Orchard Block Destroyed by Fire

Blog post by Randi Richardson

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The Orchard House was once located facing what was then called Railroad Street and is now known as Gentry Place.  In a picture from 2018, it would have been on the right-hand side of the street behind Cherry Canary (entry through the pink doors) and across from the Hyatt Hotel on the left.  It extended west to College Street.

On Tuesday morning of last week, at about two o’clock, an alarm of fire was sounded and people hurried from their beds to find the Orchard Block, which extended from College Avenue to Railroad Street and was bounded by 5th Street and an alley running east and west, to be on fire.

The fire began in a woodshed belonging to the Orchard House just west of Dobson’s Shop.  It is stated that a stove had been temporarily placed in the woodshed to keep warm some “gentlemen” that were being detained there till morning, and that the fire was in some manner communicated from that.

It spread with startling rapidity.  In fact, it burned so quickly that there was no time to move the clothing of Mr. Benchart’s family.  The property around Benckart’s  home and business were covered with frame sheds and wooden houses, and those frames, being very old and dry, burned like paper.  Mr. B. purchased the property from the Wilson sisters several years earlier for $5,000, and he was just finishing its payment.  He had no insurance on the building.

The wind was blowing from the southwest, fanning the flames and driving them up to the Orchard Block and onto the buildings occupied by Benckart and the hotel.  The fire was too large for a small department like Bloomington’s to fight successfully, so the firemen turned their attention to saving the buildings adjacent on the north.  The whole mass of buildings, frame and brick, seemed to be on fire in less time than it takes to tell it.

Frank Dobson’s shop with tools and material was a total loss and with but $1,000 insurance.

H.S. Bates, city treasurer and shoe shop, had no insurance All the papers of his office were in a safe, and with a small amount of money, he came out all right.

On the Orchard House there was not one dollar of insurance.

The firemen were exhausted by their long and arduous fight but were cheered up by a noble band of ladies who brewed coffee for them.  The men who handled the nozzle had no picnic on occasions like this and took risks while other stood about with their hands in their pockets and refused to carry light articles to places of safety no matter how much women may pleaded with them to do so.

People seemed to be paralyzed and did not act with the judgment that the occasion demanded, and so clothing, furniture, carpets, bedding, etc., were permitted to burn, and only a few dollars’ worth were saved.  In a few moments almost everything that had been accumulated at the Orchard House through years of business and labor was swept away.  It was a most complete and disheartening wreck.  Mr. Orchard Sr., is 86 years of age, and he saved nothing—neither clothing nor bedding.

This is really the most disastrous fire that has ever occurred in the town for the reason that the destruction is almost total and the insurance comparatively nothing.

Source:  Abstracted from the Republic (IN) Progress, November 14, 1888, p. 2.

 

How Samuel Orchard Helped Put Bloomington on the Map

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Several of the events that helped put Bloomington and Monroe County on the map at an early day were related to efforts put forth by Samuel M. and John Orchard, brothers and natives of Bourbon County, Kentucky.

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This image of the Goddess of Liberty from the photo collection of the Library of Congress was created between 1860 to 1865.  The image of the Goddess used by the Orchard brothers to advertise the inn is not known.

The two men came north to Indiana with their parents, Isaac and Margery (Mitchell) Orchard, about 1819 and the family settled in Washington County.  In 1822 Samuel and John, newly married to Jane McPheeters, formed a partnership to go into the wool carding business.  Isaac commissioned Samuel Pyle, a machine maker in Paris, Kentucky, to make up a full set of wool carding machines for the brothers.

Because the two young men had as yet no idea where to establish their new business, they started out in the fall of 1822 to view the country.  They didn’t go far.  Their first stop was Bloomington in Monroe County which they thought to be a “rich, new country” and the settlers, though few, were “social and friendly.”  Satisfied that the area might work well for them, they purchased a lot with a log house on it.  Nearly three decades later, that lot would be where the Orchard House was erected.

The next task of the brothers was to get the machinery from Paris, Kentucky to Bloomington.  A five-horse team rigged with twelve horses started out in the Spring of 1823.  After five weeks and a lengthy journey through mud and water, they arrived at their destination.  Upon their arrival in Bloomington, the machinery was put to use as soon as possible and ran successfully until 1836.

In 1826 the need for a mill to take in flax seed became apparent.  Nearly every farmer in Monroe County, whether large or small, grew flax in order to furnish their wives with the material to weave linen for the household.  Because there was no place in Bloomington to mill the flax, wagon loads of the raw material were shipped to Louisville for milling.  Seizing upon the opportunity, Samuel and John opened a flax seed mill to accommodate local farmers.  It ran for seven or eight years and was sold along with the wool carding business in 1836.

Seeing how responsive the two brothers were to the needs of the community, they were solicited by their fellow citizens about 1828 to “open a house for the entertainment of travelers.”  John was of a mind to do it and called upon Austin Seward, a fine mechanic, to paint him a sign for the Temperance Inn with a picture of the Goddess of Liberty.  Once completed, it was attached to a post set into the ground where it stayed until time wore it away.  The Inn, located on South College, was the first hostelry in the history of the county’s highways that did not have a bar or serve liquor to its guests.

About the same time the flax seed mill and wool carding businesses were in sold in 1836, the U. S. Post Office department offered a contract for mail service from Indianapolis to Leavenworth on the Ohio River.  No one seemed eager to accept the contract because the compensation was small, the work hard and sometimes dangerous.  However, after putting their heads together, Samuel and John decided there might be a way to combine the mail service with some type of public conveyance–as of yet, there was no such thing in Monroe County or even nearby.  They were encouraged to make a commitment by a large number of Monroe County “subscribers” who promised to patronize the line when started.

Reluctantly they began buying horses and coaches.  They went to Indianapolis and bought two six-passenger coaches especially built for service and durability.  A trustee of Indiana College, realizing the benefit of transportation to and from the school, helped by furnishing teams to run from Paoli to Leavenworth.  And from the time the brothers opened for business they were well patronized.

Four to six large, strong horses pulled each stagecoach.  It was necessary to change them at intervals of about twelve miles when they became fatigued.  Each stage made one round trip a week stopping at towns along the route to pick up and deliver mail. In the spring, the roads were often impassable because streams were swollen beyond their banks and mud was sometimes axle deep.

Samuel Orchard seemed to be the leader of this and every business enterprise operated by the brothers.  In 1837 he began butchering livestock for the trade and continued in this enterprise successfully along with his many other projects for about 12 years.

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This painting of S. M. Orchard once hung in the Coronation Room at the IU Union building.  A photocopy is the in Orchard family file at the Monroe County History Center.

 

In 1850 he also established the Orchard House on the property that eventually faced the Monon station.  This was just before the building of the New Albany Railroad, and the brothers gave liberally in subscription for stock in the new railroad enterprise which was to mean so much for the city’s progress in later years.  They even deeded land to the railroad for a small consideration.  The railroad evidently appreciated the efforts made on their behalf because for many years the passenger trains routinely stopped in Bloomington long enough for passengers to take their meals at the Orchard House where tables were piled high with produce from Samuel’s 60-acre farm.

In 1850 and 1860, enumerators noted both John and Samuel Orchard on the same page as head of adjacent households.  Both were noted as landlords and both owned an equal amount of real estate.  The brothers, however, had dissolved their partnership in 1855 with the jointly owned property amicably divided between them.

Samuel retained ownership of the Orchard House.  In 1860, there were six permanent residents living at the Orchard House along with four members of family.

By the 1870’s both men were getting up in years.  John’s wife died in 1865 and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.  John joined her there in the spring of 1872.  Samuel then began operating the Orchard House and its subsidiaries with the help of his sons.  However, 78-year-old Samuel was still functioning as the hotel keeper when he was visited by the census enumerator in 1880.  Two of his sons, James and Isaac S., were members of the same household.

In early November 1888, the Orchard House was one of only a few hotels in Bloomington and certainly the largest.  Before the month was out, it would exist no more.  At 2 AM on Tuesday, November 6, an alarm of fire was sounded.  People hurried from their beds to find the Orchard Block, which by then extended from College Avenue to Railroad Street from east to west and from 5th Street to an alley running north and south, to be on fire.

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The Orchard House as noted on the 1887 Sanborn Fire Map.  Bounded on the north and south by Fifth and Fourth streets and on the east and west by College Avenue and Railroad (now Morton) Street.

The wind blew hard, fanning the flames and rapidly spreading destruction.  Many of the building were frame and in less time than it takes to tell it, the whole mass of building, frame and brick, seemed to be on fire.  In just a few minutes, almost the entire contents of the Orchard House, accumulated through years of business and labor, were swept away.  Samuel Orchard, then 86 years old, was able to save nothing—neither clothing nor bedding.

According to newspapers, it was the most disastrous fire that had ever occurred to date for the simple reason that the destruction was almost total and the insurance on the various businesses comparatively nothing.  There was not one dollar of insurance on the Orchard House.

Samuel Orchard at his advanced age was done.  Martha McPheeters, his wife of many years, was gone, having died in 1885.  That entrepreneurial spirit that so characterized his youth no longer existed.    So it was that one of the best known hotel men of the state, proprietor of the first regular hotel in Bloomington, one that bore his name, decided to spend what remaining years he had left comparatively idle.

When he died on December 3, 1891, at the home of his son and namesake, Sam Orchard, he was 89 years of age.  According to his obituary he was respected and revered by all who knew him.  He was a faithful member of the Walnut Street Presbyterian Church, and from that place his funeral was held.  Afterward his remains were placed at the side of his beloved wife in Rose Hill Cemetery.


Much of the information for this blog came from an “Old Bloomington” column published in the Bloomington World Telephone on December 1, 1944, titled “A Short Account of the Orchard Family Written by Samuel M. Orchard in 1888.”  A copy of the item is also available on Reel 14, Local History Microfilm Collection, Monroe County Public Library and a transcript of the article was posted by johnb1959 on Ancestry’s website in 2011 and can be found online at https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/29407238/person/12174227396/media/012e5a64-0ca2-456d-ab5a-b32297e9ff9e?_phsrc=gat1705&_phstart=successSource.

Other sources include:

  • An article by Mrs. Wesley Hays published in an undated and unsourced column titled “Looking Back” from Fred Lockwood’s scrapbook. A very similar article to that of Hays was written by Forest M. “Pop” Hall and published in the November 29, 1921, issue of the Bloomington Evening World.  Both Hays and Hall included much information from Samuel Orchard’s biosketch included in Blanchard’s early history of Monroe County.
  • Samuel Orchard’s obit, December 8, 1891, p. 1.
  • Various federal population census records for Monroe County, Indiana.
  • Sanborn Fire Map

 

 

The 1958 MONON UFO Incident

I was helping a 4th grader do some research on the MONON railroad last week and found this article, written by Frank Edwards, referencing a 1958 incident on the Monon.org website.

A MONON railroad train crew reported seeing a UFO in north central Indiana. It was about 3.20 A.M. on Friday October 3, 1958… freight train no. 91 was enroute southbound from MONON, to Indianapolis.

In the cab of the diesel locomotive were three men – Harry Eckman, the engineer, Cecil Bridge, the fireman, and Morris Ott, the head brakeman. Ed Robinson, the conductor, and Paul Sosbey, the flagman, were in the caboose. Cecil Bridge, the fireman, a former air force man with 450 hours of heavy bomber time, begins the story as follows…

“…we had just pulled past a little spot called Wasco. There’s no town there – just a kind of crossroads. It was there we first noticed four lights in the sky ahead of us. They were moving lights. At first they looked like stars but we realized they weren’t stars because they were moving – we could see that.” “They were moving in a sort of open V formation. By that I mean that there was no light at the forward point of the flight, just the two ‘wings’ with two Lights in each ‘wing’ – angled off at about 45 degrees from each other. I must have spotted them first. After I had watched them for about 15 seconds, I called them to the attention of the other men in the cab with me. They watched the lights, too…”

“About that time the lights veered west. They crossed the tracks ahead of the train – about a half a mile ahead of us, we estimated. They were moving pretty slowly, too, at no more than about 50 miles an hour, four big, white, soft lights.”

“Just the three of us in the engine saw the lights at this time. We were pulling 56 cars – that’s a little more than half a mile of cars – and because of the angle at which these things were approaching and because they were so low right then, the boys in the caboose probably couldn’t see them.” “After the lights crossed the tracks in front of us, they stopped and came back. This time they were headed east. They shot off toward the east and were gone a few minutes – out of sight – but when they came back and we all saw them again, I turned on the microphone. We have radio between the engine and caboose. I told the boys in the caboose what we were watching.”

“…I talked to Robinson, (the conductor), and told him what we had seen. During the time we watched these things, from Wasco to Kirklin, we did a lot of talking on that radio. The dispatcher in Lafayette could hear us, of course, but he never cut in. The boys in the caboose got the best look at the things. Especially when they came right down over the whole train.”

Conductor Robinson continues the story.

“I was sitting in the cupola, looking forward over the train, when Bridge called me on the radio. I had already noticed the four gobs of light but I couldn’t make out what they were. They were half a mile ahead of the caboose – the whole length of the train. A little bit after he called me the things went away and we didn’t see them for a few minutes… then all of a sudden they came back.” “This time they came down over the train, a little way in back of the engine. They were coming toward the caboose. That is, they were going north and the train was headed directly south.”

“I’d say they were only a couple of hundred feet above the train as they came toward the caboose. And they weren’t moving very fast – maybe 30 or 40 miles an hour. It was hard to tell – a fellow just doesn’t notice details like that under the circumstances.”

“The freight train is pretty noisy, of course, but I didn’t hear any other noise, like the roar an airplane would have made. I think they were silent, or nearly silent, at least.”

“They flew over us one after the other – big, round white things that looked about the colour of fluorescent lights, kind of fuzzy around the edges. They didn’t glare and they didn’t light up things as they went over. They just came back toward us, over the top of the cars, one after the other. Then they went on down the tracks maybe another half a mile and seemed to stop.”

“Sosbey and I went out on the back platform where we could see them better, but they were getting pretty far behind us. We could see their lights but I don’t remember whether they were bunched up or not. They were just there, we know that. We could see them behind us, right over the tracks. “Then they swung off away from the tracks and went fast – very fast – to the east. When they picked up speed their light got a lot brighter. They got real bright and white – like stars, but a lot bigger and moving very fast.”

Cecil Bridge, observing the same objects from the engine, describes what he and the engineer and head brakeman saw.

“When these things shot back over to the east of us, they lit up much brighter than they were before. They turned in line, going north or northeast and we noticed that they lit up in sequence – the front one first, then number two, three and four. They changed course and came back past the train. They were going in the opposite direction to us when they made this pass. I guess they were at least a mile or two east of us when they did it.” “They lit up twice (as described above). First number one would light up, then number two and so on. They did that twice as they went past us traveling in the opposite direction. We noticed, too, that their colour changed. When they first lit up they were bright white but when they slowed down the colour changed to a kind of yellow, then to orange when they went real slow – a kind of dirty orange.”

The conductor, Ed Robinson, agreed with this description. He added:

“We didn’t see them from the back end of the train for several minutes after they went away to the east and turned. But the boys in the engine were still seeing them. I got back on the radio with Bridge. He was watching them right then. They must have circled the train and gone north of us, real low, because the next time we saw them they came rushing up the tracks right in back of us. They were coming a lot faster this time – a lot faster than they had come back over the train the first time.

“They were just above the tree-tops along the right of way, and they had changed their way of flying — their formation. This time they were sort of flying on edge. Two of them were on edge – the two in the middle. The two on the outside were tilted at an angle both in the same direction. The four of them flew like that up the tracks behind the train – a tilted one on the east, two of them straight up and down, then the one on the west tilted just like the one on the east.

“When they first came back over the train we could see that they were round things – circular shaped on the bottom. Then when they flew up the tracks in back of us we could see – Sosbey and I – that they were about 40 feet in diameter and maybe 10 feet thick. The two flying straight up and down were approximately over the edges of the right of way and about 200 yards in back of the caboose. If they had been flying flat down instead of edgewise. They would have just about have touched edges so they must have seen somewhere around 40 feet across the bottom.” Fireman Cecil Bridge continues:

“We had flashlights in the engine and in the caboose. Up on the head end of the train – in the engine where I was –we blinked our flashlights at the things and we waved the lights. We thought we might get them to come in closer. They did come down over the train a few minutes later, as Robinson related, but of course, I can’t say they did it because we flashed the lights at them. At any rate they didn’t flash any lights back at us.” Robinson continues:

“In the caboose we had a five cell sealed beam flashlight that throws a pretty good beam a long ways. When the things came down and flew right up the tracks behind the caboose, I grabbed that sealed beam flashlight and shined it on them. As soon as the light hit them they jumped sideways out of the beam. When they got back over the tracks I did it it again and they scattered. They acted like they didn’t care for that light at all.

“From the time Bridge first called us on the radio until the last time we saw them near Kirklin (38 miles northwest of Indianapolis) it was about an hour and 10 minutes altogether. They hung around the back end of the train but after we shined the light on them they didn’t come in close any more. While we were switching at Frankfort they stayed away back up the tracks, just hovered there, until we moved on. Then they followed us again. When they finally went away at Kirklin, they just zipped off to the northeast and kept on going and we didn’t see them anymore.”

Blog post by Megan MacDonald

Stranded by Floodwaters in Ellettsville

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Ellettsville is no stranger to flooding.  When one of the heaviest rains ever experienced in the area fell in late November 1883, it nearly cost a few of the people in Ellettsville their life.  An account of the event, as noted below, was published in the Bloomington (IN) Progress on November 28, 1883. 

flooding

On Wednesday rain fell almost incessantly, and Jack’s Defeat was on considerable of a “bender” all day.  At five o’clock the rain came down in torrents and by six thirty the creek succeeded in getting higher than since the great flood of ’65.

The water rushed through Vine Street nearly reaching the Reeves corner.  All the houses on the lower end of this street were flooded, and there was considerable excitement over getting out the occupants of these houses.  W. M. Gillaspy, Jim Harris, Sandy Prow, Luke Gillaspy, Artie Miller, Charles Stimson, Rev. W. H. Jackson, Ed Mobley, Silas Jackson and others constituted a “life-saving crew” and waded waist deep to the house of John Hall at the foot of the street and carried out the women who were in the house.

Then the houses occupied by Bart Ellett, Marion Taylor, the old Edwards homestead, Henry Williams, T. E. Phillips, Jack May and Jerome Jackson were visited and carpets taken up and the women and children carried to safe quarters.  The water was over two feet deep in the Edwards house.  It was feared that John Hall’s horses and hogs, and James Whitsell’s cow would be drowned, but they were not.

This morning that end of town presents a dismal appearance there being much drift in the streets and several yards wholly without fencing.  Considerable lumber was washed away from the saw mill, most of which found lodgment on the flooded street.  Farther down in town considerable damage was done.

The water was 15 inches deep in the livery stable.  The platform was washed away and the stone fence north of the stable was leveled to the ground.  One wagon was carried off and other damage done.  The water lacked only an inch of running into the storeroom of F. E. Worley.  The water reached a depth of two inches in the west room of the Richland Mills, doing some damage to the wheat, etc.  Much fencing all along the stream was washed out, and the corn in the Sharp bottom, and bottoms father north, is very much damaged, and much of it was carried away.

The oldest inhabitant says he never saw it rain harder than it did from 5 to 6 PM.  Those taken from their houses found lodging among our citizens, W. H. Jackson caring for several of them.

Civil War Roll of Honor—1883

uncle samBlog post by Randi Richardson

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor those who served our country in the time of war.  It is a tradition that far exceeds the bounds of Monroe County stretching from America’s east coast to the west. It’s also a very old tradition.

On page one of the Bloomington Telephone published June 2, 1883, and available online at Hoosier State Chronicles, a free website, is a listing of Monroe County soldiers who either died in the service or since the war.  The list includes hundreds of names along with the regiment number and remarks such as place and cause of death.  Occasionally a death date is also included.

Unfortunately, the list is compiled in random order by regiment and not alphabetically.  However, if you have been searching for a Civil War veteran it may be worth your time to scan through this list carefully to determine if your ancestor is included.  A few examples are noted below.

George W. Whitaker, 82nd Reg’t, died at Bowling Green, Ky.

Elvin Farmer, Colored Reg’t, died at Memphis

William McDermott, 82nd Reg’t, died of wounds rec’d at Chickamauga

David P. Sutphin, 28th Ind., died of disease at home in Indianapolis

Francis Otwell, Jr., 27th Ind., died at Indianapolis July 27 ‘74

James W. Nichols, 38th Reg’t, died at Andersonville prison

A few years later a similar list was published in the Bloomington Telephone on May 8, 1922 (see p. 4).  There were many more dates of death in this news item than in the one noted above.  The latter list was viewed online at www.newspaperarchive.com, a paid website, but it should also be available on microfilm at the Monroe County Public Library.  The list took up the entire page but about a third of the page was not legible.

Showers Bros. Heavily Damaged by Hailstorm in 1917

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Skylights in the saw tooth roof of the Showers Bros. buildings provided much needed lighting in a time before electricity was readily available.

On Saturday, May 26, 1917, a terrific hail storm swept over Bloomington.  Shortly after 6 PM, a mass of low hanging clouds rolled up from the west and let loose with hail stones the like of which had never been seen in the area.  They ranged in size all the way from a marble to a baseball.

After the storm subsided, several employees of the Showers Bros. gathered at the factory to assess the damage and found that nearly 75 percent of the skylights had been broken from the saw tooth roof.  The floors were strewn with glass, and there was much danger from more glass fragments falling from the skylights.

Workers rushed to clean up water from the top floors before it could drip through on the cases stacked in the ware room below.  This work was all very successful and would have reduced the loss to a minimum but for the fact that another rain storm arose about 9 PM.  The water swept in torrents through the holes in the roof.  It flooded the packing room in Plant One.

Early Sunday morning, under the supervision of W. Edward Shower and Charles A. Sears, the work of reconstruction was started with the help of a large force of dependable employees.  Mr. Showers worked on the roof right along with the others like a regular fellow.  His presence there was an incentive to all who aided in the reconstruction work.  Broken windows were covered using waterproof paper, all the waterproof paper that could be found in town.

Repairs were started immediately in the machine and veneer rooms and on the damaged cases.  A large force of men was employed in inspecting and repairing the damaged stock.  A damage estimate was reported at roughly $30,000.

Management was gratified to note the loyal way in which the men set out early Sunday morning to push the work of covering the roof and especially those who remained until midnight on Saturday.  In the course of a week or ten days, nearly all traces of the deluge were erased and operations resumed on a normal schedule.  Executives of the Showers Bros. heartily thanked all of those who rendered such valuable assistance in the time of need.

Source:  Showers Bros. Shop Notes, June 2, 1917.

Blog Post by Randi Richardson.