Smells of Local History

MCHS Photo: 1998.082.0001

The Monroe County courthouse has nice restrooms on the north end of the first floor. This was not true for the earlier courthouse buildings. The first log cabin (1818-1826), the second wooden building (1826-1856), and the third, with its brick wings extending that (1856-1906), lacked these facilities in the fourth, and present, courthouse. Instead, they had a privy, or outhouse. The privy smelled, particularly when it was being cleaned out.

There were other persistent smells and threats to public health around the courthouse, primarily caused by horse manure and urine collecting around the hitch racks on all four sides of the building. The Federation of Women’s Clubs, in 1897, headed up a drive to eliminate the hitch racks, but this wasn’t finally done until well after the advent of automobiles ( See “The Courthouse Hitch Rack and Public Health in the 1890s” from the Monroe County Historian, Aug/Sept, 2012, pp. 5-7)

By 1900 the privy smells must have received sufficient complaints that the judge of the county circuit court ordered the grand jury to investigate and make recommendations. Here is their report:

State of Indiana, Monroe County

To the Monroe Circuit Court

March Term, 1900

We the Grand Jury in obedience to the Court’s instructions concerning the “dry plant” or privey [sic] in the court yard, beg leave to report thereon as follows:

We have made our examination and find that said “dry plant” when the same is burned (?) out causes the atmosphere in the neighborhood of the same to become foul, nauseating and injurious to health. We find that the floor of said privey is permitted to become unclean and filthy. The latter can be easily remedied by the janitor.

We find that the conditions above described constitute a continuing nuisance. We have caused the County Commissioners to be brought before us as witnesses and after consultation with them we feel assured that they will be diligent in their efforts to abate said nuisance within a reasonable time and we feel that until they have further time to abate the same they should not be held criminally liable for maintaining said nuisance, and we therefore do not return an indictment against them.

Respectfully submitted, Jacob Carmichael. Foreman.

Whatever the outcome of this report, the wheels of progress were already underway, leading to the replacement of the old courthouse and smelly privy, with its replacement, complete with modern restrooms.

Blog post by Lee Ehman




In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Bloomington was estimated at 84,067; in 1850, the total population for all of Monroe County was only 11,357.  Of that number 27, less than 1%, were people of color.  According to the population census, of that number here were 23 blacks and 4 mulattos.  About half of the people of color, 15, were adults age 20 or older:  Nolley, Murria and Sarah Baker; Abner and Mary Cramsen; Andrew and Jane Ferguson; Patience Locket; Linden Meads; Henry McCaw; William and Jenetta/Jinetta McClerkin; Hannah Sheppard; Dililia Walker; and Hark Wilson.

Of the adults, there were 7 men.  Three of the men were farmers (Linden Meads, Henry McCaw and William McClerkin); 1 was a barber (Nolley Baker); and no occupation was noted for 3 men (Abner Cramsen; Andrew Ferguson and Hark Wilson, a resident of the poor farm).

Most of the people of color lived in or near Bloomington in Bloomington and Perry townships (21).  There were also people of color in Indian Creek (1); Bean Blossom (1); Richland (1); and Clear Creek (3).

Surprisingly, nearly a third of the people of color (10) were natives of Indiana all of whom were age 20 and older.  The remainder was born in Kentucky (4); Virginia (3); South Carolina (7); Maryland (1); North Carolina (1); and Africa (1).

Seven of the adults were heads of household:  Nolley Baker; Mary Cramsen; Andrew Ferguson, Patience Locket; Henry McCaw; William McClerkin; and Hanna Sheppard.  Some of the households consisted of a single individual.  Seven of the people of color, regardless of age, were in homes where the head of household was white:  William Bird was in the household of William Crum; Linden Meads was in the household of William Jones; Dililia Walker was in the household of Gideon Walker; Hark Wilson at the Poor Farm; Moses Bush in the household of Benjamin Mather; and Columbus, Duerad and Bonaparte Moss were in the household of Josiah Hovel.

Andrew Ferguson was the oldest person of color in Monroe County in 1850.  He reportedly was born in Virginia 1755-1765, and was a private in the Revolutionary War for four or five years according to his self-report.  Sometime between 1820-1830 he relocated to Indiana.  He applied for a military pension in 1838 from Monroe County which was granted to him in 1839.  In 1851, at the age of 96, he applied for military bounty land.  Because he did not receive a favorable response, he resubmitted his application in 1855 but died before his request was acted upon.  Although he never received any bounty land, he did own property in 1850 valued at $150 and was the only person of color that year to own any real estate.  It is said that he was buried in an unmarked grave at Rose Hill Cemetery.  In 1984 the Daughters of the American Revolution remedied that oversight.

Look for a database of Monroe County people of color 1850-1870 at the Indiana Genealogical Society (IGS) website.  It is available to members only and includes:  name, date of birth, place of birth, place of residence, color and census year for each individual.  Because the database was only recently submitted to the IGS website, it may not be posted until September.

Blog post by Randi Richardson


  2. 1850 Monroe County, Indiana, federal population census.
  3. Transcription of the military pension application at


John Foster Touted as a Hero For His Role in Bloomington’s PCB Cleanup

John Foster, an alumni of Bloomington’s University School, is the son of a former IU professor.  Throughout his career he has held many different jobs most of which were unrelated to his pursuit of a degree in art.

Steven Higgs, an IU graduate and long-time, Bloomington-based environmental reporter, considers John to be an environmental hero, so much so that John was the focus of one of the nine chapters in Higgs’ book, Eternal Vigilance:  Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana, published by the IU Press in 1995.

John was just a freshman in 1957 when Westinghouse Electric opened a manufacturing plant on Bloomington’s west side to produce electrical capacitors.  PCBs were used inside the capacitors as an insulating oil.  It was not until 1975 that Bloomington became aware of a PCB problem.  The problem was due to waste from the manufacturing process being disposed of in local landfills and city sewage lines.

According to Higgs, in 1982 John was working for a contractor to remediate a landfill where PCB-contaminated electrical capacitors from Westinghouse had been dumped years before.[1], [2]  When John became aware that what he was being asked to do did not really remove the hazards of the dump, he notified EPA.  They took no action.

A few months later, John’s employer received a new contract for the remedial cleanup of another PCB dump site in Bloomington.   John believed the cleanup was a farce and in 1984 contacted Mayor Tomi Allison with his concerns.  Allison took no action.

When John came across a letter from the State Board of Health stating that no one working at PCB landfills should be there without respirators and full-body covering, he became angry.  This was the beginning of his environmental activism and dedicated opposition to the proposed PCB cleanup agreement.

In 1987, John began leading guided tours of Bloomington’s contaminated sites.  The tours wound up at the farm of Dale and Connie Conard who lived next to one of the contaminated landfills.  Hundreds of deformed pigs were born on the Conard farm.  Some of the dead and deformed pigs were frozen in order to made them publically available at a later time and illustrate the problems associated with PCB contamination.

Throughout the chapter, Higgs outlined the many efforts of John to rid Bloomington of PCBs in a responsible, non-hazardous manner.  Those living in Bloomington since 1957 truly owe John a debt of gratitude.[3], [4]

Blog post written by library volunteer, Randi Richardson.

[1] Legislation in the 1970s prompted a halt to PCB disposal practices of Westinghouse and made them liable for cleanup of polluted areas, and in 1977, Westinghouse halted production of the capacitors using PCBs.  For more information see a case study by Tim Feddersen, 1998, titled “Westinghouse and PCBs in Bloomington, Indiana, available online.

[2] Kate Golden, “Toxic Tourism ( Our Favorite Kind):  Bloomington, Indiana, March 12, 2011, available online at

[3] Steven Higgs, “Killing an Incineration Experiment,” Eternal Vigilance:  Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana (Bloomington IN:  IU Press, 1995), pp. 138-159.   Available at the Research Library, Monroe County History Center.

[4] On January 27, 2006, the Bloomington Herald Times announced that the former Westinghouse/ABB Plant on Curry Pike was scheduled to close by late summer.

United Presbyterian Church Dedicated in 1871; Destroyed by Fire in 1951

In February 1869, the United and Reformed Presbyterian congregations of Bloomington formed a union under the name of the United Presbyterian Church and at once resolved to erect a building.  They selected for their site the lot at the northeast corner of College Avenue and Ninth Street where the wooden frame R. P. Church stood. R. P. Daggett, an Indianapolis architect, furnished the plans for the new building.

The foundation was laid in the fall of 1869, and on November 9, 1871, members of the community witnessed the completion and dedication of the beautiful church.  The two-story, brick building was of the Norman Gothic style and measured 45 wide by 75 in length with a large and stately tower standing out in front in the center of the building.    In the tower was a large, double window with a circular top filled with the magnificent stained glass.  In the center of the circular top was a large “bull’s eye” filled with the richest colored glass and on which was engraved in a circle the letters “U. P. C., 1870.”   On each corner, running up from the ground about 64 feet high, was an octagon turret finished with a beautiful spire on the top.

From the vestibule in front one could ascend the circular stairway to the “audience room” above.  This room surpassed in beauty anything of the kind seen in its day.  It was about 43 feet wide and 68 feet long, divided into four blocks of pews with a seating capacity for about 450 to 500. The pews were arranged in concentric circles with the pulpit in the center.  A commodious “gallery” over the audience room provided additional seating for another 150 people.

This church was destroyed by fire on July 3, 1951.  The present church, shown in the picture above, located at 1701 East Second Street, was dedicated on October 12, 1952.

Sources:  Bloomington (IN) Progress, November 23, 1871, p. 1; and “United Presbyterian Church,” Monroe County, Indiana, Family Heritage, 1987, p. 22-23.

Blog written by Randi Richardson



Hitching Posts: A Matter of Controversy

The first hitching posts were placed around the courthouse square in 1826 coinciding with the opening of the county’s first courthouse.  As most people traveled either by horse or a horse-drawn vehicle until the turn of the century, the posts were a necessity and no one questioned the need for them.

About 1900, with the introduction of the automobile, thinking began to change.  IU Prof. V. F. Marsters brought the first manufactured automobile to Bloomington in 1901.  From that time forward, although horses continued to be the primary means of transportation for quite some time, automobiles began to gain in popularity.

With the completion of the new courthouse in 1907, most of the people living in Bloomington wanted to banish the hitching rack forever.  They believed it was unsanitary, unsightly and did nothing to promote the beauty or progressiveness of the county.

Continue reading Hitching Posts: A Matter of Controversy

Bloomington’s First Horseless Carriage Manufactured by J.O. Howe

The first horseless carriage to run on the streets of Bloomington was constructed by Joshua O. Howe sometime between 1896 and 1906.  In his day, Howe was one of the best mechanics in Bloomington.  He also conducted a jewelry store on the square, kept the old courthouse clock in running order, constructed and ran a steamboat on Bloomington’s first waterworks lake, and was the engineer on Bloomington’s various steam fire engines

When Haynes, Apperson and Ford began building their first machines, Howe decided he would make one of his own.  He had no model to go by, could buy no auto parts, so the entire machine had to be assembled in Bloomington, much of it in the back room of his jewelry store.   The engine was the most vital part, and it was made in the Seward Foundry.

Continue reading Bloomington’s First Horseless Carriage Manufactured by J.O. Howe