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Free Walking Tour Not Just for Tourists

Have you heard about Indy’s connection to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island? How about the reason the eye of Monument Circle was once called the “mud doughnut?” No? Then clear a couple of hours on your schedule some Friday or Saturday and join the free walking tour offered by Indiana Landmarks, the largest statewide historic-preservation group in the country.

A fellow Naptowner trained specifically to give this tour will be your guide. You will meet at the Artsgarden, and you might have the pleasure of a private or semi-private excursion. The tours aren’t well-attended—sadly, as attendance is not a reflection of the quality of the information imparted or the enthusiasm and preparedness of the guides. 

Ambling along the bricks, you’ll look closely at sculptures on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and marvel at the details whose significance you had never considered. Caught up in the guide’s lively tales of Indy’s early days, you’ll get to know Jesse McKay, the city’s first landowner; the city’s first African-American head of household, a woman who owned property in the mid-1800s; and Fanny Vandegrift, who was born on the Circle and later married Robert Louis Stevenson.

The guide’s binder will be full of 150-year-old photos showing the Circle in its original state, lined with small houses and picket fences. The guide will explain how we got from there to here, a center of commerce with no residents (unless it’s true that someone resides at the Columbia Club). Architectural highlights will surpass trivia and reveal nuances of the ages the building represent. Take the pair of early 20th-century department stores sitting across from one another on Washington Street. One—the original L.S. Ayres store, now Carson Pirie Scott—has ample windows while the other doesn’t.

 Why? Take the tour and you’ll find out.

Indiana Landmarks’ free walking tour of the Circle starts at 11 a.m. every Friday and Saturday from May through October. Full details

Fernandez began writing for Indianapolis Monthly in 1995 while studying journalism at Indiana University. One of her freelance assignments required her to join a women's full-tackle football team for a season. She joined the staff in 2005 to edit IM's ancillary publications, including Indianapolis Monthly Home. In 2011, she became a senior editor responsible for the Circle City section as well as coverage of shopping, homes, and design-related topics. Now an executive editor, she lives downtown.