Since it served as a wilderness stop along a Native American trail in 1823, Lawrence, Ind., has played many roles and has evolved into an important destination community in northeast Marion County.
The municipality was platted in 1849 as a triangular tract bounded by 42nd Street, Franklin Road and Pendleton Pike. It was then called Lanesville. Other names subsequently were tried, including Jamestown after the founder James White. In 1866, the Marion County Commissioners approved the name Lawrence – also the name of the surrounding township – after the naval hero of the War of 1812, Capt. James Lawrence, who is remembered for the command, “Don’t give up the ship!”
In March 1901, Lt. Col. Russell B. Harrison came to Indianapolis to bury his father, President Benjamin Harrison. Here, the younger man learned about the War Department’s decision to close the Indianapolis Arsenal, which had supplied munitions to Union troops during the Civil War. (During the Civil War, the arsenal was located near the Statehouse; it later was moved to Woodruff Place, on the near east side of Indianapolis.)
The president’s son persuaded the War Department that Indianapolis deserved a military presence to commemorate the arsenal’s role in fighting slavery and maintaining the Union. In 1904, the War Department purchased land on the northeast side, nine miles from downtown. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated Fort Benjamin Harrison, which would serve as a troop reception center, classroom and soldier support facility during all major military conflicts from World War I to Desert Storm.
In 1929, the residents of Lawrence — then about 600 — voted to make their village a town. By 1940, the population had grown to 1,048; by 1950, Lawrence had 1,999 residents. A special census in 1956 showed 7,863 residents, and talk began of incorporating as a fifth-class city.
Morris Settles, the first mayor of Lawrence, served the city for 24 years, 1960-1983. Settles predicted a clash of interests between the large and small cities within Marion County. Indeed, in 1969, Indianapolis and Marion County adopted a unified government structure. Lawrence was one of four “excluded cities,” so it retained its city government, though its citizens were given the right to vote for the mayor of Indianapolis and their representatives on the Indianapolis/Marion County City-County Council as well as the Lawrence mayor and other elected officials.
Lawrence began a new chapter in 1991, when the Base Realignment and Closure process earmarked Fort Harrison as one of many military bases across the country that would be closed. Closure came in 1995, but redevelopment of the fort has taken hold in a major way. The state of Indiana took ownership of 1,700 of the fort’s 2,500 acres to develop Fort Harrison State Park, The Fort Golf Course and the State Park Inn. Lawrence continues to have a strong military presence led by the more than 4,000 employees at the Defense Finance and Accounting Services Center, Lawrence’s largest employer. The Army Air Force Exchange Service built a post exchange and commissary at the former post in 2007 and the Indiana National Guard Lawrence Armory opened its Readiness Training Center there in 2011. Under construction is a new Armed Forces Reserve Center, with the 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, where more than 1,200 reservists will participate in drill each month. The City of Lawrence and the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority, work together to redevelop the fort as a mixed-use village town center for Lawrence.