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Today, Indianapolis is known as being a transportation hub of the Midwest. But this was not always true of the city. When it was founded in 1821, the city was little more than a desolate swamp. Indianapolis was chosen as the state capitol not because of its importance, but because of its central location. Architect Alexander Ralston was charged with designing the layout of the embryonic city. Ralston had previously assisted French architect Pierre L'Enfant with designing Washington, D.C., and the influence of his mentor is evident. The center of Ralston's plan was Monument Circle, which was intended to be the site of the Governor's mansion, built in 1827. No governor ever lived there, however, and the structure was torn down in 1857. On that spot the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument was completed in 1901.
In 1835, Governor Noah Noble signed into effect the Mammoth Improvement Bill with the intention of giving the city an adrenaline shot of infrastructure improvements. The grandest of these was the Indiana Central Canal, constructed with the dream of making Indy a major hub of waterway transportation. Money for the canal dried up in a few years, however, and it was never completed. The canal was used until 1969 and then abandoned. In the 1980s the canal was reconceived as a park and recreation area, and today is part of White River State Park.
Indianapolis's reputation as a transportation hub grew out of its railway and highway connections. Union Station, completed in 1888, was the nation's first union rail depot. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Road, known today as U.S. 40, first came to Indianapolis in the 1840s, and brought an influx of settlers. With the invention of the automobile and the expansion of the U.S. highway system, Indy came to be the transportation center it is known for today. It is traversed by four major interstate highways, and within a day's driving of half of the nation's population.