Located along the White River, Broad Ripple Park served as a popular swimming and boating resort as early as 1890. Local businessmen W. H. Tabb and Dr. Robert C. Light, organizer of the Broad Ripple Transit Company, established the White City Corporation of Indianapolis to erect rides and amusements in the park. On May 26, 1906, White City Amusement Park, named after the monumental architecture of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, opened to the public.

Broad Ripple Bathing Beach, ca. 1912
© The Indiana Album: Kris Smith Collection

Mechanical rides were White City’s main attraction. A scenic railway roller coaster, the “Shoot the Chutes” waterslide, a reenactment of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a fire-disaster spectacle called “Fighting the Flames,” and other midway rides were situated around a 500-foot center court. The park’s most unusual attraction was a display of functioning baby incubators, copied from an exhibit at New York’s Coney Island, that catered to the public’s fascination with science and technology. White City also offered military band concerts, vaudeville shows, and boating. It proclaimed itself “the amusement park that satisfied”.

At the beginning of its second season, the White City Corporation planned to improve the park’s swimming facilities. It invested $40,000 to construct a pool, a concrete-lined “bathing beach,” a broad promenade, and a two-story pavilion along White River. White City promoted this facility as “the largest affair of the kind in the country.”

Broad Ripple Amusement Park, ca. 1925
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

On June 26, 1908, a fire started in the “Mystic Cave” attraction and quickly spread throughout the park. Light estimated the park’s loss at $160,000, none of which was covered by insurance. Only the pool, scheduled to open the next day escaped the flames.

Three years later on March 6, 1911, Light and Tabb sold the property to the Union Traction Company, which restored and operated the park for 11 years. During that time, the company erected a new boathouse, dining hall, dance hall, and playground equipment. The 250-by-500-foot pool served as the park’s principal attraction. The park hosted the National Swimming Event in 1922 and the Olympic tryouts in 1924, at which time Johnny Weissmuller, the soon-to-be Hollywood Tarzan, won the 100-meter freestyle qualification. The Olympic tryouts returned to Broad Ripple in 1952.

Broad Ripple Park pool, 1958
© Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

The new Broad Ripple Amusement Park Association, led by James H. Makin, later founder of the Riviera Club, purchased the park in May 1922. The corporation planned major improvements including recreational facilities, athletic fields, and a large roller coaster. In 1927, Makin sold the park to Oscar Baur, a brewery executive from Terre Haute, who began an extensive modernization program. At its 1938 season opener, Broad Ripple Park boasted the “world’s largest concrete pool,” a variety of mechanized rides, a new ballroom, and “20 acres of free parking.”

On May 18, 1945, the city’s Board of Park Commissioners announced the purchase of the 60-acre Broad Ripple Park from Baur for $131,500. The rides were sold or demolished, and the park became a site for public recreation. (Only the Broad Ripple carousel survives, occupying a gallery at The Children’S Museum.)

Dogs playing at hte Broad Ripple Bark Park, 2013
© Charlie Nye, Indianapolis Star

In 1955, the retired New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate) NKP train Engine No. 587 was moved into the park as a public display. During the late 1980s, the train engine was moved out to make way for a new public library branch and swimming pool. The library was moved to Glendale Mall in 2000.

A boat ramp provides access to the White River and an overlook was constructed on the northwest corner of the park for river viewing. A dog park was developed in 1999 and improved in 2019. In 2019, a Master Plan was developed to design the layout of the park’s future. The first part of that plan was put in motion with the construction of a new family center in 2021.

Revised February 2021
 

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