Lest We Forget

Blog post by Randi Richardson

I met Charles Gromer at the Monroe County History Center garage sale in June 2019.  He was thumbing through a thick stack of orphan photographs, those pictures abandoned by their families without identification.  “It’s sad,” I said “to see photos of people discarded without identification and separated from the families that once loved them.”

Above:  Charles Gromer rotates a display of orphan photos in his home on a weekly basis.

“Yes,” he agreed.  “That’s why I adopt them as my own ‘instant ancestors.’  Every week I rotate on display seven different, unidentified photos in and around my home.”

Later in the month I visited with Charles, his wife, Shirley (Mize) Gromer, and their basset hound, Nutmeg, in their home on the south side of Bloomington to see the orphans that Charles had collected.  There in his exceptionally well organized man cave were a number of collections including that of orphaned photos scattered on walls and table tops amid photos, documents and other artifacts assembled from generations of his own family.

Charles opened the door to a credenza to show me an assortment of carefully stored photos organized by category—he especially likes photos of people depicting religious events such as first communions.  He explained how one might mistake a picture of a young girl in what appears to be a bridal costume as actually that of a first communion.  Communion photos typically include some type of religious artifacts such as a cross, bible and/or prayer beads.

This unidentified young girl in her communion dress was listed on Ebay in July 2019.  Notice the bible and prayer beads in her lap.

One of the seven orphan photos on display does not rotate.  It is that of a beautiful woman in the bloom of youth.  Written neatly across the front are the words, “Lest we forget!”

Gromer’s collection of orphan photos are organized by category.

Will your photos become orphans when you pass on?  Or will you label them with a name, place and date and find a home for them so that subsequent generations can be remembered?  Keep the Monroe County History Center in mind for photos of people with Monroe County roots.  The staff can either scan your photos and return the original to you along with copies on a CD or possibly accept your scrapbooks and/or photo collections that include documentation as part of their permanent collection.

The Bratton/Hudson Funeral Home in Downtown Ellettsville

Blog post by Randi Richardson

There once was a funeral home in downtown Ellettsville.  If you didn’t live in Ellettsville during the 1940s and 50s, you probably have no memory of it.  In the span of history, it existed only briefly.

The Bratton Funeral Home, later the Hudson Funeral Home, as noted in The Ellettsville Story.  In 2000, Dorothy Hamm compiled a listing of all funerals conducted at the funeral home.  The only known copy is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The two-story building at 112 N. Sale Street is believed to have been built by the Greenwood family sometime between 1910 and 1920.  The Greenwoods, so noted in The Ellettsville Story, sold it to Col. John A. Reeves and his daughter, Etta, in the early 20s.  After the death of Etta Reeves in 1941, the house was purchased by Harley O. Bratton, a minister and funeral director, for use as a funeral home.  Bratton, who operated the funeral home only briefly, sold it to Max Hudson a native of Greene County, Indiana, in 1952.  Max had only recently obtained his license as a funeral director.  He renamed the business Hudson Funeral Home.

For reasons now lost in time, Max sold the funeral home in Ellettsville to his first cousin once removed, Lawrence  Hudson, in 1955, and went to work as a funeral director for the Greene & Harrell Funeral Home in Bloomington.  Lawrence, typically called “Red” because of his red hair, moved into the home with his wife, Marjorie (Hoke) Hudson, and four daughters– Sandy, Susie, Sally and Sylvia.  The funeral home ceased to exist and the four girls moved into two bedrooms, Sandy and her sister shared the one that was once used to store caskets.

Red Hudson’s laundromat once stood where this apartment building is now located.  On the right side of the picture a portion of the property at 112 N. Sale Street is visible.

Red, who had taken a job with Rogers Building Supply in Bloomington in 1948, remained in that position for eighteen years.   In 1968 he became the official builder of Long John Silvers’ fish houses and erected more than thirty in a ten year period.  His 1997 obituary in a Bloomington newspaper described a man blessed with more than the normal amount of energy who accomplished much during his life.

Red’s daughter Sandy (Hudson) Ray Lane, who was interviewed in 2019 about her father and the property at 112 N. Sale where her family once resided, recalled that she and her sisters attended classes at the old Ellettsville school.  She graduated in 1959, married and moved to another location with her husband.  In 1968, however, she returned to 112 N. Sale which was still owned by her parents, to use the bedroom once shared with her sister as a real estate office.   She worked out of that office until 1979 when her mother passed away.  Her father then sold the property but not before building a laundromat immediately north of the home.  That property is now occupied by a two-story apartment building.

The property at 112 N. Sale Street, Ellettsville, as it appeared in 2019.  A portion of the post office is noted on the right.

Sandy’s old home, once a funeral home, yet stands but is in need of some TLC.  It has been subdivided into multiple rental units, and its history as a funeral home has long since been forgotten by most people.



Lucille Skirvin’s Diploma and the Research It Inspired

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Every year at the MCHC annual garage sale I find, without much effort, an artifact or two from Bloomington.  This year it was a large, framed picture of the Showers Furniture Factory taken sometime in the 1930s, a June 1929 diploma from Bloomington High School made out to Lucille (variously spelled Lucile) Skirvin, and a history of Sarkes Tarzian.  It’s never enough for me to just display my finds or tuck them away safely for my children to discover and discard after I am gone.  Instead I feel compelled to learn the story behind the artifacts.  This is Lucille’s story.

Lucille Skirvin’s senior picture from the 1929 Gothic yearbook.

Lucille was the daughter of Alva and Emma (Foreman) Skirvin.  She was born March 15, 1916 in Indiana, probably either Greene or Monroe County, and was the fourth of five children born to the couple.  Her siblings at the time were:  Clovis, Charles, Lola and Irene.  James W. Skirvin was born last in 1923.

Although Alva worked for a while in the stone quarries of Monroe County, by 1920 he was employed at the coal mines in Greene County where he lived with his family at 121 E. Ohio Street.  Coal became increasingly important to manufacturing and transportation in the late 1800s, and by the end of the century there were about 200 coal mines in and around Greene.

Terrible coal mine explosions were not unusual.  Fifty-one men died of a massive explosion at the City Coal Co. mine in Sullivan, near Greene County, on February 20, 1925. Perhaps that is what inspired Alva to return to Monroe County where he went to work as a machine runner at the B. G. Hoadley quarries.  While about his usual duties on September 10, 1929, some stones loosened by the recent rains slipped and plunged 50-year-old Alva into a “hole.”  Three hours later, as noted in the coroner’s report, he was dead of a crushing injury to his trunk, shock and hemorrhage.

Following the death of her husband, in 1930 Emma moved to 331 E. 12th Street in Bloomington where she lived with Clovis, Lucille and James W., age 7.  The household was supported by Clovis, who worked as a truck driver for a cleaning company, and Lucille, a recent graduate of Bloomington High School employed as an accountant for a furniture company.

A picture of Bloomington High School was included on each Bloomington High School diploma issued in 1929.

A year later, on August 8, 1931, Lucille married Robert Bault who worked as a deliveryman for a creamery.  After the marriage, Robert went to work as a packer at Showers Bros. and Lucille took a job there as well in the office.  They lived at 327 W. 15th in a household not necessarily filled with wedded bliss.  Lucille sued Robert for divorce, and a divorce was granted to her a few days before Christmas in 1939.  Robert, who then identified himself as single rather than divorced, returned to the home of his mother.  On May 25, 1947, he died of an accident at a railway crossing in Muncie, Indiana.

On July 15, 1947, Lucille, who took back her maiden name following her divorce, married Bernard Herrin, a widower with three young children—Marilyn, Martha and Walter Keith– born to his first wife, Kathryn, who died in an auto accident in 1945.  Bernard was the manager of the Home Bakery at 708 N. Indiana Street.  After the marriage the couple lived for a time at 708 W. Dodds where Robert had previously lived with his first wife.

Bernard died in December 1971 while living in Boynton Beach, Florida, with Lucille.  Afterward, about 1973, Lucille returned to Bloomington and lived in an apartment at 1700 N. Walnut.  It was there that she died on April 17, 1986, of natural causes.  The death record informant was her son-in-law Frank Owens of Bloomington.



Blog post by Randi Richardson

DunningTwo men with deep roots in Monroe County served as governor of Indiana.  Paris Chipman Dunning was one of those two.  He came to Bloomington with his mother when he was quite a young man and studied law under Gen. Howard and James A. Whitcomb.  He obtained his law degree in 1833.  When Whitcomb became Indiana’s eighth governor, Dunning was appointed lieutenant governor.  Whitcomb later resigned to take a more prestigious position, and Dunning finished out the term in 1848-49 becoming Indiana’s ninth governor.

Dunning lived many years in Bloomington, but toward the end of his life he moved to Attica to be near one of his daughters.  In the spring of 1884 he indicated that he wished to return to Bloomington and visit the people and place he had once so loved.  His son-in-law made arrangements for him to stay at the National House until such a time that he wished to go back to Attica.  It was during this visit that Dunning passed away.  His obit, as noted below, was published on page three of the Bloomington Progress on May 14, 1884.  It read as follows:

“Some two weeks ago Ex-governor Paris C. Dunning came to Bloomington from Attica, Ind., where he has been residing with his daughter.  His son-in-law, George McDonald, came with him, the old gentleman having expressed a desire to pay a visit to his old home.  He had also at various times said that when the end came he wished to die in Bloomington and be buried in the public cemetery with which he had been familiar so many years.  On Thursday of last week he was seated inside the bar of the courtroom when he was stricken with paralysis.  He was immediate carried to his room at the National Hotel where he lay in a semi-conscious condition till Saturday morning last at 7:30 AM when he quietly breathed his life away.

“Paris C. Dunning, ex-governor of Indiana, was born near Greensborough, NC, March 15, 1806…His father died when he was a boy, and he came direct to Indiana locating at Bloomington which was at that time a village of not more than 300 inhabitants.  It has been his home ever since.

“He studied law in the office of Gov. Whitcomb whom he succeeded 25 years later as governor of the state.  He began the practice of law at Bloomington when quite a young man.  His political career began in 1833 when he was elected representative in the state legislature from Monroe County.  He was re-elected for three terms successively… He was president of the Senate during the sessions of 1863-1865.

“He was married to Sarah Alexander of Bloomington in July 1826.  She died in 1863 and two years later he was married to Mrs. Ellen D. Ashford of Evansville.  He has one son by the last marriage and three children by the first marriage are still living.

“For a number of years he has been quietly engaged in the practice of law at Bloomington and Evansville and has taken no active part in politics for several years.

“Gov. Dunning was in his 79th year at the time of his death.  Before beginning the practice of law he practiced medicine in Monroe and Owen counties in which practice he was quite successful.  As a lawyer, Gov. Dunning was very fortunate and at the age of 65 had amassed a competency, but this had been lost in various ways until at his death he had no estate…

“The funeral services occurred at 3 o’clock at the M. E. Church, Rev. J. E. Brant officiating…Rev. Brant read an interesting sketch of the life of deceased in which his religious life was specially referred to.  The exercises closed at the grave according to the simple ritual of the M. E. Church.  A very large crowd accompanied the remains to the cemetery where they were deposited alongside those of the wife of his younger days.”


Blog post by Randi Richardson

Initially huckster wagons like this one delivered groceries to homes in rural areas around the country.  Later huckster wagons utilized motorized trucks.

Lots of people from Monroe County had kin that lived in Brown County located adjacent to Monroe County on the east.  Some of those kin may be among those noted in the June 2019 issue of the Brown County Journal dedicated exclusively to hucksters—the vehicle operators and the families and communities they served.

Local hucksters traversed country roads bringing household necessities to farm homes throughout the state.  They provided an important service well into the 20th century.

There are several interesting pictures and stories in the above-noted issue of the Brown County Journal with names and places from around Brown County and vicinity, many frequently associated with Monroe County.  Even if you don’t recognize these people as your ancestors, you will probably find the material interesting.  Undoubtedly at least some of your ancestors took advantage of huckster wagons.

  • Ethel Baker
  • Bean Blossom Creek
  • Bear Creek
  • Button Bond
  • Everett Bright
  • Brock School No. 8
  • George R. Fleener
  • Frank Followell
  • William D. “Bill” Gates
  • Wayne Guthrie
  • Wilson Helms
  • Cass McDonald
  • Herb McDonald
  • Merril Moore
  • Robertson & Hawley’s Grocery
  • Clarence Robertson
  • Francis Robertson
  • Rund Grocery
  • Hammond Rund
  • Salt Creek Bottoms
  • Carl Spicer
  • Mandy Spicer
  • Josh Stevens
  • Ma Steppins
  • Van Sullivan
  • Henry Swain
  • Glenn Turner
  • Sophia (Lucas) Vossmeyer
  • Alra (sic) Wheeler
  • James Williamson
  • Wilson’s Grocery

To access a copy of the June newsletter, contact Rhonda Dunn by phone at 812-988-2899 or webmail at https://www.browncountyhistorycenter.org/contact-us.html.  Bear in mind that the History Center is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11-4 PM.



Blog post by Randi Richardson

A number of Revolutionary War veterans are buried in Monroe County including Joseph Henderson and his wife, Elizabeth, in the White Oak Cemetery.   On May 11, 2019, the Daniel Guthrie SAR Chapter of Bedford and the Bloomington DAR Chapter co-hosted a grave marking and re-dedication ceremony at Henderson’s gravesite.  April Legler, DAR Chapter regent, read a prepared sketch of Henderson compiled by Sheryl Vanderstel as noted below:

Joseph Henderson’s tombstone at White Oak Cemetery is well worn but still legible as shown here.  Photo courtesy of April Legler.

“In April 1840, [a] Van Buren County, Missouri , farmer, Joseph Henderson,  applied for a Revolutionary War pension.  At that time he stated his age was 79, born and reared in Augusta County, Virginia.  In the fall of 1780, at age 19 he enlisted in a militia company for 1-month service going to Richmond as a guard for the meeting of the Virginia General Assembly.  At the end of his brief enlistment he returned to Augusta County.  A year later, in September 1781, he was drafted for 3-months’ service as part of Major Lockhart’s company.  The company left Augusta County and marched directly to Williamsburg to join General Washington’s army preparing for the Yorktown Campaign. Pvt. Henderson participated in both the siege and final battle of 19 October 1781.  After Cornwallis’s surrender, Henderson was part of the guard that escorted the British prisoners to Frederick, Maryland. [T]here, he finished his 3-months’ service guarding the British and [then] returned to Augusta County.

“Joseph married Elizabeth Frazier in 1787. In his pension application he states they moved to Tennessee where he farmed.   Although he does not mention it in the application, at some point in the 1790s he moved to Kentucky where all of his children were born.  He does state that, in 1826 he moved to Illinois and went on to Missouri by 1838.  By this time Joseph was about 67.  He is listed in the 1840 U.S. census in Van Buren County, [Mo.,] as is his son Joseph, Jr.  It was [t]here in April 1840 that Joseph applied for his pension.

“Sometime between his pension application and the death of wife, Elizabeth, in November 1841, the couple moved to Monroe County, [Indiana].  Three of their daughters were residing [in Monroe County]: Harriet, wife of Charles Swearingen; Nancy, wife of Davis Meek; and Eliza who was unmarried and helping her sisters with their large families.  After Elizabeth’s death indications are that Eliza moved in with her father to keep house for him.  Joseph Henderson died on the 21st of March 1849 and was buried next to his wife in the United Presbyterian Cemetery, now known as White Oak.”

Henderson’s pension application may be viewed online at Fold3.com, a subscription website.  Among the digital documents in his file is a typed form that briefly outlines Henderson’s four months of service.   Unfortunately for Henderson, however, the act that provided for the pension he desired required six months of service.  By his own admission, Henderson fell short of that goal by two months and, consequently, his application was rejected.  His participation in the war, however short, is not disputed, so he is rightfully honored as a veteran.


A New Resource in the Research Library

Blog post by Rod Spaw

“The Champions”, c. 1906. Photo by Spratt-Nicely photography studio. 1986.087.0035

Memories fade, but photographs remember.  That makes visual images important resources for exploring the past. Photos can raise questions, provide clarity or suggest additional avenues for discovery.

New to the Monroe History Center’s collection of research tools is an index of photo studios that operated in Bloomington between 1892 and 1990. Listed in an Excel spreadsheet by studio name, address and years at each address, the index offers a glimpse of local photographic services across time.

The information was transferred from a handwritten timeline of photo studios discovered among the history center’s collection of materials. It was found inside a folder labeled “keep this,” but when it was compiled or by who are not known. Notations indicate the information was taken was taken from plat maps, city directories and telephone books.

Photo of Mary Waldron taken by Charles Gilbert Shaw. 1411.004.0002

Here are some tidbits gleaned from the entries:

  • An 1892 plat map indicates photographers were located at 100 1/2 W. 6th St. above “Furne Groc” and upstairs from a harness merchant and a grocery store at the northwest corner of 6th and College. The “1/2” in an address signifies a second-floor location. Residents seeking photography services often had to look up to find such establishments, especially at the turn of the 20th According to the timeline data, there were no ground-floor photo studios in Bloomington between 1886 and 1924. All were second-floor operations located in commercial buildings around the courthouse square or within a block of the square.
  • Photography in Bloomington was a fluid enterprise. There are 139 addresses listed in the index for photo studios or photographic services, but only 94 separate operators are identified. Studios changed hands or moved regularly, with a succession of businesses often occupying the same address.
  • The space at 100 ½ W. Sixth Street – Samira restaurant is located now at 100 W. Sixth St. – operated as a photo studio continuously between 1894 and 1930 under eight different business names and/or operators.  O. Nicely, Robert Spratt and Charles Gilbert Shaw were among those proprietors. The listing for Wilhite & Nicely in 1894 became W.O. Nicely in 1898, then Robert A. Spratt in 1901, Spratt & Nicely in 1907 before appearing again as Robert Spratt alone in 1909. Another repeating address was 121 ½ N. College Ave. (Smokeworks restaurant now is at 121 N. College), which was a home to four photo studios between 1904 and 1931.
  • Charles Gilbert Shaw had one of the longest runs of Bloomington’s early studio proprietors — 39 years at four different address. Two other Shaws, L.E. and Daniel, relationship unknown, also operated or were partners in Bloomington photo studios between 1895 and 1925.
  • Other longtime photo proprietors listed in the index include Norbert Peace (38 years), Lanis L. Hazel (33 years), Charles Starks (32 years) and Robert M. Talbot Jr. (31 years).

If interested in seeing the photo studio index please contact the Research Library.