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.
On the other hand, most of the merchants were in favor of the hitching rack. Their concerns were related to a potential loss of business. People in the rural areas of the county had threatened to boycott the town if there were no hitching racks to “park” their animals.
One autumn evening, “anti-hitchrackers” equipped with sledge hammers swooped down on the square and made away with the hitching rack and filled up the post holes. The “hitchrackers,” including most of the farmers, vowed revenge. It came during a spirited controversy related to voting Bloomington “wet” or “dry.” Seizing their opportunity, the “hitchrackers” came to town in a body and announced that if the posts were not restored they would vote a “wet” ticket, although a majority of the “hitchrackers,” as well as many others, opposed saloons in Bloomington.
To make a long story short, the hitching racks were restored, and the “dry” ticket won the vote. History has shown that the racks remained until sometime after 1932 when cars outnumbered four-legged kinds of transportation. In recent years, however, the racks were mostly used by children who just couldn’t resist the temptation to “skin the cat.”
Sources: “Looking Back on Old Bloomington,” Bloomington Telephone, March 5, 1932, p. 5; Bloomington Star, November 27, 1908; and Bloomington Courier, September 10, 1901.
Featured Image: Hitching post at the front of the Monroe County History Center once used at the Gentry farmstead located on grounds now occupied by the McDoel Baptist Church on Rogers Street.
Post Submitted By Randi Richardson (Library Volunteer)