Located in northern section of Babe Denny, the Syrian Quarter, also called the Syrian Colony, was the first Arabic-speaking neighborhood in Indianapolis. Today, Lucas Oil Stadium sits atop the land where Arabic-speaking children once played and local journalists noted the sounds of women singing in Arabic.

Four people stand in the middle of a street.
Syrian Quarter on Willard Street, 1906 Credit: Indianapolis News View Source

These immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean, especially from what today are Lebanon and Syria, were part of the large-scale immigration to Indiana before World War I. Half a million Arabic-speaking people left their homelands for the Americas in this era, and perhaps 100,000 of these immigrants came to the United States, with a larger number going to Latin America. By 1910, about 1,000 of them lived in Indianapolis.

Hundreds settled on Willard Street, a road about 100 yards long that ran over Pogue’s Run creek between better-known Senate Avenue and Capitol Avenue. The Indianapolis Journal described Willard Street as a “short thoroughfare divided into two parts by a dirty little stream whose banks in this particular vicinity were laden with tin cans, old shoes and other rubbish.” By 1908, Willard Street had 32 “shotgun” housing units, only 15 feet wide, and each one sometimes housed 10 or more people. Some residents worked in area factories, while others made their living as peddlers.

Even though Willard Street was known as the city’s “Syrian Colony,” Arab Americans were a minority of its total residents. According to a December 26, 1903, Indianapolis Star article, Italians, Poles, Greeks, and Hungarians also inhabited the street’s narrow wood-framed houses. This was a racially integrated neighborhood. Of the 179 people counted as residents of Willard Street in the 1900 U.S. Census, 55 of them were Black. There were likely other uncounted, temporary Arab residents on the street, as well.