History boards help Shirley officials capture moments in time

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SHIRLEY — His name was William Trail and he was one of the first people to ever settle in the Shirley area back in the 1800s. Trail and his wife, Sarah, had seven sons and were among the early African American settlers to work the land, die and be buried in a family grave just east of Shirley.

A new historical sign entitled “Trail’s Grove” shares the story of the Trail family and their farm. The marker is one of many newly placed historical boards standing along the Shirley Trail. They are signs worth exploring to catch a piece of the forgotten past that might fade away if not for the historical markers.

The “Trail’s Grove” marker reads, Trail was born into slavery in 1774 in Maryland, but escaped to freedom in the state of Indiana in Henry County.

When officials with the Town of Shirley installed a Health and Heritage Trail a couple of years ago, the idea of adding historical signs for the area was first born. The six different signs now installed run along the Shirley Trail, which starts in the historical district and connects from the Octagon House to Shirley Park.

Andy Ebbert is the Chairman of the Shirley Visionaries and did all the historical research for the signs. He said when the trail first went in they only had the funds to put in two signs, but recently collected the monies, some $8,500, to add the remaining four historical markers, which includes the “Trail’s Grove” sign installed in Shirley Park.

The town of Shirley are displaying brand new history panels showcasing the community’s rich history along their new trail and through town. Included is this display of Trail’s Grove. Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

“We put in signs at each trailhead when we first finished the trail,” Ebbert said. “One of the signs talks about how the Town of Shirley was created, and it shows a map of where some of the industry was back in 1900.”

The other trailhead sign is in the park near the shelter and shares information about the water tower, and when Shirley put a water system in back in the early 1900s and created a park.

“Those two signs are original to the trail going in two years ago and then we had extra some money as the Stellar grant cycle was closing out and we were able recently to add the four other signs,” Ebbert said.

The whole idea behind the historical markers is to showcase the great heritage the town has to offer while also sprucing up the quaint town.

“We like the signs because they can help educate the people who are not from here,” Ebbert said. “I’m getting to be an old person in town, and I remember stories about the town that I was told, so these signs, they help us continue to tell the story of where we came from to people who are new to town or don’t know these generational stories.”

Of the six signs, four are smaller, one-sided while two are larger, two-sided signs.

Dennis Denney is a Shirley Town Council member and supported the idea of the adding the historical signs.

“I go out walking the dog every day, and it’s kind of nice to see and stop and read the signs,” Denney said. “They’re really kind of cool.”

While Denney said he’s old enough to know a great deal of the Shirley history, he didn’t know it all and was somewhat surprised after reading all the historical markers.

“Some of the things I read I didn’t know about, and I just thought that was so neat,” Denney said. “A lot of the older people who used to talk about the old days and whatnot, they are not with us any more, so it’s nice to get out and read about the past and refresh your memory.”

Denney said local officials have a real chance to develop the Town of Shirley into a nice “bedroom” type of town for folks in Indianapolis who want to get away from the big city, and that is their goal.

“For a small town, we’ve got a massive, over-20-acre park, and we’ve got to utilize it more like we’ve done with the signs,” Denney said. “If you take a nice walk on our trail, you can pick up a lot of information about the town and the area through those signs.”

Ebbert likes the fact the historical signs tell the real story of Shirley and give people reason to stop, get out of their cars and check out the town rather than roll right through.

“We’d like to see people stop, come to the park and stay a while,” Ebbert said. “We’ve been working on the park there, and the signs just enhance things and that will lead us to enhance more things.”

Ebbert says all the signs turned out great but he likes the signs on Main Street the best because they capture true moments in time and show the growth of the town.

“You can look at some of the pictures on the signs on Main Street and look at how things are now and go ‘Wow,’ because people just don’t realize how long we’ve been here.”

Ebbert noted the “Trail’s Grove” sign in the park faces east where Trail and his family lived a short distance from the sign’s location.

“There is still a small family cemetery in the field out there,” Ebbert said. “Before the brush grew up and the crops grow around it, you can see the headstones.”

Ebbert noted Trail and his family moved near Shirley before the railroad and the town was even a thought.

“When the railroad went in, it was right along his property,” Ebbert said. “So many people don’t know his story until you go out there and read the sign.”