On the afternoon of September 27, 1951, the Airport Roller Skating Rink and a small residential home utilized by the rink for storage were completely destroyed by fire fanned by a brisk wind. The rink, which measured about 110×60 feet, was located two miles west of Bloomington. It was owned by Ernest Baldwin who previously owned and operated the airport and later converted it into a skating rink.
Baldwin had been working at the roller rink an hour or two before the fire broke out but gone to the Veterans Airport building. From there he sighted smoke billowing from the rink structure. He immediately returned to the rink and was able to save some skates but little else due to the intense heat. Four dogs were in the building when the fire started; three perished in the blaze.
Although it was determined that the fire started in the furnace room, the exact cause of the fire was not known. Estimates to replace the building are put at $20,000, significantly more than the $5,000 of existing insurance coverage.
Later that same day the Bloomington Daily Herald Telephone reported the story on page one. The article was accompanied by two pictures. A clipping of the article is available in the vertical files at the Indiana Room, Monroe County Public Library and on microfilm.
By the time the Civilian Conservation Corps program ended in 1942, some three million men, including more than 63,000 Hoosiers had worked in more than 2,000 camps throughout the 48 states and the U. S. possessions of Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. There were 56 CCC companies in the State of Indiana. Workers constructed the camps they lived in. Each camp had approximately 200 male workers in racially segregated accommodations. Eight of those 256 camps were for African Americans.
Indiana’s first CCC camp was established in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest in northwest Monroe County about 1933. It was identified as Co. 542 and consisted of young men of color. Despite the fact that racial discrimination in the CCC was initially prohibited, by 1935 people of color lived and worked in segregated camps managed by white leaders. Because space in CCC programs for people of color was limited to ten present of those recruited, those accepted considered themselves especially fortunate. Of the 3,000,000 men enrolled in CCC camps, only about a quarter of a million were African-American.
Members were paid $1/day and sent $25 per month home to support their families. They worked in forests around Bloomington, likely in both the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood, reducing fire hazards (most likely clearing brush) on 775 acres, clearing 100 miles of roadsides, fighting forest fires, improving forest stands, building truck trails, erecting dwellings and other structures and clearing a 10-acre campground.
Men in the CCC worked from eight to five, Monday through Friday and were granted six days of leave between enrollment periods. They enrolled for a period of six months and could then choose whether or not to reenlist for another six months eventually serving up to two years. On the weekends, buses took members to Bloomington or Columbus since the nearby village of Nashville did not welcome blacks.
It wasn’t all work for members of the CCC, however. Young men also learned valuable trade skills and attended classes on a variety of topics including mechanical drawing, typing, foreign languages and art. It is estimated that some 57,000 illiterate men learned to read and write in CCC camps.
On June 19, 1935, the Indianapolis (IN) Recorder published news of a baccalaureate service held for members of Company 542 who received certificates for meriting satisfactory grades in academic courses. The event was said to be well attended by visitors. That same article noted that a dance “in the form of a class prom” was held in the camp recreation hall, the company baseball team played its first game with a French Lick independent team, and the “minstrel show and jug band” of Company 542 entertained in Martinsville where they were “heartily received.” On September 28, 1935, the Recorder indicated that Bennie Mason, a middleweight fighter of Co. 542, fought six rounds with “Tiger” Williams of Bloomington, Indiana.
Some 25 or 30 members of Company 542 visited the Silver Slipper Night Club in Terre Haute late on Friday, July 26, 1935. Felton Lyles, Bob Jones, Paul Webb and James Bolton, the only four known members of Company 542, were among the party goers. They arrived on a “great big cattle truck,” “hot, dry and thirsty” to join a big crowd gathered at the nightclub to see female impersonators.”
It seems likely that Company 542 either disbanded or relocated sometime in late summer or early fall 1935. The Ellettsville (IN) Farm on September 19, 1935, reported that unofficial news had been received indicating that the “negro CCC camp north of Dolan” may be moved by October 1, although camp members were heavily engaged in soil erosion work and many farmers had applied for soil erosion aid from the government to be done by CCC members. Online efforts to locate the Company 542 after 1935 have not been successful.
As noted earlier, information about particular CCC companies, including the one in Monroe County, is quite sketchy. Little is available at the Monroe County History Center or the Monroe County Public Library. Much of the information about Company 542 is from The Life and Times of Felrath Hines: From Dark to Light written by Rachel Berenson Perry, former curator of the Indiana State Museum. Hines, a native of Indianapolis and a professional artist, was the first African American man to become a professional conservator for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D. C. Berenson’s book details the life of the artist and his work. Soon after his graduation, Hines was enrolled in Company 542.
For more information about the CCC specific to Indiana, view the library holdings of the Wells Library at IU—Bloomington, the Indiana State Library and the Indiana Historical Society.
Rachel Berenson Perry, The Life and Art of Felrath Hines: From Dark to Light (Bloomington IN: IU Press, 2019) pp. 41-45.
James H. Madison and Lee Ann Sandweiss, Hoosiers and the American Story (Indianapolis IN: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014), p. 242 caption.
Rev. Isaac Owen, missionary of the Methodist Church, arrived in California in September 1849. After passing through Sacramento without stopping, they continued west toward San Francisco. On September 23 they camped in Grass Valley. It was there that Isaac stuck his cane in the soft ground, hung his hat on it and used it as his pulpit for his first sermon in his adopted state.
From Grass Valley the wagons carried the Owen family to Benicia on San Pablo Bay. They were eight in all, Isaac with his wife, five children and a colleague, Rev. James Corwin. It was upon his arrival in Benicia that Isaac learned he had been appointed to Sacramento. The journey that seemed never ending would require him to backtrack over the path he had recently traveled.
Owing to the exhausted condition of his faithful oxen, Isaac decided to ship most of the wagons’ contents up the river to Sacramento by schooner. With much lighter wagons, he could make good time to Sacramento and be on hand to receive the cargo upon the schooner’s arrival. Unfortunately, however, he had no need to hurry.
The boatman in charge of the schooner became inebriated during the course of his journey and in a drunken state ran the vessel on a shoal causing it to capsize. All of the schooner’s contents were lost in the river including those of the Owen family, all the possessions they had hauled safely across 2,000 miles of wilderness. Upon arrival in Sacramento as strangers in a strange land, the family had only the clothes upon their back. They had no home and no money excepting $150.
Isaac found housing in the land of gold and opportunity at a premium. An unfinished room at Sutter’s Fort rented for $100 per month. The Owen family took shelter there but one week. Rather than seeking financial support from the Methodist church conference in order to continue their stay, Mrs. Owen, true to the missionary cause, suggested the family live in a tent until a house could be built. So Isaac went to work and constructed a tent out of the remains of the family’s old wagon covers and a few bed quilts. When completed, the tent measured eight by ten. There the eight resided for about four or five weeks until Isaac could build a church and one-room parsonage from lumber sent from Baltimore. During this time Mrs. Owen supported the family mostly by the proceeds of the milk of two cows brought from Indiana.
On January 11, 1850, in Owen’s first official communication from California, he noted the cost of a few staples: flour, $30-40 per barrel; salt pork, $30-40 per barrel; potatoes, 25-40 cents per pound; butter $1.25-1.50 per pound; milk, $1 per quart. That same quart of milk in today’s dollars would cost $30.49.
By that time of that communication he was living with his family in the parsonage, according to information published in the Danville (IN) Weekly Advertiser on April l6, 1850. Isaac noted that first sermon in Sacramento was preached on October 27, 1849, under an oak tree and 40 people were convinced to join the new church.
A month later Isaac’s youngest child, a two-year-old daughter who was yet a babe in arms when the family left Indiana, became sick and died. Mrs. Owen, worn down by hardship and toil, was so shattered by the death that she never really recovered from the effects of the bereavement. She was a quiet, pious, sensible woman but from the time of her arrival in California was but a wreck physically of what she had been in the days of her sunshine and hope.
Elizabeth Owen died August 19, 1864, and was buried in the Mission City Memorial Park Cemetery. Isaac, missionary of the Methodist Church, died on February 9, 1866, and was buried by the side of his wife and near several of his children. In the years prior to his death, during his sojourn in California, he built a parsonage and a church, established the first church in Stockton, California, was a founding member of the University of the Pacific, was the first “presiding elder” of the California Methodists, was superintendent of Methodist churches and traveled into practically all settled portions of California along trails of coast and mountains. What an illustrious career for a man of simple means with roots in Monroe County, Indiana!
William Taylor, Story of My Life: An Account of What I have Thought and Said and Done in My Ministry of More than 53 years in Christian Lands and Among the Heathen (NY: Hunt & Eaton) 1895, various pages. Viewed online at https://archive.org/details/02281208.emory.edu/page/n3 in 2019.
After agreeing to accept a commission from the Central Board of the Methodist Church to serve as a missionary in California during 1849, Isaac Owen of Monroe County, Indiana, began placing ads in various newspapers soliciting individuals who might want to travel West with him as part of a wagon company. The following ad was published in the Spencer (IN) Republican, January 27, 1849, p. 8: “The Bloomington, Indiana, company bound for California will leave Bloomington February 20, 1849, spend Sabbath the 25th of February at Terre Haute, Indiana, and rendezvous at St. Joseph, Mo., April 23, at which time and place all persons wishing to join the company will please report themselves to the undersigned with the necessary outfit. The outfit will consist of one strong, two-horse wagon and three yoke of oxen, or an equal team of mules, to four persons, suitable camp utensils and a suitable supply of provisions. Each adult male must have one good rifle gun and a good supply of ammunition, a suitable supply of clothing for the journey and a suitable supply of medicines. After the company leaves St. Joseph, Mo., mutual aid will be given to each other. Good moral character will be required of all applying for admission into the company with satisfactory assurances that the Sabbath will be observed when practicable. –Isaac Owen”
On February 20, the day of the departure, arrived, Rev. Isaac Owen and his party of emigrants took their leave from the Bloomington Methodist Church. The wagons, all laden and ready for starting, assembled at 10 AM and spent an hour in religious exercises. Each emigrant was presented with a bible by the Monroe County Bible Society, and the company took up the line of march for the Land of Promise. About 2,000 people gathered to say farewell to their departing friends.
Unfortunately, there is no list of names of the emigrants who made up Isaac’s wagon company. However, a few names have been discovered among various sources. Numbered among them were: Craven P. Hester who was a member of the Bloomington Methodist Church; Dr. B. A. Allison, William E. Taylor, E. Patrick, J. W. Archer and H. Coffey, all of Owen County; James Corwin, a close friend of Isaac’s; Noah Palmer, age 29, of Orange County; and Jonathan M. Nichols, a native of Tennessee who lived for lived for a time in Monroe County but was living in Rockville, Parke County, Indiana, at the time he left on the wagon train.
After a long and tedious journal of 500 miles, the wagon train reached St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 18. A few more members were added to the train at that place which brought the total number to 134 beside women and children. According to Isaac’s open letter published in the Brookville (IN) American on June 15, 1849, the group included a goodly number of church members, four Methodist preachers and one Cumberland Presbyterian. He also reported that some members of the company made no “very great pretentions to morality.” Consequently, certain bylaws were passed prohibiting Sabbath-breaking, card playing, gambling, swearing and drunkenness.
Isaac indicated that the train crossed the Missouri River at St. Joseph on May 8 and 9 with some difficulty due to the “great press of the ferry.” On the 12th, they were delayed because a wagon from St. Louis was stuck in a small creek where everyone needed to cross. Twelve yoke of oxen from Isaac’s train were hitched to the wagon but human assistance was still required to free the vehicle.
Isaac penned his letter on May 14, 1849, a rainy Sabbath. That was the same day he reportedly saw the first Indian huts on the road West. He noted that the Indians of the region were Iowas, Sioux and Foxes and described them as poor and filthy. Brother Corwin is said to have preached to the camp at 3 PM. Unfortunately, the rain prohibited Isaac from writing more, and his letter was hastily mailed.
If Isaac later sent more letters for publication in Indiana newspapers, none have been found. In fact, no more was heard from Isaac until his arrival in California.
Watch for a continuation of this story in next week’s blog: In Search of Gold: Isaac Owen in the Land of Gold and Opportunity
Indianapolis (IN) Sentinel, March 3, 1849, p. 3.
Indianapolis (IN) Journal, December 25, 1848, p. 2.
The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 sparked the California Gold Rush, one of the most important events to shape America’s history during the first half of the 19th century. As news of the discovery spread, thousands of fortune hunters from the United States and abroad traveled to California by land and by water. They were known as the 49ers. Many were men without women for the most part. To finance their journey they borrowed money, mortgaged their property and spent their life savings. In pursuit of the kind of wealth only dreamed of, they left their families and hometowns. Isaac Owen was among the men who made that arduous journey, albeit with a different purpose.
Isaac Owen, born May 8, 1809, in Vermont, came to Indiana with his family in 1811 when Indiana was still a territory. Initially, the Owen family settled in Knox County where, it is believed, the father died in 1824. Afterward the widowed mother prayed that her children would be led to God. It wasn’t long until her prayers on Isaac’s behalf were answered.
Isaac accepted God as his Savior at the age of 16 and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. After a time he was licensed to preach, two years later he was ordained a deacon, at the end of four years was graduated to elder’s orders and then labored as a Methodist circuit rider for a number of years. Eventually he was called upon to raise an endowment fund for Indiana Asbury University, a Methodist university in Greencastle now known as DePauw. He served in that capacity for four years and succeeded in raising about $63,000, an amount said to be more than that of any other man.
Sometime in the 1840s Isaac settled with his family in Monroe County. He was there serving as pastor in about 1846 when the Methodists built a brand new church for the Bloomington congregation. It was an early custom of the church to have a door keeper rather than a bell to call worshipers to services. On Sunday mornings the door keeper would blow on a great tin horn to alert parishioners that it was time for church.
In 1846 and 1847, Isaac purchased property in Monroe County, eight Bloomington inlots and one Seminary outlot. However, his sojourn in Monroe County was not destined to be for long. After the discovery of gold in California in 1848 with its attendant heavy migration, the Central Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York called upon him to serve as a missionary in California.
Isaac accepted the mission with gladness in his heart. But there was no easy way to California, which was not admitted to the union until 1850. The 49ers faced hardship and often death on the way, a distance of more than 3,000 miles. One could go either by water or overland. Isaac opted for the latter. He was determined to take his wife, Elizabeth S. (Hardin) Owen, children, and other like-minded individuals as part of a wagon company led by a wagon master. In order to organize the type of wagon company he envisioned, he began placing ads in various newspapers in the Bloomington vicinity.
Watch for a continuation of this story in next week’s blog: In Search of Gold: Isaac Owen’s Journey West.
William C. Smith, Indiana Miscellany: Consisting of Sketches of Indian Life, the Early Settlement, Customs and Hardships of the People, and the Introduction of the Gospel and of Schools Together with Biographical Notices of the Pioneer Methodist Preachers of the State (Cincinnati: Poe & Hitchcock) 1867, p. 286-290.
Rockwell D. Hunt, “Golden Jubilee of the University of the Pacific,” Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, XXXVII, No., 5, May 1901, p. 1036.
Charles Blanchard, ed., History of Morgan, Monroe & Brown Counties (Chicago: A. Battery & Co., Publishers) 1884, p. 480.
Monroe County (IN) Deed Book K, pp. 123, 445 and 522, Research Library, Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.
On December 8, 1852, Bartholomew “Bartley” Ellett took Mary Ann Stimson (consider Stimpson a spelling variant) for his lawfully wedded wife in Monroe County, Indiana. Mary Ann was 33 at the time of her marriage, quite a bit older than the average bride. Soon after the marriage, or even before that time, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl subsequently named Mary Josephine. According to Mary Josephine’s death record, she was born October 8, 1854; according to a document prepared by an attorney on behalf of Mary Josephine’s father in August 1854, Mary Josephine was born about May 1853.
In March 1854, when Mary Josephine was ten months old, her mother took off with her from Bartholomew’s household aided by three of Mary Ann’s brothers, Henry, Jr., John and Francis Stimson. About the first of July, Mary Ann returned Mary Josephine to the care of her father, but on the sixth of August she took her back. On August 8, 1854, Bartholomew asked the Monroe County court for custody of Mary Josephine and said he was willing to accept Mary Ann back as his wife.
Apparently Mary Ann acquiesced to Bartholomew’s proposal and returned home. According to the 1860 census record, three more children were subsequently born to Bartholomew and Mary Ann. Luella came along about 1856, Jane about 1858 and John Henry in March 1859. Unfortunately, however, the status of the marriage was not one of wedded bliss.
In 1870, Mary Josephine, Luella and Jane were all noted in the home of their paternal grandparents, John and Amelia Ellett, in Bean Blossom Twp., Monroe County, Indiana. The whereabouts of Bartholomew, Mary Ann and the youngest child, John Henry, are not known. Census records of 1880, however, suggest Bartholomew had a new love interest, that of Nancy C. (Jackson) Gilland, a woman more than 20 years younger than himself. Bartholomew fathered two children with Nancy—Edward Ellett in 1877 and Lou Beadie in 1879. If the couple was legally married, there is no evidence of a marriage record.
In 1880, Mary [Ann] Ellett, age 60 and reportedly single, was enumerated with her widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth Ellett, in Bean Blossom Township, Monroe County. Elizabeth was the widow of James Ellett, the brother of Bartholomew. There is no indication in the Monroe County Divorce Index, that Mary Ann was ever divorced from Bartholomew.
Mary Ann died on March 29, 1884, at the age of 65. According to her obituary in the Monroe County Citizen, she professed religion some 30 years earlier but did not belong to any denomination because she was never where she could connect with the Christian Church. All who knew her were said to love her. No survivors were noted and burial was in the Ellettsville Presbyterian Cemetery.
Nancy, Bartholomew’s second wife, disappeared sometime between 1880 when they appeared together in the census and 1900 when the enumerator noted that Bartholomew was a widow and head of a household that included his two children by Nancy. Perhaps Nancy, too, had died, but there is no record of her death among records from the health department or burials. Neither is there evidence of a divorce or remarriage.
At the age of 81, Bartholomew Ellett died near Ellettsville in March 1911 having been a resident of Richland Township almost 80 years. According to his obituary, he was a veteran of the Civil War and a widow who had been married twice—first to Mary Ann Stimson and second to Mrs. Nancy Gilliland (sic). He was survived by six children: Mary Cornman, Luella Brown, Jane Parker and John Ellett by his first wife; and Beada Holsapple and Edward Ellett by his second wife. He was buried at the Ellettsville Presbyterian Cemetery where members of his family had been interred earlier and some would be later.
Bartholomew Ellett Monroe County (IN) Civil Court Record, Box 109, Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.
Oral Histories are a rich source of information but an underutilized resource at the Research Library, Monroe County History Center. Consequently, from time to time, an oral history will be highlighted here in order that Monroe County historians and genealogists might have a better idea of what they’re missing by overlooking oral histories.
One of the many oral history transcripts on file at History Center is that of Robert Tucker compiled in 1979. Robert, a person of color with both black and Indian roots, was born in Monroe County on November 26, 1912, to Samuel Dunn and Nellie Mae (Chandler) Tucker.
Robert attended the Banneker School for colored children and Bloomington High School. At the latter place he discovered that his educational experience at Banneker had left a lot to be desired. After graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force, eventually completed two years of classes at Indiana University and, lastly, went to work at Indiana Bell Telephone where he was employed for 25 years.
During the course of the interview with Robert, he mentioned Harold Mumby, Samuel Dargon, Hoagy Carmichael Tony Chapman, his brother, Klondike Tucker, and his maternal grandfather, David Chandler. He recalled memories of the KKK trying to lynch a black man for his behavior at a baseball game and another instance where a black man was convicted of murdering a couple in an abandoned quarry.
Other records indicate that Robert married briefly twice, both marriages ending in divorce. He lived at 931 W. 6th Street in Bloomington for 15 years preceding the interview and continued to live at that address until the time of his death on March 20, 1984. His sister, Cleopatra Burress (variously spelled Buress) was noted at the same address. Burial, according to the death record, was at Rose Hill Cemetery, but he is not listed among the cemetery’s burial records.
A listing of some of the transcribed oral histories at the History Center are available online. Scroll down the page until you see a green link for “downloadable file.” Click on the link and then look for the list access at the bottom left of the page as an xlsx file.