Site Navigation

By Ralph Norris
Published in the Booklet - This is Jennings County

    There is so very much history contained within the boundaries of Jennings County that it is hard to condense it into just a few columns and still give you all the highlights.

    Jennings County was named after Jonathan Jennings, the first Governor of Indiana.

    Jennings County was organized under an act of the Legislature approved at Corydon on the first Monday in December, 1816 and Commissioners were appointed to select a location for "the seat of justice". (The beginning of the County was in 1817 when the County Government was actually set up.)

    Prior to this time Col. John Vawter had been through this country surveying parts of Indiana Territory for the Government. He had entered land grants for himself in this area in 1813.

    In 1815, one year before Indiana became a State, he platted the Town of Vernon. This was the center of the County and was selected in 1817 to be the County Seat and it has been ever since.

    Vernon is situated on a small, sort-of peninsula as the Muscatatuck River circles the town, comes back and almost meets itself at a spot midway between Vernon and North Vernon. This spot has often been referred to as "The Narrows".

    At different times in the past there have been battles in court to move the Courthouse and the County Seat to North Vernon, but it was never successful. Old timers had a standing joke about this. They would tell that the reason they left the County Seat at Vernon was because they could not get the Courthouse through the Narrows.

    Adam Kellar, one of the first settlers in the Brewersville area, came here in 1813. Adam Keller had served as a frontier militia man in Ohio with Mad Anthony Indian Fighters. When he first came to Jennings County he was a member of a group of Rangers who came to visit a tribe of Shawnee Indiana. Mr. Kellar built a mill near Brewersville and in 1819 ground the first corn grist. The town of Brewersville was platted in 1837 by Jacob Brewer. Brush College was here.

    Coffee Creek was an early settlement and still has two churches. One of the first settlers here was Solomon Deputy, who came to Jennings County in December, 1810, from Virginia. They built a cabin 16 ft. square, cut out a doorway and on January 1, 1811 moved in without a door, floor, chimney, or cracks stopped up. (See speech of Wm. Deputy, given at Old Settlers Meeting, Sept. 1875 -page 18).

    Joshua Deputy, the fourth child of Solomon and Sarah, was born on June 4, 1811 at Coffee Creek and on his grave is inscribed "He was the first white child born in Jennings County".

    Joel Butler was a Baptist Minister and the first school teacher in the county. The Butler family left Madison Co., New York by flatboat in 1816, arriving at Madison, Ind., and remaining there during the winter. The Butler men blazed a trail north, building a cabin on "Old Wyaloosing" creek where they moved in the spring of 1817. A town was laid out on Sand Creek named Geneva.

    Paris, now referred to as Old Paris was settled around 1800, and was then part of Jefferson County. Paris lots were laid off in 1829 by W. C. Bramwell, County Surveyor. By then it was part of Jennings County.

    Paris Crossing was named after its sister town of Paris, lies across the highway and about 1 mile from Paris. It sprang up when the B & O Railroad branch (Known then as the Ohio & Mississippi R.R.) to Louisville came through this area.

    Nebraska was laid out in 1836 by Robert Elliott.

    San Jacinto, once called "Forks Of The Graham" was settled in the early 1800's.

    Graham Presbyterian Church on the banks of Graham Creek was organized on August 10, 1817. Near here John Lattimore, from the Carolinas settled in 1811. Other families with him were Carson, Mitchell & Graham.

    Weston, once known as "Possom Trot" was laid out before the Civil War.

    Zenas was originally entered from the U. S. Government, August 7, 1821 by Stephen Beard, who sold it to David Elliott. He platted the town in 1837.

    Scipio, named by William Clapp after the Roman General, Scipio Aficanus, was laid out by Wm. Curtis in 1839. A covered bridge just north of town is still used.

    Queensville, first called Lynville, was laid out by James B. Curtis, March 6, 1848. The name was changed to Queensville in 1855. It had a population of 350.

    Hayden, known earlier as Hardinsburg was laid out in 1850 by Joseph Ewan.

    St. Anne, once a small Village, was laid out in 1831. The present Catholic Church was erected in 1841. Near here was a crude log structure known as Zoar Church. This was the forerunner of the First Baptist Church in North Vernon.

    Tunnell Mill, near Vernon was built in 1824 by Ebenezer Baldwin, who came here from the east. He had a very spacious 2 story log cabin and hired a governess to tutor his children. The Baldwin settlement was near the mill and the Baldwin Cemetery is here. The late Guy Waltermire, Attorney at Law of North Vernon before his death wrote a history of Tunnel Mill and it was published in the Indiana Historical Bulletin. In this story he tells that while blasting the tunnel through solid rock, they hit a pocket of natural gas which ignited from the blasting. This caused huge flames to roar up out of the earth, and the people in and near Vernon thought the world was coming to an end. The fire was finally curtailed by fanning the blaze with wet horse blankets, which separated the blaze from the gas.

    Four Corners, in Spencer Twp. Now has only a Catholic Church, St. Joseph. At one time it had many stores and saloons. It was once called Buena Vista.

    Near Four Corners is the spot where St. Catherine's Catholic Church once stood. Now, only the cemetery remains. This was the first Catholic Church in the County. Old-timers tell how their folks would talk about everyone in the community, from miles around attending midnight mass here. They would travel in the dead of winter in big horse-drawn sleds. Some lived so far away they would start out in the afternoon to get here in time for Midnight Mass.

    At Six Mile, an early settlement near Hayden, first families were Baker, Davis and Eastman. The Eastman's were Nathaniel Eastman, his son Solomon and Solomon's wife. The Eastman's operated a Mill on Six Mile Creek. Nearby the Barretts settled. Sarah Barrett (Sarah Bolton) was one of Indiana's first widely known poets. Our Heritage House Museum, at Vernon, today has a room decorated in her honor, with some of her furniture, including her piano.

    Sherwood was a village in the northern part of the County. It was laid out in 1883. Nothing is left of Sherwood except the town pump which now stands in the middle of a pasture.

    Stringtown was another little village located north of Brewersville.

    In the Kellar cemetery lies the body of a revolutionary soldier, William Merserve, who died in 1850 age 100 years and 3 mos. He was with Washington at Valley Forge.

    Court was first held in a log schoolhouse. In 1818 a Brick courthouse was built by John Burns, which was used until 1857. The present Courthouse was built in 1859 of local burnt brick, local quarried stone and imported roof of 40# tern (English Tin) which is still on it. It was built by a local contractor, Samuel Read, at a cost of $27,000.

    While this new courthouse was under construction, some of the records were stored in a building across the street. This building and some of the old records were destroyed (Damaged). Some had thought that the Courthouse burned, and it has been so recorded in past histories, but not so.

    Gen. John Morgan's raiders came through Jennings County, July 11, 1863. Before the civil war there were many building here used as underground railway stations.

    North Vernon was originally platted in 1854 by Hagerman Tripp and it was called Tripton. Before this according to tradition, it had been called Lick Skillet. Mr. Tripp was later a Col. In the Civil War. The town was incorporated as North Vernon in 1875.

    The town of Vernon was a thriving, busy community. When the Ohio & Mississippi R. R. (now the B & O) came through Jennings Co., due to the persuasion of Col. Tripp, it crossed the M & I (now Pa.) just two miles north of Vernon. Consequently the people and prosperity shifted in a northerly direction. Thus North Vernon became the larger of the two towns, the larger business district, but never the County Seat.

Ralph Norris
Article - This Week's Personality
August 24, 1961 - North Vernon Plain Dealer

    Ralph Norris was born in North Vernon on August 12, 1879. His parents were William G. (George) and Louisa J. (Alley Jones) Norris. Mr. Norris' grandparents, Esquire George Norris and wife and Lieut. and Mrs. Thomas C. Jones were pioneer settlers in the infant town of Tripton, now North Vernon.

    At the age of 12, William Norris began working for the Plain Dealer, at the very start of its publication and was very active in the publishing of the paper for many years. Later on, Ralph and his father published The Republican.

    Ralph W. Norris graduated from North Vernon high school with the class of 1897. After the sale of the Republican, he operated a book and stationery store, before going to Washington D. C., where he was an instructor in printing in the Industrial Arts department at Howard University. He is also a graduate of Georgetown University, School of Law, where he received his LLD degree. He practiced law in Colorado for several years and at one time was city attorney of Windsor, Colo. He also practiced law in North Vernon and Indianapolis.

    While Mr. Norris was in Indianapolis he became associated with the Test-O-Lite Company, owned at that time by Carl Fisher and James Allison. When this concern was absorbed by the Union Carbide Corp., he became affiliated with their Linde Air Products Division and moved to New York City, and remained with this company for 35 years, being stationed in Chicago, Philadelphia and Indianapolis. For the last ten years of Mr. Norris' connection with Union, he had his headquarters in Indianapolis. He retired in 1945 and returned to North Vernon to reside in his home on Norris Avenue.

    For a number of years, after Mr. Norris' return to North Vernon, he was "front office man" for the Plain Dealer. At the present time, he is employed by the Howard E. Schmidt company, heating, plumbing and ventilating contractors. He has been in this position for four years.

    The first wife of our subject was Miss Marion K. Harries of Washington, D. C., whom he married in 1906. Mrs. Norris passed away in 1925. They were the parents of two children, Mrs. S. E. Jenkins and David Norris, connected with the Chrysler Corp. Both reside in Indianapolis.

.     Miss. Margaret Finnegan of Indianapolis became the second wife of Ralph Norris in 1937. To this union were born five daughters, Margaret, Mary, Jane, Ruth and Josephine. Margaret attends St. Mary-of-the-Woods College: Mary is a student nurse in Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati; Jane is a recent graduate of Shawe, where Ruth is a junior; Josephine is a sixth grade student at St. Mary's this city.

    Mr. Norris has two brothers, both of whom are well known in this community, John of Phoenix, Ariz., and Will of Indianapolis. Both of the brothers are retired printers.

    Ralph Norris is an elder in the North Vernon Presbyterian Church. His maternal great grandmother, Susan L. Alley and his paternal grandmother, Sarah Norris, were both charter members of this same church. He is a member of the North Vernon Zoning Appeal Board, and has been very active in the local Red Cross chapter and many other civic organizations.

    It is interesting to note that Mr. Norris has seen the growth of the city over a period of many years. His elementary and high school education was obtained at the old brick school north of the Miller Lumber Company, all the other institutes of learning have been constructed since he graduated. He has seen industries come and go, some of which are, the old woolen mill, furniture factories, pump factories, novelty works, brick yards, glass works, Tripton flour mill, carriage factory, wagon works, and the spoke and hub factory. He has seen North Vernon grow from a village into a city, the coming of electricity, water works, paved streets, sewer system, modern schools and stores and the railroads in their ups and downs.

    Touching lightly on Mr. Norris' grandparents again, we find that he Grandfather Norris was also a farmer, a Justice of the Peace and Township Trustee, before Center township carved out of Vernon township. Grandfather Jones was a furniture manufacturer and a lieutenant in a company in Col. Tripp's regiment.

    Mr. Norris has no engrossing hobbies, as he is just too busy. He has read the Plain Dealer-Sun for well over 60 years. He summed up very aptly the answer to the question about the teenage, "the average is about the same, there are good and bad, smart and dull, selfish and unselfish, always have been."

    On the above point, in the writer's estimation, is an excellent time to write "30" to this story of a men who having just passed his 82nd birthday, is as broadminded and up-to-date as a person one-half his age.

February 17, 1977 - North Vernon Plain Dealer

    Ralph W. Norris, 97, well-known North Vernon resident died at his home in North Vernon Friday evening. He had been in ill health for some time. Only family members were present for funeral services Sunday with Rev. Wally Harman, pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church officiating. Burial was in Hillcrest Cemetery under the direction of the Diekhoff and Vance Mortuary. Memorial services will be held at the North Vernon Presbyterian church of which his great grandmother Susan L. Alley, was one of the charter members.

    Mr. Norris was born in North Vernon, August 12, 1879, the son of William G. and Louisa Norris. His grandparents Esquire George Norris and wife, and Lt. Thomas C. Jones and wife were pioneer settlers in the infant town of Tripton, now North Vernon. His father was connected with the Plain Dealer from its beginning and was its owner for many years. Later Ralph associated with him in publication of The Republican.

    He graduated from N.V.H.S, in 1897. He was city clerk of North Vernon for two terms in the early 1900s. He was instructor in Printing in the Manual Arts Department of Howard University, in Washington, D.C., for several years. He graduated in Law at Georgetown University, in that city in 1908. He practiced law in Colorado for several years, also in Indiana. He then became associated with the Test-O-Light Company, in Indianapolis, and was with that company and its associate, the Linde Air Products Co., with headquarters at Chicago, New York, Philidelphia and Indianapolis, until retirement in 1945. He was with the Plain Dealer in North Vernon from that time until 1956. During later years, he worked for Howard E. Schmidt and had served in the office of the North Vernon Presbyterian Church during the pastorates of T.C. Gonazlez and Mel

.     Among hobbies that enabled him to contribute to business and cultural life in N.V. where the study of history and botany, as well as his extensive acquaintance with the literary classics. In 1905, Mr. Norris was married to Miss Marion K. Harries in Washington D.C. Their daughter, Mrs. S. E. Jenkins,, survives and lives in Indianapolis. Their son Lloyd Norris, preceded his father in Death. Mrs. Norris died in 1925.

    In 1938 he married Miss Margaret R. Finnegan in Indianapolis. To them were born five children. Sister Margaret Anne, of Techny, Ill., Mary L. Norris of Columbus, Jane E. Norris, North Vernon, Ruth Dawson and Josephine Richard both of Amherst, NY. Also surviving are nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Two brothers, John R. and Will C. Norris preceded him in death.

You may use this material for your own personal research, however it may not be used for commercial publications without express written consent of the contributor, INGenWeb, and