Woodruff Place39.777824, -86.126497

Booth Tarkington

The Woodruff Place neighborhood served as inspiration for the setting in Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons.


Booth Tarkington
b. 1869 – d. 1946

Literary Inspiration

The Magnificent Ambersons

Published 1918


763 Woodruff Place East Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46201

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The Magnificent Ambersons

Booth Tarkington

Major Amberson had “made a fortune” in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then. Magnificence, like the size of a fortune, is always comparative, as even Magnificent Lorenzo may now perceive, if he has happened to haunt New York in 1916; and the Ambersons were magnificent in their day and place. Their splendour lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city, but reached its topmost during the period when every prosperous family with children kept a Newfoundland dog.


The Magnificent Ambersons

Booth Tarkington

. . . New faces appeared at the dances of the winter; new faces had been appearing everywhere, for that matter, and familiar ones were disappearing, merged in the increasing crowd, or gone forever and missed a little and not long; for the town was growing and changing as it never had grown and changed before.

It was heaving up in the middle incredibly; it was spreading incredibly; and as it heaved and spread, it befouled itself and darkened its sky. Its boundary was mere shapelessness on the run; a raw, new house would appear on a country road; four or five others would presently be built at intervals between it and the outskirts of the town; the country road would turn into an asphalt street with a brick-faced drugstore and a frame grocery at a corner; then bungalows and six-room cottages would swiftly speckle the open green spacesand a farm had become a suburb, which would immediately shoot out other suburbs into the country, on one side, and, on the other, join itself solidly to the city. You drove between pleasant fields and woodland groves one spring day; and in the autumn, passing over the same ground, you were warned off the tracks by an interurban trolley-car’s gonging, and beheld, beyond cement sidewalks just dry, new house-owners busy “moving in.” Gasoline and electricity were performing the miracles Eugene had predicted.


The Magnificent Ambersons

Booth Tarkington

The idealists planned and strove and shouted that their city should become a better, better, and better city—and what they meant, when they used the word “better,” was “more prosperous,” and the core of their idealism was this: “The more prosperous my beloved city, the more prosperous beloved I!” They had one supreme theory: that the perfect beauty and happiness of cities and of human life was to be brought about by more factories; they had a mania for factories; there was nothing they would not do to cajole a factory away from another city; and they were never more piteously embittered than when another city cajoled one away from them.


Booth Tarkington’s description of the setting in The Magnificent Ambersons, as well as the worlds he creates in The Midlander and The Turmoil, closely mirror the cultural and physical effects of the Industrial Revolution on Indianapolis. Having actually lived in the city during this age, Tarkington was able to provide some firsthand narration to these changes. . . . Indeed, Tarkington would have been witness to the outward movement of the city from the original mile square plan laid out by Alexander Ralston. He was able to describe this transition, providing modern readers at least a general sense of the passage of time, and ultimately, of the development of the city.

—Steven M. Burrows, Ph.D., author of the thesis “Time, Form and Fiction: Reading the Landscapes of Booth Tarkington”

In The Magnificent Ambersons, certain characters, particularly George Amberson Minifer, were unable to adapt to the modern world. The changing physical and social appearance of the city no longer matched their vision of what that place should be. Even though this was largely a situation of George’s own creation (and so I don’t think we need to feel too sorry for him), the result of this was deep emotional suffering for the character. Conversely, a character such as Eugene Morgan, who actively created change in the city, was able to thrive financially and emotionally. Booth Tarkington recognized that a sense of agency—that you are part of the decision-making process—is what connects or separates people from the world in which they live.

This is the case in the “real world” as well. When local residents and stakeholders have a voice in the changes that occur in their community, such as in the Woodruff Place neighborhood, they are much more likely to embrace those changes moving forward. To put it in the language of Kevin Lynch, spaces and places have high levels of imageability. It is up to individuals to seek their own place in the city, but it is surely also a function of government and other civic organizations (public or privately funded) to make this space accessible for all people. Tarkington may not have wanted to draw attention to it, but the Woodruff Place neighborhood has been culturally diverse for a long time now. It is important that we recognize this today and allow for those voices to be heard as Woodruff Place continues to grow and change.

—Steven M. Burrows, Ph.D., author of  the thesis “Time, Form and Fiction: Reading the Landscapes of Booth Tarkington”

Booth Tarkington is one of only four authors to have been twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (for The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams). Other dual recipients are William Faulkner, John Updike and Colson Whitehead.

Indianapolis native Booth Tarkingtonbest known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adamswas considered one of America’s greatest living authors in the 1910s and 1920s. In addition to his award-winning adult fiction, he also wrote dramatic works and popular young adult novels such as Penrod. Tarkington, along with Meredith Nicholson, George Ade and James Whitcomb Riley, was a leading figure during the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. 


Indianapolis is a place that inspires creativity. This is one of a dozen original pieces of visual and performing art created by Hoosier artists inspired by Bookmark Indy authors.


Tatjana Rebelle

Poetry/Spoken Word
“Magnificent Who”

Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 and widely considered one of his best works, is fraught with ugly racial stereotypes and offensive racist language. Spoken word artist Tatjana Rebelle responds with their original work “Magnificent Who,” which prompts us not only to critique and question Tarkington but also asks us to imagine an alternative.  

woodruff place town hall

Marker Location:
763 Woodruff Place East Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46201


Closest IndyGo Stops: 

10th Street & Woodruff Place Middle Drive (Routes 10 & 11)

New York Street & Hamilton Avenue (Route 3)


How to Plan a Trip on IndyGo:  

  • Use the Trip Planner on IndyGo.net 
  • Use Google Maps (select “transit” as your travel method) 
  • Call IndyGo Customer Service at 317-635-3344 
  • Track your bus using the MyStop Mobile App 


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Meet Mary

Oct. 2, 2021 | 11:00 a.m -1:00 p.m. | Woodruff Place

Stop by the Bookmark Indy table at the Woodruff Place Flea Market for the chance to chat with Mary from The Magnificent Ambersons and learn about Woodruff Place in the early 20th century. Mary sees and hears all in the Amberson household, so bring your questions!

Partner: Indiana Historical Society


Report Back.

Read the location passage. What questions would you ask the author? What would help you understand the author's viewpoint?

Added TEXTure.

Writing is about more than just words. Look around to discover what textures are most prevalent in this place. Do a texture rubbing using a piece of paper and a crayon or pencil.

In the Margins.

What inspires you most about this place? Draw a quick doodle of it in the margin of one of your books.

Found sound.

Walk around the location and record the sounds of surroundings. Did what you hear depend on what time you visited?

Backward / Forward.

Cities change—what did your location look like in 1920? What will it look like in 2120?


Find another perspective by walking to a different spot around this location. Do you notice anything new? Which of your five senses notices a change first?

Strike a Prose.

Write a short passage describing how this place inspires you.

Love Letter / BreakUp Letter.

Think about your relationship with the place you’re visiting or perhaps with your own neighborhood. Is it time to commit? Or time to let go? Write a letter as if you’re speaking directly to the place you have in mind.

Field Notes.

Explore your stream of consciousness by writing down every thought that enters your mind.