In the 1930s, the White River — named for the white limestone sand that originally appeared at the bottom of the river — was far from the pristine waters Native Americans once called Wapahani. Water conditions were worse past Emrichsville Dam at Belmont Beach. After years of companies dumping industrial chemicals and slaughterhouse waste, the water was blackened and dangerous to swim in.
Despite — or more likely perhaps because of — the dangerous water quality, Belmont Beach was named a Black-only beach. Black residents on the city’s west side looking for outdoor recreation were limited to the beach. The only other place Black people could swim was in Douglass Park in Martindale-Brightwood on the east side.
According to research from historian Paul Mullins, Belmont Beach was the “epitome of environmental racism — Black residents were only allowed to be in water deemed too degraded to be of use to white residents.”
Despite safety concerns, Belmont Beach was a hotspot for the Black community in Indianapolis; people would gather to go swimming, have picnics and enjoy themselves.
On May 8, the Belmont Beach Project will open a pop-up park on the beach to celebrate the history of the location and create a family-friendly space. The project is supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment.
“The Belmont Beach Project is very important, as this type of development will bring awareness to the community and shine a positive light on the progress being made on the westside of Indianapolis,” Tedd Hardy, community ambassador for the Central Indiana Community Foundation, said.
Through Oct. 31, community members will be able to attend concerts, athletic programming, grab concessions and learn more about the history of Belmont Beach. Though it’s a temporary pop-up site, Hardy hopes it will eventually lead to more development in the Haughville area.
Olgen Williams, former deputy mayor of Indianapolis and a member of the project, said on “Community Connections” radio show with host Tina Cosby, he hasn’t been able to find anyone who frequented the beach, but information available at the pop-up will share the history of not just Belmont Beach, but of Indiana’s segregated history, as well.
The pop-up park will be free to the public and include free WiFi through solar paneling.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.
The Belmont Beach pop-up park will run from May 8 through Oct. 31, located at Belmont’s original site: 1300 N. White River Parkway, Indianapolis, IN 46222.