Greenfield History

Date of Record: November 10, 2003

Hancock County was created on March 1, 1828, and named for John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. The town of Greenfield was chosen as the county seat on April 11, 1828. The Commissioners announced, "The seat of Justice of Hancock County shall be known and designated by the name and title of Greenfield." The population of the county at that time was 400.

In 1833, the Indiana Gazetteer published, "Greenfield is surrounded by a body of rich, fertile land and is in a very prosperous and flourishing state of improvement."

Early settlers built along the two creeks which flow south through Center Township, which includes Greenfield. The first businesses were small grist mills for grinding corn and wheat for settlers.

U.S. 40, the National Road, was built through Hancock County around 1835. It was heavily traveled by wagon trains going west and livestock going to Cincinnati. In 1853, the first steam railroad was completed by the Indiana Central Railroad at the south edge of Greenfield. The railroad became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad System and later the Penn-Central. These tracks were removed in the 1980s.

During this time, Greenfield's population continued to grow. Greenfield was incorporated as a city in 1876 with a population of 2,023. The greatest single period of growth began in 1887 when natural gas was discovered in the area. Greenfield was a boom town for 20 years, with the founding of manufacturing plants and other industries.

In some earlier historical publications, "Hancock County has been described as within the genius belt of Indiana." It was also said that "here oratory flourishes and the poetry is indigenous to the soil." Among the greats of the city were James Whitcomb Riley,es Whitcomb Riley, the "Hoosier Poet"; two famous artists, Will Vawter and Dick Black, Earl K. Smith, composer of "Down by the Old Mill Stream", and Rev. Charles O'Donnell, later President of Notre Dame.

A statue of James Whitcomb Riley, which stands in front of the Hancock County Courthouse, was erected in 1918. It was purchased with money donated by school children from all over the United States. Each year, during the Riley Festival in October, the city's school children parade to the statue to place flowers around it.

Today, Greenfield represents the best of both worlds blending its small-town atmosphere with managed growth as part of the greater Indianapolis metropolitan area. The population of Greenfield, 11,657 in the 1990 census, has continued to grow steadily due to the fact that Hancock County is the sixth fastest growing county in the state of Indiana.

In a letter to Helen Downing, James Whitcomb Riley described Greenfield as "My home and your home and your parents' home and the best home outside of heaven."


Other Sources
  • Binford, J. H. "History of Hancock County, Indiana." Greenfield, Ind.: King and Binford Publishers, 1882.
  • Richardson, Rosalie and Larry L. Fox. "Hancock County Indiana : a Pictorial History." Virginia Beach, Va.: Donning Co., 1993.
  • Richman, George J. "History of Hancock County, Indiana : Its People, Industries, and Institutions." Indianapolis: Federal Publishing Co., 1916.
  • Skvarenina, Joseph L. "Hancock County Indiana." Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 1998.
  • Williams, Dorothy June. "The Hancock County Kaleidoscope." Hancock County Historical Society, 1976.
  • Williams, Dorothy June and Thomas E. Q. Williams. "A History of Greenfield and Hancock County in the Twentieth Century." Greenfield, Ind.: Coiny Press, 1993.

More Greenfield History

City Phone Directory

Mayor's Office - 317-477-4300
Clerk Treasurer - 317-477-4310
Customer Service - 317-477-4330
Planning (Permits) - 317-477-4320
Street Department - 317-477-4380
Power and Light - 317-477-4370
Wastewater Department - 317-477-4360
Park Cemetery - 317-477-4387
Pothole Hotline - 317-325-1680
Parks and Recreation - 317-477-4340
Water Department - 317-477-4350
Animal Management - 317-477-4367