The Indianapolis Canal Walk is a beautiful, 3 mile pedestrian loop which follows the general path of what once used to be the old Indiana Central Canal. At the time it was built in the 1830’s, rivers and canals were the preferred mode of long distance transportation. But due to financial difficulties, very little of the canal was actually constructed, and ultimately bankrupt the state.
In 1825, the success of the Erie Canal in New York State brought about hasty construction of canals throughout the Midwestern states. The 1836 Indiana state legislature envisioned the Indiana Central Canal as a transportation corridor connecting the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River. Funding of the canal was made possible by the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act, of which $3.5 million was directed towards the construction of the Central Canal.
Prior to its construction, the canal path was designed to be six feet deep and sixty feet wide and proposed to extend 296 miles from Peru, Indiana, to Evansville, Indiana, where it would reach the Ohio River. Had it been constructed, it would have been the longest canal in Indiana. Unfortunately, several projects approved by the Act began construction at the same time and funding became scarce, with no one project ever receiving full funding. Canal construction took place in different areas but only eight miles in Indianapolis ever saw water. With growing interest debt at half a million dollars a year, the canal project was abandoned and sold to private owners and eventually sold to the Indianapolis Water Company to power turbines which pumped water from wells.
1976 the IWC deeded the canal south of 16th Street to the city of Indianapolis. The city later undertook a project, beginning in 1985, to drain, rebuild, lower and then restore water to the remaining downtown section of the canal. Some of that portion of the Central Canal is now within White River State Park as well as running through the Indiana Government Center.
The American Water Works Association designated the canal an American Water Landmark in 1971.