close
The "Millarsville" portion of the 1866 "Map of Marion County from Actual Surveys"

The “Millarsville” inset of the 1866 “Map of Marion County from Actual Surveys” Faintly, it looks like someone tried to correct the A. Though it’s not evident, 56th Street is the top boundary.

Mills, Mayhem and Masons… Oh My!

The village of Millersville is located on the border of Washington and Lawrence townships in northeastern Marion County. It is roughly defined by Kessler Boulevard, 56th Street, Emerson Way, Fall Creek Road, Fall Creek Parkway and Fall Creek, itself. The locality was never formally incorporated or platted.

Old property abstracts might read like the phone book but they contain invaluable provenance.

Old property abstracts might read like the phone book to some, but they contain invaluable provenance. A more compelling story of Millersville can be found in the 1884 “History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana,” by B. R. Sulgrove. 

The gentleman widely considered to be the town’s “founding father,” Peter Negley (1777 – 1847) moved his family from Pennsylvania to Washington Township in 1824. Negley acquired property through a government land grant for $300 in a locality that was colloquially called Brubaker’s Mill. Most sources cite the official founding of Millersville to 1838 when land began to be sold off in lots that ranged in size from a fourth- to a quarter-acre for homesteads and businesses.

In the 1970's, a bank in Millersville commissioned Harry A. Davis to paint (see inset) for $750. Note the artist added the water wheel that was missing by the time this photo was taken.

One of three mills constructed in Millersville. Masons used it as a meeting house beginning in 1839. The race was built in 1826. In the 1970’s, a local bank commissioned Harry A. Davis to paint the scene (see inset) for $750. Note the artist added the water wheel that was missing by the time this photo was taken.

According to David J Cord’s “History of Millersville Lodge,” Millersville was hard on millers. Owning and successfully operating a mill in Washington Township was evidently quite a feat. Cord offers a most entertaining retelling of the history, where properties changed hands quickly and misadventure seemed to be the rule:

“As the area was growing, Seth Bacon and Peter Negley formed a partnership for the purpose of constructing and operating a sawmill on Fall Creek just north of the little village. Their dam backed up water against Daniel Ballenger’s mill which stood nearby. The common refuge of last resort, a lawsuit, yielded the new mill to Ballenger as damages. John Essary ran the mill for some time, until he in turn sold it to Noah Leverton. Leverton erected a grist mill on an area just south of the town on the site that was to become famous as the site of the first meeting place of Millersville Masonic Lodge. Leverton operated this new mill for a few years, and then sold it to Chauncey and Samuel True. These brothers had the mill destroyed by fire and sold the site to Jacob Brubaker. Brubaker improved the area with a new mill and a stone house, and disappears from memory as his predecessors have done with the sale of the mill to Christ Haushey. Haushey, regardless of his exalted name, became permanently deceased just a year after his purchase. Jacob Spahr decided to tempt his own fate and himself purchased the mill. A fire threatened Spahr’s hopes by destroying the second mill, but he later brought in a partner, William Winpenny, who rebuilt the fire-destroyed mill and opened a distillery as well.”

The photo contributor writes, "My great grandfather John Alphis was also working the mill with his pop. The women did not approve of the whiskey still built onto the mill. Too many drunkards as related in the secret lodge records."

The photo contributor writes, “My great grandfather John Alphis was also working the mill with his pop. The women did not approve of the whiskey still built onto the mill. Too many drunkards as related in the secret lodge records.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking… that’s a lot of milling around! But, stick with the story because it gets even better. “Winpenny bought out Spahr and owned the mill for several years, and after his death it was owned by his heirs. They then sold it to Tobias Messersmith, who discovered how profitable it was to sell the mill at a high price during the peak of the grinding season and to repurchase it at a low price during the slow off-season. Messersmith did this a total of three times, selling the mill to and repurchasing it from William Sala, John Carlisle, and a man named Russell. While Carlisle owned the mill, it was destroyed by fire a third time, and he erected the fourth mill on the site filled with the most modern of equipment. This fourth mill was purchased from Russell by William H. Spahr. After this second Spahr, the mill disappears from history. It was torn down six years into the twentieth century, and the timbers were transplanted to the Schofield mill that was under construction at that time.”

1185381_10151649969854833_1165224452_n

According to local lore, no one can reliably claim to have seen the foundation remnants of the old mill since 1937. Some believe that the remaining stones and timbers were buried under the developments along Fall Creek, or perhaps by the meanderings of the creek itself.

William J. Millard, the first postmaster of Millersville. A post office was established in 1844 with William J. Millard, Sr. was named the first postmaster. The name on the charter was Millersville and thus it was Brubaker's Mill no longer.

A post office was established in 1844 by William J. Millard, Sr. who was named the first postmaster. He was also the first master of the Millersville Masonic Lodge.

Mills aside, the rest of Millersville served as a reliable way station for the stage coaches that regularly travelled between Waverly and Pendleton. Passengers, drivers, and their animals found accommodation near the smithy and food in the general store.

Toward the end of its "hay day," the Steinmeier general store and Millersville blacksmith shop (darker building to the left)

Toward the end of its “hay day,” the Steinmeier general store and Millersville blacksmith shop (darker building to the left)

The village was at its most vibrant been the 1840s through 1860s — during the time the mill and distillery were owned and operated by William Winpenny and Jacob Spahr. However, by 1884, the village had “retrograded” to eighteen lots and a population of 86. At that time the village contained “fourteen dwelling houses, one blacksmith-shop, a Masonic Hall building, two business houses, and one (water) flouring- and grist-mill.  The post office, which had opened circa 1844, had closed by 1884. Though the town had been in relative decline, there was one note of prosperity in 1882: the Millersville Free Library was opened to the public with “five hundred and fifty-five volumes of the most judiciously selected books.”

A 1934 newspaper article relates, "Hundreds of Indianapolis citizens, though now in grey-haired years, well remember riding their bicycles out by old Schofield mill, through Hammond's grove and over the old suspension bridge ... the bridge spanned a bayou leading from Fall Creek and didn't it rattle when about a dozen boys and girls shot over it at once?"

A 1934 newspaper article relates, “Hundreds of Indianapolis citizens, though now in grey-haired years, well remember riding their bicycles out by old Schofield Mill, through Hammond’s Grove and over the old suspension bridge … the bridge spanning a bayou leading from Fall Creek … and didn’t it rattle when about a dozen boys and girls shot over it at once?”

Structures that still remain can be found at 5580 Dequincy Street and along the west side of Millersville Road. The Joseph Ringer-Johnson House on Dequincy Street dates to circa 1855. The Millersville General Store at 5422 Millersville Road dates from around 1870 and the Winpenny House at 5504 Millersville Road dates from circa 1865. In between these residences stands a more recent Dutch Colonial Revival house at 5440 Millersville Road, circa 1910.

Photo circa 1908. One friend remembers, "I rode my bike over this bridge. If you wanted to cross the crick you had to go over here at Millersville or the Eller bridge up north or south to the 39th Street covered bridge by the State Fairgrounds or Sugar Grove gravel road bridge now Central Avenue. The cricks isolated you from your neighbors, back in the day. Think how hard and long the traveling doctor took to make a house call..."

Photo circa 1908. One friend remembers, “I rode my bike over this bridge. If you wanted to cross the crick you had to go over here at Millersville or the Eller bridge up north or south to the 39th Street covered bridge by the State Fairgrounds or Sugar Grove gravel road bridge now Central Avenue. The cricks isolated you from your neighbors, back in the day. Think how hard and long the traveling doctor took to make a house call…”

In the early part of the 20th century, the area around Millersville became best known for its dairy farms, including the Hornaday Milk Company and Roberts Dairy. Little, if any, commercial development took place in the area until after Emerson Way was built in 1962. The new Emerson Way bridge supplanted the Millersville Road bridge and opened the area to easier travel from the south.

The north end of the Millersville commercial district is anchored by the Millersville Masonic Lodge which boasts a rich and well-documented heritage of its own. The lodge was founded in 1852 — at first, meeting in the loft of the Winpenny Mill — and subsequently moving into its current facility in the mid-1920’s. Next week’s Friday Favorites article will explore the history of the Millersville Masonic Lodge.

1000938_10151639096244833_1351665178_n

Looking east on 56th St. from Emerson, where a CVS now sits – this farm boy takes his cows to pasture.

Special thanks to the Facebook group, “Marion County Indianapolis History” for sharing their private collections and recollections of the Millersville area.  Crowdsourcing produced a hurricane (historicane!) of helpful material — enough for several Millersville articles:
What’s in Store? (the Millersville general store)
 Masons of Millersville
Millersville Millionaires: Laurel Hall, the Fletcher Family Home
It’s a Small (After)world: Fall Creek Cemetery & Ebenezer Lutheran Church

History, Herstory, Mystory… YOURstory: Do you have personal stories of Millersville or a private collection of area photos? Please share with us in the comment section below…

 

4 responses to “Friday Favorite: Millersville Memories”

  1. Tom says:

    Good job, Lisa!!!

    One of your photos shows a c1908 iron bridge. If possible, could you (or anyone) clarify which bridge this was and where it was located?

    Thanks!

  2. Lisa Lorentz says:

    Thanks, Tom! The back of this photo reads: 1908 – Old Iron Bridge at Millersville – located just south of new bridge. The new bridge was an iron two lane structure. According to sources, one can still see the foundation-abutment on each side of the creek just west of Emerson Way on Millersville Road.

  3. Tom says:

    Exactly what I was looking for, Lisa. Thanks!!!

    Looking forward to the next installment…………

  4. Karen Kirkman says:

    Memories… Millersville Lodge, Roberts Dairy, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, the Cemetery. I have vivid memories of these places because my father Giltner A. Knipe was connected to all these them. As a child I romped through the hallways, stairs and basements of these establishments. I was born in 1942 and attended the church that was built after the fire and was married in the church that stands now. My great grandparents are buried in the cemetery next to the church. We gave Earl Anderson a ride to church each Sunday. What has happened to the artifacts he had from the church? So many Memories. Thanks for them. Karen Knipe Kirkman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *