Shirley civic leaders say the eastern Hancock community is poised to capitalize on its small-town qualities if it can revitalize existing business, attract investment and preserve its historical heritage. The town took its first step toward becoming a member of the Indiana Main Street program last Thursday by meeting with a representative from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
SHIRLEY — In 1876, some coal miners in Eaton, Ind., punched into what came to be known as the Trenton Field, the largest natural gas find of its time. Forty miles to the south, the town of Shirley was poised to run with the gas fever.
The field ran under 17 counties and covered more 5,000 square miles, according to the American Oil and Gas Historical Society. The cheap fuel spawned factories, foundries, railroads and jobs, with Shirley landing its share.
By 1903, the town’s population grew to between 1,500 and 1,700, according to Hancock County historian George Richman in “History of Hancock County, Indiana: Its People, Industries and Institutions.”
When the Trenton Field stopped producing in 1910, industrialists turned to coal. And Shirley residents eventually were happy to commute to automotive factories in Anderson and New Castle, said Andy Ebbert, chairman of the Shirley Visionary Group, which has for a little over a year been trying to bring the town back from an economic recession that took away the auto plants, factories and half the town’s population from its gas-era heyday.
“I’m pleased with the progress in the little over a year that’s been going on,” Ebbert said.
The visionary group has taken the point in the movement to revitalize the town.
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