The Life and Times of Nelson Bradley August - 2015

The historical writings describe Nelson Bradley as "one of the conspicuous figures in the history of Hancock County. Distinguished business man and capitalist. Honored as a citizen whose long and useful career has conferred credit and dignity upon the community and whose abilities in numerous enterprises have brightened his fame, not only within the limits of the county where so much of his life has been spent, but in business and financial circles throughout the state. Holding distinctive precedence as a financier and possessing a strong mentality, and invincible courage and a most determined individuality, he has long been looked upon as a natural leader of men and director of opinion in all matters relating to financial, commercial and industrial affairs". Wow, after reading that I had to dig further into the life and times of Nelson Bradley. I also just love the way we used to write don't you?!

The story starts in 1777 in London, England. That's the year that William Bradley was born. William would go on to graduate from Oxford University. He was a very good student. In his early 20's William set sail for the United States and eventually settled in Clermont County, Ohio. He was a teacher until 1812 where he entered the American army and served with honor in the War of 1812. He served until the war was over. After the war he married Miss Mary DeWitt of Bracken County, Kentucky. At this time he was in his mid 40's. He then turned his attention to farming. He farmed the remainder of his life. William well outlived Mary and lived until 91 years of age. William and Mary had four children; Wellington, who died when he was twenty years old; Harvey, a distinguished physician and surgeon of Clermont County, Ohio, he died after thirty years of successful practice; William, a retired farmer who lived in Maxwell, Indiana; and then the youngest Nelson.

Nelson was born on May 19, 1822. His early years were spent on the family farm. He attended school in a one-room log structure that was restricted to only a few months of the year and was sometimes taught by his father. Although school was only in session a few months out of the year, Nelson found himself constantly searching for knowledge. Nelson's energy and farm knowledge led him to become quite the trader. He made frequent visits to Cincinnati to trade whatever goods he could, thus began his business career.

Nelson remained on the farm well into his thirties. On September 29, 1844 Nelson married Miss Elizabeth Gray, who was also born in Clermont County. Nelson started his own farm, renting three acres from his father. Striving to increase his farm business he bought 100 acres of land which he farmed until 1852.

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Nelson Bradley in his early years.

 

His ever seeking business challenges are what seemed to have brought him to Hancock County. Early in 1852 he bought twenty acres on the newly-constructed Bellefontaine, which was located in McCordsville. In September of 1852 he opened a general store which proved to be a profitable enterprise. His energetic spirit soon established the first post office and railway station in McCordsville. He also began an extensive business in buying corn, hogs, cattle and produce. He also bought and sold land in the vicinity and never hesitated when a favorable opportunity present itself to engage in any undertaking which promise to insure his financial advantage.

Mr. Bradley's career as a careful business man soon brought him attention from residents of Hancock County when they elected him County Treasurer in 1863, an office he held for two terms until 1867. Nelson was a lifelong Republican and was forever active in the party. But Nelson was so well respected by all, that when he ran for County Treasurer he had acquired more votes from Democrats' than Republicans.

While in office Nelson moved his family to Greenfield. While living in Greenfield he still ran his businesses in McCordsville.

In 1866, while serving as County Treasurer, the office located in the courthouse was robbed, and $5,000 of tax payer money was gone and never to be found. This would become a driving force for his next adventure.

Nelson joined forces with other successful Greenfield business men and began a partnership with J. Ward Walker, Morgan Chandler, H.A. Swope and S.T. Dickerson. These savvy business men established Greenfield Banking Company. Nelson was elected the banks first president and they began with a capital of $50,000. He would be president for the first 30 years of the bank. The bank soon became successful and they reorganized the bank as a state bank. Greenfield Banking Company gave the residents and business owners the security with their money the community needed.

When he completed his second term as county treasurer he sold his business interest in McCordsville and engaged in mercantile trade in Greenfield. He had run his businesses in McCordsville successfully for thirteen years, but new adventures pulled him in a new direction. Mr. Bradley also had other business interest. For twenty years he was involved in the manufacturing of flour in Greenfield, having been half owner of the Hancock Flouring Mills.

Mr. Bradley understood that in order to have good business and in order to do trade you have to have good roads to travel on. He became a large stockholder in every gravel company in the county. He was heavily involved in construction and aided with all the means and influence to promote all of the roads internal workings and maintenance. He took it upon himself to manage and maintain the Old National Road which ran right through the heart of Greenfield. When the county organized free turnpikes he became a large advocator for them.

Nelson Bradley became a man that never lost sight of the general welfare of Greenfield and Hancock County taking up efforts that stood for the progress and improvements. He encouraged others to invest in the county's resources. He used his influence to induce the location of factories and other enterprises to develop in Hancock County. As a City Councilman he developed infrastructure, businesses and subdivisions. His drive and vision led him to become one of the wealthiest men in the county. He contributed to the construction of churches and other public buildings.

He was appointed by Governor Matthews as member of the official board of the Indiana Institute for the Blind. He served on the board for seven years having been reappointed by Governor Mount.

He was also an honored as member of the Masons in 1847 where he was instituted in Georgetown, Ohio. He took chapter degrees in Felicity, Ohio in 1848 and in 1854 assisted to organize the Oakland Lodge, of which he was the first junior warden. He also led the efforts to establish the McCordsville Chapter #44, in which he was honored by being the first high priest. He took the council and Scottish Rite degrees at Indianapolis at a later date, as well as the Mystic Shrine. He attended the conclaves of the Knights Templar held in Washington City and Denver, Colorado. He made large contributions to the Masonic fraternity in Greenfield and was a member of the building committee when in 1895 the Masons' erected one of the finest temples in the state, the Masonic Building currently located at the corner of Main St. and State Road 9 in Greenfield. If you ever visit the Masonic Building, which today is known as the Creative Arts and Event Center, take a trip to the third floor ballroom and you'll find a picture of Mr. Bradley located in the center of the huge stain glass window. That window was carefully restored by the current owners Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hunt.

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Mr. Bradley in his later years.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Bradley never had children of their own. But they did take in and raise two girls, Margaret Kinney and Amelia Pye. Margaret would go on to marry John McCord of McCordsville and Amelia married W.A. Watson. Margaret died when she was thirty years old and Amelia died in 1901 at the age of forty. The Bradley's would often open their doors to people in suffering or who had fallen on hard times quiet often. Tending to their wounds and helping them back to their feet.

On May 3, 1873 Nelson entered a partnership to develop the Bradley-McCord Addition in Greenfield. This addition ran between State St. and Swope St. and between Grant and Walker St. In August 27, 1873 another Bradley Addition was added. This addition ran between Douglas and Lincoln St. and between Spring and Bradley St., which today Bradley St. is East St. These subdivisions were an asset to the community giving residence a place to develop their own homes.

The Bradley's attended the Methodist Episcopal Church in Greenfield. As the church grew they found themselves needing more space and a new church. A new property was purchased at the corner of US 40 and Pennsylvania St. The Bradley's donated the $5,000 to construct a new building. The new church was dedicated on November 30, 1902 and became Bradley United Methodist Church. This church is still active at this location.

Elizabeth Bradley died on July 27, 1907. Mrs. Bradley matched Nelson's energy and enthusiasm for this community.

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Mr. Bradley's life came to an end on May 6, 1911. He died peacefully at his home on South St. from sepsis. Had he lived another 19 days he would have been 89 years old.

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It was said that at one time Mr. Bradley had amassed over $100,000 of property value alone. Quit a sum for that time. Mr. Bradley was definitely a considerably wealthy man but he never held on to a penny. Throughout his life he donated considerable amounts of his money to whatever cause he felt would benefit Greenfield. All of his wealth was distributed before his death. He wanted to see the joy from those that benefitted. He established a fund for Bradley United Methodist Church so that the church could draw off the interest of his investment to sustain the church through time. A complete listing of beneficiaries was not found but it's safe to say that any previous business adventure benefitted.

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The Masonic Temple Stained Glass Window of Mr. Bradley

 

Nelson Bradley is not a name that most people would know in this community like James Whitcomb Riley. But all you have to do is look around town and Mr. Bradley's legacy is clearly still visible from the Greenfield Banking Company, to Bradley United Methodist Church, to the Masonic Building and so on. What a legacy he amassed to the point that it's still visible today. I was amazed to learn of all of his hard work that the city and county directly or indirectly benefitted from. If we could all be so dedicated!

 

Greg Roland

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