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Greene Township, Parke County Indiana

"From the History of Vigo and Parke Counties, together with Historic Notes on the Wabash Valley, Gleaned from early authors, old maps and manuscripts, private and official correspondence, and other authentic, though for the most part, out-of-the-way sources. By H. W. Beckwith, of the Danville Bar; Corresponding Member of the Historical Societies of Wisconsin and Chicago. Chicago: H. H. Hill and N. Iddings, Publishers. 1880." (Pages 418 - 426)


This township is 16 N, R. 6 W. of the 2d P. M. In size it is a congressional town. The north and south branches of Little Raccoon flow through it, the former cutting across the northwest corner on Secs. 4, 5, 7, 8 and 18; the latter flows through the township near its center. It enters Sec. 12 and takes a southwest course till it reaches Sec. 27, then a northwest course, and unites with the north branch in Sec. 18, thus forming Little Raccoon, which flows south-westward and out of the township across the northwest corner of Sec. 19. Big Raccoon cuts off a very small part of Sec. 36, on the southeast corner, where Portland Mills is located.

The surface is varied. Along the banks of the streams it is much broken, in some parts rising into considerable hills. The northeast quarter and the south half are level and well adapted to farming. The soil is exceedingly fertile. Limestone abounds on the west side of the north branch, and there are several outcroppings of coal which are said to be the base of the great coal-beds west of this, and there are also indications of iron ore. On the east side of this branch sandstone of three kinds is found (red, yellow and gray) in considerable quantities. It is well suited for building purposes. When taken from the quarry it is soft and easily worked. With exposure to air and sun it soon becomes very hard. Only gray sandstone and one bed of a slatish material called "fire rock" abound along the south branch of Little Raccoon. The latter possesses a wonderful property for resisting the effect of fire, and is used quite extensively for fireplaces.

Greene township was originally a dense forest of large timber, embracing every kind known in this latitude. In some parts, especially the more level and swampy, underbrush, peavines and nettles grew up very thick. So thick was this undergrowth as to necessitate the blazing of roads that children might find 'their way to and from school. At this time about two-thirds of the township is in a good state of cultivation; the rest, though timbered, affords luxuriant pasturage. What is known as the Linden-thicket or swamp, and considered by the first settlers to be worthless, is now the most valuable land in the township. Greene township is a fair average of Parke county as a farming section. Sufficient gravel abounds to build all the necessary roads and keep them in good order for generations to come. 


In the fall of 1821 there came from Kentucky five families, Daniel Bruin Sr., James Buchanan, David Todd, Abraham Durlin and Ambrose Lambert, accompanied by two or three young men, and settled on the west bank of the north branch of Little Raccoon, south of the railroad crossing at Guion. This was the first settlement made in the township. They came, not to hunt the deer and dig  “sang” but for homes. They entered into the work of felling timber and erecting cabins in the then wilderness with a firm good will. The first cabin ready to receive and shelter the pioneers from the cold and storms was Abraham Durlin’ s, but before winter set in they were all comfortably sheltered. Hard times were in waiting for them. They had but little money and no grain, only as they bought of their distant neighbors at enormous prices, on Big Raccoon or the Wabash. No mills were yet built in this wilderness, roads were no more than mere paths beaten by wild beasts and wild men in times gone by. When they had corn they reduced it to hominy by means of the mortar. This was of two kinds, coarse and fine; the former was eaten, with such other food as they possessed, for breakfast, the latter was made into a kind of coarse bread and served at the remaining meals of the day. They were at all times able to procure a plentiful supply of meat, from the game in the forest. Thus they lived till a patch of ground could be cleared and a crop raised. Notwithstanding all these hardships, these settlers all lived to a good age. Ambrose Lambert is the only one living who came with a family. He is now eighty-four years old. These immigrants were followed in the spring of 1822 by about fifty families, who settled near them in Union, Washington, Greene and Howard townships.

The second distinct settlement in Greene township was made at Portland Mills, in 1823, on the line between Parke and Putnam counties, where Greene and Union townships corner at the county line, by Clemen Gare, Moses Hart, John Foster, Lemuel Norman, and Samuel Steele, all of whom were from Kentucky. Greene township now began to put on the appearance of civilization. The stream of immigration pouring into Greene township from Kentucky, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas continued to increase till 1836.

As early as 1830 the pioneers saw the rude round log cabins, with their board roofs, clay chimneys and paper-glass windows, all round them in every direction. These rude habitations grew rapidly into comfortable homes.


One of the greatest inconveniences with which the early settlers had to contend was that of procuring breadstuffs. The nearest point at which they could procure this article was Roseville, twenty-five miles away. So great were the difficulties met with in crossing the streams, climbing the hills, making a way through the swamps and woods, that families often were without meal or flour, except such as .they were able to manufacture by means of the mortar or hand-mill, for weeks at a time. Then, one man never went to mill alone ; three or four commonly went at a time, with one wagon, and did the milling for the neighborhood. The extra men went ahead and hewed out a road and assisted the driver in crossing the streams and hills.

The first mill built in the township was erected at Portland Mills, in 1825, by Samuel Steele, father of George Kirkpatrick Steele, and pioneer settler of that place. This was both a grist and saw mill. It has been since several times refitted with all the improved machinery pertaining to milling, and sold at one time for $8,000. It is now owned and operated by J. E. Blake, and is considered the best water-mill in the country. The first flour made by this mill was bolted by hand. So needful was a mill to the people of this township that they remember Samuel Steele as one of their great benefactors.

At various intervals others have built mills on the south branch of Little Raccoon. The most noted were those erected by Matthias Sappinfield and Daniel Bruin Sr., but none of them remain at present. The mill at Portland is the only one that made flour.

The first and only still in the township was built and run by Matthias Sappinfield, one of the pioneer settlers, on his farm, one and a quarter miles east of Parkeville. 


The early settlers saw the redman at their doors asking for food and to trade with them for furs. Their principal camp was on the north of Little Raccoon, northeast of the railroad crossing at Guion. Here, for the last time in the history of Greene township, they built their camp-fires, sang their songs of war and the chase, raised the war-whoop, and bade adieu to the hunting-grounds and graves of their fathers. They were at all times friendly to the settlers, yet it is said one John Hathaway lost no opportunity to dispatch an Indian. His father had been murdered and himself wounded by them at a settlement on the Wabash, and he had sworn to wreak out his vengeance in their blood. Indian relics found are such as arrow-heads, stone axes, and one iron tomahawk, now in possession of Ambrose Lambert, is a real curiosity; it has a curved blade about five inches long by two and a half in width; the pole serves for a pipe; the handle to this instrument of war and peace are one.

Once game of every kind belonging to this latitude was here in abundance. To see twenty-five deer in a drove was nothing uncommon, or turkeys to alight upon the trees in numbers so great as to break down their branches. Squirrels, porcupines, mink, and other small animals, were as common as small birds are now; now only a very few squirrels remain. Among the early settlers Ambrose Lambert was the most successful hunter. Snakes of almost every kind were here in great numbers. East of Parkville, on the old Mathias Sappinfield farm, is what is known as the " Snake Den." here, in a cliff of sandstone, serpents of all kinds came in the fall to take up their winter quarters. In the spring men came here and killed them in great numbers, as they basked in the sunshine on the rocks.


This is one of the most interesting topics in the history of this people. No sooner were the first cabins erected than they began to assemble for church worship. For some time they met in the cabins of the members. When they became able they erected church-houses. The first of these were of logs, like their dwellings. At the present time there are in the township six church buildings. So far as we are able to learn at this date, the first church-house which the citizens of this township helped to build was the one by the Predestinarian Baptists in Union township, and called Providence. Perhaps it is well to state here that this society began with sixteen members. Benjamine Lambert presided as moderator at the first meeting, and Aaron Harland as clerk, when the first steps were taken toward erecting a church-house. This was in 1828, and the house was completed in 1831. When it had been used about ten years a new site was chosen, on Sec. 33, in Greene township, and a frame building erected, 30x40 feet, at a cost of $500. The building committee were James and William Connely and David Johnson. In 1874 this society built their third church on the site chosen in 1841, which is now their present building, built at a cost of $1,693.25; its size is 36x40. The present pastors are Elders Skeeters and Burford. James Bristo and Jesse McClain were ordained ministers of this church in 1833, in the building which stood in Union township; the latter labored as pastor of this society forty years. The society now numbers sixty members, and is in a prosperous condition.

The Philadelphia Lutheran Church Society, now located in Greene township, built its first house in 1830, in Union township. It was a log building, used both for a church and school-house. It burned within one year after its completion. The society erected its second building, a frame, in Greene township, on Big Raccoon, in 1835. During this part of the history of this church Mathias Sappinfield was one of its most active leaders. The house now owned and occupied by this society was erected in 1866, at a cost of $1,500. It is 32x40, and is located in Greene township on Sec. 15. In the first organization of this society it consisted of fifty members; at present it has less, owing to emigration. The relations between its members have always been of the most peaceful kind. Its present pastor is Rev. J. M. G. Sappinfield, who has preached to them for the past seven years. In the present building there has usually been carried on a Sunday-school. From this society have gone out several ministers.

The Christian Church Society built its first church-house at Portland Mills in 1839, "in the face of secular opposition," says one of the leading members. There has been established in this township three distinct societies of this order, the first, as stated, in 1839. The building was a frame, 25x35 feet, and cost but little money, perhaps $100, the work and lumber being given gratuitously. The prime leaders of this congregation were James H. Jack, John Burgess and Jacob Cord. The present house was erected in 1850, at a cost of $1,500; its size 45x55 feet. The society now numbers sixty active members. The first minister of this congregation was Rev. J. M. Harris. It also supports a live Sunday-school; Kendal Phillips is superintendent.

The second congregation built its first house at Bank's Springs, on Sec. 5, in 1840; the building was of logs. The second at this place was a frame, 35x40 feet. Some time after it was completed the society, being weakened by others of the same order, it was thought best to discontinue meeting at this place. The house was sold to David Fullenwider, and is now used as a barn. The greater part united with the society at Waveland. The leading members of this society were Rev. Harris, Jacob Shockey and Ambrose Lambert.

The third society of this order united with the other sects in the neighborhood of Parkville in the building of a union church at that place in 1865. This building burned some time after. In 1870 the Christians, through the energies of James H. Jack, built the present church-house, at a cost of $1,700. When not occupied it is free to anyone in good standing in his church. The names of the ministers who have officiated here are O. G. Bartholomew, Newton Wilson, A. H. Morris, Ezekiel Wright, W. H. Wilson and James H. Jack.

The United Presbyterian church was organized in Greene township in 1858, by the union of the Associate Reform Presbyterians, Associate Presbyterians, and Covenanters. The following year they began building a church-house, which was completed in 1860. The building committee was Robert Spenser, S. R. Hamilton and Andrew More. The size of the building is 35X40; cost in money $756, The first elders elected were William and Joseph Ramsey, Robert Spenser and Henry Sturgeon. Of these Robert Spenser has been removed by death, and his place supplied by Paul G. Spenser. The first ordained minister of this society was William G. Spenser, who is still their pastor. The membership numbers forty-four. The society is in a flourishing condition, and supports a Sunday-school of sixty regular attendants. The church is located on Sec. 35.

It is believed by many that the Associate Presbyterian church is the outgrowth of a split from the Old School Presbyterians just across the county line in Putnam county, but this is not true. It took its rise in Scotland in 1733. Its founders, E. Errokins, A. Monchrief, W, Wilson, J. Fisher—these all were members of the established Presbyterian church in Scotland, and because of known evils then existing in that church, established this new sect. In 1753 it established its first presbytery in America, at Philadelphia. In 1779 this sect united with the Reformed Presbyterians, and formed the Associate Presbyterian denomination. The Associate Presbyterian church of Portland Mills, originally called the Raccoon, was organized February 19, 1829, by Rev. James P. Miller, a missionary worker appointed by the synod. The first ruling elders of this congregation were Messrs. Alexander Ramsey and Samuel Steele. The number was increased in 1830 by Nathaniel Steele and Alexander Kirkpatrick, of Mansfield, Indiana. Soon after its organization the congregation numbered seventy-five members. There are now seventy active workers. Many of the members have migrated west. Rev. Nathaniel Ingels was the first settled pastor, followed by Rev. James Dixon, who, after twenty-five years of faithful service, rested from his labors. The first house was a log building, erected in 1831. This was succeeded in 1850 by a large frame, and this by the present building, in 1874, erected at a cost of $2,600, and has a capacity to seat 400 persons. Its membership embraces some of the most substantial citizens of the county. (•We arc indebted to Key. H. L. Brownice for the item on Associate Presbyterian church.) 


In the early settlement of Greene township almost every family had its burying-ground on the farm, but with the establishment of churches private graveyards ceased to be made, but not till many such had been begun. The most noted are the Spenser, Davis and Lane family graveyards. There are also several isolated graves, many of which cannot now be located. The first person buried in the township was an old man by the name of Webster. His coffin was of puncheons. Two rough stones, hewn out by nature, mark his last resting-place.

The present cemeteries of note are the Lutheran, Baptist and Associate Presbyterian, connected with their respective churches, all of which are nicely located, and are appropriate places in which to lay the dead to rest. 


The pioneer school-houses were made of round logs sometimes, " scutched down " upon the inside, as the pioneers term it. The furniture compared well with the buildings. The seats were made by taking a small tree and splitting it into halves, and then putting each half, flat side up, upon pegs. One desk, made of a puncheon, fastened along the wall, upon which to write, was thought sufficient. A hole cut in one side of the house, over which was pasted greased paper, constituted the only window. At one end of the house was a huge fireplace, from eight to ten feet long, and a clay chimney, which pulled the hot air out of the room and the cold air in through the crevices between the logs. Then school was rarely kept more than three months during the year, and many were not able to keep their children at school this long. Their books were of divers kinds. Each pupil recited alone. To hear a class of twenty at a time was a thing which could not be done, so teachers thought. These school-houses, with their furniture arid faces, will soon be known only on the historian's page. At the present, in this township, there are nine neat, comfortable and commodious school-houses, supplied with apparatus to aid the teacher in his work of imparting knowledge, and the pupils to understand. Children are furnished with the best of books, and kept in school from seven to nine months each year. The school section belonging to the schools of this township was sold at a very early date for $2 per acre, in small lots, and the township lost about one half of the sum contracted for. It now belongs to the G.W. Davis heirs.

Railroads are but a recent factor in the prosperity of this township. The Terre Haute and Logansport was built in 1870; the Indianapolis, Decatur and Springfield was completed about one year previous to this time. The former cuts off the northwest corner of the township; the latter passes through the township from east to west on the second tier of sections from the north. These roads furnish this township ample facilities for marketing produce. The bridge of the latter, across the north branch of Little Raccoon, is one quarter of a mile in length.. On.this road, in Greene township, are two stations, one at Guion, the other is South Waveland, on the farm of Marcus A. Dooley.

The tile works in the township are the property of James Mayes, located on the Indianapolis, Decatur and Springfield railroad.

Across Big Raccoon, at Portland, is the only wagon-bridge in the township. This is 160 feet long. It was built in 1853. William E. Ball superintended the building of the same. S. R. Hamilton was one of the board of commissioners. 


Parkville is situated on Sec. 21, at its west line. This village was begun in the early settlement of the township. The first house was built by A. C. Cob, in 1828 or 1829. Formerly there was considerable business done here, but since the building of railroads the trade "has gone elsewhere, and all that now remains of its former prosperity is one wagon and blacksmith shop and the post-office; the latter is kept by James C. Norman. The township house, formerly a school-house, is located here; this is used for election purposes and township meetings. The Christian church, at this place, has been described.

Portland Mills is laid out on the line between Parke and Putman counties, at the corner of Union and Greene townships. The greater part of the town is in Putnam county. Of the part in Parke county that in Greene township is the more important. It contains the mill already described, the Christian church building, whose history has been given, and two stores. This was the place, as before stated, where the second settlement was made in the township, in 1825.

 If you have any information you would like to add, please send it to my attention.  Thank you.  James D. VanDerMark