An 1854 Valentine

The Monroe County History Center recently received a very special donation from a man in Santa Cruz, CA who had acquired a tub of family documents from a friend. In it was a valentine sent from Bloomington, IN dated February 14, 1854. All information about the couple was learned from the donor with dates and names checked against the records in The quote in the valentine is from a poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838) titled The Basque Girl and Henri Quatre

‘Dear Jane,  The pleasant memories of other days cluster around me. And I fain would be with those whom I have known, now far away. “Oh! Only those whose souls have felt this one idolatry. Can tell how precious is the slightest thing affection gives and hallows! A dead flower will long be kept, remembrancer of looks that made each leaf a treasure.” Yes. Memories harp sends forth harmonious strains when played upon by the fingers of those times.                     -Valentine’



The recipient of the letter is a Miss Sarah Jane Stewart of Putnam County, Indiana. The sender, originally from Ohio, is Joseph A. Smith. What Joseph was doing in Bloomington at that time is unknown but the two were married two years later in Putnam County before moving to Minnesota. In Minnesota he joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War and later died in Kansas leaving behind his wife and four children.


Blog post by Megan MacDonald

Pioneer Fire Company Established

The clipping noted below, written by Olive Lorraine Cox, was published in an undated, unsourced Bloomington newspaper under a column called “Looking Back.”  It was found in a scrapbook compiled by a man named Fred Lockwood.  The scrapbook is held by the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.

J. W. Jackson, who is mentioned in the article, is James Jackson who, according to census information, was 29 in 1880 when he was enumerated in Bloomington with his wife, Laura, and two children:  Minnie and Walter.  According to a digital image of the death record at, Walter died in Martinsville on February 24, 1930.  That information helps to date the publication of the article.

Just as today, officials of Bloomington have deemed it necessary to purchase larger and better firefighting equipment.  Good citizens of Bloomington back in 1838 decided that the town must have a fire company.  The city’s present wagons and other equipment would indeed seem wonderful to the brave firefighters of almost a century ago.

An effort was made in 1838 to get a real, up-to-date fire wagon (of the hand pump variety) but the effort failed, chiefly because of lack of money.  But not many years later the enterprise succeeded and an organization was put through—the Pioneer Fire Company.

This organization of progressive citizenry continued its work for several decades before it was discontinued in favor of more modern equipment.  The hand-drawn book and ladder wagon was kept in one corner of the old courthouse along with an array of fire buckets and a hose reel.  Each member of the Pioneer Company paid $1 entrance fee and $.10 a month dues.  However, members of the company were exempt from paying road taxes.

One of the old “Pioneers” was J. W. Jackson who spent many years of his long life in Bloomington as a fireman and who died only a few years ago.  Mr. Jackson, who was a fireman in several other cities as well as in Bloomington, attended more than 3,000 fires in 30 odd years of service.  One daughter and three nephews of Mr. Jackson are living in Bloomington at the present time:  Mrs. Will Duncan, John G., Elmer and Russell Jackson.  Two sons are living, George at Sacramento, Calif., and Albert at Detroit, Mich.  Another son, Walter, died a few weeks ago at Martinsville.

The picture illustrating the story is from the collection of the Monroe County History Center.  It depicts a 1942 fire at the Harris Grand Theatre.

Blog post by Randi Richardson