Why Lawrence?: Community offers diversity, unique military history, easy access to amenities


The City of Lawrence is unique in many ways. It’s one of a handful of Unigov cities that also are part of the City of Indianapolis; it was the longtime home to Fort Benjamin Harrison; its borders include the popular Geist Reservoir; and it boasts a 1,700-acre state park in the heart of the city.

Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brad Klopfenstein said a large part of what makes Lawrence so special is its diversity. He said Lawrence is one of the most diverse cities in Indiana, and not only along racial and ethnic lines. It also has significant diversity in terms of socioeconomics, from million-dollar homes in the Geist area to more modest neighborhoods on the east side.

Ethnic diversity has increased through the years, Klopfenstein said.

“We have got a great burgeoning Haitian community that’s kind of over on our southeast side of Lawrence,” he said. “We have a very vibrant Latino community and that’s witnessed just by the number of markets that we have and restaurants, and it’s great that you can walk around Lawrence and hear unfamiliar tongues. These are all people who live here.”

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Some residents from those diverse cultures share their culinary heritage by opening restaurants.

“I would call myself an adventurous eater and there’s a lot of options to eat things I would have otherwise never had an opportunity to eat,” Klopfenstein said, noting that one of his favorites is Terramar Mariscos y Carnes at 8143 Pendleton Pike.

Lawrence also is home to Fort Harrison State Park, which was part of the former Fort Benjamin Harrison U.S. Army base that shut down in the 1990s. The park and neighboring golf course are among the amenities handed over to the state and local community since the fort was decommissioned.

Now, the Fort Ben campus has been redeveloped into Lawrence’s downtown. Its former military buildings have been repurposed into local government offices, restaurants, housing and more, and the city has developed open spaces into amenities such as the Civic Plaza and outdoor Cultural Campus.

Klopfenstein said a lot of different activities center around the former Fort Ben.

“I feel like we’ve got more than our fair share of marathons, half marathons and runs, and most of those will launch from the parade grounds here at Lawton Loop at the fort,” he said. “We’ve got, obviously, Heartland Film Festival is now in town (at the fort) and they’re now doing a lot of their activities in and around Lawrence. Arts for Lawrence (at the fort) has all sorts of offerings that run throughout the year, whether it be plays, live performances, music.”

He also noted the summer farmers market at the Fort Ben Cultural Campus, and Triton Brewery.

“So, yeah, there’s lots of things to see and do and eat when you’re in Lawrence,” Klopfenstein said.

And there is still a federal government presence with the Major General Emmett J. Bean Federal Center, the former Fort Ben Finance Center. Now owned by the General Services Administration, the building is still home to military finance services, along with a credit union, barbershop, federal occupational health services and a fitness center, according to the GSA website.

Klopfenstein said Lawrence’s military history is another way the community is one-of-a-kind.

“We’ve got the historic downtown, which is effectively the decommissioned buildings at the fort. But it gives us a very unique history, and something that no one else in Indiana can really point to and say, ‘Yeah, we’ve got that same thing,’” he said.

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The Fort Ben Cultural Campus is home to Arts for Lawrence and an outdoor space that hosts festivals, concerts and the summertime farmers market.

Lawrence by the numbers

According to U.S. Census data updated in 2022, Lawrence’s population is about 49,000 living in about 19,000 households. About 27 percent of the population is under 18, and a little more than half identified themselves as female.

Census data shows the racial makeup of Lawrence at about 48 percent white, 27 percent Black, 18 percent Hispanic or Latino, 10 percent mixed races, 1.4 percent Asian, 0.2 percent Native American, and 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

About 10 percent of Lawrence residents were born in another country and about 16 percent speak a language other than English in their home.

The number of veterans living in Lawrence is about 2,300, according to the U.S. Census.

Median household income for Lawrence residents is $70,762, and the median housing cost in the city is about $193,000.