If you fly over Hancock County from east to west, the most obvious feature is the increasing number of rooftops. Eastern Hancock is farm country. Western Hancock is a big city suburb. It’s a tale of two counties, to borrow from Charles Dickens.
The population of Hancock County is now heavily weighted to the west toward Indianapolis. One wonders how long it will be until McCordsville is larger than Greenfield.
Same goes for new industry. Center Township has its fair share, but the real growth is now along the County Road 600W corridor (Mt. Comfort Road). This population imbalance creates an identity problem.
The problem at its core is a divided vision. That is, what do we want Hancock County to be?
Our population is split on that question. Some want amenities such as sidewalks, bike lanes, green space, access to retail and restaurants, parks and jogging trails. Others want to retain the quaint, rural tranquility of country life. What do you want Hancock County to be?
The question causes heartburn to community leaders. For example, it is common now at county council meetings for private groups to ask for a handout of public money to support their pet project. The problem is, not everyone wants those projects to go forward because they conflict with their vision for Hancock County.
Forget the political question of using public money to finance private groups; in a practical sense, where money goes will determine our future.
The problem is as old as Indiana. Our territory was first claimed by intrepid pioneers. They sacrificed everything, even lives, to make a home here. Later came waves of homesteaders who ruined it all for the pioneers.
Of course, the pioneers were first and thought their opinion counted more than the newcomers. The homesteaders outnumbered the pioneers and had little patience with their outdated opinions.
The competition between pioneers and homesteaders continues in Hancock County.
Leaders in Fortville are struggling to find a way to keep both pioneers and homesteaders happy. Good luck. The same goes for New Palestine. It isn’t easy. Almost always, the conflict boils down to the question of vision. What do we want Hancock County to become, and how will we spend the money to make it happen?
Even Interstate 70 illustrates the tale of two counties. Passing from east to west through the county, we have only two access points. The whole eastern half of the county is completely cut off, and if you ask anyone living there, they will probably tell you they like it that way. They want to keep their rural lifestyle.
Full disclosure: I moved to Hancock County in 2000 from Pittsburgh. It was a shock when I saw people leaving their cars running while they checked their box at the post office.
I grew up in a rural setting, so I adjusted quickly and happily, but I’m probably a homesteader more than a pioneer. Still, I like the old Hancock County.
So it goes today in Hancock County: the pioneers versus the homesteaders. Which are you? Do you welcome or regret our growth and the change that comes with it? Do you want new industry, wider roads and more amenities? Or are you happy with rural life, even if it means bumpy roads?
Randy Harrison is a retired pastor who lives in Fortville; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to dr-editorial@ greenfieldreporter.com.