Bloomington’s First Horseless Carriage Manufactured by J.O. Howe

The first horseless carriage to run on the streets of Bloomington was constructed by Joshua O. Howe sometime between 1896 and 1906.  In his day, Howe was one of the best mechanics in Bloomington.  He also conducted a jewelry store on the square, kept the old courthouse clock in running order, constructed and ran a steamboat on Bloomington’s first waterworks lake, and was the engineer on Bloomington’s various steam fire engines

When Haynes, Apperson and Ford began building their first machines, Howe decided he would make one of his own.  He had no model to go by, could buy no auto parts, so the entire machine had to be assembled in Bloomington, much of it in the back room of his jewelry store.   The engine was the most vital part, and it was made in the Seward Foundry.

Continue reading Bloomington’s First Horseless Carriage Manufactured by J.O. Howe

A Brief History of 221 E. Kirkwood

On January 3, 1946, the Ellettsville Journal announced that the Greene and Harrell Funeral Home had opened on Kirkwood Avenue in the former home of Frank Wooley.  The owners were Orville Greene, president and general manager, and Robert M. Harrell, vice president and assistant manager.  Both owners had many years of experience in the funeral business.  Mr. Greene was connected with the Arthur Day Funeral Home for 20 years and Mr. Harrell was employed there for 16 years.

Frank and Angie Wooley, variously spelled Woolley, had lived at 221 E. Kirkwood from 1900 or earlier through the death of Frank in 1923, the remarriage of Angie, his widow, to Marion D. Miller in 1927, and her death in 1940.  Frank was in the insurance business for a number of years and later was made secretary of the Building and Loan Association.  After the death of Angie, the home was used as a retail establishment.

Greene and Harrell remained at 221 E. Kirkwood through the early 1970s.  Since that time the building, now known as Victoria Towers, has been commercially used by several businesses simultaneously and continues in use today.

Post submitted by Randi Richardson (Library Volunteer)

Research Library Manager Position Opening

The Monroe County Historical Society is seeking a qualified candidate for the position of Research Library Manager. Applicants should possess work experience in library and local history/genealogy research. Candidate must possess excellent written and verbal communication skills. Knowledge of Indiana history, WordPress, and PastPerfect software a plus. Requires flexible work schedule including some evenings and weekends. MA or MLS preferred. Send resume and cover letter to MCHS, Attn: HR, 202 E. 6th St., Bloomington, IN 47408 or e‐mail to by 4/28/2017 EOE.

For more details, click here.

What Number, Please?

There is an object in the History Center’s permanent exhibits that you probably don’t associate with women’s history. It sits alone, with holes cut out so you can admire and wonder at its tangle of wires. Of course, I am talking about the telephone switchboard on display on the second floor. The switchboard represents not just a bygone era, but also what once served as a community hub and a gateway into new employment for women.


Switchboards were a part of the telephone industry from its earliest days through the 1960s and beyond (and don’t forget the private exchanges used by businesses and other institutions). Without the technology for automatic connections, calls had to be manually connected. If you were on a party line, then you could call directly to other numbers on that line, but calls to a number on a separate line, or to an out-of-town number, required a person to physically make the connection via the switchboard.

The original switchboard operators of the late 19th century were teenage boys, which sort of makes sense, as this would have been the group that carried messages, on foot or on bikes, across towns and cities. Losing their jobs to this new industry, they were the logical choice to become switchboard operators. Alas, being teenage boys, so the story goes, they played pranks on each other and on customers and were reputed to be quite rude. Therefore, the telephone companies fired the boys and got women – polite, compliant, gracious, well-spoken women – to fill these positions instead. And while this was probably true, the underlying reason for switching to women had to be an economic one: women could be paid one-fourth to one-half of what men would have been paid. If you needed cheap, polite labor, then of course, you’d hire women, and really not think twice about it.

Continue reading What Number, Please?

Crossword Puzzles and Newspapers

While I was researching Valentine’s Day in Bloomington, it was fun to discover the crossword puzzles in Bloomington’s The Evening World. Given the Bloomington connection to The New York Times crossword, I thought it would be worth taking a little closer look at their history.[1]

I had picked the newspaper in 1925, and I was surprised to see the crossword puzzle was already a regular feature, running daily.  Crossword puzzles were introduced a decade earlier, but by the mid-1920s, crossword puzzles had become extremely popular.  Touting their popularity, The Evening World published an article on February 3, 1925 stating “Cross-word puzzles have captivated and possessed New York completely.” Urging its readers to give them a try, the newspaper went on to say that puzzle solvers would gain an “augmented vocabulary,” as well as it being great “brain exercise.” Ironically, while one of our local papers was pushing the puzzles by saying that they had become a craze in the big city, The New York Times had, the year before, called crossword puzzles a “primitive sort of mental exercise” and a “waste of time.”

And while for many of us it is synonymous with crossword puzzles, The New York Times was the last metropolitan newspaper to begin running a crossword puzzle as a regular feature, starting in 1942. They began with a Sunday puzzle, adding a daily one in 1950.

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Valentine’s Day in Bloomington, 1925

Happy Valentine’s Day! When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of candy, cards, chocolate, and flowers. I also think about how restaurants often have dinner specials, highlighting a wine or special foods, all designed to enhance romance. Or that I could pick up a newspaper and see recipes for making an intimate dinner at home. And of course, I think of children and those Valentine’s Day cards that are available everywhere – always have to have enough for every child in the classroom!

But I wonder, has this always been true? What would it have been like to say, live in Bloomington in the early 20th century and celebrate Valentine’s Day? To answer this question, I decided to peruse the one of the local newspapers available at that time, the Bloomington Evening World from 1925 and see what I could learn about early 20th century Valentine’s Day celebrating.

The first advertisement for Valentine’s Day shows up on February 6 with an ad for “Valentine Tokens” at Wylie’s. The ad proclaims: “Sweethearts of every age and every preference will find a truly delightful assortment of Valentine’s here” with the added reassurance: “most of them inexpensive.” Not only that, Wylie’s entices us with the promise of a window display: “Our window will interest the kiddies.” Aside from that, one other small reference appears to Valentines for sale at The Fair Store.

Continue reading Valentine’s Day in Bloomington, 1925

Lois (Luette) Bruce: One of Bloomington’s First Female Police Officers

Lois Luette, a native of Monroe County and a daughter of Arthur Nelson and Lois (Freeman) Luette, graduated from Bloomington High School.  On June 4, 1948, not long after her graduation, she married Max H. Bruce who was also a Monroe County native.

Like most young couples, they set up housekeeping, and it wasn’t long before the family included two children, Cheryl and Marc.  For a while Bruce worked at RCA, and Lois took some part-time jobs with flexible hours in order to provide for the children while supplementing the family’s income. 

About 1960, when the children were both in school, Bruce became a fireman and Lois took a full-time job as a dispatcher at the Bloomington Police Department.  Six years later, in 1966, Lois was given a new job title and responsibilities along with her co-worker, Barbara Webb.  Both women were appointed as Bloomington’s very first female police officers.  

By the late 1970s, Cheryl and Marc were young adults living on their own.  Cheryl moved to Arizona with her husband.  Because Lois and Max wanted to be near Cheryl, they also moved to Arizona. 

It was there that Max passed away in 1996, Lois in 2011.  Both were subsequently returned to their native home for burial in Valhalla Memory Gardens on the west side of Bloomington.

Bloomington Herald Telephone, January 6th 1972
– 1948 Bloomington High School Gothic
Monroe County (In.) Marriage Records

Post Submitted by Randi Richardson (Research Library Volunteer)