Beneficiary of first ROWforward grant was once home to orchards and forests

By Simona Reising / Collective impact director, Reconnecting to Our Waterways

The southeast neighborhood of Norwood was awarded the first ROWforward grant, with Reconnecting to Our Waterways offering an investment to help with rapid project and event support in exchange for developing a long-term relationship with ROW and helping us expand our reach and our collective partnership.

ROWforward Partnership Development Grants began as an initiative that sought to attract new neighborhood-based partners to join the ROW collective and make funds available for early-action to initiate new waterways to apply and expand beyond ROW’s six traditional waterways – Pogue’s Run, Little Eagle Creek, Fall Creek, White River, Pleasant Run, and Central Canal.

The grant application was submitted by longtime Norwood resident William Malone, whose ties to the community grew deeper after his family began a community garden in the middle of the neighborhood. “If you get something, pull something,” Malone said of his approach to maintaining and keeping up with the garden.

Norwood was settled in 1872 by members of the U.S. Colored Troops’ 28 Regiment and their families. They fought for Black freedom from enslavement during the Civil War. On the former land of the Lenape tribe, they established a thriving Freetown that still stands today. Many residents who still reside there today can trace their roots back to the 28th Regiment, making this one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in the United States.

Norwood is defined by Prospect Street on the north, Sherman Drive on the east, Terrace Avenue on the south, and Vandeman Street on the west. “The community was named after the Norwood family that had operated the Norwood farm in Indianapolis,” according to Kaila Austin, a public historian, and neighbor who is knowledgeable about the history of Indianapolis.

 “The area in and around Norwood included forests and orchards that provided food for local residents in the early days of the community,” Austin said. She added that the orchards were planted by the Lenape Tribe, whose members reside in the Pleasant Run River Valley, and who grew crops in the area known today as Norwood. The last of the orchard’s many trees died just last year and Malone’s vision for this neighborhood is to bring back the orchard and the thriving gardens that were once a vital part of this farming community.

Spurred on by the need for locally sourced food, cultural ties to the community, and a desire to empower and build human capital in the neighborhood, ReGrowth – a grassroots community collaboration around community gardening – has also taken on responsibilities for maintaining and expanding the gardens.

Providing infrastructure, education, and access to gainful employment, participants work to care for the gardens, increasing collaboration, capacity and yield. One participant said, “ReGrowth is more than gardens and produce, but reconnecting to the community. If it starts off with a garden it’s going to expand.”

With ROW’s support and through capacity building toward a shared vision, opportunities exist for an art installation, expansion of the vegetable garden, events and clearing for a pocket park in this neighborhood as examples of how a community could still connect to waterways long filled in.

+ Reconnecting to Our Waterways is accepting entries for the Pogue’s Run Photo Contest through Saturday, Sept. 16. Applicants can submit up to two photos of the watershed and adjacent greenspace.

ROW leaders said all levels and abilities are welcome to submit a snapshot to be eligible to be featured in the Circle City Industrial Complex First Friday exhibition on First Friday, Oct. 6.

Send photos to Winners will be awarded gift cards to local Eastside businesses. The youth division is open to anyone 17 and under, while the adult division is for those 18 and older.

+ Reconnecting to Our Waterways has announced the return of its annual waterways celebration. The 2023 ROWport will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, along the White River at the New York Street Bridge and west bank lawn.

ROWport will feature a series of family-friendly events, while the city’s waterways will be showcased. Everyone is welcome to attend the all-ages, family-oriented celebration of waterways and all things related to water. An added bonus, organizers said, is the great view of Downtown offered by the White River setting.

PHOTO ABOVE: Thanks to the grant, the Norwood neighborhood is gaining closer ties to Reconnecting to Our Waterways.