(Mar. 3, 1791-Nov. 26, 1870).  Colonel James Blake, a veteran of the War of 1812, arrived in Indianapolis from York County, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1821. He invested in land and resided in the city for the rest of his life. Blake, as a surveyor, assisted in laying out and platting Indianapolis. 

Blake pursued a wide variety of successful commercial interests as either proprietor or director: ginseng processing, wholesale dry goods, the Indianapolis Rolling Mill, the Indianapolis Steam Mill Company (with James Ray and Nicholas McCarty), the Indiana Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, and the Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroad.

Blake’s public life was equally active. He served as a militia captain, Sunday school organizer and volunteer, advocate for a state hospital for the insane, supporter of the American Colonization Society, Ymca trustee, Hanover College trustee, Miami University of Ohio trustee, and Crown Hill Cemetery trustee. He presided over virtually every public endeavor and parade in the city, including the annual July 4th parade. At his death, Blake was the Indiana commissioner for the erection of the Gettysburg monument honoring Indiana’s Civil War soldiers.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1835, Blake, Calvin Fletcher, and James Ray formed the Indianapolis Benevolent Society to care for the poor of the city through voluntary contributions and to strengthen family life. Blake presided over the society as its president for the rest of his life. Blake was of Irish descent and donated generously to the city’s 1847 relief fund for Irish citizens suffering during the Great Famine.

James Blake married Eliza Sproule in 1831. Together they had four children, William McConnell, James Ray, Walter Alexander, and John Gurley. John Holliday, an early 20th-century historian of the city, concluded that “he was the Grand Old Man of Indianapolis and if ever a man deserved a statue to perpetuate the memory of his virtues and his usefulness, it was James Blake.”

Revised June 2021

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