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Haughville’s historic Belmont Beach undergoing revitalization project

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Segregation factored into nearly every part of public life, even enjoying certain water parks and pools.

So in the 1920s, Haughville’s Black community transformed a space along with White River into Belmont Beach.

Getting something like Belmont Beach took decades. The city finally allowed Black residents to claim the space when it was deemed too dangerous for white residents due to pollution.

Over time, people stopped swimming there. Neglect set in, but the community has once again reclaimed the space.

The current still flows strong in the White River just to the north of the beach. For a time, it was the water recreation spot for Haughville’s Black community.

“It was a segregated beach created by African Americans because they had no other choice. They didn’t have a place to go swim and enjoy their family activities,” resident Olgen Williams said.

By the time Williams made it to Indy 50 years ago, the beach was a shell of its former self with only a few brave ones entering the polluted water.

“They used to swim around the trestle, which is a little bit east of here. The water was clean. They swim in and they jumped off the bridge and had a good time,” Williams said.

He saw the last few glimpses of the of the beach’s initial heyday, and is now able to watch youngsters with Friends of Belmont Beach help it undergo a revitalization.

“They want to give this piece of history back to our community here in Haughville,” Williams said.

Ebony Chappel is the organization’s director. Growing up, she didn’t know the history of the beach. Now, she is one of many helping change the future by working on the Belmont Beach project.

“I am three generations deep in Haughville,” Chappel said.

Grant money and other financial support allowed volunteers to clear the space, put up signage and bring in a range of activities catered to not just the black community but a diverse group now reflective of Haughville.

“Growing up, you couldn’t have told me that Haughville wasn’t the most special place in the world. And now I think people are starting to wake up and really start to see the magic that this community has,” Chappel said.

She says it’s interesting to see history turn on its head.

“The people that worked so hard to create a space in the first place out of necessity, I hope that we’re making them proud,” Chappel said.

Although the project started off as a one-year pilot, support has come in, allowing for a second season. Organizers plan to get this started in the spring and summer.