urban setting are several spectacular views of the downtown Indianapolis highrise skyline and is a tribute to the architect(s) that designed the park.

A major feature and key attraction that ties the park together is the Canal Walk that runs through the park.  It follows the general path of a portion of the old Central Canal through downtown Indianapolis.  This canal was funded by the state in the 1830's.  It was intended to connect the Wabash Canal with the Erie Canal and promote trade and commerce along its length.  This was a time prior to rail commerce.  Rivers and canals were a major means of long distance transportation.  It met financial disaster for reasons I am not yet clear about.  It might have eventually succeeded were it not for the development, improvement and speed of rail travel.  Rail freed long distance trade and commerce from the banks of major rivers and canals just as the development and growth of passenger air travel after W.W. II was the death knell for passenger trains and ultimately ocean liners.

The first visit to White River State Park and its Canal Walk found an area rich with interesting architecture, landscape and sculpture.  On a clear sunny day this is a photographer's dream.  Each successive visit finds another perspective to photograph and can be a study in itself to hone one's architectural and landscape photography skills.  Since I live in Kokomo, about 55 miles north of downtown Indianapolis, it requires arising early and spending the entire day there to catch the early morning and late afternoon sun angles.

This is a visual essay about the park and its Canal Walk using photographs compiled over several visits.  I already have a list of several more aspects to photograph on my next visit.  Let your mouse do the walking here and some time when you are in downtown Indianapolis take the walk yourself.  The images alone only present a taste of the entire environment found in White River State Park.

Relatively small images of lower resolution are embedded in the text that follows.  To see the full-size version with high resolution, simply click on the image with your mouse.  To get back to the text and continue the essay, use the "Back" button on your browser menu toolbar.  These photographs are best viewed in 32-bit color and the monitor set for 800x600 pixel resolution.  They are also in the galleries for the cameras used to take them.

All of the photographs are 35mm format.  Most of them were taken using an Olympus OM-10 SLR with Manual Adapter.  Most of these were with a 50mm f/1.8 OM F.Zuiko standard lens.  A few were with a 28mm f/3.5 OM Zuiko or 75~150mm OM Zuiko Zoom.  A couple were taken using a Zeiss Ikon Contax IIIa "Color Dial" with its Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar.   All were taken hand-held (no tripod).

Canal Walk Photographic Essay

The upstream (north) end of the Canal Walk runs north and south along the west side of downtown Indianapolis and is north of the White River State Park.  Resort hotels and condominiums are found along this stretch of the canal which is about a story below street level isolating it from the rest of the city.  A broad walkway lines each side.  Small foot bridges periodically connect one side of the canal to the other and steps leading to ground level are found at major street intersections.

This is a peaceful area and some portions get little direct sun except at mid-day.  Since it is below ground level the buildings on each side provide the shade.  Numerous waterfalls and fountains can be found along here and the sound of water fills the air. This small waterfall with a tinyl pool at the bottom is embedded in steps leading up to condominiums/apartments.  It's just a small trickle to provide the sound of running water.  Other fountains and waterfalls line the walk, some of which turn themselves on and off periodically.

At the point the canal turns west to enter White River State Park it runs right along side the lower level cafeteria of an Indiana State Government Center.  The roaring sound of rushing water increases as one nears the government building.  Then this large columned waterfall comes into view.  A bridge connecting to two sides of the canal has its platform in the middle directly in front of it.  The waterfall is in the shade most of the day receiving direct sun only late in the afternoon with a low western sun.  Paddle boats can be rented during the day just behind this view of the waterfall.

Heading west from the large waterfall passes a large fountain into White River State Park on the southern edge of Military Park.  The canal opens up from the buildings that surround its north end transforming the environment from a feeling of seclusion into one of spaciousness.  One of the best views looking east at the downtown skyline is on a footbridge over the canal connecting the southwest corner of Military Park to White River Park.  The paddle boats can use this and the northern canal section.  During the afternoon one can see the buildings reflected in the canal water from here and the view is very good at night.  Lights illuminate the walkway at night giving a superb night view of the canal and skyline also.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial is on the south edge of Military park along the bank bordering the canal.  This is well worth visiting.  It is unique in its curved glass panels listing the names and service branch of all the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  During the day an audio system periodically tells the story of one of the recipients.  Each of the panels covers a separate time period in U.S. military history, including times of "peace" inbetween major wars and conflicts.  A little known fact is each of the U.S. Unknown Soldiers is automatically awarded the Medal of Honor.  They are also listed in their own place on the panels.  At night lights at the base of each panel illuminates them.

After Military Park and the Medal of Honor Memorial is the large Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis campus.  The canal turns south briefly here and past the NCAA Hall of Fame, then heads west again towards the White River.  At the turn west it finally emerges at ground level as the ground gradually slopes downward toward the river. The broad walkways continue on both sides at canal level, but there are several ramps, bridges and sets of steps for access from various directions.  This is a view of the turn west where there are steps, a fountain and a semi-secluded area to sit between the steps and enjoy the view.  Step out of the seclusion by the fountain to view the Indianapolis skyline in the background which is continuing to grow to the south.

Following the canal further takes you to its end in an ampitheater on the bank of the White River where there is an upper and lower falls.  From the ampitheater you can sit and veiw the smaller upper falls.  It is picturesqe from several vantage points in the ampitheater and a walkway leads a viewpoint above the upper falls as to its base between the two looking out over the river.  Occasionally an artist with sketch pad is in the ampitheater making drawings of the views.

Indiana limestone blocks can be found throughout the canal walk but here in the ampitheater large blocks of it are used everywhere.  It has a unique yellow cast to it.  On many of them the marks from the rock drills used to cut the stone blocks at the quarries are quite visible.  The limestone blocks are used in the waterfalls, to line the path and to terrace the ampitheater.  A path leads up the side of the ampitheater from the falls, past the rows of limestone blocks.

Circular granite steps end of the path out of the ampitheater.  Looking back into the ampitheater from the steps gives a view of the ampitheater, the upper falls at the end of the canal, and the White River in the distance. Around these steps is what used to be the Washington Street bridge.  Running east and west, Washington Street is also U.S. Highway 40 which follows the general path of the National Road funded by Congress in the early 1800's.  The bridge crosses at a bend in the White River as it continues east.  Washington Street is now diverted around the park and the bridge is now a pedestrian mall lined with prominent lights down each side.  The first thing noticed though are the large pieces of artwork placed down the center.

Before entering the bridge which runs east and west a trip to the White River Park Visitor Center might be worthwhile as it is one of the few places along the entire walk with public restrooms!  The center resides in what was the Indianapolis water pumphouse.  Built in 1871 it provided the first public water service for Indianapolis and has portions of the pumping station restored inside.  The canal's water drove its turbines.  Exiting the visitor center, go straight toward the railing along the river's edge instead of the bridge entrance.  There is a good view there of the bridge's arched architecture and footings along its south side. Washington street used to run directly in front of the old pumphouse.  Closer to the bridge entrance is a good view of the glass conservatory and other facilities from the back of the White River Gardens.  A very new attraction to the park, it has over three acres of gardens.  Also on the other side of the bridge is the Indianapolis Zoo.  Little known is a nearly hidden path at far end of the bridge that goes between the gardens and zoo allowing access to the entrances of both the gardens and the zoo.  Also little known is another half-mile path called the River Promenade.  It follows the south bank of the White River along the back of the zoo and exits at White River Parkway.

Entering onto the bridge past the first sculpture is another interesting and colorful one made of Indiana limestone.  It is carved from a stack of limestone slabs.  The colors revealed in the carving are intriguing with hues of yellow, green red and black. The last sculpture on the bridge just before the zoo and gardens is a bison made completely of nearly black wire.  The wire bison is mounted on a pedastal of limestone set in a sea of prairie grass.  It is best viewed on a clear day, either in the early morning from this side, or in the late afternoon from the other side, so that the direct sunlight brings out the detail in its surface.

It is worth traveling back and forth across the bridge on both sides to look at the various views offered from the bridge.  About halfway across on the north side a portion of the upper falls and the entirety of the lower falls at the end of the canal can only be seen completely from the bridge.  The best time is in the late afternoon with the sunlight highlighting the water in the falls.  Visible are more of the Indiana limestone blocks and the walkways around the falls.  The sound of the falls can be heard even from the bridge.  This view can easily be missed walking down either the middle or south side of the bridge.

This last scene concludes the photographic tour of the Canal Walk.  Looking east about halfway across on the south side of the bridge is perhaps the second best place to see the Indianapolis skyline with an unobstructed view straight into the heart of Indianapolis down Washington Street.  Besides being aesthetically beautiful it is one of the locations along the Canal Walk that serves as a subtle reminder of White River State Park's venue in the center of Indianapolis.

Take a Virtual Reality Tour of the Indianapolis Canal Walk!
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