This is a series of articles written for the North Vernon Sun, beginning on April 22, 1920.
I became a citizen of North Vernon in May, 1866. It was a crude town
twelve years of age, containing several hundred houses and a few streets which differed little in appearance
from the commons of which they then were a part. With few exceptions the residences were cheap frame buildings,
one story, some with and some without yards. About half the business houses were built of brick. Pavements were
of scrap stone, except in front of two new business buildings belonging to Colonel Hagerman Tripp, now occupied
by Rheinhart Gauthier, which were of undressed flagging, smooth on top and each stone reaching from the building
to the gutter, making an excellent walk.
In 1867 John Wrape and Abe Morgan built the three story brick now occupied by C. F. Schierling,
and laid a cutstone pavement on both Fifth street and O. & M. Avenue. Fifth street did not extend south of O.& M.
avenue, but a large three story furniture factory belonging to Thomas C. Jones and W. D. Evans was standing where
one corner would now be in South Fifth street and fronting on Madison avenue, extending a considerable distance
down. Where Central Block Conner's restaurant, North Vernon National Bank and South Fifth street now are was a
log yard, and where the Iron Clad and others have put up buildings was the frame of what had been a saw mill, the
machinery removed but the tall brick smoke stack still standing. John Bernard has a small frame restaurant on
ground now occupied by Conner's restaurant. John Hemberger kept a hotel where the Metropole now is, but the
building has been enlarged and another story added. David Shreve conducted a livery stable on ground now covered
by Stein's building. George Helmick made stylish boots in a small frame building on the corner where now is Tech's
store, and his honorable competitor at the craft, John A. Adams, was on the ground upon which the Central Garage is
now building an addition to their plant. Next east of Adams, Edward S. Whitcomb was then erecting Whitcomb's Hall
which when completed was the best hall in the county. A. S. Conner published the Plain Dealer in the room above
the one in which it is published today. I became his partner. Hoosier street from Fourth to Sixth was much the
best graded and finished street in town, which is saying little for it. Six months of the year there was mud
everywhere. The Louisville and Big Four railroads had not been built.
North Vernon was incorporated as a town in 1867 with the same boundaries as now, except
that slight additions have been made to the second ward, mostly of additions platted. The two days road work was
mostly depended upon, to improve the streets, at first wholly, but later a few improvements were made to grade and
taxed to abutting property. The grades adopted were poor ones, and afterward the city regraded all of them, but
they were important then, and marked the beginning of the town shaping itself up. In 1869 the Louisville branch
of the O. & M. R. R. (now B. & O. S. W.) was built, and the right of way through Main and other streets granted
by the town board. Except for this railroad Main street would undoubtedly have become one of the principal
business streets, Jennings would also be more important than it is. The company purchased the lots for the use
of the_____________ and erected the bridge on Poplar street, first getting consent of the town board. I think it
was in 1873 while I was postmaster of North Vernon, the postoffice being in a small frame building on ground leased
from Henry Meyer, now occupied by the west room of Tech Brothers department store. The mud was deep in every part
of town and there was not a street crossing anywhere. Henry Wrape was owing a considerable amount of delinquent
taxes. He and I boarded at the same hotel, the Snodgrass House, and I asked him whether he would not lay a crossing
over Fifth street, north side of O. & M. avenue, and allow the cost to apply on his taxes, as there was little money
in the town treasury. He said he would gladly do so. He was in the stone business. To my question as to the cost
he said he would lay stepping stones at a dollar and sixty cents each. I went before the town board at their next
regular meeting, stated what Wrape would do, and called their attention to the fact that the crossing in question
was covered with three or four inches of thin mud and was every day used by a large number of people. They all
laughed heartily, got off numerous jokes at my expense and guyed me in various ways. Finally Alanson Andrews, one
of the board, quieted down and said it would suit him as he crossed through that mud every morning to get his mail,
and he again laughed. As I seemed to have entirely failed to interest any one of the board I turned to leave the
room which was in the Robinson building, now the Big Four passenger station, when Colonel Hagerman Tripp, another
member of the board, asked me to file a petition asking for the crossing. They granted the petition and the
stepping stones were laid. This was North Vernon's first street crossing.
In 1873 many citizens of North Vernon believed that the safety of the people demanded a
government stronger than that of a town. Tramps had become numerous and were increasing. They were frequently
aggressive and impudent. Many women fed them because afraid to refuse. The streets were not lighted and robberies
at night were frequent. Accordingly the preliminary steps were taken to change to a city. The question was
submitted to a vote of the people on April 10, 1874, and defeated by a majority of 63. But life and property became
more unsafe, increasing as time passed. Robberies and burglaries became more bold and numerous. On dark evenings
men were held up by footpads on the streets and their money taken from them. One man was murdered and his body
placed upon the track of the Louisville railroad between Jackson and Walnut streets. Again a vote to incorporate
as a city was taken on March 6, 1876, and carried 204 to 95. An election held a month later resulted in choice of
J. C. Cope, mayor; Henry T. Vawter, marshal, James McCauley, clerk, Abraham Doll, treasurer, A. H. Herod, assessor;
councilmen, Jonathan M. Jones, David Overmyer, David Bay, Frank Riehl, Henry Knoll and Riley Elliott. The council
met May 8 in Meyers Hall and organized by electing J. M. Jones president pro tem, A. G. Smith was appointed city
attorney. Later he declined to serve and Alanson Andrews was chosen to fill the vacancy. Joseph Pietzuch was made
city engineer. A resolution was adopted fixing the second and fourth evenings of each month for regular meetings,
Mr. Overmyer offered a resolution to reserve Bids at the next meeting from the Plain Dealer and Sun for the county
advertising for the next year. At next meeting it was awarded to the Plain Dealer as the low bidder. The work now
before the council was to as rapidly as possible make the new city slightly, safe and comfortable. It was a large
task and the difficulties were many. About 3200 was turned into the treasury by the late town. A million was
needed, as half that sum is needed today. An ordinance was passed levying a tax of 70 cents for expenses and
interest on bonds, and $1 on each dog. The dog tax was unpopular and petitions for its repeal were presented and
refused. Liquor licenses were increased from $25 under the town to $100. This caused much ill feeling on the part
of some, but was enforced.
A city hall was necessary. It was agreed to vacate 6th street south of Buckeye and J. M.
Jones appointed to arrange matters satisfactorily with Mrs. Gaughan. Joseph Pietzuch was architect, and the contract
let to Caleb Whitmore, the lowest bidder, $3000. Bonds were issued to pay for it. These were sold to V. C. Meloy at
par. At the time of the city organization O. & M. avenue north of the railroad followed the middle section landline
to the north and south highway on the west side of the Penniston farm and separating it from the Tate farm, now owned
by J. D. Cone crossing the railroad near the eastern end, making it necessary to recross to get to the Butlerville
road. Colonel Alanson Andrews consented to donate the land necessary to remove the street to the north side of the
railroad, eliminating both crossings. The city set back his fence and graded and macadamized the roadway. It now
separated the railroad from Jared L. Thompson's land.
After serving on the council three months Mr. Overmyer resigned and W. D. Evans was elected
by the first ward to fill the vacancy. Up to this time Mr. Overmyer had written all ordinances, afterwards he wrote
them as long as I was mayor. The city had not yet reached the point of paying the city attorney a salary and
requiring him to write all ordinances. He received only the fees of his office, $2 for each conviction.
A culvert was built on Jackson street, the grading of the streets ordered by the town board
was completed, a sidewalk on Hoosier street in front of W. H. Siddell's property. Street crossings put down on
Second, College, State, Jennings, Chestnut, Hoosier and Fourth, Second and Fifth and Fifth across Kellar. Streets
were graded; Main to Louisville railroad, north side of O. & M. avenue its entire length, Walnut southwest of State
to Cook and Conner's addition, Hoosier was sidewalked, graded and macadamized. Sidewalks were laid on part of Walnut,
city hall to J. M. & I. railway, State from Main to Louisville railroad, Jackson, Jennings, numerous repairs on Walnut,
south side of Hoosier to Washington. A culvert was laid under Walnut on the southwest side of State to a storm sewer
which the railroad company had built to protect their tracks from the waters which were thrown upon it from the sides.
This carried the water off the surface until Walnut street roadway was recently paved when the floods were again thrown
upon the tracks of the railroad. Fifty cents a yard was fixed as the price of gravel delivered upon the streets.
I prepared an ordinance for the planting of shade trees on all graded streets and those of
natural or nearly natural grade, the cost to be taxed to the property, which would have been about a dollar a lot.
It would have become a law but Mr. Jones and Mr. Evans differed as to where shade trees should be planted. One would
not vote for it one way and the other would not the other way. So it received only two votes, Bay and Jones.
Another vote and the casting vote of the mayor would have almost covered the town with shade trees.
At the time of the organization of the city government the railroad street crossings were of
plank about eighteen feet wide, with water running under bridges which spanned the ditches and formed a part of the
crossing. I notified Mr. Hazlett, who was agent of both roads, the J. M. I. & O. and M., that they must all be
extended to the width of the street including sidewalks. He promised to inform his companies, and afterward told
me he had done so. On the southwest side of the J. M. I. now Penn. A deep ditch had been torn out of the slate,
bottom and sides, by the rush of waters thrown into it. It was afterwards converted into a storm sewer, and is now
covered by the streets, the park, and the Pennsylvania station. Getting no results Hazlett again notified his
companies. Again he got no results. I then wrote headquarters at Indianapolis and Cincinnati. They instructed their
agent to tell me they would look after it. This was repeated. Many months had now passed and we were still where we
started so I decided to do something more effective. I wrote an ordinance requiring railroads to be planked the full
width of the streets at all crossing, and that if they did not do so they should be fined five dollars for each day
such crossing had been in that condition. The companies were notified, but again did nothing. The ordinance had been
adopted by an unanimous vote. Judgment was taken, and I gave marshal Vawter an execution with instruction to levy at
once, which he did.
Two days later after the Madison train had passed south Horace Scott, Vice-president of the J.
M. & I. called at the mayors office. He demanded to know why we had taken judgment against them because of the street
crossings. I told him that we had made every effort to get them to make proper crossing, but without success, and had
adopted what appeared to be the easiest and surest way of getting them. He said the city should have put them down and
sent the company the bill. I told him probably so, but that we preferred the course taken. I took him to the Hoosier
street crossing, which he informed me was much better than average railroad crossings on a street of the same importance.
We were unable to agree. I then took him to the WalnutFifth street crossing. I called to his attention that it was
eighteen feet wide with no railing at either end and a ditch four feet deep under it, being unsafe for teams or even
pedestrians. He assured me that they had many crossings not as good as this, over which a 100 teams passed to where
one passed here. I admitted the truth of this but informed him that we wanted to get our town in better, more slightly
and more comfortable condition all over, the railroad crossings with the rest, that we were giving attention to streets,
alleys and all other things and the J. M. & I. must join in and help. He was not convinced. I then called his attention
to the tool house of the section men which stood where the city scales now are.
I asked him to have it removed further from the center of town as it was unsightly where located.
But to him it looked as well as anything in that part of the city, and he saw no reason for changing its location.
I took him to look at the new city hall, nearly completed, but he was not interested. After
dinner I found him again and he was still wearing his fighting clothes, which continued until about three o'clock, when
suddenly he changed wholly. His train north would come at four. He asked that we cancel the judgment, when, he said,
that they would make the crossings entirely satisfactory. This I agreed to do. He mentioned that we had a very
creditable city hall and he was not surprised that we wanted the tool house removed to another locality, and said he
would see that it was done. The crossings were made vary much as they are now and the tool house was removed to its
The O. and M. now B. and O. had two men they sent to settle troubles along their line. If they
wanted to quarrel they sent Theodore Gazlay, a Cincinnati lawyer. If they wanted to adjust matters they sent Mr. Beecher,
an attorney of Fairfield, Illinois and their solicitor. They sent Mr. Beecher here. He promised that they would do all
the ordinance required. And they did. Right of way to V. G. and R. railroad, now Big Four was granted in 1879.
Before the May election, 1877, much complaint was made that improvements were being made too
rapidly because of the expense. Mark Robinson led making this objection and became a candidate in the second ward for
councilman and was elected, succeeding Frank Riehl. In the first ward P. C. McGannon was chosen as successor to J. M.
Jones. Improvements went forward, however, faster than before, the city being in better condition to improve. The
city treasurer's repost showed $3503.62 collected from all sources the first year, with a balance of $304.88. Bonded
indebtedness $5,500, $2,500 bridge bonds, inheritated from the town and $3,000 city hall bonds, all of which were paid
off as rapidly as they matured.
In the May, 1878 election J. C. Cope was reelected mayor and H. T. Vawter, marshall; Dr. J. S.
Ewan, clerk; W. F. Wilkerson, treasurer; Henry A. Willman, assessor. J. B. Miller succeeded Henry Knoll on the council,
other two being reelected. Mark Robinson was made president pro tem of the council and Chapin F. Green, city attorney.
City advertising was awarded to W. G. Norris for $36 per year. Pumps were ordered put in all wells on city property and
on streets. A fire ordinance was passed, providing in what parts of the city frame buildings might not be erected.
Cotton & Reed of Vernon were given a contract to make a fire truck for $76. $1500 of bridge bonds nearly due were ordered
paid, and the $1,000 at maturity.
At the May, 1879, election Mark Robinson was succeeded by Hugh Dorsey, the only change. P. C.
McGannon was made president pro tem. The city advertising was awarded to C. D. Shank at $25 per year. J. L. Yater was
chosen city attorney. A petition of Catherine McGee and others for vacation of five feet on each side of Chestnut street
was refused. $1,000 of city hall bonds were paid.
In 1880 Charles D. Shank was elected mayor, Henry Knoll, marshal; Abraham Doll, treasurer, and
Henry Miller, clerk; Councilmen J. C. Cope, Hugh Dorsey, Riley Elliott, Chris Maus, P. C. McGannon and V. C. Meloy. W.
D. Evans was made fire chief, Dr. J. W. Kyle, health officer and David H. Hahn, city engineer. C. D. Shank, the only
bidder, was awarded city advertising. All streets in Tripp's outlots were vacated, that the fair grounds might located
where they now are. An ordinance was passed providing for the opening of High street to the bridge which was done later.
In 1882 J. H. Passmore was made mayor, Willis N. Mitchell, marshal, D. B. Reeder, clerk, A. S.
Conner, treasurer. On the council McGannon was succeeded by A. A. Tripp, Cope by B. F. Hargrove, and Maus by Dr. J. W.
Kyle. A year later Meloy was succeeded by N. A. Piper and Dorsey by David Bay. $2000 stock was taken by the city in the
North Vernon and Hardenburg (Hayden) pike and bonds issued. Washington Park was sold. Few improvements were made during
that or succeeding administrations.
In 1884 B. F. Hargrove was elected mayor, Louis Reichle, marshal, D. B. Reeder, clerk.
In 1879 my last year as mayor, I was anxious to open a road to the city cemetery, a desire in which
all members of the council shared. The road used from the opening of the cemetery to this time was to follow Fifth street
north near German, turn up the ravine a distance, then wind up the hillside to the gate, which was near where it is now.
Gallus Krichner was originally the owner, but in 1879 the title was in John Niklaus, of Madison. I wrote Mr. Niklaus and
soon afterwards he called at the mayor's office to talk about it. I took him in a buggy over the usual route. He admitted
that there ought to be a better road, and said we were at liberty to make it where we pleased and he would make no charge.
To my request that he show where he would prefer to have the road located he told me to put it wherever the council wanted
it and it would be satisfactory to him. No man could have talked better. The council had a survey of the route made and
a plat sent to Mr. Niklaus with a donation of right of way for him to sign. This he returned in person but would not sign,
evading saying what he would do. The council wanted to get along peacibly and postponed action. Then followed letters and
conversations. He answered letters by coming to North Vernon as his business called him here frequently. Months passed,
and finally late in the fall he refused to do anything. In council we agreed that if we had to force a way we would extend
Fourth street, as the easiest and best, but it was now so late in the year that the whole matter was postponed till spring
when the council opened it as it now is.
They also graded Madison street to Hoosier, Scott street to the Fair grounds. Pierce street was
graded, Walnut street was regarded, to its present grade; Sixth to Kellar. The contractors claimed Sixth completed and the
civil engineer so reported. It was resisted in the council and Miller and Cope appointed a special committee to examine and
report. They reported that the wall on the west side should be taken down and rebuilt and street at German and north thereof
cut to grade, which was done, and the street received. O. and M. avenue was regarded from Fourth to Fifth. Madison street on
southwest side was graded from Washington street to north corporation line. A continuous sidewalk was laid from the fair
grounds to the business part of town. The city was now pretty well sidewalked, State street, except between Main and the
Louisville railroad, being the most neglected important street. All sidewalks laid by the city, up to 1882, were of flagging
undressed, but fairly smooth, and usually four and a half feet wide. Portland cement had not yet appeared, but when it did it
immediately superseded all other material for that purpose. Many flagging walks have been taken up and relaid with cement.
Soon after the city government was established an effort was made and finally was successful to lay a
walk to the school house, which was the old building north of Miller's factory and lumber yards. Four-fifths of the children
followed the J. M. & I. railway tracks to a point opposite the school house, descended to the foot of the railroad bank and
crossed the commons to the school building. From the railroad was often through soft mud several inches deep, shockingly
unfit for children to wade through. Yet the movement met with much opposition, even on the council, mainly because of the
cost. Finally a board walk was laid between Miller's factory and the railroad and across the marsh to the school grounds.
From the beginning in laying walks the aim was to get them to schools and churches, because many women and children attended
In 1877 there was a general strike of the employees of the O. & M. railroad which lasted five days
and was a complete tieup, while it continued except of mail trains which were allowed to run on regular schedule. The men
had just cause for their extreme action, for they had had no pay for three months and were without money, without credit and
hungry. There was no violence or disorder in North Vernon, nor did the men gather in groups about town, but mostly remained
at their homes. The company attempted to run two freight trains through from Cincinnati to St. Louis, one following the other.
The first train came into the city at high speed intending to cross the J. M. & I. without slowing down. Some person having
a switch key said to be Omer Boone, who was not then an employee of the road, though he was afterwards, and I think had been
before, turned the switch and ran the trains onto the Louisville track. Necessarily the attempt failed. Marshal Vawter
arrested the engineer and brought him to the mayor's office. When some one asserted that he was running at speed of 40 miles
an hour the engineer answered that the speed of his train badly beat any forty miles an hour. The company complained that they
had less protection at North Vernon than any other station, but I suspect that they said the same at other points. In 1879
there was much talk of the V. G. & R. railroad
_______________now the Big 4, Col. H. Tripp, Col. H. Prather, David Shreve and myself drove to
Greensburg to assist in its organization, stopping over night near Letts with a farmer named Robbins, who was quite friendly
to the enterprise. The company was organized and the road built and April 14, 1881, one train a day each way, a mixed train
was put on regular time. It was built by the Big 4 road, and eventually turned over to them.
This being the last of my series of articles giving incidents of the city while still young, I will
begin by referring to two things regarding which I have no personal knowledge. Colonel Hagerman Tripp informed me that the
crossing here of the B. & O. and Pennsylvania railroads is 620 feet above the ocean level. At the same time he stated that
the highest point on the Pennsylvania between Madison and Indianapolis is at the top of the grade near the north corporation
line of North Vernon, and of the B. & O. S. W. at the top of the grade this side of Pierceville. Also, when H. W. Miller put
in the sewer along Walnut street fifteen or twenty years ago, when opposite the lots owned by Clifford Eckstein he found the
entire depth of the sewer, about ten feet, to be in made earth. I found no person who could give any information as to when
or by whom it was put there. A few months ago Albert Kaltenback told me that in 1859 when the first attempt was made to build
the Louisville railroad, an attempt which failed, in making the cut south of State street the workmen threw the earth into
Walnut street, filling a deep ravine part of which still remains in the rear of the Presbyterian church. Until in the early
90's, when J. B. Miller, David Bay and others were members of the council, all stock and fowls ran at large, pasturing on the
commons. Cows and hogs were most in evidence, finding their living mostly on vacant lots and little used streets, sometimes
going out a considerable distance on the highways. The music of the cowbells was heard from dawn until all good animals had
retired for the night.
In the beginning, and until the city had sidewalks and street crossings, the railroads were much used
by pedestrians as sidewalks, being usually free from mud and if muddy the crossties were utilized. They were preferred wherever
In the 60's and 70's the stone quarries were quite important, giving employment to many men and teams.
Gallus Kirchner was the early important contractor and shipped out thousands of carloads of stone to many towns and cities.
George A. Smith, with Louis Schwauke in charge of the work sent out many cars loaded with stone and lime. Later John Droitcour
and Henry Wrape did business in this line extensively. Rev. J. M. Missi, pastor of the Catholic church, would stand for hours
on almost every pleasant day and watch the men at work with their drills. He took much interest in all activities.
When I came here in 1866 the postoffice was in the room now occupied by the Plain Dealer office, in the
drug store then owned by Dr. M. H. Andrews, then postmaster, with Ernest Evans as his assistant. Dr. Andrews was succeeded by
Richard A. Connor. I was told that the first postmaster was a man named Huckleberry, who kept a store where the German Hotel
The first fire engine was purchased during the term of George F. Lawrence as mayor, in the latter part
of the 80's The streets were first lighted in the summer of 1888, with vapor lights, with James Davis, father of Don Davis in
charge. The electric lights were installed during the administration of F. W. Verbarg, and their light first turned on the
streets August 29, 1897. The water works were constructed during the term of W. S. Prather, and water turned on in 1892. Mr.
Prather was given much credit, as the council was hostile to the movement, but finally submitted the proposition to a vote of
the people and it was carried by a majority of seven. The telephone came in G. F. Lawrence's second term as mayor, I think in
1898. Paved streets were comparatively recent, during the administration of Mayor J. D. Cone.
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