HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County is marking its 185th birthday this week, and in honor of the occasion, county historians and the Daily Reporter came up with a list of little-known and interesting facts about our home county. See how many of these you know.
Hancock County was named after the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock. The county was established March 1, 1828; Greenfield was chosen as the county seat one month later, on April 11, 1828. Nine other counties in the United States are named after Hancock.
Around 1834, the Indiana section of the National Road was completed. The road, known today as U.S. 40, was the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway, and tolls were charged to travelers when it was first constructed. The road ushered in a period of rapid growth locally, as thousands of settlers traveled west. A sign was installed in November in Greenfield to commemorate the significance of the road to local history.
Hancock County had several courthouses before the current building was constructed. The first meetings of Hancock Circuit Court and the county commissioners were held in the homes of Samuel B. Jackson and Jeremiah Meek before a two-story log courthouse was constructed around 1829. A second and third courthouse were used in the 1800s; the third was the site of several balls, which caused a stir in the community until the board of commissioners ordered that parties could no longer be held there. The construction of the courthouse we know today began with a grand ceremony in 1896. The Romanesque Revival/Tudor Gothic Revival structure was completed in 1897.
In 1901, New Palestine started a telephone service with 42 members. The monthly fee? 10 cents.
In 1839, the first great fire in Greenfield occurred on the north side of Main Street between Mount and State Streets. It destroyed business blocks along with a large hotel and stable that stood on the northwest corner of State and Main streets, the current location of the Creative Arts and Events Center.
Hancock County Commissioners adopted a green and yellow banner as the county’s official flag in 2004. The flag was the brainchild of a group of students from Leadership Hancock County. The colors represent the county’s agricultural ties, while the white diagonal stripe through the center represents the National Road. The center white disc stands for prosperity and progress, while the nine gold stars represent each township.The flag also bears a logo of the historic courthouse, and the year 1828, when the county was established.
Greenfield’s third jail was completed in 1853. The two-story log building was constructed with nails driven closely together to prevent prisoners from sawing through the timbers. The structure was moved twice and for years has been a museum in Riley Park.
New Palestine, originally known simply as Palestine, was established in 1838. In 1871 the town was incorporated as New Palestine. The temperance movement was strong in the New Palestine area, and the saloon and pool room were blown up in 1881 and 1882. New Palestine’s town hall was destroyed in an accidental gas explosion in 1906.
The site of today’s city hall in Greenfield was once home of one of the first buildings in Hancock County, the Gooding Tavern. The southwest corner of State and Main streets has been the home of several buildings over the generations, including a gas station in the 1920s, a diner in the 1960s and a bank in the 1970s.
Fortville was incorporated in 1865 under that name, but it was known earlier as Phoebe Fort’s Corner and Walpole.
Shirley, incorporated in 1898, became a boom town in the early 20th century, thanks to the discovery of natural gas in the region. Plants that manufactured chemicals and glass sprang up, and more than 1,500 people lived in the town. Many immigrants, especially Belgians, worked in the glass factories. But by the 1920s, most of Shirley’s industry and natural gas had waned. Likewise, Wilkinson’s population doubled between 1899 and 1901.
Wilkinson’s famous sons include aviation hero H. Weir Cook and William Sparks, the co-inventor of synthetic rubber.
The Riley School building was being renovated to convert its former classrooms to luxury condos when it burned in April 1985.The building served as a high school and doubled as a public library until 1908. It became Riley Elementary School in 1926, when a new high school was built. The last students were there in 1981. What remains of the building is now part of the façade of the Greenfield-Central School Corporation administrative offices.
Despite its open space and agrarian base, Hancock County was solidly in the fray when automobile building swept the state at the turn of the 20th century.
James Trees and his Liberty Trees Co. built one Indiana’s first self-propelled vehicles. Translated, that means it was powered by something that didn’t eat something else.
Trees’ electric car, which generated three horsepower and zipped along at an alarming 15 mph, was manufactured in 1906 on South Pennsylvania Street in Greenfield.
The previous year, Frank Martindale, Seymour Morrison, Luther Frost and others started cranking out Leader automobiles at a converted Greenfield telephone factory.
In 1905 and 1906, 125 of the five-passenger, two-cylinder-powered cars were built in Greenfield before the plant was moved to Knightstown. Manufacturer’s suggested retail on the 1907 model was $1,000.
Almost everyone knows Charles Lindbergh made the first solo, non-stop flight from New York to Paris on May 20, 1927.
However, what is perhaps less known is that the aviator flew over Hancock County in his Ryan NYP monoplane on May 12, 1927, during the seven-hour-20-minute hop from St. Louis’ Lambert Field to Curtis Field on Long Island, two days after leaving California, where his plane was built and shaken down.
Lindbergh used the National Road as a navigational aid across the Midwest, and the moment was captured on film by Greenfield’s “Tubby” Toms. The photograph was later autographed by Lindbergh.
Sources: “Hancock County Interim Report / Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory”; “Images of America: Hancock County Indiana, Then and Now”; “Hancock County: History of Hancock County, Indiana”; and “Discover Hancock County”