A Closer Look at Greenfield - March 2012

I would like to welcome you to the first of hopefully many articles that will highlight the many historical events that have helped shape who we are as residents of the City of Greenfield. Too often in our hustle and bustle lifestyles, we take for granted what is around us and who we really are. Most are quick to assume that nothing significant has happened in Greenfield. But if you stop and take a look around you, there are significant factors that have contributed to who we are as a community. These articles will explore that history and open our eyes to what the City of Greenfield really is.

Anyone can quickly learn the basic history of Greenfield. But what is beyond these basic stats? Hancock County was designated a county on March 1, 1828. It was named after John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. But have you ever thought beyond 1828? The doors to this community were open long before then. Did you know that prior to that date, Hancock County was part of Madison County? The population of the county at that time was 400. 400? We have that many people within a city block today. Take a second and try to imagine what it would have been like to have been here at that time.

There were no streets, buildings, vehicles, cell phones, computers or televisions. It was heavily covered with trees, wildly growing from anywhere and everywhere. It was one unbroken wilderness. The wide open farm fields that you see today did not exist. This forest was full of wild deer, bears, panthers, wild cats, snakes, wolves, raccoons, turkeys, opossums and many birds. There were creeks and streams. And yes, there were Indians, the Miami tribe being one of the largest.

 Greenfield was chosen as the county seat April 11, 1828. Why was Greenfield named Greenfield? And why was it named the county seat and not some other place?

The State Legislature told our commissioners to locate the city on the National Road. The road had not been constructed but its location was somewhat known. Cornwell Meek and Benjamin Spillman measured the county from one end to the other using a string to determine the true center of the county. There were three properties at the center of the county that were owned by Cornwell Meek, Benjamin Spillman and John Wingfield. They evenly divided up 60 acres and donated the properties.

 The mystery as to how Greenfield received its name still remains. It’s recorded that Greenfield was named by the three commissioners of the county, Samuel Vangolder, Elisha Chapman and John Hunter. There is no recorded information that credits a reason for the name. It’s been said that we were named for our green fields. But, since we were a heavily wooded area that doesn't seem likely. It could have been for all the green trees in those fields possibly. Some have said that we were named after the person who originally laid out the county or city. But we know that Cornwell Meek and Benjamin Spillman did some original surveys. And after that the commissioners contracted Jared Chapman to lay out this new city in the woods. We also know that none of our original settlers were named Greenfield. So the mystery continues.

 So, why would settlers stop to live in Greenfield? The first settlers came to Greenfield and Center Township in 1819. They settled southeast of downtown Greenfield. Jeremiah Meek is said to be the first settler in Greenfield.

These families cleared the forest by hand. They lived in the rough hewed log cabins that they built and hunted and farmed for their food. The first log cabin built within city limits was by John Anderson. Others to purchase lots were Cornwell Meek, Morris Pierson, D. Lot Edwards, William Carr, and Lewis Tyner.

Picture of US 40 looking west at what is today Apple Street. You can see how rutted the Old National Road could get. The building on your middle left was the interurban warehouse which is now occupied by Riley Park Tire.

These settlers settled in Greenfield for the same reason that other settlers were migrating westward. They saw Greenfield as a place of opportunity for their families. A place where they could acquire land, start a home and be free to become prosperous in this new, unexplored area.

They found that this area had rich soil and plenty of ginseng, venison, firs, flax, tow linen and natural resources. The ground was generally level. The area was considered healthful, free from malaria and miasmatic diseases. They utilized the natural streams like the Sugar Creek and Brandywine. Once the ground was cleared, corn, wheat and oat production grew. They built grist mills along the streams to help process these new crops. Potatoes and tobacco were later harvested. Cattle, hogs and horses also became vital resources.

Steadily and persistently, Greenfield began to grow. More and more people settled in Greenfield and with that, we began to prosper.

 There are other key factors that helped Greenfield prosper. In 1835, US 40, or the Old National Road was constructed. This National Road was given commission by President Thomas Jefferson in 1808. This road was key to Greenfield’s success. It was the first east-west link and brought many people to Greenfield to settle and provided a place for the many travelers to stop and rest.

The National Road, at first, was just dirt. Later, it lined with trees to make what was called a “corduroy” road. Some parts were covered in gravel. Early travelers came on horseback and wagons and at times the road would become heavily rutted. Locals would have to grade the road periodically.


The first local street that was constructed was Pennsylvania Street going north from US 40 and was done by John R. Johnson. Fourth and Bradley Streets were next. Then North, Fourth and Mechanic Streets. State Street was constructed further to the south. Pennsylvania Street was also later constructed south along with many alleys. By the late 1880-90’s some of the main streets were being paved with brick.

 With Greenfield as the county seat, a courthouse was built. It was located on the same lot as our current courthouse. It was a simple log structure where papers were kept in boxes and barrels. Our current courthouse structure is the third courthouse building the county has constructed.


This is a great photo of Main Street looking east from Pennsylvania Street. This is from a penny postcard. Notice Main Street is still dirt. The tracks in the middle of the road are from the interurban. I would say this picture was taken during the summer. Notice the green trees in far distance and the businesses have their canopies pulled down. The canopy’s were a form of air conditioning that’s why the businesses on the north side of the road are the only ones that have them, the sun didn’t shine directly into the businesses on the south side of the road.

Stores began to pop up as well. The first business house was built by John Justice. The first “frame” house was a two-story structure that was built on the lot that now houses the Keith J. McClarnon Government Building. It was called Gooding’s Corner or Gooding’s Tavern.

 Several taverns, hotels, livery stables, wagon shops, various factories, banks, churches, school buildings, printing shops, drug stores, grocery stores, doctors, lawyers, jail, lodges and newspaper offices began to pop up.

There was a pond located on the northeast corner of Gooding’s Corner. It was 3-5 feet deep and was used to help water and wash traveler’s horses.

 The amount of mail at this time was very limited but a post office was built.. Joseph Chapman acted as the first postmaster. It was said that he could carry the entire mail in his hat.


This photo was taken at the intersection of North Street and State Street looking south. This is a photo of Jefferies & Sons Livery Stable which is the building on the left. This building was home to many businesses in its existence. It was razed in 2000. The building to your right is no longer standing. This picture is great because it shows the mode of transportation of the day. I love the fire hydrant on the left and the street light up above. The rest of the buildings in this photo remain today.

In 1837, a fire changed the downtown streetscape. It destroyed all the businesses on the north side of Main Street. In 1857 another fire gutted several businesses downtown. Other individual fires over time have erased mills and factories.

 Also during this time, the Dayton and Indianapolis stage coach passed east and west daily through town.

 In 1853, the first steam railroad was completed by the Indiana Central Railroad at the south edge of town. The railroad became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad System and later the Penn-Central. The railroad was retired in the 1980’s. The tracks were removed but the railroad bed has now been redeveloped into what is known as the Pennsy Trail and has been a source of exercise and recreation for the community.

 Greenfield was incorporated as a town in 1854, and gradually and slowly grew. During this time more improvements were made to its streets and sidewalks. Greenfield was incorporated as a city in 1876. At that time the population had grown to 2,023.


This is another photo of Main Street looking west. The Courthouse would be to your left. These Building still remain today except the small two-story building on the left. That is Goodings Tavern located on the lot that the Keith J. McClarnon Government building stands today.

The first local street that was constructed was Pennsylvania Street going north from US 40 and was done by John R. Johnson. Fourth and Bradley Streets were next. Then North, Fourth and Mechanic Streets. State Street was constructed further to the south. Pennsylvania Street was also later constructed south along with many alleys. By the late 1880-90’s some of the main streets were being paved with brick.

Eli Lilly’s of Indianapolis came to Greenfield and opened its research laboratories. Lilly’s quickly became and still remains as one of Greenfields largest employers bringing more people to settle in town. Covance, a subsidiary of Lilly now operates the facility.

Greenfield has two cemeteries within its boundaries. The first was known as the “Old Cemetery”. It was donated by Andrew P. Jackson in 1843. It’s located at the end of South Street and South Swope St. The first person buried there was Docia Spillman September 1828. She was the daughter of Benjamin Spillman.

The current cemetery is located on the south end of town along State Street and Tague Street. It was purchased by the city April 28, 1863.

In some early historical publications Hancock County was described as to be “within the genius belt of Indiana”. Many prominent people began to hail from this town. James Whitcomb Riley the “Hoosier Poet” was a nationally-known poet. Famous artist Will Vawter and Dick Black. Earl K. Smith composer of “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and Rev. Charles O’Donnell who later became President of Notre Dame.

Greenfield has come a long way in its time. By 1990, its population grew to 11,657 and by 2010 it grew to 20,602. It is hard to imagine the toils and hardships our original settlers had to overcome working hard with their own hands to carve out their city. In future articles we hope to explore more about these people and places. The next time you take a walk or get caught at a light, take a second to look deeper at what’s around you. James Whitcomb Riley wrote a letter to a friend and he described Greenfield as “My home and your home and your parent’s home and the best home outside of heaven.”

By Greg Roland


- Resources:

- J.H. Binford “History of Hancock County Indiana, King & Binford Publishing, 1882

- Jefferies Family Photo Collection

- Hancock County Historical Society Collection

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
Parks and Recreation - 317-477-4340
Water Department - 317-477-4350
Animal Management - 317-477-4367