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   James D. VanDerMark   -
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Asher Labertew of Monroe County


This information was shared by Derek & Jen Richey who state:

Asher Labertew and his family were one of the first pioneers on Bloomington in the early 1800s. There family farm went from 11th Street all the way north to 17th (back when College Ave came to a "T" at 11th and College. Though he was a prominent citizen, pioneer and lawyer, no street or avenue is named after him.  

Here is a little more background:  

The newspaper story noted below, written by Will H. Wylie, was found in a notebook titled Stories from Old Bloomington and Surrounding Areas available from the Monroe County Historical Society, Bloomington, Indiana (see F534 .B6B3). No date or source was provided.[1]


RECALLS OLD LABERTEW FARM AT TOP OF COLLEGE AVENUE HILL

Older citizens of Bloomington share with others in pride in the growth of our city, pleased that it has so much larger industries, so much greater population, that it has expanded so far into what used to be country. But we get a bit homesick at times for the old Bloomington we knew as children and young people and for the interesting places and people unheard of by many of our present citizens.

 Few of the old scenes are recalled with more pleasure to some of us than the old Labertew place, as we spoke of it. And it is anything but pleasant to realize that in spite of the extent of the estate, and the prominence of the family which owned it, there is no recollection of them kept alive by the name of a single street. Most of our citizens of today never heard of the place or the family.

 In the old days, which after all do not seem so very far back, there stood at the top of the hill where College Avenue ended at Eleventh Street, in the very middle of what is now the Avenue, an old, grey brick house looking down the intervening mile to where the University once stood, now the site of Bloomington High School.

 This was once the main street of the community, lined by homes of many of the most prominent families. The old brick house was the home of the Labertew family. Back of it were the farm buildings and beyond to the north were the pasture and woods which reached all the way to what is now Seventeenth Street, now State Highway 46. From Walnut Street on the east the tract extended to Madison Street on the west. Walnut Street was then from Eleventh Street north a country road "paved" in wet weather with deep mud and in dry times with dust. Seventeenth Street (now) was then a little traveled, unimproved country lane.

 The road to Ellettsville and Spencer then went west on Eleventh Street to Madison, turned north between the Labertew farm on the east side and the Blair farm on the west, to where it turned west, as now at Seventeenth Street. Madison Street continued north, of course unimproved where now the Kinser Pike runs, to the Gourley farm, the Cascades, and points north in the country.

 The Labertew farm was a wonderful place for boys. The east half, along what is now Walnut Street, was in pasture, the west part in woodland. A rail fence surrounded the whole. The thick woods, with great forest trees of walnut, hickory, maple beech, with their deep shade, the heavy growth of young saplings, underbrush; made a perfect playground where a boy could rest in the shade, lie on his back and look up at the trees and patches of the sky beyond or climb to his heart's content. What city park with its slides, swimming pool, swings and crowds, could compare with it? Nor the least in attractiveness was the big spring on the pasture side, flowing out from the foot of a knoll between big stones. Never was there a spring with water purer and colder and more refreshing to a boy hot and tired with play.

 At the top of the knoll were two great beech trees with low, wide-spreading branches providing a perfect swing to unsophisticated youth who had never heard of a public playground. This spring was at the rear of the lot where Walter Hottel later built a home at 1312 North College Avenue. I learn with pleasure that, although the pasture and trees are gone, the old spring still flows.

 The owner of this tract was Asher Labertew, sometimes spelled Laberteaux; probably originally LaBoyteaux.[2] In the old town records and in common usage, the name was Labertew with emphasis on the first syllable. I have been unable to learn when or from where he came to Bloomington, but he became a prominent and highly regarded citizen for more than fifty years.

 In the History of Monroe County in the period between 1830 and 1840, the firm of Labertew and King is listed among the merchants of Bloomington. Mr. Labertew's name also appears in this list as a tailor and as a tavern keeper. At this time tavern keepers often included highly respected persons.

 It was before the days when liquor selling required a license. It was a common practice for merchants to keep on their counters a jug of whiskey and glass for customers to use without any charge. Any public occasion in the community required as a matter of course a barrel of whisky from which any and all might help themselves freely. The History for 1840-1850 includes a note to the effect that "During this period the temperance struggle was prosecuted with such relentless vigor that most of the dealers were driven from the town." Asher Labertew is mentioned as one of the merchants, probably as a master tailor. 

 In 1850 the Monroe County Fair Association was organized with Austin Seward as President, Lewis Bollman as Secretary, and Asher Labertew is named as one of the Directors.

 A movement to incorporate Bloomington as a "town" was begun despite considerable opposition and, in the election, a small majority of the minority of citizens who voted John Lawrence was named as Mayor, Robert Acuff as Recorder, and Asher Labertew as Treasurer. He was re-elected as Treasurer in 1848. There was so much dissatisfaction over the incorporation that in 1858 it was dissolved, although re-incorporation was brought about the next year.

 The Masonic Lodge was organized, according to the old History of Monroe County, in 1867, and Asher Labertew was one of the charter members. Later, after occupying the various chairs, he was made Worshipful Master.

 The tract of land which was known for many years as the "Labertew Place," was deeded to Asher Labertew on March 17, 1849. He bought it from Craven P. Hester. Mr. Hester was a man of some importance during these years, about whom it would be interesting to know more. He was an attorney and served as Prosecuting Attorney of Monroe County in 1844.

 In 1848, following the discovery of gold in California, Isaac Owen, who had formerly been pastor of the Bloomington and Cross Roads Methodist churches, and who still lived in Bloomington, was selected by the national authorities of the Methodist Church to go to California to organize a Methodist Mission. Craven P. Hester and family were members of the company which left Bloomington and crossed the plains and mountains that summer. His abilities were soon recognized, and he was appointed a District Judge.

 The members of Mr. Labertew's family were equally prominent. He had four children, two daughters and two sons. One of the daughters, Martha A., became the wife of General Morton C. Hunter, and their mansion still stands much as it originally was built on North Walnut, facing Eleventh Street. The other daughter, Barbara, married Ellis E. Sluss, also a highly regarded citizen. The two sons were Peter B. and Gabriel H. It would seem that they must have left Bloomington for homes elsewhere for there seems to be no record of their activities and no recollection of them among older citizens.

 The date of Mr. Labertew's death is not known to the writer, but it must have been prior to 1890. In 1892 the Labertew tract was sold to the Kenwood Land Company in order to open a new addition to the city. The deed was signed by the four children mentioned as the heirs of Asher Labertew. The old brick house was torn down and College Avenue was opened to Seventeenth Street. A number of citizens bought lots in the new addition and erected homes. Among the earlier of these were: Dr. W. L. Bryan, Dr. Fred J. Prow, Walter E. Hottel, and Mr. Burwell.

 It was not long after this that the Indianapolis Southern, now the Illinois Central, Railroad was built across the very heart of the Labertew estate. The excavations made it necessary to close Madison Street for several blocks, and the Spencer Road was shifted to Walnut and Seventeenth streets. 

 It is a matter for serious regret that no street in the bounds of the Labertew estate preserves the name of its former owner, nor any other street in the city. Many old Bloomington family names have properly been thus preserved among them being: Kirkwood, Dunn, Atwater, Fess, Dodds, Wylie, Maxwell, Bryan, Smith, Fee, Rogers, Hunter, Allen, Grimes, Blair, Woodburn, Ballentine, Sluss, Mitchell, Howe, Stull, Henderson; but nowhere do we see the name of Labertew. Even this early in the history of Bloomington the very memory of this important family has all but been forgotten.

 Most of our present citizens never even heard of Asher Labertew or the large extent of our present city occupied by his estate. It is by no means creditable to our community leaders over the years that this should have been possible. Even yet there should be some proper recognition of a man and a family which meant so much to the community over so many years.

 Possibly as appropriate a step as any would be to christen the new boulevard which connects College Avenue with Highway 37 as Labertew Boulevard or Labertew Drive. This would mean that in the future visitors from the north would be spared the sight of the unsightly shacks, so many of which clutter up North Walnut Street, and would pass over the entire length of the former Labertew estate getting a far more favorable impression as they enter Bloomington. If this is beyond the authority of our city government, and would mean appeal to the State Highway Commission, such a step should by all means be taken before it is too late.


[1] William H. Wylie, according to information in the cemetery index, was born 1871, died in 1954, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

[2] Three members of the LaBoyteaux family are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery including two sons and Elizabeth (Denny) LaBoyteaux, the wife of A(sher), who died in 1870 at the age of 77. There was no specific mention of Asher LaBoyteaux/Labetew, the patriarch of the family.