White River trail will weave in stories

March 9, 2009

Landscape architect Eric Fulford wouldn't want people jogging along White River to miss out on an industrial history that includes a hidden architectural gem and dancing pigs. Fulford and his company, NINebark Inc., are designing the White River Greenway, which will extend the current trail 2.1 miles from White River State Park to Kentucky Avenue. Construction on the IndyParks project is supposed to start this summer.

Much of the new path will follow White River.

 "Scenically, it's really beautiful," Fulford said. "Poking up above the trees is the skyline of Indianapolis."

But the history of the area is far from pastoral.

NINebark is making six large storyboards to tell trail users about the meat-packing giant Kinghan & Co.; the Indianapolis Indians; Federal Field; Greenlawn Cemetery; the home-grown innovation of concrete bridges; and the history of General Motors Corp.'s metal-stamping plant.

The GM site's vehicle-making history goes back to 1885, when Parry Manufacturing Co. started turning out steel wagons. Late in the 20th century, industrial architect Albert Kahn designed a glass-walled factory for Chevrolet. Additions in the 1970s and '80s created the sprawling mass that stands today.

"At the core of it is this historically significant structure," Fulford said. The only visible remains of Kinghan & Co.'s campus are two concrete river piers, which supported railroad tracks to deliver cattle and hogs to slaughter. Kinghan & Co. had land on both sides of White River, part of an area now occupied by two museums, the NCAA headquarters and the Indianapolis Zoo.

A postcard from around 1910 gives an overview of the operation, which included everything from railcar repair to canning. The postcard is a winter greeting, decorated with a scene of pigs frolicking on a frozen pond. Kinghan & Co.: "where reliable meats are prepared."

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