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125 Years of North Vernon's history
Written - August 16, 1979
Frances Fawcett, Director of the Jennings County Public Library 1964 - 1978

Walnut Street North Vernon before 1900.

    They worked, they played, they laughed and they cried, even as you and I. They made mistakes, they became discouraged, but always there were enough hardy souls to reach out for the good life so that the city steadily improved.
    There came a time, during the depression, when wanting to work was not enough and the newspapers were full of plans for reliving the misery of those less fortunate: soup kitchens, charity balls, and WPA. Even so, the papers listed pages of Sheriff's sales.
    Still the majority struggled on, seeking to hold up their heads with laughter and pride. I'm proud to live here, aren't you? Where could we find a better heritage? Doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, inventors,teachers, authors, poets, entertainers, farmers, sports figures, bankers, ministers, and a thousand other ways of life are represented in this community.
    Read between the lines of the chronology. Items picked at random show the versatility of our forefathers, their pluck, and their wisdom. This is only a sample. You can supply many additional items from your memories.
    This community has never been without a church, a school or a newspaper. With these three and the type of life they represent, we can be what we want to be and help our neighbors' achieve their goals.
    The timber industry was a thriving business in the early days. Sawmills were located at various places in the vicinity of North Vernon and the large supply of virgin timber made it possible to manufacture lumber for houses and business buildings which were constantly being erected. The building of the railroad also increased the timber business as innumerable crossties were needed for the construction of the railroad track.
    Colonel A. Andrews and John Clemmons built a sawmill in 1852 on the north side of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad just east of Block U. A man named James King owned a sawmill on the north side of the railroad on what is now East O. & M. Avenue. The mill was later moved to the south side of the railroad and sold to a man named Ryker, who came here from Franklin. Later that sawmill became the property of the Litchfield Brothers, who operated a plant in that location for many years.
    One historian tells of the many yoke of oxen that were used by the sawmill owners. They were stabled in a large frame barn on a site which is now Madison Avenue.
    All of the building operations made North Vernon a busy place. There was work for all. Mr. Norris writes in his recollections of the town that when he came here in 1859, "There but few houses and the population was very limited everybody worked. There were no idlers. A worktrain on the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad furnished employment for citizen who were not engaged in the various small business of the small town."
    Both Mr. McCauley and Mr. W. G. Norris, in their historical writings, point out the importance of the quarries and the stone industry in the early development of North Vernon. Quarries were located where Berry Materials is now located and also in the vicinity of Muscatatuck Park.
    Lime was burned and shipped in large quantities and a number of large bridges in the Cincinnati area were built with North Vernon stone.
    Quarries here also furnished stone for the building of the State House at Indianapolis, Mr. McCauley tells the story that when stone for the State House was being quarried near the Muscatatuck where Berry Materials operates now, for some reason the State ran out of money and the men were not paid for six months. James McCauley was city clerk at the time and he and John Riplinger, who was a stone worker, made a trip to Indianapolis to consult Governor "Blue Jeans" Williams. The Governor told them to tell the men to go back to work and the money for their pay soon arrived. The quarry was owned at the time by George A. Smith and the quarry boss was Louie Schwacke.
    The quarries employed many men and teams. Gallus Kirchner, early contactor, shipped thousands of carloads of stone. Later John Droitcour and Henry Wrape did extensive business in this line. At one time large blocks of stone for bridges were brought here from Paris Crossing and Deputy and deposited on practically every vacant lot where they were dressed for use by scores of stonecutters for many months.
    McCauley recalls his mother telling him about the present site of North Vernon when she came to Jennings county with her parents in 1838. What is now the city was then a farm. Mrs. McCauley's early remembrance was if a grist mill to grind corn located on the Muscatatuck River, north of the old wooden bridge, east of the city. It was run by a Mr. Andrews, who lived in the house on the west side of the bridge on the river. His farm was what we now know as Irish Hill. At that time there was no bridge across the stream, so people on horseback, going with their corn to have it ground into cornmeal, forded the creek.
    A handful of pioneers, who back in the early 1850's recognized splendid natural advantages presented by location, offering future possibilities of incalculable value to themselves and their children, were made of material that takes no cognizance of obstacles and difficulties. They were inspired by a determination to wrest from nature possessions intended for the benefit and welfare of people. With foresight and good judgment, they saw the searchlight of industry casting about for a suitable location for enterprise. Not daunted by hardships incident to an attempt to build a city in a timberland, these pioneers went to work.
    Colonel Hagerman Tripp was representative of this pioneer spirit. Col. Tripp came to Jennings county from Ohio when he was 16 years of age. His foresight and considerable influence enabled him, in he early 1850's to visualize a town-his town-teeming with industry, schools and churches. He chose to build his town at "The Crossing."
    The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad (first railroad west of the Allegheny Mountains) reached Vernon in 1838, was later extended northward and, eventually, became the Pennsylvania Branch Line. Little trains of the early days chugged northward over their narrow gauge line and an eastern company, the Ohio and Mississippi, began to take note of the vast possibilities of Western territory and decided to extend its line westward. Colonel Tripp was instrumental in bringing the O. & M. through southern Indiana where North Vernon was to be situated. It crossed the M. & I. about 1 ½ or two miles north of Vernon. Col. Tripp chose the location in 1851 in anticipation of the coming of the O. & M. He considered the crossing as a desirable and promising point for development.
    According to Col. Tripp's close friend, Edward Pitt Hicks, the Colonel had made every possible effort to get the railroad through Vernon but failed. The plans for Tripton were made when the railroad engineers informed Tripp that for no amount of money would they bring the road through Vernon.
    Col. Tripp and Hiram Prather purchased 250 acres of land at, and around the crossing. The part north of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad was purchased from Langston Johnson and the part south of the line was purchased from Ezra S. Peabody.
    Col Tripp platted the town in 1852. It was recorded in Vernon in the Colonel's name because he was to serve as trustee for Tripp and Prather in the sale of lots. Col. A. Andrews owned a tract of land east of the part bought by Tripp and Prather and he, at about the same time recorded an addition to the town.
    The first lots were sold by Col. Andrews in 1852; Tripp and Prather first sold lots in 1853. The little community was called "The Crossing" or "Lickskillet" at first, at least by the populace of the Town of Vernon, who considered the fledgling group as "leftovers" of their cosmopolitan area.
    It was in the second story of Tripp, Hicks and Company's Furniture Factory that the citizens met to choose a name. "The Crossing" and "Lickskillet" were discarded in favor of Tripton and North Vernon. After much discussion, the name Tripton was adopted and was used until 1867.
    In 1867, the place having grown to a town of some pretensions, an election was held to vote on the proposal to incorporate as a town. Incorporation carried and the first town officials were A. S. Conner, trustee of first district; James M. Mayfield, trustee of the second district; Charles Brenner, trustee of third district; Alanson Andrews, trustee of fourth district; E.G. Bondurant, treasurer; and F. W. Verbarg, marshal, clerk and assessor. James M. Mayfield was chosen president of the board of trustees.
    After incorporation as a town, the name North Vernon was chosen. The name of Tripton was objected to because of its likeness to the town of Tripton, Indiana. Hicks, in his account, says that Brother Tripp, with his usual effort to slay the Old Town prejudice, suggested that the name be changed to North Vernon.
    The deed record for 1865-1870 shows both names used in 1868 and North Vernon, principally, from 1869 on. The post office used the name Tripton for many years, but finally gave place to North Vernon.
    Col. Tripp's home at 318 Jennings street built in 1853 is listed as the Tripp-Cull-Johnson House in the 1962 edition of the Indiana Historical Society's publication. "Indiana Houses of the Nineteenth Century: compiled by Wilbur D. Peat. The spacious grounds stretched from Jennings Street in front to the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad in the rear.
    According to the The Plain Dealer of May 6, 1954, the first plat was known as the Tripton Addition and was followed by Remely, Hicks and McGannon, Andrews, Todd, Stockwell, Morgan and Wrape Additions.
    According to J. C. Cope's history Tripton was a crude town, 12 years of age when he first knew it, with several hundred houses and few streets which differed little from the Commons of which they were a part. They were mostly cheap, one-story frame buildings with about half the business buildings being made of brick.
    The prominent buildings of the early days were few, among them the three-room store building of brick and the frame store building, both of them with residences above, situated just north and across the street from the depot. A row of shacks and shops ran east from these on O. & M. Avenue and on Fifth Street. Further along and still east was the Andrews Hall, the King Sawmill, and the hay press factory operated by Bill Penniston. David Welch operated a brickyard on what is now Madison Avenue. There was a distillery at one time in operation in a large stone house which stood near the present city reservoir, near the road that was formerly Highway 3. This stone building later was used as a brewery.
    Another large frame residence and a couple of chair shops were on the south side of Madison from the bank corner halfway up the square. Farther along was the frame store building near the Big Four depot and next to it, the Tripton House. In the same general direction were the Tripton Mills; the store on the corner near the Red Bridge; the distillery, north on the J. M. & I.; the brewery at the creek, near the dam.
    On the north side of Walnut Street were three small residences; on the south side of the street, one frame residence, a brick pork packing house and frame carriage factory; across State Street the large frame residence; the big brick residence at the south end of Jennings Street; the brick residence between the two towns which had a history all its own relating to slave times; the sawmill and three-story frame chair factory were features of the town and located on the land now occupied by Fifth Street Extension and adjacent business buildings.
    The large frame barn used by the sawmill owners for stabling their many yokes of oxen was on the flat land almost covered by the Lumber Mills (Arvins). A small log cabin occupied by a pioneer family was on the same flat.
    Half a square south from Walnut on Madison, a brick woolen mill was built and operated for several years. A stone building housing a water pump supplied the railroad engines with water. On the installation of the city water works, the outfit was dismantled and the building fell into ruins.
    Central Block is the three cornered business section where the Union Bank and Trust Companies building stands. This block was a hollow, almost a swamp, until building started there in 1883. In 1886, the O. & M. depot, which even in those days was in the center of town, was burned to the ground. In 1885, the Tripp building, which was the building in the center of the business square of Madison Avenue, was built. The building which later was known as the Metropole (where Dr. Wade and Dr. Geller have their offices) was erected by John Flemburg? in 1873.
    Pavement was of scrap stone except in front of business buildings belonging to Col. Hiram Prather and one belonging to Col. H. Tripp which was of undressed flagging, smooth on top and each stone reaching from building to gutter, making an excellent walk. Six months of the year there was mud everywhere and most people walked along the railroad before there were sidewalks.
    Other historical accounts list the first factory as Tripp, Hicks and Co., built in 1852, and located just a few rods east of the railroad crossing. It was a sawmill and furniture factory which employed about 15 hands.
    The first frame house was built by W. D. Evans (William D. Evans), in 1852, southeast of the railroad crossing and southwest of the M. & I. railroad. The second was built by Hiram Prather in 1853 on the north side of Hoosier Street between Sixth and Seventh. The first hotel was built the same year by John Rust. The post office, also, was constructed in 1853. 1854 saw the first storehouse built by Joel Cassell and the first schoolhouse. The first newspaper was the Jennings Independent.
    Morgan and Wrape built the first three-story building, now Greathouse Hardware. The second floor was used for the Town Hall and indoor fairs. At what is now the corner of Buckeye and Ninth Streets, a two-story log house was built about 1848. The lower floor was a blacksmith shop with living quarters upstairs. Dan March operated the blacksmith shop.
    As late as 1875 there was no walk to the schoolhouse building north of Miller's factory and lumber yard and most children followed the J. M. & I. railroad tracks to a point opposite the schoolhouse, descended to the foot of the railroad bank, and crossed the commons to the school building. There was much opposition, but finally a boardwalk was laid between the factory and the railroad, then across the marsh to the school grounds.
    In 1873 Cope, according to his own recollection, asked the Town Board to allow Henry Wrape, who was in the stone business to lay a crossing over Fifth Street on the North Side of O. & M. Avenue and apply the cost to his taxes. The members of the Council made all kinds of fun of Cope but finally Col. Tripp said, "File a petition" Mr. Cope did so, and the first stepping stones in North Vernon were laid at $1.00 each.
    Sidewalks before 1882 were of undressed flagging but fairly smooth. When Portland cement became available, it was used instead. Cobblestones, of course, preceded the flagging and boardwalks. Cement walks came into use about 1887. The first paved sidewalk was on O. & M. Avenue from Tech's Corner on Fifth to Prather's corner on Fourth Street.
    The first paved streets were laid in 1916 and 1917 when J. D. Cone was mayor. They were paved of brick and extended along Walnut Street east from the Branch Railroad to Fifth Street, up Fifth to Hoosier: also, along O. & M. Avenue to from Tech's corner and down Madison Avenue to Walnut Street. Some years later cement paving was laid on South State, Jennings Street, Walnut Street and from the Branch Railroad in the city limits, and on a portion of Gum Street.
    In the old town of Tripton, a few merchants had charge of coal oil lights in front of their places of business. The records show that there was one in front of the Whitcomb Opera House (now the Post Office block), one at Euler's corner, Eder's grocery, one at the Post Office (later Maude Moore's Restaurant), one at Dr. Balthasar Firsich's Drug Store at Fourth and Hoosier, one at Gumble's Store, one at Meyer's Saloon, and one at Tech's Corner. There may have been a few others.
    In 1890 the city put in gasoline lights. Street lamps were square box contraptions lighted each night at 4:00 p.m. by Jim Davis, who made the rounds with ladder and torch in a two wheeled cart.
    The city's electric light plant was contracted for on February 26, 1897, at a cost of about $25, 000 and lights were turned on in September of that year. It was a gala event in North Vernon. Miss Mabel Grinstead (Mrs. Orville Platter) pulled the switch at Tech's Corner.
    After running the small plant about six years, it was found that a second and larger engine was needed to carry the load. Cope, as chairman of the committee, persuaded the city to buy a larger engine of the Atlas Chamber type. The first night it ran, Cope took a group of men to see it and he told them that was as good and as big a lighting system as the city would need in his lifetime, but he lived to see the city outgrow the DC Plant, which was not satisfactory for factory use, so the light plant was sold to the Interstate Utility Company on September 16, 1924, for $56,000. The city invested the money in a water system. Interstate rebuilt the electric system for about $125, 000. $43,000 cash was paid and Interstate assumed $13,000 of the city's indebtedness which, at that time, was at the limit of $56,000.
    When the plant was first built, the rates were a flat 25 cents per month and the lights could be burned day and night. In 1912 the city saw the need to put in meters. The use of meters helped to eliminate waste and made the plant more modern. 1923 the Council saw the need for new boilers and the replacement of lines so they sold the plant to Interstate. 115 arc lights were installed, the cluster lights downtown were kept and the city lighted the town clock at a cost of about $3,600 per year.
    The city water plant was installed in 1893 at a cost of $15 to 20,000. The first dam on the Muscatatuck was put in with the plant and was six feet high. As the city grew, the need for more water reservoirs became apparent, and in 1909 a second dam was built about 1 ½ miles up the river. The high water of 1909-10 washed out part of it and the remainder of it was blown out in 1910, as it could not be repaired satisfactorily. The city was always short of water in the summer, so in 1914 an addition was built to the dam making it nine feet high. Water was again in sufficient supply but the city fathers recognized the need to secure a larger supply for the future.
    Water was pumped by steam before 1917, at which time the city installed electric pumps. In 1924 a sedimentation basin to filter the water was installed at a cost of $25,000 and the city water plant became one of the most up-to-date in the state.
    Sewers had been provided in 1903 and in 1924-25, the city installed water meters at a cost of about $25,000, thereby eliminating the waste of water and saving the city many dollars for electric current and machinery. The cost to the industrial customer rose from about $4 per year to $2 per quarter. The Town of Vernon was connected to the system in 1925.
    The first fire chief was W. D. Evans. The city had a bucket brigade and a hand-drawn firewagon built by Cotton and Reed of Vernon. Records show that the chief prevailed upon the city to furnish him with four dozen buckets, four fire axes, four lanterns, two ladders, two pikes and 100 feet of rope. This equipment was used until 1885 when the city built two cisterns, holding about 350 barrels of water and two hose reels. The cisterns were located one on sixth Street near the Lutheran Church and the other on College near the First Baptist Church. The reels were pulled by hand.
    John Euler, whose shoe cobbler's shop was located on the site of the First National Bank, bought his own hand pump and went to all the fires. He answered any call, day or night.
    In 1886 or 1887 the city bought a steam pumper and hired a team for $5 whenever a fire broke out. An extra $5 was hard to get so competition was strong. George Gottwalles nearly always got the job. When he became too old, J. D. Cone, Ed Burke and George Litchfield sent their teams. In 1906, the city purchased a team to use with the pumper. In 1923 the city bought an electric pumper for about $5,000.
    The fire alarm was the factory whistle. Then, for about 40 years, the alarm was sounded by the city fire bell. In 1927 an electric alarm was installed.
    A telephone franchise was granted on August 13, 1897. On August 3, 1903, the first telephone was installed by A. Prather.
    The city was incorporated in 1875 and chose to keep the name, North Vernon. The first city officials were John C. Cope, mayor; James McCauley, clerk; A B Doll, treasurer, Henry Vawter, marshal; A. G. Smith was city attorney, Councilmen were: First ward, David Overmyer and John Jones; second ward, David Bay and Frank Riehl; third ward, Riley Elliott and Henry Knoll.
    The first tax rate was 70 cents on the $100.
    On April 5, 1883, the first Board of Health was appointed during an epidemic of smallpox. The members were Dr. C. H. Green, A. G. Smith and Eli Tripp.
    A lot for the City Hall became the property of the city on January 20, 1876. Possession came by way of a trade with a Mrs. Gaughan, who deeded the two lots where the city hall stood at the time of the Centennial in 1954. The building contract went to Caleb Whitmore on August 11, 1876, for $3,000.
    The city cemetery was platted by Hagerman Tripp in the early 1860's when the town was still known as Tripton. After the city was incorporated, the ground was purchased by the city and lots were sold at $10 per lot. In 1908 the city bought the east addition. In 1912. Charles Graybill, Tom Finnerty and D. L. McCauley arranged for the first concrete driveways.
    In 1927, D. L. McCauley, as Chairman of the Public Property Committee, organized the first cemetery association among the lot owners. They chose the name Hillcrest. McCauley was chosen president. The Association secured water mains for the cemetery and started a movement to plan to care for the cemetery.
    The first bank was organized in 1882 by a man named Cook and it was located on Madison Avenue where Gautier's Bakery stood in later years. His depositors decided that his name should have been Crook because he left and took the money with him.
    The Jennings County Bank, which was organized in 1887, became the First National Bank in 1899. The North Vernon State Bank of 1891, which is now the Union Bank & Trust Company, was located at the corner of Hicks and Fifth Streets.
    No comment on North Vernon, no matter how brief, can fail to mention her churches. Her peace-loving, God-fearing, people built, churches as soon as it was possible to do so. The first church was Universalist. It was built in 1860 on the west side of Walnut Street, two squares south of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. The Universalist building later was destroyed by a cyclone. Its ownership had by that time passed to the Christian Church. Other churches followed in rapid order: Catholic, 1861, Methodist Episcopal, 1863: Lutheran, 1866; Baptist 1870; Presbyterian 1871. The Methodist Episcopal building later became a foundry and machine shop.
    The churches joined together for a Union Sunday School which met in the second story of Tripp, Hicks & Company's furniture factory. Rev. M. A. Remley was the first Sunday School Superintendent.
    There is evidence of cooperation among the churches throughout the years. Charitable and philanthropic work has been and is founded upon the principle of a common Maker good men and women of every creed unite in work of this character.
    Schools follow churches very closely in most communities and North Vernon is no exception. The first free school was located on Greensburg Road off State Street. The first high school was built in 1877 in Third Street in the north part of town. The second high school was built in 1903 on Main Street where the office of the County Superintendent is located. The high school building was used as a grade school after the new high school was built in 1925. The "new" high school is now the junior high school for the county. St. Mary's Catholic School was built 1866, and replaced by a new building in 1907.
    Ralph W. Norris recalled that in the late 1800's the county school superintendent gave a training opportunity to those teachers who were not planning to attend a teachers college summer school. Mr. Norris remarked that perhaps the teachers were rather strongly encouraged to attend the North Vernon Normal School if they expected to have a teaching position in the fall. The teachers and prospective teachers were joined in their refresher courses by various high school students who wished to "make up" work failed or missed on the regular school year. Students, such as Norris, also attended from time to time in order to sample a new course not available in the regular high school course of study.
    Reading for pleasure and reading for learning were supplemented by various means, including a traveling library. In 1920 the beautiful new Jennings County Public Library opened its doors to a delighted public and the community soon became known as the "Reading County".
    A stream can rise no higher than its search and a city can be only what the citizens make it. The people of North Vernon are genial, social, well educated, thrifty, enterprising and filled to the brim with civic pride. They love to talk of their town; they are proud of its present condition and from the beginning, the hard working, farseeing businessmen of North Vernon have contributed to the direction of growth in our city. The hum of industry which started with the ring of the sharp axe blade upon the sturdy trunks of the giants of the forest, though slowed at times, has never ceased, but has vibrated now it bursts forth in a loud peal which attracts attention both far and near. The assertion that she is not to be despised as a rival to her larger sister cities is not based upon the flimsy transparency of imagination but is a logical diagnosis of her natural and acquired resources and advantages.
    So North Vernon was born and so she continues to grow.

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