Fountain County History - Fountain County INGenWeb Project

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Fountain County History


Written by your Fountain County INGenWeb coordinator, Karen Bazzani Zach == NOTE: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS :)

Sources: History of Fountain County, Indiana by H.W. Beckwith (1881) ; Wikipedia "Fountain County, Indiana."

Fountain County was the 53rd county of Indiana and was made from Montgomery and Wabash Counties. The first settlers came in Spring 1823 but the official date for Fountain was not until December 30, 1825.

Originally, there were but five townships (Cain; Richland; Shawnee; Troy and Wabash) but it was soon discovered more would be needed and six others were added (Davis; Fulton; Jackson; Logan; Millcreek and Van Buren).

Supposedly, the name was derived from Major James Fontaine who was killed in October 1790 in a battle with Native American Indians near present-day Ft. Wayne, Indiana. This could be true but I've always wondered if there's another story!

The first commissioners were: Lucius H. Scott (Parke County); William Clark (Vigo); Daniel C. Hultz (Hendricks); Daniel Sigler (Putnam) and John Porter (Vermilion - sic). They were to meet at William White's in Fountain County on the first Monday in May 1826, being informed by the Parke County Sheriff.

Within 12 months, the above would see to it that the "necessary public buildings" would be erected.

Section 5 of the December 1825 act noted that all suits in courts would be prosecuted to final issues.

There would be a county officer election meeting at the home of Robert Hatfield (electing five justices of the peace).

The first real estate purchased in Fountain was purchased long before the county was established in 1820 by Edmond Wade (Sec 28, Twp 21, Rg 6). Eber Jenne entered land in Twp 18, Range 9 the next year. In 1822 several entries came about as the settlers were sure there would be a new county: David Strain; Leonard Loyd; James Boggs; Daniel Tarney; Benjamin Hodges; John Shewy; William White; Robert Hetfield; John Barlett; Jonathan Birch; Abner Crane; William Cochran; James Button; William W. Thomas; James Thomas; Elijah Funk; Moses Jewitt; Abner Rush; John Simpson; Jeremiah Hartman; James Graham; Martin Harrold; Thomas Patton; William Cloud; Alexander Logan; John Rusing; John Nugent; George Johnson; Enoch D. Woodbridge; Jesse Osborn; Andrew Lopp; Daniel Richardson; Isaac Coleman; Isaac Shelby; Rezin Shelby and Jonathan Crane. Isaac Romine.

Jonathan Birch and John Colvert settled on the north fork of Coal Creek (now VanBuren Township) the spring of 1823 and father down William Cochran and Thomas Patton cleared land and raised the first crops.

In Wabash Township, members of the Forbes and Graham families also had a corp that summer. A Colonel Osborn, a Mr. Lopp and William Cade settle in the Osborn/Lopp Prairie areas and also had cabins and crops that year.

That fall, McBrooms, Cains and Walkers arrived coming by way of "Strawtown on the White River;" to Thorntown following Sugar Creek; From there they followed the Indian trace down Sugar Creek to Crawfordsville which they followed to the head waters of Coal Creek and following that stream, "they found their land of promise!" Four men living quite a ways apart travelled to each others property, cut logs, and built small cabins in order to weather the winter." Since the soil was rich they raised some corn along with beand and potatoes and with plentiful game, none went hungry or suffered in anyway.

A mill was one of the first items needed and in the fall of 1824, a Mr. Kester and McLaughlin built one about where Hillsboro is today but about the same time on further down Coal Creek Corse's Mill was built, just a little shed, a brush dam, and a wheel attached to an upright shaft but it was a blessing to the men of the area since they would not have to take their grain far away to be processed. Capacity: 5 bushels of corn/day.

Absolom Mendenhall was the first justice of the peace and was in Fountain in 1823. Quite a busy man, he wrote deeds; settled disputes; married people; cried sales and did the public business for many years. He was said to have had complete "common sense; sterling integrity and a great intuitive sense of justice." He went on to become a state senator.

Snakes and milk sickness were two harsh realities to the settlers. Whole families would die from drinking milk from a cow with the "slows" or as sadly discovered by many area folks, eating the meat after the animal died or was killed. My own (kbz) direct ancestor, Nathaniel Morgan was a Justice of the Peace and school teacher in Jackson Township from about 1835 on. He lost his beloved wife, Elizabeth Summers, and their first two sons to milk sickness in late June and early July, 1849. They are buried side by side in Wolf Creek Cemetery. Many other families side by side can be found in most of the county cemeteries. It was not a given drinking the diseased cow's milk that all would be sick but instead the disease attacked at will. An early settler noted: "As to snakes, there ws no end to them .. like Pharaoh's frogs of old, they were everywhere... in the forest ... in the yard ... in the house and among the children. They were killed by the hundreds in a day's time.

In the early days of the county, as was true in almost every place settlers came, the door was always open. If a traveller need food and rest, they were invited in. Stories of what was happening in the outside world were relished. Along with that time of camraderie, corn huskins, house/barn raisings, quilting bees, a wedding and any such public affair were exciting and pleasant times.

My (kbz) great grandfather mentioned above was highly educated for the times and it was a desire for the Fountain County early settlers to have their children go to school. No sooner than one or two cabins were built, a school master and school building were procured. The teacher would board around at the homes of his pupils. Nothing fancy was taught, just readin', writin' and rithmetic', all needed to suffice in an ever-growing world.

One of my favorite early Fountain County stories is that of James C. Davis who walked to Terre Haute to procure a license to marry Sallie Johnson, daughter of early settler Archibald Johnson. James was the son of Enos Davis who settled in Fountain County in the fall of 1823. This was the spring (April) the next year. On the way back, James Davis stopped at a new minister's home who had just settled in. John Hibbs walked the rest of the way (up through Wabash Township) with Davis and performed the wedding ceremony. They lived happily ever after, raising several children who aided in populating Fountain County. This was likely the first or one of the first weddings in the county. Usually a dance would accompany the early weddings and the musician would be exhausted as dancer after dancer got to "cut-out" and rest but the fiddler continued on. One of my most unliked piece of Fountain County history is also related to a wedding of a cousin of mine, Florence Sowers. Just five hours after her wedding (at the beginning of their charivari) to Henry Davis Lawson, the paper wads meant to be a joke shot into their bedroom hit her in the temple and killed her.

Leonard Keep was charged $500 as bond for a liquor license which cost him $5 for the year. Stephen Taylor and Joseph Collier were used as sureties for the bond. This was granted at the first commissioner's meeting. Also at that meeting the town of Covington was appointed the county seat with much controversy surrounding the decision. Covington is located on the far side of the county and quite inconvenient for business purposes, including the collecting of state and county revenue (in 1826, for each horse, the owner paid .37 1/2 cents. An ox was only .18 3/4. Carriages depending on their size were 1.00 or 1.50. A brass clock 1.00 and a silver watch .25. A gold watch was 1.00. That very meeting a highway was discussed and plans got underway to build a road from Covington to Crawfordsville (Wm. White; Benjamin Kepner and Edward McBroom were appointed to see to that). They were assisted by William Crawford, surveyor of Montgomery County.

It wasn't until March of 1827 that the board of justices ordered "a frame building 20' wide and 26' long, two stories high, lower story 10' in the clear, 2nd story 8' in the clear, three openings in front and back in each story, two windows in back and front of lower story, also in 2nd story with single architrave-casing also a solid cornice, the cant-mould to protect 4", the facia to protect 10" the bed-mould to protect 4". Two panel doors, six panels each; windows in lower story to be 15 lights, 8 x 10 each; windows in upper 12 lights in each. There shell be two good and sufficient floors, laid on good solid sleepers; the plank of said floors not to exceed 9" in width, and one and one-fourth inches thick; good and sufficient joists..." Abraham Griffith gave the lowest bid at $335. It was built on Lot No. 120, in Covington. After this building was abandoned, James G. Hardy used it as a grain business - it was known as "Hardy's Corner." David and Lew Wallace; as well as many other men practiced law there.

Following the courthouse, a jail was needed and it was built using 14" thick oak boards raised on a foundation of excellent stone. Peter H. Patterson built ("Undertaker") the jail at the rate of $181.50. Not long after this the board of justices was replaced with a board of commissioners, with Frederick Paine, Sam Archer and Isaac Coleman appointed. They served until November 1832. William Lamb was the first auditor and Baker Spence the first elected treasurer of the county, although there had been basically the same office earlier on, the first appointed treasurer being James Prevo. This election was in 1841. The original court house lasted a short time and a second one was started in November of 1830 "on the center of the public square." Commissioners Reuben Reagan, Joseph Potts, George W. Benefield and Zabina Babcock, were ordered to evaluate what the seat of government should be for Fountain County. After much work and examination they decided it would remain in Covington. The building of this court house was $33,500. It was the fall of 1859 before it was ever completed. Of course, there was a new jail about this time, as well.

Robert Hetfield was the first recorder having served from 1834-1841. The first Sheriff is usually thought of as John Corse but truly Isaac Col(e)man held that appointment before (July 1826 - an allowance was given to Isaac Colman, former sheriff of the county for his services.")

Daniel Rodgers was the first appointed clerk of the circuit court with William B. White first elected.

Henry Ristine was the first representative to the state legislature followed by John Beard then Robert Taylor. Amos Robertson was the 1826 Senator, followed by James Blair then Benjamin F. Wallace. John R. Porter was the first judge and in 1830 oversaw the first murder charge against John Richardson. The jury (William Cochran; Samuel Trullinger; Alexander Logan; Benjamin Wade; Jacob Bever; Robert Miller; David Sewell; Jesse Osborn; Caleb Abernathy; James Stewart; Stephen Harper; Samuel Garver; Conrad Walters; John Ralston and Bennet Seibird. Edward Hannegan, prosecuting attorney. End result: "This jury has found a verdict of guilty. John Miller, foreman." The next day the counselor moved for a new trial, which, "being submitted without argument, was overruled." The prisoner was sent to the Fountain County jail to "remain until the 12th day of next November and that upon that day, between the hours 12 and 2 the sheriff of said county shall take the said John Richardson from thence to the place of public execution, and there hang him by the neck until he be dead, dead, dead." Signed - September 30, 1830. John R. Porter. Upon that day, John Richardson indeed hung for his crime. Judge Porter grew up in Berkshire County, Massachusettes having read law with a Judge Dewey who was a Mass. Supreme Court judge. In 1820, he came to Paoli, Indiana in Orange County, afterward moving to Vermillion County near Eugene, Indiana. He joined some family members there. "Purity and good judgment," is said to have been what he carried throughout his time on the bench.

The first probate judge was Jonathan Birch (1829-33) followed by Mitchell C. Black (1833-1840). The Common Please court began in 1852 with David Rawles as the first judge, followed by Charles Tyler; Isaac Naylor; Joseph Ristine and Albert Thomas.

A Poor House was also among the worries of county officials. Although records show that the county took care of its indigent as early as 1837, it was not until 1862 that a building was actually erected, and it was mainly used for the Covington schools versus a place for the poor to call home. In 1881, the county had $131,650 invested in buildings used for education. Right at 7,000 pupils attended school. Attica and Covington are said to have had first-class schools that were a source of great community pride.

An interesting note or two is in accordance to the 1880 census. Potatoes rounded out to over 25,000 bushels; fruits almost 22,000 bushes; close to 600,000 pounds of bacon; 228,000 pounds of pork. Farmers produced 46,410 pounds of wool; 3,237 pounds of tobacco, 2,595 pounds of maple sugar; 7,061 gallons of cider; 5,866 gallons of vinegar; 758 gallons of wine; 8,270 gallons of sorghum mollasses and 5,166 of maple molasses. There was close to 21,000 acres of wheat that yielded almost 470,000 bushels; about 34,000 acres of corn yielding 967,770 bushels; 3,648 acres of oat yielding almost 93,000 bushels; 407 acres of rye (74,490 bu) and 735 acres of potatoes (28,766 bu). 8,623 acres were meadow with of course hay and seed, and clover with 26,229 acres in pasture. Now, this is great -- there were 136 pianos, 205 melodeons/organs and 1,772 sewing machines. Fountain was extremely high on the piano list. In that year, there were 637 miles of "wagon roads," 14 bridges, 51 miles of railroad and Fountain was 45th in population in the state but 20th in land value.

Almost 3 million dollars was spent by 1880 on railroads covering 51 miles of land. Today, (2016) there is one active (Norfolk-Southern running through Attica) in the county. Snoddy Mills was one of the most active using the early railroads as their main source to haul coal. Transportation prior to the 1880s was mainly on the river (Wabash & Erie canals). Not a literal war, but pretty close, was between Attica and Covington where Attica was begged to let open the locks and level-up the water. In the winter of 1825-26, the western part of Montgomery County was split-off to make Fountain. Isaac Coleman, a young man not yet 30, gave the property for the county seat courthouse in Covington. The feud began and went on for decades. This became a mute problem when the railroads came in to existence, however and thankfully so as the fuss was a long-standing one!

Biographies of many of the early settlers are found on this GenWeb page. Some of the earliest were: Alexander; Bilsland; Cade; Corse; Funk; Glascock; Hawkins; Kepner; Lopp; Nebeker; Patton; Rush; Scott; Shelton; Simpson; Strayer. Kentucky; Ohio; Pennsylvania; and Virginia were the main places where the settlers hailed, but John Simpson came from the West Indies. The list could go on and on, but suffice to say once the land became known as plentiful, good, rich property, it was gobbled up and the folks came in droves! Each individual had to have strength and fortitutde to continue persevering in those early days.

Game aplenty in the early days consisted of venison, opossum, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, wild turkey, pheasants, pigeons, ducks and more. Coffee of several sorts could be made: flour, wheat, potato, bread, crust, meal and sassafras coffee, along with spicewood, sassafras tea and sycamore chipped tea. One settler, John Gillam had a very large family and squatted the land near the courthouse. He would do any job for a mere amount of money to try to feed his wife and children. Joseph Griffith and son, Barton were the first to actually settle on that spot. He later moved to Illinois and died there; however, his son, Barton remained and became clerk for Joseph Sloan, whose business he largely managed. Other businesses in Covington were Daniel Landers who came from Indianapolis to begin a branch store. Sloan made a trip to procure supplies, returned and he, John Gillam, and the Griffiths build a store immediately in order to protect what was purchased. Others aiding in the building of this first "business" were Baum; Bilsland; Nebeker; Whitley; Shelby; Steeley. 14 x 18 and one story made of unhewn logs, daubed and plastered was quickly erected. The store was a great success, somewhere the women could buy their goods and the men could sit and blab.

David Rawles saw the potential in the little community and brought his family by keel boat to the area. He built a hotel. 16 x 24, one story, with extra strong doors, round logs, clapboard roof and puncheon floor with a small room on the rear for his wife to cook. Next came the attorney, including Andrew Ingram, Dan Rogers. John McKinney began a tannery, and others built other types of stores. The first society was likely the "Callisumpkin," which some of the early men began to hold court proceedings. David Rawles served as judge; the attorneys were already there and James Whitley was constable. Dr. (John) Hamilton returned late one evening after making a call, and the constable served him up saying he had brushed flies from his face when fewer than a dozen were bothering him. Dr. secured Rogers as his lawyer and the trial was presided over by "Judge Rawles." Guilty was the result, and the doctor was to remove a large stump (which is how many were actually removed in these mock-trials). The Dr. refused, not wanting to strain himself because of his profession and paid a man $5 to remove it. The Callisumpkin Society in a very odd way gave entertainment as well as aide in creating Covington, the town.

The second JP, as well as long-time Post Master was Jacob Tice who hailed from Middlesex County, New Jersey. A tailor, he followed that trade in a rented building for a short time. When ready-made clothing reduced the tailors custom he sought another livelihood, which brought his to the above mentioned.

David Wallace, father of reknowned Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur, and David's brother, Frank became merchants in Covington, Frank mainly overseeing the store, while David made a practice of law. In 1832, as a resident to the county seat of Fountain County, David was elected Lt. Governor of Indiana and in 1838, Governor. His wife and child are buried in the Covington Cemetery. He remarried and then made his home in Indianapolis.

About 170 people were living in the town in the 1830 census. By the late 1830s and early 1840s, Dr. Hamilton; Isaac Coleman; Dan Mace and James Carleton went out to obtain a railroad. However, problem after problem arose and Dr. Hamilton lost a fortune $6,000 to the cause. "The Great Western Railroad" turned into a ghost!

In 1842, the Wabash & Erie Canal, began at Lafayette and took four years to finish at Covington.   Covington business men gave full credit on scripts for the canal that were only partially paid for.  Joseph Sloan began with a fortune but had great deficits in it when the canal finally came through.  The canal was all closed up as the last boat cleared at Covington was on October 26, 1872 and the last cleared in the general area was the “Goodman” on November 13, 1875, bound from Lodi to Lafayette.

There was a boom to the town, for sure, it being about the same size as in the 1880 census at the time of the Civil War.  Sloan built a brick building, two stories high with a store room and tavern.  He sold it to McMannomy & McMahon and it, along with the whole block burned in a disastrous fire in 1878.  

Sloan was multi-talented as he also built the first courthouse, on lot 120 at 16 x 30, two stories high.  Jury rooms were on the bottom and a large courtroom on the top floor.  

The first jail was built about the same time.  A low structure about 16’ square.  The people purported no prisoner could escape.  John Corse was the first sheriff followed by Robert Hetfield.  The only execution in Fountain County was John Richardson in 1829, who had been tried and convicted of murdering his wife.  He was extremely deranged, and the people of the community were horrified that there would be a hanging and had quite an outrage denying the courthouse to be used.  The hanging then took place on the premises of Dr. Hamilton.  Sheriff Hetfield was not at all ecstatic but did his duty.  The man was given over to relatives aftewards.   

Other businessmen were David Rawles (who died in 1879); Harmon Webb; Henry Churchman; JG Hardy; Alfred Heath and Ben Slattery, many of whom owned taverns.  Although some of these businesses had food and clothings the first real Dry Goods Store selling about anything a Wal-Mart of today (2017) sells, was that of Roup & Morrison Lot 129.  William Sangster was also an early clothing and dry good businessman.  Michael Mayer early on (about 1840) had a grocery and bakery.  Mayer was one of the longest-running early businessman.

John Allen owned probably the earliest cabinet shop.  It went on to become a Furniture Store by Boords.  About 1845, George Snyder tore down his small building where he sold whiskey and built a two-story brick place where a bank was established.  Next to it, a hardware.  Anderson White built a two-story frame lot as early as 1832 with Dr. Weldon then purchasing that and keeping it for years. Wm. B. White, not sure of relation to Anderson, built probably the first two story frame building as early as 1827.  About ten years later, it was sold to Dr. John Hamilton who used it for his residence and office.  

The above mentioned Sloan was quite an entrepreneur for his time as he built the first saw mill in the mid-1830s.  He employed many men and their effort built many buildings.  He also kept a distillery near it and both burned down – hmmm, makes ya’ wonder.  Nichols & Co. built the first steam grist-mill about this time.  Abram Gish was in the milling business for quite some time.  In 1869, H.M. Clark manufactured tile and brick.  His father, was one of the only early nurserymen of the county.  

George Nebeker, one of my favorite, early Fountain men, was born (20 August 1813) in Pickaway County, Ohio, was an early banker and was one of the main mover-shakers of Covington.  His father, Lucas came to Fountain and purchased what became a very large farm (640 acres) for its time.  George and three others put the money into building the first bridge across the Wabash at a cost of $20,000.  Although an early Whig, he adored Lincoln and supported him all the way.  He was president of several banking institutions, bought into railroads, was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church locally, died in October 1890 and is buried in Bend Cemetery.

The first post office was started about 1826.   Twice as week a mail load was brought from Terre Haute and Lafayette.  Joseph Sloan was the first postmaster, succeeded by David Rawles, both mentioned previously as movers and shakers in the community.  

Every good community needs a newspaper, and the first in Fountain was issued as early as 1836 by Henry Commigore and George Snyder.  A couple of years later, JP Carleton and John R Jones purchased it and Jones changed the name from the original Western Constellation to “People’s Friend,” a much more sought-after item.  Jones had brought a press with him from Cincinnati by boat on the Wabash and his newspaper flourished to great success.  In 1853, Solon Turman a Perrysville man purchased the PF, but he was elected to the state senate and sold the paper to Edward Pullen who did not have it long.  Pullen was a Southern sympathizer and went South and was not heard from thereafter other than he was in a prisoner of war camp.  Various owners were afterwards, Martin VanBuren Cowan owning it for sometime then John H. Spence, who ran a thoroughly Republican paper.  Albert Weber was born in Covington September 4, 1833 and resided in sunny California for quite awhile running the Daily Mining Express.  He worked for many papers but purchased the PF in 1859, publishing it for about 15 years, along with the “Fountain County Herald published t Veedersburg and the Attica Herald there.  

About 1842 excavation for the Wabash & Erie Canal began in Lafayette and by 1846 the canal was finished to Covington.  A large amount of canal script was issued which the merchants of the city accepted as payment until the canal was finished, as it would be a good place to receive and send their own goods.  However, when the businessmen gave their bills in full for the canal, they received only about 2/5 of what was owed.  This destroyed several.  Joseph L. Sloan, who had had quite a large fortune was almost destroyed.  Sloan also built the first saw mill in 1834.  Since he also kept a distillery near it, it caught afire and his businesses were destroyed.  He built other businesses, some having a go, others not so much.  Yet, what Sloan had built up, which included a large business block, never really was recovered after the canal effort.  Other businesses, including several saloons came in after the building of the canal.  J.G. Hardy even added a brick building for his store.
Sloan was a jack of all trades and also served as the first postmaster (succeeded by David Rawles).  The post office began in 1826 and the stage brought mail from Terre Haute to Lafayette twice weekly.  R.M. Nebeker held the position for many years.
After the Canal was finished, George Nebeker built a bridge over the Wabash River at a cost of $20,000 an unheard of amount for the times.  The last canal boat that was cleared at Covington through Lodi to Toledo was the Rocky Mountain on October 26, 1872. Dave Webb collected the toll.  The last local boat was the Goodman on November 13, 1875 bound from Lodi to Lafayette.  
Other early businesses in Covington included Harmon Webb’s tavern; Roup & Morris , dry goods merchants; Whitney Prescott’s Goods & Liquor; Hawkins & Sanders, Dry Goods; William Sangster built two large brick stores and a clothing and dry goods store went in there.  Dr. John Jones kept a drug store as early as 1840.   A silver shop was kept by Fauncy Lemp; Michael Mayer had a grocery, confectionery, bakery combination early on.  Mayer built, destroyed, and built other businesses and was likely one of the most successful of all the men in the area in regards to retailing.
McGeorge’s Hardware was kept early on and John Allen built an early cabinet shop with M. Boord as an early furniture merchant.  George Snyder sold whiskey for many years in a small frame building, and did so well in a few years, built a two-story brick structure.  In it, Hardy & Reid began a bank and Thomas Detrick added another Hardware.  Frank Merrill sold dry goods in town for a couple of decades.  He went on to Danville, then Indianapolis, then west where he passed away.  Joseph Allen and Anderson White were early business men also.
Early mills were built by Nichols & Co which was the first grist mill in 1836.  It was large and ran two burr sets.  As with so many of the early businesses, it burned.  A brewery was built in the same spot and it too was destroyed by fire.  In 1855, the Covington Mill was built by a millwright and machinist and was sold to Everly, Sangster and Company.  Marlatte was added to this firm in the 1870s.  Abraham Gish built a water mill on the canal soon after it was built, then a steam mill that went well.
A brick man began manufacturing in 1869 (HM Clark) whose father had an early nursery business in the city.  J.M. Rhodes had a carriage manufacturing business about the same time and was a large employer with eight men working for him.   
The early physicians met as early as the 1840s but “held its last session in 1851,” and was reorganized and continued as The Fountain County Medical Society in the late 1860s with Drs. Evans and Fisher of Attica; Drs. Ritchie and Scott of Newtown; LD Lyon of Attica and CV Jones of Covington, probably Dr. John Hamilton with others likely unnamed.  At that time, others joined including Covington’s CD Watson; GS Jones and SJ Weldon and A. Bigelow of Attica.  In 1876, the county organization incorporated into the state one, and more members including GC Hays and W. Armstrong of Hillsboro; and WC Cole of Shawnee Township, along with Drs. TF Leech of Attica; JW Mock of Covington.
At one point, two doctors John Evans of Attica and a Dr. Fisher of Covington had major plans to build an insane asylum in Fountain County and furthered their actions by involving Dr. CV Jones who was elected state senator from Fountain County.  In 1843, an appropriation was made for the buildings and John Evans was elected the first superintendent.  This state asylum remained in Fountain for several years and Dr. Evans holding that position until he went on to Chicago to hold a position as a professor in Rush Medical College.  

Continue with p 101 – newspapers 😊

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