(Dec 7, 1860-Oct. 26, 1926). Bookwalter was born on a farm near Wabash, Indiana, and his family moved to Fort Wayne when he was eight. A newsboy at 10, then at 13 a printer’s devil (apprentice) at the Fort Wayne Gazette, he learned the newspaper trade over the next half-dozen years.

After 18 months working and traveling through the West, Bookwalter, then 21, returned to Fort Wayne, worked two years as a locomotive fireman, rejoined the Gazette, and two years later became city editor. In 1886, endorsed by the Knights Of Labor and the Republican Party, he narrowly lost an election for state representative. The following year he was appointed clerk of the State Printing Bureau, 1887-1891, in Indianapolis.

By 1893 Bookwalter was secretary of the city’s Republican committee and in 1899, with the support of the Marion Club, an organization of younger men, captured the mayoral nomination from party elders. Few thought he could contest popular Democrat Thomas Taggart’S bid for a third term, yet Bookwalter, campaigning vigorously lost by fewer than 350 votes, an inroad of 3,000 on Taggart’s previous majorities.

Bookwalter ran for mayor five times, winning in 1901 and 1906. His losses came in 1903 and 1913. In 1917, he withdrew his candidacy after the primary. His loss in 1903 was attributable to a party split, a drumbeat of hostile articles in the Indianapolis News, and the clergy’s denunciations of his failure to close the city’s wine rooms and gambling dens.

Highlights of Bookwalter’s years as mayor include his battle against a smallpox epidemic in his first term; building a long-needed city hall; an extensive street paving program; and the appointment of Dr. Henry W. Jameson, “father of the Indianapolis park system,” as president of the park board. During his administration, the Traction Terminal was built, with Bookwalter drawing up the contracts for the Interurban railways entering the city.

Ceremonial Opening of the National Road with Charles A. Bookwalter in attendence, ca. 1920s
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

A champion of vocational education, in 1902 the mayor appealed to residents for money to purchase the federal arsenal from the War Department. When the technical institute established there fell into difficulty about 1909, Bookwalter was named receiver. His zealous leadership was a crucial factor in the founding of Arsenal Technical High School in 1912.

His varied business interests ran to real estate, a building association, a large and successful garment manufacturing company, and a book printing firm. He was one of the founders of the Marion Motor Company, 1902, and business manager of Merchant’s Heat and Light Company.

In 1922 Bookwalter managed the successful campaign of Harry S. New for United States senator. As an ardent supporter of the successful 1921 mayoral campaign of Lew Shank, he was rewarded with an appointment as president of the board of park commissioners, 1922-1926, years which saw the construction of Kessler Boulevard. A dedicated club man—Masons, Elks, Knights of Pythias— Bookwalter was a fierce partisan and controversialist. Brilliant and bellicose, he was regarded as one of the best platform orators of his day.

Revised February 2021
 

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