Indiana State University Newsroom



Marker dedicated to ‘Little Syria on the Wabash’

April 5, 2018

Indiana State University will honor the achievements and contributions of the Christian Syrian community in Terre Haute with a historical marker dedication on April 19.

The "Little Syria on the Wabash" marker will be awarded by the Indiana Historical Marker Program administered by the Indiana Historical Bureau. The dedication's official sponsor is St. George Orthodox Church in Terre Haute with support from Indiana State.

"In the early 1900s, people from the eastern Mediterranean and eastern Europe -- Romanians, Greeks, Italians, Syrians and others -- began to flock into Terre Haute because of the opportunities for work in a booming city," said Robert Hunter, Indiana State professor emeritus of history. "The Syrians are only a part of a larger story of immigrant success in industrial America."

Arabic-speaking Christian Syrians peddled goods to Hoosier farmers, and some became grocers. In the early 20th century, they established a community in Terre Haute north of Wabash Avenue on Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth streets on property mostly owned today by Indiana State.

"We were very excited to get the application for this marker commemorating the Syrian immigrant community in Terre Haute," said Casey Pfeiffer, historical marker program director for the Indiana Historical Bureau. "The marker tells an important story about Syrian immigrants who arrived in Indiana in the early 1900s and notes their contributions at the local, state and national level."

The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at the ISU Foundation office, located at 30 N. 5th St. Parking will be available behind the building. At noon, Indiana State President Deborah Curtis will unveil the marker at a site in the northwest corner of Cherry and Fifth streets, across from the ISU Foundation.

In July 2016, Hunter published an article on the founders of Terre Haute's Syrian community in the journal of the Indiana Historical Association. He later received an email from the director of the Indiana Historical Bureau's Historical Marker program asking if the Syrians would like to apply for a marker to honor their achievements and contributions.

Hunter garnered approval and support from members of St. George Orthodox Church to apply for a marker, which included 10 letters from Syrian Americans in Terre Haute and others who supported the request.

"My field is Middle East history, and I have lived for seven years in various countries in the Arab World," he said. "When I came to ISU in 1999, I came as chairperson of the history department. Someone told me about the Syrian community here, but I didn't get involved until I met Rev. Louis Corey, who said that no written history of the community existed. In 2010, I began interviewing local Syrian Americans to obtain their stories and memories and family documents pertaining to their history, and I have accumulated a lot of information and learned a great deal from the interviews."

The first official documented Syrian arrived in Terre Haute in 1904, and, by 1927, Syrians founded St. George Orthodox Church on North Fifth Street as their hub. Many of their children attended Indiana State's lab school and, later, Indiana State. Children and grandchildren of the immigrants immersed themselves in the community. Many remained in the grocery business, while others became professionals, civic officials and businesspeople and shared their culture through ethnic festivals and cafés.

There are more than 600 historical markers throughout the state. Overseen by the Indiana Historical Bureau, the marker program accepts applications each year from the public for new marker topics that must demonstrate statewide and/or national significance and be supported with primary source documentation.

The Indiana Historical Bureau also considers markers for topics that coincide with notable anniversaries in the dedication year, topics in counties with few standing state historical markers and topics related to underrepresented, minority and ethnic groups in Indiana history - although these are not mandatory factors for those submitting applications.

Indiana Historical Bureau staff review applications and submit recommendations to the Indiana Library and Historical Board, which approves applications in August.

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Contacts: Casey Pfeiffer, historical marker program director, Indiana Historical Bureau, cpfeiffer@history.in.gov, or Robert Hunter, professor emeritus of history, Indiana State University, robert.hunter@indstate.edu

Writer: Betsy Simon, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or betsy.simon@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

Indiana State University will honor the achievements and contributions of the Christian Syrian community in Terre Haute with a historical marker dedication on April 19. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at the ISU Foundation office, located at 30 N. 5th

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