Zionsville history is uneventful, which is quite understandable, considering the fact that it is the quintessential small Midwestern town. However, wandering through its neighborhoods, particularly downtown Zionsville, you can see signs of history. City fathers and the Merchants’ Association of present-day Zionsville, Indiana have ensured that the town retains a certain vintage village flavor, especially in “historic” Main Street, the center of town.
Chartered in 1852, this quaint community is now home to some 9,000 residents. A gentleman named John Miller built a boarding house in Zionsville and became its first resident with an actual household. Within eight years, by the next census, he had about 364 neighbors.
It was William Zion, however, whose name is commemorated in Zionsville.
Director of the local railroad, he collaborated with Elijah and Mary Cross from nearby Eagle Village to have the area formally platted, and it was this threesome who became the original town proprietors.
Over the years, Eagle Village, another diminutive community just northeast of Zionsville, fed their overflow into the new town. Both Zionsville’s Church of Christ and Methodist parishes were transplants from Eagle Village during the 1860s.
But it was the train system that drew new residents during those days. Zionsville was fortunate to be a passenger stop on the rail lines that were just beginning to connect all the dots on the United States map, big and small. In those days, the tracks were located right in the middle of Main Street, but have since been moved.
During the next generations, the little town experienced its ups and downs, as all towns do. Abe Lincoln made a whistle stop in Zionsville in 1861 and spoke a few words to the folks. That site is now known as Lincoln Park.
This Indianapolis suburb has almost always has a cultural bent, and Zionsville history reflects that. Only a few decades after its inception, the town raised a stage for entertainers and speakers. And so was born Clark’s Opera House, where Susan B. Anthony, the famous suffragette, and James Whitcomb Riley, the famous poet, both addressed crowds.
During the 1920’s, Zionsville became a hotbed for dahlia-growers, with professional gardeners producing nationally-recognized dahlias. From this time period and fascination, the town received the nickname, “The Dahlia City.”
During the late 1900s, the small bedroom community of Zionsville did not experience the growth rates of its small town neighbors, Fishers and Carmel, largely fed by “white flight” from nearby metropolis Indianapolis. This was by design, since growth was stringently controlled. Present day Zionsville, however, is in the throes of transition, having to find ways to adapt to new growth which appears to be an inevitability.