Thayer Family History - January 2015

Many families have been influential in the development of Greenfield but you can't talk about those families without mentioning the Thayer family.

Carlton Thayer was born in 1802 in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. He married Lauriania Albee Thayer, who was born in 1804. They had five children, Daniel who was born in 1830, James, who was born in 1831, Hollis, who was born in 1833, Edward, who was born in 1839 and Levi "Lee", who was born in 1845.

The Thayer's made their way to Greenfield in the early 1850's.

Hollis B. Thayer was born on September 24, 1833 in Keene, New Hampshire. In 1853 he began working with the construction crew of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company as a common laborer. Working hard and being dedicated he eventually worked up to becoming Superintendent of the department of construction and held that position until 1869.

He married Permelia Hart on April 5, 1858 in Greenfield. They had two children, Mellie who was born on June 30, 1859 and Edwin Pope who was born on December 1864. Mellie unfortunately became ill and passed away on January 30, 1860.

Hollis formed a partnership with his father-in-law, Andrew T. Hart, in the general merchandise business at Greenfield, this mutually agreeable connection continuing until the death of Mr. Hart in 1888, after which Hollis continued the business as sole proprietor until his death on February 21, 1904, he then being seventy years of age.

Mr. Hart was one of Greenfield's first pioneers and a reason for being a mentor in the business to Hollis. He ran a tavern during the old stage-coach days. He also operated a blacksmith shop and for many years served as postmaster. He then became a merchant and with his hard working attitude he became very successful.

The H.B. Thayer Building located at 15 N. State St. This Victorian Romanesque building was built in 1895.

During his long connection with the commercial life of Greenfield and Hancock County, Hollis B. Thayer impressed his personality strongly upon this community. He was successful in his business, his diligence and enterprise having been duly rewarded, and at the time of his death was the owner of considerable valuable real estate in Greenfield. Mr. Thayer was a Republican and ever took a personal interest in measures looking to the perpetuation of good government, but never was included in the office-seeking class.

Hollis's son Edwin Pope Hollis would graduate from Greenfield High School and would go on to graduate from DePauw University in 1886. His roommate while at DePauw was James E. Watson who would later go on to become a lawyer and US House of Representative. Edwin would become a Colonel and served in the Spanish-American War as a regimental commander with the Indiana 158th Volunteers. He also served for twelve years as a colonel in the Indiana National Guard.


Edwin Pope Thayer

In returning, his old college roommate James Watson, encouraged Thayer to become active in the Republican political circles. In 1916 he won the US State Senator race. A firm isolationist, he helped block President Woodrow Wilson's measures early in 1917 and was among the senators who triggered the president's infamous blast "the Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible." At the close of WW I, Watson became Republican Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge's point man in his successful campaign to defeat ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

Edwin married Minnie Ridpath Thayer.

In April, 1925 Secretary of the Senate George Sanderson died unexpectedly. Thayer was nominated to take his place and won the nomination. Well known and widely admired by members of the Senate Republican Conference, Thayer had recently been assisting in efforts to resolve two contested Senate elections. On December 5, 1925, Thayer won the unanimous endorsement of the Republican Conference and two days later he won election as the thirteenth person to serve as secretary.

Shortly after Thayer moved into his Capitol quarters, he discovered in the financial clerk's safe the Senate's copy of President James Monroe's 1823 message to Congress. This message included the text of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams' warning that the United States would no longer tolerate interference by European powers in Western Hemisphere affairs. What Thayer had found was an original copy of the "Monroe Doctrine." This discovery sparked his interest in preserving additional old Senate records that he learned were scattered throughout numerous Capitol basement storerooms.

Secretary Thayer directed Senate file clerk Harold Hufford, a young George Washington University law student from his hometown of Greenfield, to inventory these records. Senator Robert C. Byrd later described the outcome of Thayer's assignment. "From that day on, the preservation of the Senate's records became both an obsession and a career for Harold Hufford. Each day he would go about his regular duties as a filing clerk for the secretary of the Senate and attend law school classes, but, in every free moment, he would search out Senate documents and haul them up to the Senate attic." In a recent catalog describing the National Archives "Treasures of Congress" exhibition, the twenty-ninth secretary of the Senate, Gary Sisco, saluted Thayer and Hufford for their diligence in organizing these priceless records. Secretary Sisco noted that when the newly opened National Archives notified the Senate in 1937 that it was ready to receive its non current records, those records were ready for transfer and Hufford moved with the records to became the first director of the Archives' legislative section.

In March 1929, the Senate Republican Conference elected James Watson as its chairman and as Senate majority leader. Now the former college roommates could work in tandem as majority leader and secretary. Thayer had every reason to look forward to satisfying days ahead. Then, on October 24, the stock market collapsed and the Great Depression followed. By June 1932, Thayer and Watson confronted the specter of thousands of destitute World War I veterans massing in silent vigil on the Capitol grounds in a futile attempt to influence Senate passage of legislation for an immediate veterans' bonus.

Edwin was forever passionate about the care of war veterans. He loved to share a story with the folks back home about how he "tricked" the Senate into authorizing a veterans' hospital for Indianapolis. As one reporter wrote in remembering the tale "As Secretary of the Senate, he prepared the calendar each week, always placing the bill to establish the hospital at the top of the list. Finally, a senator was reported to have said, 'Let's pass the bill and get it out of the way.' The bill was passed."

In November 1932, voters blamed Republicans for the economic hard times and returned the Senate to Democratic control. James Watson lost his seat and Edwin Thayer lost his secretaryship. After he retired from the Senate, on March 4, 1933, Thayer returned to his home in Greenfield. He died on February 1, 1943, in the veterans' hospital he had helped establish more than a decade earlier.

Levi "Lee" C. Thayer was born Massachusetts in the mid-1800's. He moved to Indiana, where he worked as a railroad engineer. He served the from June, 1861 to May 1862 with the 11th Indiana Regiment Company A during the Civil War where he served from June, 1861 to May 1862. He was wounded at the Battles of Shiloh and Fort Donelson. He returned to Indiana and began working in the dry goods business. He married Mary Oakes on June 25, 1869, but she passed away a short time later.

In 1890, he built the Lee C. Thayer block. On March 14, 1891 Thayer hosted his grand opening of his new Dry Goods Store. A new era of Greenfield business had begun!

LC Thayer building first building on the right.
L.C. Thayer building today


 M.C. Quigley ran an ad in the Hancock Democrat Newspaper on February 19, 1891 advertising his "New Model Drug Store" in the L.C. Thayer Block. That ad states that Quigley could be found "with a new and elegant line of drugs, paints, oils, school books, fancy stationery and everything found in a first-class Drug Store."

Today, L. C. Thayer's building at the corner of East and Main in downtown Greenfield, Indiana is located within the Courthouse Square National Register Historic District. Throughout its 121-year history, it has been home to a wide variety of businesses, including Harry Strickland's Grocery, H. H. Zike Drug Co., Columbia Barber Shop, and Danner Brothers 5 & 10 Cent Store. It has also provided office space for attorneys, insurance salesmen, a homoeopathist, and the County Trustee.

In 1921, Chiropractor Chas. J. Wagner advertised cheap adjustments producing "a condition of health." He stated that his Thayer Bldg. office was "equipped to give real health service." In the late 1920's, John S. Hill, a Naturopathic Physician, offered electric treatments in Room 17 of the Thayer Bldg. More recently, Morris Inc. and 2nd Season, a consignment clothing shop, occupied the building.

The Italianate styling of Thayer's block is common in buildings constructed between 1850 and 1880 in towns and cities throughout the Midwest. The style is seen less often in the South, where little new construction took place during those years due to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and an economic depression.

This style utilized newly developed cast iron and pressed metal technology, which allowed, for the first time, economical mass production of decorative building features. You can see the use of such features crowning the windows and decorating the roofline of the Thayer building. Before this technology was available, few merchants could afford to decorate their buildings with such elaborate detail in carved stone.

Italianate buildings are usually characterized by wide, projecting cornices and decorative brackets. The Thayer building is atypical of the style because it does not have brackets, but you will see these on many other historic buildings in Greenfield, including Thayer's own Italianate style home (photo below). The tall, narrow windows of the Thayer building are also a common Italianate feature.

On April 10, 1893, he married Iona Williams. Lee and Iona had four children: Lee Carlton Jr., Louise, Nellie, and Florence.

In 1901, Thayer sold his dry goods store to his brother, Hollis, who owned the Spot Cash Department Store located on the same block at 6 E. Main. Hollis combined the two stores under the name Spot Cash, but he died shortly afterwards in 1904, and Lee bought the store back. He operated it until 1911, when he retired and invested in farmland. He died in Greenfield on June 26, 1923, and was buried with a military marker in Park Cemetery.

Letter showing H.B. Thayer Spot Cash as the return address. The date is hard to make out; looks like it could be 1893 or 1898 but not sure.

Lee's son, Lee Carlton Jr., attended Princeton University. In 1906, he returned to Greenfield, where he went into the dry goods business as well. He married Ora Holmes on November 20, 1911, and they had one daughter, Jane, before he died suddenly of acute gastritis and spinal meningitis on February 10, 1927. He was just 43 years old.

In addition to the commercial building that has housed so many Greenfield businesses in its long history, L. C. Thayer also left downtown Greenfield with a beautiful residential gem. Thayer built this Italianate home at 304 W. Main St. in 1870.

Original photo of Thayer home. Who ever had this picture originally must have spent a lot of time there in order to write "My Hang Out" on the card!!!
The L.C. Thayer home today

Almost all of the Thayer family is buried in Park Cemetery in Greenfield. The only ones that are not are Daniel W. Thayer who died in 1888 and is buried in Henry County. James Nelson Thayer who died in 1905 and is buried in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

This is the stone for the parents Carlton and Lauriania Thayer in Park Cemetery. 
 This is the stone for Hollis B. Thayer in Park Cemetery.
 Stone for Permelia Thayer wife of Hollis in Park Cemetery.

Mellie Thayer the daughter of Hollis and Permelia who died young.
Stone for Edwin Thayer in Park Cemetery. .
Stone for Minnie Thayer, wife of Edwin in Park Cemetery.

 I found it interesting that the stone for Edwin is quiet modest for a US Secretary of the Senate. But it is identical to Permeilias and his wife Minnie which leads me to wonder if they had worn over time and were all replaced at the same time.

This is Levi C. Thayer stone in Park Cemetery.

Well it's a lot of work in researching people and families but it can be very rewarding. I'm sure there's a lot more to the Thayer family story. The Thayer family story gives a good foundational idea of what families were like and what they did in Greenfield. I have found and I think we'll continue to find, that all of these families have some things in common. They all worked very hard, they did what their passions drove them to do to become successful and they all had pride in their community. Those key ingredients are what has made Greenfield the great community that it is and will always be.

Greg Roland

Richman History of Hancock County
Binford History of Hancock County
Hancock County Interm Report


More Greenfield History

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