Fishermen evolve from a ‘wild, wild west’ town to a dynamic town • Current Publications


One hundred and fifty years ago, Fishers was founded by farmer Salathiel Fisher, who divided his land into town lots along the railroad tracks that ran through town. At the time, Fishers was a sleepy point on the state map, notable only for being a stop along the Peru & Indianapolis Railroad near the present-day intersection of 116th Street and the tracks.

Today, Fishers is a vibrant town of 101,171 people. It is the fifth largest city in Indiana and one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest. From its humble beginnings as a railroad stop, Fishers is now home to more than 900 companies and prides itself on being a hub for life science companies and technological developments.

As Fishers celebrates its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary with various events that honor the past, city officials embrace a projected future of continued growth and employment, recreation, and quality of life opportunities for its residents.

“(The 150th anniversary) is a time for reflection,” Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said. “What’s amazing is how much this community has changed in such a short time. If you look at the 150-year life of the fishermen, for the first 130 years the fishermen remained pretty much the same. It’s really been in the last 20 to 30 years that we’ve seen this incredible transformation in our city.

“When you look at it, it gives perspective on the kind of dynamic time we live in.”

What follows is a brief overview of Fishers from its humble beginnings to its current explosive growth.

A look at downtown Fishers, circa 1920s. (Photos provided by Robert Bowling)

“Loose around the edges” reputation

Since forming as a town in June 1872, Fishers — which became a town in 2015 — has seen many changes. Originally named Fishers Switch, later renamed Fishers Station, the town was renamed Fishers in 1908. The town was named after founder Salathiel Fisher and was located near the railway station where the old Nickel Plate Bar & Grill operated .

At the time, Fishers had a reputation for being “loose around the edges” because it was a railroad town, according to Hamilton County historian David Heighway.

Fishermen Historian Robert Bowling compared the fishermen of the late 1800s and early 1900s to the “Wild Wild West”, as many people who visited them passed by or came to visit one of the town’s taverns.

Heighway also said there wasn’t much of a law enforcement presence, noting the closest was the Hamilton County Sheriff in Noblesville.

“Fishers was basically a Dodge City before World War I. It was literally shootings and bombings, train robberies and grave robberies, and all kinds of craziness,” Heighway said. “If you wanted a place to go for a drink and blow off some steam, you went to Fishers, which is why it got a little rough and rowdy in those early years.

Part of what fueled this reputation was November 19, 1881, the “Battle of Mudsock,” which began as a small argument between two rival saloon men seated on either side of the railroad tracks. The fight continued all night and ended in a shootout. Two people were killed and 30 were injured.

The Battle of Mudsock made national news, in part because it happened 10 days after the infamous OK Corral shooting in Tombstone, Arizona. News of the deadly bar brawl has spread to New York, Texas and even England, Bowling said.

“A lot of (local) residents were upset because most of the people involved weren’t even from Fishers,” Bowling said. “Most of them lived outside the city limits of Fishers, which gave the city a bad reputation.”

Fishermen also suffered bombings and had a history of grave robbing which also gave the town a reputation as an outlaw in its early years.

Men stand outside an old saloon in Fishers, believed to date from the late 1800s or early 1900s. (Photos courtesy of Robert Bowling)

A sweeter reputation

As the town grew and Fishers High School was established in the late 1800s, the reputation for roughness around the edges began to fade as residents formed a community. The Fishers High School building, which once stood at Lantern Road and 116th Street, where Fishers Elementary School now stands, was built and dedicated in 1908. However, Heighway said graduate records of Fishers High School only date from 1896, although the exact location of the original school is unknown.

Schools often set up towns, Heighway said.

“When they built Fishers High School, it all of a sudden became identifiable,” Heighway said. “It was like, ‘We’re Fishers High School people now. We have our yellow brick building and we now have at least some kind of identity because all of our children are part of it.

As a result, Fishers was a rural farming community for many decades thereafter.

Larry Reynolds, who grew up in Fishers and graduated from Fishers High School in 1959, was among the city’s earliest historians. He said his promotion only had 20 people and he was linked to 13 of them.

Reynolds said the town was desolate and rural during his childhood.

“Children played in the streets,” Reynolds said. “We played football or basketball on the side of the street because no one was crossing the city. The big social event was church or basketball games, and everyone at Fishers filled the gymnasium, which could only hold about 300 people.

“Fishers was a great place. Of course, everyone thinks (that) of their hometown, but we had something unique.

The new fishermen’s quarter, where many farmhouses once stood. Today, the Fishers District is an 18-acre mixed-use area that includes restaurants, retail, and housing. (Photo by Taylor Dixon)

A growing city

Fishers officially became a town in 2015. As the town grows, people who were raised there decades ago marvel that Fishers was a one-stop town only 50 years ago.

Reynolds was raised in a farmhouse on 116th Street, where the Fisherman’s Quarter now stands. His grandfather owned the farm and Reynolds spent most of his life there. But in 2016, the city purchased the land and the farm, so Reynolds moved to his vacation home in Florida permanently.

“It’s just progress. These are wall-to-wall buildings, and whether you agree with how it took shape or not, it’s still a culture shock for the people who lived in this small town,” Reynolds said. “A lot of good things are happening, but personally, I would have liked to live in this house for years. We have had 65 Christmases at this farm. But (the city) widened the street and now there are restaurants there. This is what happens with progress.

“But, personally, I feel driven by progress.”

Others in Fishers, like Fadness, embrace growth and want to capitalize on it. Fadness has served as the Fishers’ only mayor since becoming a city in 2015.

In September, Fishers announced three new development projects that will continue to expand the city. A $1.1 billion economic development that includes the headquarters of Andretti Global, the Stevanato Group and the expansion of the Fisherman’s Quarter, is expected to be built by the end of 2025.

Fadness said early in his tenure he focused on growing the city and attracting businesses. Now, he said, the focus is on creating more entertainment opportunities, like the planned event center at the heart of the new Fisherman’s District expansion east of the Interstate. 69 between 106th and 116th streets.

“When I first became mayor, (Fishers) embarked on this journey of becoming a smart, vibrant, entrepreneurial city,” Fadness said. “If you think about it in those early days, we were trying to make very smart, informed decisions about policy and where to go. It really led to our entrepreneurial movement, which attracted more development and more commercial activity and put the city in a really healthy financial position. And because of that, and the financial resources that we have, we’re now able to invest in vibrancy so that people have a really, really vibrant place to live. It’s all part of a larger strategy to make Fishers the best places to live in America.

Unsurprisingly, Fadness looks to the future and the next 150 years of the city.

“With each year and each project and the momentum that continues to build, the quality and caliber of opportunities continue to increase,” Fadness said. “My end goal is a bit abstract. I think we shouldn’t fix ourselves in one particular way, but rather always evolve, adapt and change the world around us.

Sesquicentennial celebrations

The Town of Fishers kicked off its 150th celebrations in June with the launch of the 150th Anniversary Trail. The self-guided trail takes participants through Fishers with stops at some of the city’s most iconic locations, such as Ambassador House and Conner Prairie, as well as local businesses and other important landmarks. Participants can collect an adult or child passport at six locations, including Fishers Park Reception, Hamilton East Public Library, City Services Building, Ohanalulu, Schoolhouse 7 Café and Conner Prairie.

The Squirrel Stampede Mini Golf launched at the Fishers Farmers Market on September 24 and is set to appear at future events including AgriPark’s Fall Festival October 12-15. The four-hole putt putt course follows the adventures of squirrels as they roamed Hamilton County nearly 200 years ago.

The city is partnering with the Towne Post to create a community time capsule to be displayed in the new arts and civic complex that will open in the spring of 2024. The time capsule will be reopened in 2073 to celebrate Fisher’s 200th birthday. .

Fishers has also launched a bi-monthly blog and podcast series that discuss topics related to Fisher’s story. The podcast is hosted by Tom Britt and Larry Lannan and will continue throughout the year.

For more information on any of the cities other sesquicentennial celebrations, visit https://www.thisisfishers.com/fishers-sesquicentennial/.

Population growth

Prior to 1910, the population of the town of Fishers was not counted separately from Delaware Township, which encompassed other parts of Hamilton County. Below is a list of population figures from 1910 to present. These numbers were found on the US Census Bureau website.

  • 1910 – 188
  • 1920 – 142
  • 1930 – 138
  • 1940 – 164
  • 1950 – 219
  • 1960 – 344
  • 1970 – 628
  • 1980 – 2008
  • 1990 – 10,066
  • 2000 – 42,338
  • 2005 – 61,173
  • 2010 – 76,794
  • 2015 – 88,700
  • 2020 – 99,053
  • 2021 – 101,171
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