By Paula Dunn
I always thought the migration of wealthy movers and shakers from Indianapolis to Hamilton County was a phenomenon that began during my lifetime, so I was surprised to run across a story in the January 28, 1912, Indianapolis Sunday Star Magazine that proves it actually started long before that.
The article’s headline reads: “Hoosier Motor Enthusiasts Plan to Transform Historic Indian Trail into Roman Road.”
The story describes the efforts of a group of Indianapolis/Marion County business and professional men to turn the Indianapolis Road, i.e. Allisonville Road, into a boulevard (a broad, landscaped thoroughfare,) from the State Fairgrounds to Noblesville.
The men had erected some palatial year-round residences and summer retreats along the route and they wanted to be able to drive their automobiles on a better thoroughfare than the one they had.
Their goal was to get a revamped road that would be as durable as those of the Romans, one coated with a waterproof cement surface that would be serviceable all year round.
William V. Rooker, an Indianapolis attorney who’d built a mansion on the hill just south of Noblesville a few years earlier, headed the committee pushing for the improvements (Rooker’s former home is currently Third Phase Christian Center.)
The names of many of the men who backed Rooker’s project have faded with time, but some you might recognize include Indianapolis attorney William Holton Dye, who was active nationally in the Progressive Party; Walter C. Marmon of the Nordyke-Marmon Automobile Company and the Noblesville Milling Company; and attorney and politician Addison. C. Harris.
Harris served as minister to the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the McKinley administration. His home, known these days as the Ambassador’s House, originally sat on the northwest corner of Allisonville Road and 96th Street. It’s now an event venue located in Fishers’ Heritage Park.
Another name that may be familiar is Hilton U. Brown. Brown, the general manager of the Indianapolis News, owned some land along the road where he spent summers, camping in a tent.
The article paints a glowing picture of the area through which the road passes. “The broad white boulevard will lead through picturesque glens, past prosperous farms and along the tops of the bluffs, where White River lazily winds its way long below.”
The weak spot in the piece is the author’s attempt to educate readers about some of the historic locations along the route. He mangles the history so badly, I didn’t know whether to howl with laughter or cry.
He notes that the road goes by “the old Conner home,” which was then part of a farm owned by H. C. Atkins, the president of Indianapolis’ E. C. Atkins Saw Company.
That’s about all he got right about the Conners.
According to him, “two small lads, John and ‘Jacob’” Conner, were stolen by the Delaware Indians from a western New York settlement and brought here to grow up with the tribe.“ (The whole family was captured in Ohio by the British and their Indian allies, and were taken to Michigan.)
“Jacob” founded Connersville (that was John Conner,) while “John” (William) founded “Connerstown, the first county seat of Hamilton County.” (It wasn’t.)
Another whopper is the notion that Washington Irving once spent two weeks at the Conner house. (He didn’t.) That may, however, explain the origin of the similar tall tale about James Fenimore Cooper visiting the Conners. (Cooper never dropped in on William Conner, either.)
There are more historical blunders in the article, but thankfully, I’ve run out of space, so I can’t be tempted to point them out.
Note: I’m in dire need of more wooly worm sightings for the winter weather forecast. If you spot any, please let me know what color they were and where you saw them.
– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org