Web Extra: History to Be Found Downtown

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The high lands. The Wabash Valley. That city between Indy and St. Louis. Every place has its own unique history, and you’ll find no shortage of it in Terre Haute and its downtown area.

“I think we’ve got a great city, with an extraordinary history,” says Vigo County Historian Mike McCormick.

If you walk through downtown Terre Haute today, you can spot several historical landmarks that lend to mind times of the past.

The Kesler Law Office on 219 Ohio Street is the oldest commercial building downtown.

It used to serve as a branch of the State Bank of Indiana.

Built in 1921 and standing 12 stories tall, the Sycamore Building on 6th Street is the tallest commercial building in Terre Haute.

The Hippodrome Theater building still stands at the corner of 8th and Ohio, which was first a vaudeville theater until the late 1940s when it was converted to a motion picture theater, and its name changed to the Wabash.

Owned by the Scottish Rite since the late 1950s, it is used as the group’s cathedral and museum.

Terre Haute’s downtown area really first started taking off with the industrial boom in the late 1800s.

“I think it started somewhere around 1870, shortly after the Civil War.”

An aggressive group of people came through at that time building new factories and businesses, determined on making Terre Haute a great city.

The Kesler Law Office building and former bank building mentioned earlier was one example of this.

Terre Haute’s diverse industry also contributed to its thriving downtown through the first half of the twentieth century.

After Prohibition ended in 1933, the Terre Haute Brewing Company, which is the second oldest microbrewery in the United States, flourished under the new ownership of Oscar Baur, (a Terre Haute native), and glass manufacturers and grain dealers drew in profits.

The Terre Haute Brewing Company, which you can still find today over on 9th Street, continues to have a strong following in Terre Haute’s downtown and throughout the community.

Another integral part of Terre Haute’s inner core were the downtown theaters.

“Entertainment was a vital part of Terre Haute’s downtown culture over the years, including its great opera house and theatrical venues. One historical theater still standing today is the Indiana Theater, which opened in 1922 and first sold tickets for only 40 cents apiece.”

“There were other theaters on Wabash; the Crescent, the Princess, the Savoy, the Lyceum.”

The Lyceum Theater Building is still in existence at 13th and Wabash on the southwest corner.

The later part of the 20th century saw the relocation of downtown businesses in Terre Haute, following the rise of Honey Creek Square and a proposed exit at the intersection of I-70 and US Highway 41.

“By the time the 1970s were here, we had a lot of vacant buildings downtown.”

Nowadays, Terre Haute is seeing the emergence of several major projects including construction of housing along Cherry Street as well as the west side of the ISU Campus.

A convention center’s addition to the Hulman Center and an additional city hotel are also expected to draw in better crowds to the city, which would benefit downtown.

Although there are still plenty of vacancies downtown; new hopeful, up-and-coming enterprises give the downtown hope for what is to come.

Photo Credits to: The Vigo County Historical Society & Museum, Mike McCormick, Ken Warner and the Historic Terre Haute Facebook Group, Google Maps, and Mark Wright

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