History of Potts Ditch - October 2014

City's are always changing, improving and moving forward. This is a big part of the reason why there is history to write about because we are always documenting these changes and improvements. People write historical articles and stories because they have found exact evidence and information and they wish to share it with everyone. Other times they write about a topic because there are tons of unanswered questions and writing about it can drum up conversations with a network of citizens so that a more complete history can be documented for the future. I guess that is where I'm at with this topic.

One big improvement that is taking place in the heart of Greenfield right now is the Potts Ditch construction. This project, as large as it may be, is not the first time it's gotten attention. As Greenfield has grown so have the ways we've dealt with the drainage in Potts Ditch.

There are many natural water ways that run through our county. They were a vital resource for our early settlers. In combing through history books to gather information about our drainage areas there are detailed lists of creeks and streams but then lumps everything else as not significant enough to discuss.

Drainage has always been a concern of our forefathers. In 1852 they passed ditch laws which provided money for installing tiles and building extention of ditches that may have naturally existed. They also provided the incorporation of drainage companys for the construction of larger outlets. Tile factories also began to open. The first such company was the Hancock Big Slash Draining Company which incorporated in 1861.

After the Civil War James H. Carr was named Drainage Commissioner and held that posts for many years.

Also during this time as many ditches as possible were being covered with tile. Historical writings discuss the Hollis Ditch, which runs in the northern and eastern part of Center Township and the Briney ditch, which also runs in the eastern part of Center Township, but no mention of Potts Ditch.

We know that Potts Ditch was named after John Potts. Unfortunately no historic writings discuss Mr. Potts. It is listed that Alfred Potts was County Assessor in 1892. You would assume they were related. Marriage records show a Isaac Potts married Caroline Wilette on Oct. 13th, 1831.

Most people might look at Potts Ditch as an eyesore and a nusance but in the early development of Greenfield the downtown area was looked at as a place of beauty. It was described in writings as the "hollow" and in connection with a spring located close by it apparently provided quit a visual, peaceful setting in the area of North St. just east of East Street and east of the Greenfield Christian Church. When it crossed the National Road, which is today immediately east of the Hancock County Humane Society building stone arches were built. This area was described as a favorite playground for the children of the town. When part of the "hollow" was filled in across North Street to the National Road it was viewed with a sense of disappointment by the many of the older citizens. Upon learning of the proposed improvements, one of the Crawfords is said to have remarked that he never cared to visit Greenfield again.


Bridge archway on Potts Ditch


Oscar Meek, who was born in Greenfield in 1829, recalled going with his mother to the branch to fill their kettles because of the abundance of water. They would do their washing there also.



Potts Ditch starts in the middle of a field south of 300 N. owned by Bob Frost. It snakes its way through town for approximately five miles and connects to Brandywine Creek just south of Osage Street on property owned by the Johnson family.

Part of Potts Ditch run underground. The closed portion starts at Fourth Street and heads southeast under buildings and homes to south Spring Street. The tunnel floods in various places because the openings are not wide enough; debris in the ditch has sometimes made the flooding worse by becoming stuck in the tunnel's twists and turns.


Brick walls of part of the underground section of Potts Ditch.


The ditch has seen many of heavy rains which has resulted in flooding in the downtown areas. Many improvements have been made to lessen that blow. Starting with the weir damn located on the ditch at McKenzie and Broadway. The grass area on the west side of Broadway, north of McKenzie is designed to flood and hold water that is controlled by the weir. This helps control the amount of water that makes it through the tight downtown areas. The construction that is taking place today is being done to help divide the amount of water that goes through that area even further.


State Street Gym


This is a picture of the "State Street Gym" for Greenfield High School. This gym was built in 1921-22 and was the first home gymnasium for the Tigers. This gym was sat back form State Road 9 because at that time Potts Ditch was open and ran across the front of the property which is now home to Highsmiths Guns at 123 N. State Street. The wooden bridge leading to the front doors carries you over the ditch.

If you read my article on natural disasters I described some of these flooding events in more detail. One of those events occurred on Monday March 24th, 1913. The Fourth Street bridge over Potts Ditch was swept off its moorings and floated downstream. On State Street, the large front yard of the John Ward Walker home, known as Walker's Hill, was now a lake. Walker was a prominent local merchant and one of the founders of the Greenfield Banking Company in 1871. The Vawter and Selman homes, located on East St. behind the Post Office, had to be evacuated and were quickly overtaken by flood waters. The Selman barn looked like an island in the newly created waterway. The water ripped away all but one bridge, the East South Street bridge, the town's newest — created just the year before. An estimated 5 to 8 inches of rain fell in a 48 hour period. It was late March in Indiana. The winter of 1913 had been particularly harsh in the Hoosier state.


Photo of recent flooding on North St.


Recent photo of flooding on 4th Streets


Recent flooding on State Road 9 between Walnut and 4th Streets.


So Potts Ditch as well as our other ditches have played a vital role in the development of our community. It's funny how something that's so undocumented has had such an impact. It's been a vital source of water for our pioneers and it's played a vital role in drainage today. Ditches.....you love them when they drain your yard, but we hate them when they flood!

So if you have any stories, old pictures or information on John Potts I'd love to hear from you.

Greg Roland

Richmond History of Hancock County
Binford History of Hancock County

More Greenfield History

City Phone Directory

Mayor's Office - 317-477-4300
Clerk Treasurer - 317-477-4310
Utility Billing - 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
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Water Department - 317-477-4350
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