German immigration transformed the Midwest socially, demographically and politically in the 19th century, and Indianapolis was no exception. Germans contributed to the development of educational reforms, business ventures, political activities and more. The German Growers of Indianapolis, opening Jan. 12 in the Rosemary McKee Lanham Gallery at the History Center, explores the contributions of German greenhouse farmers on the city’s Southside in providing fresh vegetables, flowers and plants from the late 19th century to the present. Hear from four members of German grower families about how they settled in Indianapolis, became growers, and forged friendships within the growing community.
The German immigrants who settled on Indianapolis’ Southside developed a network of greenhouses that, by the 1940s, rivaled most other cities in the nation in “acres under glass.” These farmers, brought together by benefit societies and business associations, helped feed the city for generations.
The families came largely from the German province of Westphalia, as well as the Rhineland region and the cities of Hanover and Wittenburg. By the early 20th century, this community was more than 75 families strong. Though they were competitors in the same industry, they stuck together and supported each other both in their businesses and social lives.
In addition to produce to feed the community, the German families also grew and distributed flowers, trees, shrubs and other plants. Starting in the 1950s, competition from outside the region, increasing fuel costs, rising property values and other factors have driven the vast majority of the historic German growers out of the business with the exception of a few. Despite that, their tradition of locally grown fruits and vegetables is making a resurgence today.