Railroads big part of Marion Township history
By Becky Buher, Guest Columnist, TM News
As we continue to celebrate Lawrence County’s 200-year history, today we look at Marion Township, which was established in 1826 and named for Revolutionary War General Francis Marion. Its boundaries are: north — White River, south — Orange County, east — Bono Township, west — Spice Valley Township.
Among the early settlers was Samuel Jackson who arrived in 1814. In 1815, Lewis Phillips built a cabin at John Tolliver’s upper spring. In 1817, Cuthbert and Thomas Bullitt acquired property, built a grist mill and established Spring Mill village.
Its three-story limestone grist mill was the main source of commerce. The mill was powered by water originating in a nearby hillside. Wooden flumes carried the water and provided energy to turn a water wheel. A post office was established in 1831.
By 1850, the village and outlying areas housed 377 families. During that period, railroads were built through Marion Township but bypassed Spring Mill village. The population slowly declined, and the mill closed in 1892 and laid in ruins for years.
In the late 1920s, Colonel Richard Lieber (father of the Indiana parks system), E.Y. Guernsey and the state’s newly formed Indiana Department of Conservation, spearheaded Spring Mill State Park’s creation and village restoration. In 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corps completed the Spring Mill Inn using limestone from nearby quarries. The park was one of 10 Indiana state parks created during the economic Depression of the 1930s. A large grist mill reproduction is on display in the museum gallery.
The railroad had caused the demise of Spring Mill village, but the railroad’s arrival was the genesis of what became Marion Township’s largest community.
Mitchell was built as a railroad town in the 1850s. Its downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mitchell was the crossroads of the Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville Railroad (aka the Monon Railroad) and the Ohio and Mississippi Railway (later part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad). With the railroad came the first telegraphs into the county.
Mitchell was named for Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, who was an astronomer, attorney, surveyor, professor and publisher. He platted the town in exchange for naming it Mitchel (second “l” added later). Major General Mitchel died during the American Civil War.
Sam Bass was born in Woodville in 1851. In spite of his attempts at a legitimate life, he went astray. He left the area and later formed a gang of outlaws and will always be remembered as a notorious Wild West train robber. Find more about him at the museum library.
The town of Mitchell was incorporated in 1864. Mitchell High School and The Mitchell Times were founded in 1876. Lehigh Portland Cement Co. opened in 1902 and is still operating. Mitchell Opera House opened in 1906. William L. Brown was Mitchell’s first mayor in 1907.
In 1919, blacksmith, Ralph H. Carpenter, built a horse-drawn “kid hack” with wooden benches to transport children to school. Later, wagon bodies were adapted for automobile chassis. He built his first “school bus” in 1923. Carpenter Body Works Co. became a major manufacturer of school buses in North America. Readers may remember passing the vast sea of yellow school bus bodies that could be seen from State Road 37.
Mitchell’s most famous native is national hero, astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who was born in 1926. Grissom was one of the seven Mercury astronauts selected by NASA in April 1959. He piloted the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft in 1961. In 1965, he commanded the first manned Gemini flight, a three-orbit mission during which the crew accomplished the first orbital trajectory and the first lifting re-entry of a manned spacecraft. Grissom died in 1967 in an Apollo spacecraft flash fire during a launch pad test at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Learn more at the Grissom astronaut display at the museum gallery, Grissom’s childhood home in Mitchell, or the Grissom Memorial Museum at Spring Mill State Park.
Some other Marion Township villages were Redding (aka Sinking Spring), platted in 1842 — post office from 1837-1852. Rabbitville’s post office existed 1895-1897. Charles Hartley named Hartleyville in 1900. Tarry Park was named for a prominent resident’s estate, and the Red Cross Cemetery is nearby. Henry Wood platted Woodville in 1849 and manufactured lumber along the railroad. Yockey (aka Juliet and Red Cross) was named for Charles Yockey, who edited several local newspapers in the1870s. See maps at the museum library.