Family left mark on downtown Fortville

FORTVILLE — Though the McCarty family reigned supreme in the furniture and coffin business in Fortville during the early 20th century, the big name in carpentry and building was Larkin W. Crouch.

Larkin Crouch was born in Washington County, Tennessee, on March 6, 1843. His parents were James and Susanna (Bowman) Crouch, who had moved from their native state of Virginia to Tennessee in 1820.

Larkin Crouch was one of 12 children. At age 18, Larkin Crouch began to apprentice with his eldest brother, Alfred, to learn carpentry.

After his apprenticeship, Larkin Crouch spent a brief time in Lexington, Kentucky, before he came to Indiana in 1864. He lived only a few months in Pendleton before he came to the up-and-coming town of Fortville.

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Larkin Crouch threw himself into his work by operating as a contractor and beginning a lumber trade business from 1868 to 78. He sold his property to buyers that erected a flouring mill on the site. By 1882, Larkin Crouch had a planing mill so that he could build his wooden structures. These structures included school houses, churches and homes in Vernon and Green townships in Hancock County and Fall Creek Township in Hamilton County.

The first Fortville Christian Church, or Fortville Church of Christ, was built by Larkin Crouch in 1872. Many of the early doctors in the area or their relatives and other people long-associated with Fortville were a part of the congregation — people with the surnames Ellingwood, Ferrell, Troy, Fort and Rash.

Later, the members of the Fortville Church of Christ would move to the corner of Church and Merrill streets, where Ten West Center for the Arts is now.

Larkin Crouch was first married to Mariah Cavender in 1865. They had one child who died at age 4; Mariah followed soon after in 1872. Larkin Crouch’s second wife was Sarah Jane White, who we will look at in a moment.

Larkin Crouch remarried a third time to Mary E. Hiatt in 1901, the same year that he completed what he would see as his crowning achievement; a building three stories tall with a 60-by-100 feet ground plan. We now refer to it as the Masonic Building.

When the structure was completed, it was called the Henry, Walker, McCord business block; later the building would be called the Ayers’ Building or Opera House.

The original plan’s ground floor had three stores and a waiting room for the Union Traction Co.

The second floor had six business offices and the town hall. The McCord of the “Henry, Walker, McCord business block” was Dr. C.E. McCord, who had the business offices transformed into patient rooms, or the Fortville Hospital.

The third floor was divided into two lodge rooms, with one for the Masons and the other for the Knights of Pythias.

The grand total cost for this achievement in 1901 was $17,326.

Larkin Crouch was the township trustee for three years. He was asked to come back in May of 1902 to fill the office after Emerson Cahen resigned.

According to George Richman’s book “History of Hancock County, Indiana,” Larkin Crouch was widely respected for his integrity and his frankness with his business transactions.

Many of Larkin Crouch’s buildings are still standing.

Even though a fire took the top story off his crowning achievement, the Masonic building has endured as one of the oldest buildings — and only lodge building — that exists in Fortville.

Larkin and Sarah Crouch had four children: Edwin L., James Franklin, Martha May and Bessie R.

Edwin was successful in his own right. In 1908 he founded a hardware store.

In 1916, he and his brother-in-law, Charles Foster, established the Crouch and Foster firm in what was the old I.O.R.M. building on the southeast side of Main Street. The merchandise in the store included hardware, stoves and furniture.

In time, three businesses operated under the Crouch and Foster name. The other names were: Crouch and Foster Furniture Store and the Crouch and Foster Appliance Store.

By the 1950s, Grant Hitchcock owned and operated the hardware part of the business.

Besides running his business until 1952, E.L. Crouch became a director of the First National Bank and the Fortville Savings and Loan Association. He was also a charter member of the Fortville Lions Club.

E.L. and his wife, Buena (Moneyhun) Crouch, had two children. Their son, Robert, became the director of alumni affairs at DePauw University.

Rebecca Crowe, a Fortville native and 1998 Mt. Vernon High School graduate, is a librarian at the Fortville-Vernon Township Public Library. She earned her master’s of library science degree from Indiana University in 2004 and has an interest in local history and genealogy. Stop by the library or email her at rebecca@fortville.lib.in.us with local history stories or artifacts.