Distinguished Citizens of Greenfield - June 2012

It takes people to make a great community. There are too many people to list in fact that have made contributions to the City of Greenfield. Everyone has contributed at some level. In this month’s article we’re going to explore citizens who have gone beyond the normal contributions. Citizens who names are recognized beyond our city limits. Some of these citizens have had books written about them and there’s some that a book could be written about them. Let’s explore some of these great people and in future articles we’ll explore some of them in more detail.


James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley:   You can’t write an article about Greenfield’s famous citizens without talking about our most famous citizen, the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Mr. Riley was born on October 7th 1849 in Greenfield. He was an American writer, poet, and bestselling author. He was most known for his children’s poems and his dialect that spoke comfortably to all Midwesterners. Of the approximately one thousand poems that Riley authored, the majority are in dialect. His famous works include “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man”.

Riley never married nor had children. Upon is father’s death be began to regret that decision. He compensated by taking his nieces and nephews under his wing. He also began reading more to children.

Riley received many honorary degrees. His first was Yale in 1902. Followed by a Doctorate of Letters from the University of Pennsylvania in 1904. Wabash College and Indiana University granted him similar awards. In 1908 he was elected member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1912 they conferred upon him a special medal of poetry. He donated land and funds to build a new library on Pennsylvania Avenue in Indianapolis. In 1912 Edison Records recorded Riley reading some of his favorite poetry. It became Edison Records most popular recording. Riley’s name and likeness also appeared on many products like Hoosier Poet Vegetables and tobacco.

Riley’s health began to deteriate after suffering two strokes and a battle with Bells palsy. Riley passed on July 23, 1916. His body lay in state at the Indiana Statehouse. Over 35,000 people filed past his bronze casket. A private funeral was held and his large funeral procession carried him to Crown Hill Cemetery where he was buried in a tomb at the top of the hill, the highest point in the city of Indianapolis.

Many things have been done around the state to honor Mr. Riley. In 1912 the governor of Indiana instituted Riley Days which took place on the poet’s birthday, October 7th. School children were required to learn Riley’s works. In 1915 and 1916 the even went national. It was a state wide event until 1968. Today school children lay flowers at the Riley statue for the Riley Days Festival which takes place on the first full weekend of October in the streets of Greenfield. The city park in Greenfield is named after Mr. Riley. It’s location famous because of his poem “The Old Swimming Hole”, which was along the banks of Brandywine Creek. The old swimming pool was also named after Mr. Riley.

After his death the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association was formed. The James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children was opened in 1924. Later Camp Riley was created to benefit children with disabilities. James Whitcomb Riley High School was opened in 1924 in South Bend, Indiana. Several other cities had schools named after Mr. Riley, including Greenfield with Riley Elementary School. Many streets across the state were also named after him, including Riley Avenue in Greenfield.

Two museums are named after or for Mr. Riley. One is at the Benjamin Harrison home in Lockerbie Square in Indianapolis. The Riley family home was also turned into a museum in Greenfield, Indiana.

The Riley family lived in the home in Greenfield, located at 250 West Main St, beginning in late 1849. The family owned the home until April 1870 when James father Rueben suffered a stroke and was unable to continue his law practice. They returned to their country farm. Riley was very distraught about the loss of the home and wrote about how it was “cruelly snatched”

Riley lived in short stints in Rushville, Anderson and South Bend. Returning to Greenfield after each stop. Riley was able to buy the home back in 1893. Riley did not live in the Greenfield home after that time but his brother John and his family occupied the home. James would visit frequently.

The City of Greenfield purchased the home in 1936 and created the Riley Old Home Society. The City of Greenfield still owns the home today. Riley’s love of the Midwest and Greenfield can easily be found in his works. Riley best wrote his feelings for Greenfield as “the best town outside of Heaven”. James Whitcomb Riley had many connections to many prominent Greenfield citizens.


Captain Reuben A. Riley

Captain Reuben A. Riley: Reuben Riley’s contribution to this community goes beyond just being the father of the famed poet James Whitcomb Riley. Reuben came to Greenfield shortly after he married Elizabeth Marine in 1844. Reuben was an attorney and his famed practice extended into Marion, Shelby, Johnson, Madison and other counties. He later became a state legislator.

When the Civil War broke out Reuben organized the first company out of Greenfield. He was elected Captain and joined the Eighth Indiana Regiment that went on to participate in the West Virginia campaign.

During the war a shell burst within a few feet of Captain Riley, he was left for dead. Throughout the remaining years of his life he would physically suffer from the blast. He would later go on to organize Company G, of the Fifth Calvary. He resigned from service on December 25, 1863 and was honorably discharged on October 15, 1864.

Captain Riley passed away at his home in Greenfield on December 6, 1893 from complications with pneumonia. Mr. Riley is buried in Greenfield Park Cemetery.

Will Vawter: Will Vawter was born in Boone County, Virginia on April 3, 1871. Vawter came to Greenfield at age 6.


Will Vawter

It was while living in Greenfield he developed his artistic side. He began his career by drawing prints for the Hancock Democrat newspaper. He developed a relationship with poet James Whitcomb Riley, and he began doing illustrations for many of Riley’s works.

Vawter worked for the Indianapolis Sentinel, Indianapolis News, The Cincinnati Gazette, Success, The Presbyterian, St. Nicholas Magazine, Judge, Life Magazine and many other periodicals.

While in Greenfield, Vawter lived at 126 North East Street. The home is still a residence.

Vawter moved to Nashville, Indiana in 1910 where he continued painting. He was a pioneer member of the Brown County Art Colony. He had two residences in Nashville, one was his studio in town and the other was a 57 acres estate about a half mile outside of Nashville.

Vawter first married Mary Howey Murray in 1910. They divorced in 1923. He later remarried in 1923 to Ola Genolin.

Vawter passed away in Nashville in February 1941. He returned home to Greenfield to be buried in Park Cemetery.



Reverend Charles Leo O'Donnell: Father O'Donnell was born in Greenfield on November 14, 1884 on the family farm. After a few years the family moved to Kokomo.

Charles graduated from Notre Dame in 1906. He also studied at Harvard, Catholic University and Holy Cross College. He received his Ph.D. degree from Catholic University in 1910. He then became Professor of English Literature at Notre Dame.

Rev. O'Donnell loved to write. He was first recognized as a poet in 1916 when his "The Dead Musician" was acclaimed. He became a President of the Catholic Poetry Society of America. He was Assistant Editor of the "Ave Maria", which is published at Notre Dame and was the first Editor of the "Dome", Notre Dame Campus Yearbook.

He published many books including, "Newman's Gentleman" in 1916, "A Book of Notre Dame Verse" in 1917, "The Cloister and Other Poems" in 1922 and "A Rime of the Road" in 1928. He became an Army Chaplain in 1917 in which he served during WWI. He was a charter member of the Notre Dame Post Veterans of Foreign Wars. He became the Provincial of the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1920. He became Assistant Superior General of the Congregation in 1926. He served as Assistant to the Present Superior General. He became President of the University in 1926 and re-elected in 1931.

King Victor Emmanuel III conferred the honor of Chevalier of the Crown of Italy in 1931. He was the first college President in this country and one of the few Americans to receive the honor. He died on June 4, 1934 from streptococcus infection in his lung. He was buried at the Sacred Heart Church cemetery.



Captain Lee O. Harris:  Captain Harris came to Greenfield in 1859. He began working for the Greenfield Sentinel where he was editor and publisher. His writings began to appear in various papers.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted with Captain Reuben Riley’s company as the first lieutenant.

One of his favorite poems is “The Harvest Days of the Olden Times”. He also published books, “Man Who Tramps” and “Interlude”. He organized the old Adelphian Drama Club which stared James Whitcomb Riley. He was also the Editor of the Goble Printing Company’s “Home and School Visitor” for many years.

He also was a teacher which one of his pupils was James Whitcomb Riley.

Harris died December 23, 1909. In honor of his literary and teaching efforts Harris Elementary School was named in his honor.


David S. Gooding:  David was born January 20, 1824 in Fleming County, Kentucky. His family moved to Indiana and settled in at first in Rush County in either 1826 or 1827. They moved to Greenfield a short time later.


David S. Gooding

His father operated a tavern which was located on the southwest corner of Main and State St., now which is the home of Greenfield’s City Hall. This tavern was known as Gooding’s Tavern. Famous people such as Henry Clay (3-time presidential nominee) visited in 1844, R.M. Johnson (former Vice-President) and George W. Julian (candidate for Vice-President and a Congressman) stopped in 1852.

Gooding studied at Asbury University and received his license to practice law in 1845. In 1867 he was admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court.

Gooding was first elected to office in 1847 to the Indiana State Legislature. In 1848 he was elected Circuit Court Prosecuting Judge; in 1851 he was elected to Circuit Court prosecuting Attorney in Indianapolis Judicial Circuit, and in 1856 State Senator. In 1861 he was elected Common Plea Judge. He became a Union volunteer in 1863 and was wounded in a battle near Lawrenceburg. He re-signed as Judge in 1864 and became a Lincoln-Johnson elector-at-large for the Union Party. He was nominated by President Lincoln in 1864 for U.S. judgeship in New Mexico, but Gooding rejected the request.

From 1866 to 1869 he was appointed by President Johnson as U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia. He then returned to Greenfield and continued his law practice. Gooding lost a controversial contest to Indiana Congress in 1870. In 1872 he challenged for the position again only to lose for a second time.

In 1880 he was involved in the campaign for General Hancock. He ended his political career to become the editor of the Hancock County Democrat newspaper.


Earl K. Smith: Earl K. Smith is most known for being the composer of one of the most popular musical pieces of the early Twentieth Century “Down by the Old Mill Stream”. Smith lived in a house that is no longer standing on the Northwest corner of State St. and North.

Smith took many of the tunes he had written and went to work for a music publisher named Tell Taylor. Taylor sent a check for $25 to Charlie Gant in payment for the words and he paid Smith $500 for the composition and had him sign away his rights. Neither Smith nor Gant’s name appeared on the sheet music.

Taylor claimed that he published a slightly different version. Before 1920 several million copies of the song had been sold. Eventually Indiana University Music School honored Smith as the real composer of the song. Mr. Taylor died November 23, 1937 and left Smith the copyright for the song in his will.

Smith entertained all across the country and wrote many songs like “O’er the Billowy Sea” and “Where the Dear Old Rockies Tiptoe to the Sea”.



John F. Mitchell

John F. Mitchell: John’s father William came to Greenfield in 1856. He first worked for the Greenfield Sentinel and then launched the Greenfield Democrat in 1859. 

The first home of the company was located in the east wing of the first court house on the public square. After the Civil War William moved it to the second floor of the Banks block, 15 West Main Street. The paper was published there until it was moved again into a building on corner of South and State Street in 1881, which is the current location of McCleerey’s Sporting Goods. The original building to that corner is no longer standing.

In 1876 John was taken in as a partner. It was at this time that the business began doing work under the name William Mitchell Printing Company. In 1890, upon the death of William, John bought the full interest of the company and became the sole owner. John’s son, John F. Mitchell Jr., into the management of the business in 1907. As the business grew so did the building when an addition was made to the south of the building in 1901. In 1906 another wing which housed the bindery and engine house was constructed.

During the Civil War the United States government seized the plant under the right of eminent domain to print the names of the men in Indiana subject to the draft. James Whitcomb Riley also began writing poems for the Democrat newspaper. The business quickly became one of the largest printing and book manufacturers in the state. They drew business from Coast to Coast and worked with some of the largest publishing companies in the states. They had their own gas well and generated their own electric power with two large gas engines. They also had their own waterworks. It had the best in American and European machinery for printing and binding books.

John was instrumental in the creation of the Riley Old Home Society and the purchase of the Riley family home. The Mitchell Printing Company is one of Greenfield’s longest active businesses. The Fleming family purchased the company and it is still in operation today under the business name of Mitchell-Fleming Printing Company. It is located on West Tague Street.


The Baldwin Sisters: Vernie, Margaret and Nellie Baldwin were two very active women in our educational community. Vernie ran the library, Margaret was the principal of the grade school and Nellie was a teacher. They lived at 210 West North St.

Vernie promoted many library programs that expounded the literary circles of Greenfield to the point that almost every woman of her time was in a literary club. Margaret became known as one of the first women to lead a school in the county’s history.

Nellie was the adventurer of the group. She is one who volunteered for WWI along with the guys, although not in the Army. She served in the Red Cross in Paris and on the front lines and later returned to Greenfield to instruct generations of students in classical studies of Latin particulars. Nellie’s Red Cross dress that she wore can be viewed in the Hancock County Historical Society Museum.

Each summer Nellie would travel abroad and would write of her adventures which would be published in the Greenfield Reporter Newspaper.



Barton Rees Pogue

Barton Rees Pogue: Barton is most known for his time spent in Upland, Indiana but a young child his days were spent in Greenfield. Pogue was a poet who grew up in a house on North Spring St. He was born in Monon, Indiana in 1891. While in Greenfield, he quit high school as a sophomore to become a printer’s clerk in the Mitchell Printing shop in Greenfield, where his first book was published.

In 1917 he won first prize in the national Intercollegiate Prohibition Oratorical contest. He graduated from Taylor University in 1918. He later earned a degree in theology from Boston University and a degree from the Rice School of the Spoken Word in Massachusetts and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

He became famous in the 1920’s for broadcasting his poems for 12 years on the station WLW in Cincinnati. He taught speech at Taylor University. He wrote for the Indiana Farmers Guide, Newspaper Syndicate, Indianapolis Times, Good Housekeeping and Ideals magazine.

He published six books overall. His book Songs of the Soil sold 1000 copies in the first eight months. Pogue passed away in March 1965 just two days before the release of his sixth book, “The Rhyme Book of a Real Boy”.

With his many years as a teacher at Taylor University Upland, Indiana hosts the Barton Rees Pogue Poetry and Arts Festival each year. Upland also named their public library in his honor.


Dr. Noble P. Howard, Sr.: Dr. Howard was Greenfield’s physician from 1843 to 1895. Dr. Howard was born September 11, 1822 in Ohio. The family moved to Brookville, Indiana in 1836. He later began the study of medicine and surgery under Dr. H. G. Sexton of Rushville. He would move to Greenfield in 1843 and opened his office at 19 West Main Street.

At the age of forty in 1862, he was commissioned as assistant surgeon in the Twelfth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. He marched with his regiment through the Battle of Vicksburg, the Atlanta Campaign and then moved with Sherman’s Army from Atlanta to Savannah on its infamous “March to the Sea”.

He led diplomas from the Indiana Medical College, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and was a member of the American Medical Society. He served as President of the Union Medical Society of Hancock and Henry Counties and in 1877 was Vise President of the Indiana State Medical Society.

He ventured into local politics as he was Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for Hancock County.

Dr. Howard passed on August 25, 1895.



George Knox

George Knox: Knox was born in servitude on September 16, 1841. Born legally free according to the laws of the time, he was still held in bondage and treated as a slave until the emancipation proclamation in 1863. At the age of four he was sold to one of the heirs of his mater’s estate for $300. During the Civil War he entered the Union Army as a teamster. After his service he quietly made his way to Indianapolis in 1864 and later migrated to Greenfield.

In the 1870’s Knox and other formed a colored church organization. Knox also was a leader in starting local Debating Society of Greenfield. In 1884 Knox, his wife, and others organized the Second Methodist Episcopal Church which was possibly located on the lot now occupied by Dave’s Meat Market on the corner of Forest Ave. and South State St.

Knox was also a barber. His barber shop was located in the Southwest corner of the Gooding Tavern Building. One of Knox’s employees was James Whitcomb Riley who painted Knox’s shaving mugs. He became a Mason in 1868 and an Odd Fellow in 1879.

Eventually Knox moved back to Indianapolis and became the proprietor of the Bates Hotel and Barber Shop. He had 14 barbers working for him as this location. In 1892 he purchased the “Freeman Democrat”. He published the paper until 1926.


Pasco Family: C.F. Chancy Pasco was born in 1880 in Chandler, Indiana. He served in Company G40 MSN, and was a veteran of the Philippine insurrection.

In 1912 Chancy came to Greenfield and bought the C.W. Morrison Funeral Home at 27 East Main Street. It operated as Pasco Brothers Funeral Home. In 1926 he purchased the McQuigley home at 312 East Main Street. In the 1940’s a west chapel addition was made and in the 1980’s a north chapel addition was completed. Today this location is home to the Hancock County Community Foundation.

Chancy Pasco was honored by being invited to assist with the funeral of James Whitcomb Riley in 1916.

Chancy’s son, Charles, was the third generation of the family to become involved in the firm. He joined the funeral home in 1935. He became the sole head of the firm after his father’s death. In the 1940’s Pasco’s was also responsible for running an ambulance service.

Grandsons David and Richard Pasco would take over the family business. In 1999 the business relocated to a new state of the art facility at 1780 W. Main St. They retired in 2001 and sold the business to David and Susan (Condo) Stillinger . Today Richard Pasco is the current Mayor of the City of Greenfield.


Walker Family: John Ward Walker was born December 13, 1927, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the great-grandson of J. Ward Walker, who was born March 11, 1836, and the son of John Wood Walker, who was a native of Monroe County, Virginia and a farmer by occupation.

In 1853, J. Ward Walker came to Greenfield and opened a general store which he conducted until his death in 1903. Up to 1864, the mercantile business was conducted under the firm name of G.H. & J Ward Walker; from 1864 until 1868 it was J. Ward Walker & Co.; and from 1868 to 1871 it was Walker & Edwards; Dr. D. M. Edwards having been admitted to the partnership. In 1871, J. Ward Walker helped to organize the Greenfield Banking Company. Mr. Walker remained in the bank until 1876 having sold out the store in the meantime.

In later years, he started a gents’ furnishing and clothing store under the firm name of J. Ward Walker & Company. In 1882, he located his business in the Randall block, remaining there until 1892 when he occupied nearly all of the Dudding & Moore block. In September of 1896, he moved to the Masonic Temple building where he remained. He employed 16 to 20 people at this store. He became the leading dealer in his line of goods in the county.

His sister, Sarah M. Walker, also had an interest in the business. By 1876 the business stock included a general line of dry goods, notions, clothing, shoes, hats, gents’ furnishings, ladies furnishings, carpets, lace curtains, furniture and queens ware. The annual sales were about $80,000 to $85,000 (Today that would be valued at $5 to $6 million.

This store was located on two floors of the Masonic Building, the first floor and the basement. At that time the building had a huge staircase just inside the main entry way that lead you downstairs. Today this staircase is only visible from the basement.

Ward Lincoln Walker took over the business and ran it until the late 1930’s when he sold it to Major T. Jester of Shelbyville who had five department stores called Goodmans. J. Ward Walkers house was at the current location of the Greenfield Post Office. At one time J. Ward Walker owned the entire block.

 Over the long history of Greenfield the list of famed citizens has grown to be quite large. I would encourage you to read “Also Great” written by Joseph L. Scvarenina. It details many more of our citizens. It future articles we will take a closer look at more individuals in hopefully celebrating their accomplishments.

By Greg Roland


Also Great by Joe Scvarenina

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