Chapel Hill Established in Polk Township

The clipping noted below, written by Mrs. Wesley Hayse, 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.  The item below was abbreviated from the original, as noted by the ellipsis, and excludes information pertaining to the establishment of Regulators in Polk Township.

The Chapel Hill community, established about 1856 in Section 31, T7N, R1E, of Polk Township, was named for the Chapel Hill Methodist Church. (The location noted in the text below is incomplete as stated.)  In 1860, four years after the establishment of Chapel Hill, John Todd lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and five minor children, in Polk Township.  His occupation was farmer and he owned real estate valued at $3,000 and personal property valued at $1,000.  His post office address was Smithville.  He died on September 14, 1895, and was buried in the Todd Cemetery located in Section 26 of Polk Township.

chapel hill
Chapel Hill is located in Section 31 noted at the bottom left of this 1876 map of Polk Township.

…Polk Township in the southeast part of Monroe County, like Salt Creek Township, had hopes of building a thriving city at one time.  When the township was created in 1849, it was named for James K. Polk, eleventh president of the United States, the nearest village was established at “Todd’s Big Spring” where elections were held in the house of John Todd for several years; the old blacksmith shop was used later.  Will Davis and Samuel Axam [consider Axsom a spelling variant] were the first fence viewers.  Peter Norman was first inspector of elections and Will Davis was the first constable in the township.

David Miller and John Smith decided that the township should be represented by having a metropolis within its lines, so in October 1856 these men, as [land] owners, employed the country surveyor to lay off 27 lots on the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter of township North, Range 1 East in Polk Township and named the village “Chapel Hill.”

The hope of establishing a thriving city was soon doomed to disappointment, for after the start was made the infant village was too weak to survive.  Although the village died there still remains near the site one of the most picturesque hills with its steep road blasted and carved through and over the solid rock.

Post by Randi Richardson



A Bear to Remember

Roy H. Schmalz was born and reared in Patricksburg, Owen County.  When he was 12 years old he traded a pig for a gun.  His father instructed him in the use of the fire arm.  That was the beginning of Roy’s lifelong love of hunting.

After owning general stores in Patricksburg and New Market, Roy moved with his wife, Marie, and their three children to Bloomington.  On April 22, 1926, Roy opened Schmalz’s Department Store at 213 N. Walnut which was at the time a one-room furniture store.  Roy was one of the Midwest’s outstanding sportsmen, and he adorned the walls of his new store with many of his hunting and fishing trophies.

Although the original store consisted of a relatively small space, the business had expanded three times by 1948 on the occasion of its 22nd anniversary and was selling goods from five distinct departments:  men and boys’ wear; shoes; domestics; ready-to-wear and sporting goods.  It was the first store east of the Mississippi Rover to sell Levi jeans.

This picture, taken c. 1926, was sold by Coffey Realty and Auction, January 2007.

Two employees, Mrs. Ruby Welborn and Charles Neal had by that time been with the company since it opened.  Roy was still the manager and was aided by his two sons, Richard and James, and his son-in-law, J. Warren Fox.

Among the most memorable of Roy’s trophies was a 9’4” Kodiak bear from Alaska, the undisputed king of North American game.  After being mounted it was delivered to the Bloomington store where it was discovered that he was too large to go through the door.  Many hours later, thanks to the efforts of a carpenter, the bear finally reached a respected place of honor.

In 1988 when the store closed, the 1,200 pound bear was donated to the Monroe County History Center where it is on permanent display.  Seth Thomas did a short video clip of the bear and its history for the Bloomington Herald Times.  That video and several interesting photographs of the bear can be viewed online.

Roy died in Bloomington on April 9, 1968, at the age of 91, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Blog by Randi Richardson


Bloomington (IN) World Telephone, April 22, 1948, p. 1.

Seth Thomas video clip. 2018.

Schmalz’s Department Store,

“Hunting the World Over,” Indianapolis Star Magazine,  January 10, 1960, p. 38+.  Available online at


Biosketch of Thomas Lewis, Former Slave

In the 1930s and early 1940s, more than 140 years after the U. S. Constitution declared slavery illegal in the United States, former slaves were interviewed under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration.  The materials, archived at the Library of Congress, are known as the Slave Narrative Collection.  Some of the narratives have been published including “Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938—Indiana.”  Although a majority of the narratives in that particular collection are from Vanderburgh County, there is one from Monroe County.  It consists of an interview with Thomas Lewis.  (See pp. 123-127.)

Lewis reportedly was born a slave in Spencer County, Kentucky, in 1857.  His father was killed “in the Northern army” and afterward he lived with his mother, stepfather and several siblings.  When Lewis was seven years old he was set free and when he was twelve the family located in Indiana.

Instruments of slavery from the Library of Congress

Family members met in Louisville and took a ferry across the Ohio River into New Albany.  The next morning after their arrival, they left for Bloomington.  In Bloomington, Lewis recalled meeting the Dorsett family.  “Two of their daughters had been sold before the war.  After the war, when the black people were free, the daughters heard some way that their people were in Bloomington.  It was a happy time when they met their parents.”

Lewis had a cousin name Jerry.  Before the slaves were freed  “…[A] white man asked Jerry how he would like to be free.  Jerry said that he would like it all right.  The white men took him into the barn and were going to put him over a barrel and beat him half to death.  Just as they were about ready to beat him [a] bomb went off [presumably planted by Union soldiers] and Jerry escaped…There was no such thing as being good to slaves.  Many people were better than others, but a slave belonged to his master and there was no way to get out of it…If a slave resisted and his master killed him, it was the same as self-defense today.”

On June 30, 1885, Lewis married Mary Gill.  Together with her he fathered at least two children, Howard and Ethel.  He married a second time to Geneva Johnson in Monroe County in1923 and fathered four more children:  Anna, James, George and Raymond.

Most of his life was spent in Monroe County where he was employed at a variety of jobs.  Undoubtedly he was limited by his lack of education.  According to the 1940 census, he had completed only grades one through three.

As he became advanced in years, he went to live at the Monroe County Home otherwise known as the poor house.  On September 19, 1951, at the age of 99, he died in the Bloomington Hospital.  According to his death record, completed by his son, Howard, Lewis’s father was unknown and his mother’s maiden name was noted simply as Drake.  Other records indicate Thomas Lewis was the son of Elijah and Sina (Drake) Lewis.  Sina was later married to George Ditto.

NOTE:  Two copies of the book titled Slave Narratives…Indiana are available at the Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington.  One is shelved with Adult Nonfiction; the other in the Indiana Room.  The latter does not circulate.  See call number 306.362 Ind.  The interview with Thomas Lewis as noted in the book is also available online at

Blog post by Randi Richardson


Monroe County’s First Deed Recorded in Orange


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

The Corps of Canadian Volunteers fought for America in the War of 1812 and subsequently received land grants, some of which were in Indiana including what is now part of Monroe County.   

Because there is no evidence of anyone name Finney in Monroe County census records from 1820 through and including 1850, it seems likely that Finney never settled in Monroe.  Additionally, as there is no deed record in Monroe County reflecting a sale of property by Finney, it is probable that he sold the land purchased from Jackson while the property was still part of Orange County.

The first deed of record in the office of the county recorder is found in Deed Record A which contains all the deeds made in Monroe County and recorded from December 1817 to December 1825.

deedThe first indenture of record was made and recorded on December 5, 1817, when Josiah Jackson of the County of Orange sold to James Finney of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, two quarter sections of land in what is now Van Buren Township, Monroe County, for $1,450.  When this deed was recorded, the land laid in Orange County.  (An act of the general assembly authorized the formation of Monroe County out of Orange County, which act was approved on January 14, 1818.)

Reading over the deed we find that Mr. Jackson was a Canadian volunteer sergeant being in the corps of Canadian volunteers and the two quarter sections of Monroe County land, then Orange County land, were given him by a law then in force allowing soldiers land grants at the time of the James Madison regime.  Mr. Jackson received this land from President Madison on October 26, 1816, and the grant was made a matter of record in the general land office at Washington, D. C. of that date.

W. Goddard of Fleming County, Kentucky, a justice of the peace, made an acknowledgement of the deed and Alex S. Lyle, deputy clerk of the Fleming County court certified the act.

The land conveyed comprised “two quarter sections lying and being in the County of Orange, District of Vincennes, namely the southeast quarter of Section 36, of Township 8 North in Range 2 West, also a northeast quarter of Section 30, 8 North, 2 West.”

Blog by Randi Richardson


Elks Lodge Celebrates 150th Anniversary

According to an article submitted to the Bloomington (IN) Herald-Times and published on February 13, 2018, on the occasion of the lodge’s 150th anniversary, there are more than 1,900 Elks lodges across the country with a total membership of nearly 800,000.  Of that number, 235 members belong to the Bloomington lodge.

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) Lodge No. 446 in Bloomington, Monroe County, was instituted on June 16, 1898.  Two years later the organization purchased the “commodious, brick residence of Aaron Rose on South Walnut Street” for the lodge’s new home.  A two-story extension for “amusement rooms” was added in 1905.

As the population of Monroe County grew, so did the Elks membership.  By 1921, they had nearly outgrown their existing home.  With an eye to the future, they purchased the property of Dr. P. C. Holland at Walnut and Seventh Street as a site for a new home.  Unfortunately, it was some years later before they had the money to construct a building.

A committee of the Bloomington Elks members was established in 1928 to put together a prospectus for the proposed new home.  They intended to have a meeting of all Monroe County Elks to decide on just what they wanted in the way of a new club house.  It was expected that $50,000 would be raised at the meeting.  A dozen men had already promised to give from $500 to $1,000.

In the midst of the fundraising, our country fell under a Great Depression from which it took several years to recover.  Meantime, in 1932, a decision was made to remodel their existing home with new paint, new draperies and some new furniture including a new pool table.

It wasn’t until 1938 that the Elks completed the existing building that they yet call home.  Through the years, however, it seemed to have outlived its usefulness and was in need of many expensive updates to make it modern.  For a while there was even talk of razing the building and constructing a new one.  But in 2009 the City Council took the necessary steps to protect the building by having it designated as a historic structure.  Today it is a visible reminder of Bloomington’s heritage.

Blog post by Randi Richardson


Bloomington (IN) Courier, March 13, 1900, p. 1.
Bloomington (IN) Telephone, April 14, 1905, p. 1.
Bloomington (IN) Daily Herald Telephone, May 19, 1921, reprinted in Sands of Time, Bloomington Herald Telephone, May 19, 1971.  (See Reel 12, Local History Microfilm     Collection, Monroe County Public Library)
Bloomington (IN) Telephone, March 28, 1928, p. 1.
Bloomington (IN) Telephone, March 2, 1932, p. 1.
Bloomington o(IN) Herald Telephone, February 24, 1951, p. 11.
Bloomington (IN) Herald-Times, April 20, 2009, pp. A1+.
“Demolition Delay” City of Bloomington Common Council, Legislative Packet, Regular Session, October 21, 2009.
Bloomington (IN) Herald-Times, February 13, 2008, p. B7


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