What did downtown Greenfield first look like? - September 2014

Looking for topics to write about each month can be a daunting task, but something always comes to mind. I'm continually fascinated with how and why a city like Greenfield grows, not only in population but in structure. And so I often find myself wondering back to digging deeper into this topic and so in this article that is exactly what we'll do.

In previous articles we've journeyed through some of these avenues. I have written about our downtown and about some of the individual business that have been there. I've written about North Street. And in the other various articles I've described structures that would give some insight as to what our town looks like or looked liked at one time. I've talked about our early settlers and what they found and the elements they had to deal with.

We all know what our city looks like now. We've all witnessed the expansion and growth that has occurred over the last couple of decades. I've talked about some of the historic structures that still remain today. But in this article we're going to dig a little deeper and take a look at what was here before some of the buildings that you see now. So put on your "Visualization Hat" and let's take another stroll!

Let's start with a bigger picture. The time period I'm looking at would be somewhere between the late 1820's to the 1850's. I've written about what our early settlers would have found when they first settled here but we're going to take a step further and look at what began to develop in our downtown area. There were obviously structures in this area soon after settlers came. These would have been small randomly place log structures. Around the 1830's lumber mills began to develop downtown would begin to take better shape.

The original plat of Greenfield was just sixty rods wide, extending thirty rods on either side of the National Road, and a half mile in length. The plat consisted of a public square and thirty-four blocks, divided into one hundred and sixty-one lots. The downtown area that we're looking at consisted of the National Road or Main Street which came through town in 1835. Prior to that the main street running through town there was the old Centerville Road. This road ran east to west just south of the National Road. Most likely in the area of where South Street is today.

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This is the original plat for the First South Addition which was recorded on May 3, 1839.

 

At the heart of downtown at State and Main Street is where everything migrated outward. The first courthouse was built in 1829. It was a two-story log structure which stood on what would now be the corner of South State Street and South Street. This building stood until 1834. The second courthouse was the first building to stand on what we know today as the courthouse square. Construction began in 1832. The building took some time to construct but it was completed in 1834 with an addition and furnishings being added through 1837. This building was used until 1851. A third courthouse was constructed and completed in 1856. This building was used until 1896. The fourth courthouse is the one we know and see today. On the northwest corner of the public square was a pond from three to five feet deep, used by travelers to wash off their horse.

 

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Third Courthouse

The Northeast corner of Main and State Street use to be called the Dunbar Corner and was home to a two-story wood hotel structure. This building was later moved by John F. Eagan to the west side of State Street, south of the railroad tracks. Another portion of the building was moved to the northwest corner of Grant and Spring Streets.

We also had a jail filling in the downtown landscape. The first jail was open on June 11, 1829 and was a simple one-story wood structure located on the northeast corner of what today is our downtown square. This jail was used until 1833. The second jail was completed in January, 1836. It was built directly south of the courthouse at that time. This would have put it somewhere in the vicinity of South and State Streets. This jail was used for twenty years. At that time the third county jail was built. This jail was completed in 1853 and stood on the south side of the current courthouse square. This jail was used until 1871. At which point it was moved west on South Street and became a residence which was located where the current Vectren Gas building stands. In the late 1960’s, when the residence was being demolished to make way for a new building, it was rediscovered and moved to its current location in Riley Park at the corner of Main and Apple Street. If you’ve never taken the time to visit the Old Log Jail in Riley Park I encourage you to do so. Don’t take the trip for granted. Get up and go visit the jail and the Hancock County Historical Society Museum. It’s well worth the time and is great inexpensive fun for the family.

Also located on the east side of the downtown square was a small, framed structure that was home to the Greenfield Christian Church. At the southeast corner of South and Pennsylvania Streets stood the Presbyterian Church which was constructed in 1867. This was also a wood framed structure that was replaced by the current brick church structure at the same location. Other churches held services in a variety of buildings. The churches that dot our downtown area today weren’t constructed until the late 1880’s or 1890’s.

The Dunbar Corner as it was called was the northwest corner of Main and State Streets. Immediately east of the Dunbar corner stood a one-story wood framed building which contained J.B. Chappiu’s marble works and June Hunt’s Oyster Bay. Wonder where June got her oysters? Next to that structure stood a little one-story dwelling, the home of Humphrey Offutt, which is where the Thayer block now stands. These buildings stood just across the street north of the courthouse.

On the Northeast corner of East and Main Street, now the parking lot for Greenfield Christian Church, stood the wood framed home of Nathan Crawford. From this point there was a rather sharp drop-off on both sides of the street to Potts ditch or what they called in the day the “branch”. In my article about North Street this area was described as being quit picturesque. At this point the roadway has been graded, possibly 16 to 18 feet higher than the sidewalks. Potts ditch was spanned by one of the substantial stone arches that were put in when the National road was constructed. On the east side of the ditch a hill arose; at the top of this hill, on the north side of Main Street was the residence of Charles Burk. The timber framed home was later razed and a brick home was built in its spot.

Continuing east there was a vacant space to a point now midway between Spring and Swope Streets. This spot was popular for stage coaches and early settlers’ wagons that were heading west to rest for the night. It was one of the well known stopping points between Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. At this point the residence of A.T. Hart and A.K. Branham stood. Both were built on the back part of lots on an elevation, the front of the lots being too low for building. These two properties mirrored each other on both sides of Main Street.

Also located in this area but not well described was a tan yard operated by Henry Chapman.

East of these properties was the William Sebastian home. It stood on a high hill just west of Swope Street. To reach it from main Street one had to climb some forty to fifty steps made of hewed logs, the steps reaching from one end of the property to the other.

Continuing east of Swope Street on Main stood the Morris Lineback property. This was the last house within city limits at the time. There were two more houses on the north side of Main Street between the Lineback property and Brandywine Creek. Brandywine Creek at that time was spanned by a covered bridge. How cool would that have been to see? Right on Main Street just east of the creek stood the home of General John T. Milroy. His home was described as one of the showy residence between Columbus and Indianapolis. Setting about a quarter mile north of Main Street just east of the creek was the home of Irvin Hunt. Mr. Hunt was the first colored man in Greenfield. At this point was located one of the best springs known in the community for a number of years. This would put these two homes in the location of what is now Riley Park which at that time were not in city limits.

Coming into town from the east the first house on the south side of the road was the McGann Residence, which was known for many years as “the haunted house,” and was made famous by Riley. Next continuing east on the south side of Main was the residence of John T. Sebastian, which stood just across the street from the home of William Sebastian.

A couple of small houses then stood on the south side of the street about half way between Spring and Swope. Next was the large two-story wood framed building occupied by Dr. Jacob Hall and Captain Rueben Riley. It stood on the southeast corner of East and Main Street. On the back, southeast corner of this lot stood an old barn. It was in this barn that it is said that Riley was first inspired to go on the stage. It was here that he and his boyhood friends gave circus performances. It is said that there was always something doing when Riley announced his date for a circus. He was ably assisted by George A. Carr, later mayor of Greenfield; “Eck” Skinner, Will Hammel, Will Salla, Jesse Millinkin and others.

The first saw-mill built in Greenfield was built in 1848 by James R. Bracken and John Templin. It was located on the north side of the Main Street somewhere near the Potts Ditch and straight across from Henry Chapman tan yard. This lumber yard was a significant piece to the development of Greenfield not only to build structures but it provided planks for the road systems.

Continuing east on Main Street you would then hit the courthouse square area.

On the Southwest corner of Main and State Streets stood the Gooding Tavern. I’ve written about the history of this corner in previous articles. Immediately south of the Gooding Tavern stood the Mitchell Printing Company building, now the location of McCleerey’s Sporting Goods, LRF Electronics, Sprinkle CPA and Brand and Morelock.

Continuing South on the southwest corner of South and State Street stood the old Methodist Episcopal Church. Next to the church was the home of Sarilla Destribue and next to that was the Cruey property.

A grist mill was erected south of the railroad in 1855 by Nathan Crawford, Freeman H. Crawford and Samuel Longnaker. It burned in 1860 but was rebuilt. It would change hands several times but would later be known as the Greenfield Milling Company. Another saw mill constructed in 1860 by Benjamin Cox was located south of the railroad and east of State Street. It operated for only a few years.

Coming north on the east side of South State Street the first property was the Samuel Heavenridge home. Then came the properties of William Mitchell, John T. Barrett and S.A. Wray. The Wray property sat just across the street from the Mitchell printing plant or just immediately south of the courthouse.

There were very few residences on north State Street. On the west side of the street at the alley behind the current Creative Arts Center was a small marshy area. This area had a foot bridge running from across this area which led to the south side of at that time the Morford and Son Blacksmith building. I wrote about this business in a previous article. On the Northwest corner of North and State Street was the Rottman building and next to that was the Henry Newby property. North State Street was vacant from this point as far as Walnut Street for some time.

The McGruder property stood on the southwest corner of Walnut and State Street. Going north on State you came to the home of Thomas Snow, which stood a short distance north of Walnut Street and was reached by board walks built high off the ground.

On the east side of North State Street about half way between North Street and Potts Ditch stood the Rardin property. This house had some eight or nine rooms and faced State Street. Humphrey Offutt had another property which stood on the southeast corner of State and North Streets. Between the Offutt property and Main Street stood a stable which at first was owned by Thomas Osborn.

Jumping to the west side of town on the north side of Main Street, just west of Pennsylvania Street, stood the Patterson Hat Makers building. Next was the residence of Dr. Howard, then the house of Lot Edwards, then the Riley home, next was the one-story cottage of Thomas Carr, the home of William Lindsey was next, then the home of John W. Ryon, Cartwright’s wagon works and then the James Mahan’s home.

Across the streets on the south side of West Main Street stood the Fred Keefer property. Continuing east stood the small home of Rev. Monfort. Next what would have been on the Southeast corner of what was then Mechanic Street, now Riley, stood the property of Dr. Bruner and his office. This would have been on the lot where Pizza King is located. Continuing east you had the home of L.W. Gooding property, then the Gwynn property and finally the James Carr property on the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and Main Street.

On the southeast corner of Main and Pennsylvania Streets stood the Masonic Hall. This was the first Masonic Hall building location.

The south and north sides of Main Street between Pennsylvania and State Street were several simple wood framed structures with no significant architectural features. Some of these buildings housed grocery stores. By 1848 several were listed in our downtown business directory. The Gooding Tavern, which was a wood framed, two-story structure stood at the Southwest corner of Main and State Street. This building was constructed in the 1840’s. The Guymon House was located on the North side of Main Street which the current parking lot is located for the Lincoln Square Pancake House. The Guymon House was constructed sometime between 1840 and 1850.

 

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The Guymon House

 

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The Gooding Tavern.

The Guymon House and the Gooding Tavern provide us with the best vision of what the buildings in our downtown would have looked like at the time.

There were also school structures that stood during this time. The first school building was a small log cabin built in 1820 and stood on a knoll south of the railroad. Another log school house built in 1832 stood on the east side of State Street just about North Street. This building most likely stood within the vicinity of the Rardin property discussed above.

In 1843 the city constructed the County Seminary building which stood on South Pennsylvania Street where the city public parking lot now stands. There is an historical sign marking its location. It later burned after 1855.

In 1855 A large Queen Anne residence was built by Andrew Banks and it currently stands at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and North Street. Other homes along Pennsylvania and North streets began to be built in the late 1860-70’s. Most of the homes along these streets that you see standing today were most likely constructed in the late 1890’s.

 

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Old Seminary Building

Another school house built in 1854 stood on the north side of North Street just east of the first alley west of Pennsylvania Street. This would be the location of the Garden Wedding Chapel.

During the Civil War schools were located in the Masonic Hall. Later they would also be held in the Methodist Episcopal Church hall.

The first real school building wasn’t constructed until January 1870. This school was known as the West School. This building stood on the corner of North and School Streets currently the location of the Lincoln Park Apartments.

 

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The Old West School

The Longfellow school building was constructed in 1883 and even though it’s a little outside of the time period I’m looking at for this article I thought it was worth mentioning.

The city cemetery was located on east South Street. The ground was donated in 1843 although citizens were already being buried there as early as 1828. This cemetery still exist and I would encourage all of you to visit it. By 1860 the cemetery became full and in 1868 the city opened a new cemetery, Park Cemetery, which is located on South State Street.

Morris Pierson erected a woolen-mill south of the railroad and just below the depot in 1868. It was destroyed by fire several years later. A planning mill was also erected in the same area by Williams Brothers and Hamilton. It too was destroyed by fire. Another grist mill was built in this area by Joseph Boots, JB Fouch and Samuel Gappen in 1872. It later became the New Milling Company.

More and more business like flax, desk factories popped up around town. More saw and grist mill would also become built on the outskirts of town by the late 1870’s.

It’s hard to read all of this and envision the details but I think you can imagine that most of downtown Greenfield was at first log structures and then later when mills were developed some of the structures were wood framed. What changed our downtown landscape significantly over the years were fires that destroyed most of our structures. A lot of the mills and factories fell prey to fires. As these fires occurred and new materials like brick were more readily available our downtown streetscape began to take a different look. The simple built wood frame structures gave way to two-story building made of brick and with more architectural details. Most of our buildings in the downtown area today were built in the late 1880’s to early 1890’s due to this.

So as hard as it may have been to follow along hopefully you were able to envision Greenfield prior to what you may see today as you stroll through downtown and surrounding areas. Although the buildings may have changed the basic layout and location of some business have stayed the same. Hopefully this provided another look into our downtown heritage.

Greg Roland

References Binford History of Hancock County Richmond History of Hancock County

More Greenfield History