Reader’s Question:

I am curious about the origins of the Cotton family, for two reasons.  First, Cotton Creek cuts directly across our back yard.  Second, members of the Cotton family are buried overlooking the creek in one of the adjoining lots.  There are also members of the Harmon family buried in this small graveyard.  Can you add any insight?  Thanks, Jerry R., Indianapolis

HI’s Answer:

The Cotton family migrated to Indiana from North Carolina about 1820.  They lived in Wayne County, Indiana, for several years before continuing westward in the late 1830s.  Two members of the Cotton family became early landowners in Pike Township.  Elisha Cotton purchased 80 acres in Section 14 from the original patent holders, Chesley Wray and Daniel Morley.  Elisha’s land was in the vicinity of the streets that today are known as West 86th and Conarroe Road.  John Cotton purchased 220 acres in Sections 22 and 23 from Benjamin Hobson.  John’s land was in the vicinity of the streets that today are known as West 79th and Marsh Road.  In addition to settling in Marion County, members of the Cotton family also settled nearby in Boone County.

1855 Condit, Wright & Hayden map shows parcels of land owned by Elisha Cotton and John Cotton (courtesy of Indiana State Library)

1855 Condit, Wright & Hayden map shows parcels of land in Pike Township owned by Elisha and John Cotton          (map courtesy of Indiana State Library)                    CLICK ON MAP TO ENLARGE IT

The patriarch of the migratory family was Isaac Cotton (1768-1848), who was born in Rowan County, North Carolina.  Son John Cotton was born in North Carolina in 1800.  He married Nancy Vorhees in Wayne County, Indiana, in 1829.  They had eight children.  Isaac’s son Elisha Cotton was born in Virginia in 1812.   He married Lucinda Roof in Wayne County, Indiana, in 1833.   They had three children.

Elisha and Lucinda Cotton appeared on the 1840, 1850, and 1860 Census enumerations.  The couple then disappeared from records, so either they moved elsewhere or passed away.  Although I could not locate Elisha and Lucinda Cotton, their son, Francis Marion Cotton, who was born in Pike Township in 1839, appeared in records in later years, first in Missouri and then in Kansas.  The land that had been owned by Elisha Cotton was subsequently owned by Amos Smith and Henry C. Berry.

John and Nancy Cotton remained in Pike Township for the rest of their lives.  In 1848, they began building a home in a location that would eventually be assigned the address of 6360 West 79th Street.  The original portion of the 2-story Italianate home was completed around 1850.  John Cotton died in 1856, after which time his oldest son, Isaac Newton Cotton (1830-1914), assumed ownership of the property.

1889 Atlas of Indianapolis and Marion County with arrows pointing to Isaac Cotton and former Elisha Cotton land (map courtesy of Indiana State Library)

1889 Atlas of Indianapolis and  Marion County with arrows pointing to land owned by Isaac Cotton and Elisha Cotton       (map courtesy of Indiana State Library)                     CLICK ON MAP TO ENLARGE IT

Isaac Cotton attended the Marion County Seminary in 1849 and 1850.  After marrying in 1854 and taking over the family farm in 1856, Isaac taught school during the winter and farmed in the summer, raising pigs and fine-wool sheep.  He also raised honeybees and became president of the Indiana Beekeepers Association.  During the Civil War, he was the local draft enrollment commissioner.  Isaac served as Pike Township Clerk and Pike Township Assessor, and he was elected to two separate terms in the Indiana State Legislature.

Various sources state that Isaac and his wife sold the property to their son Henry in 1890.  However, I am not aware of their having had a son named Henry.  I searched all of the Census records from 1850 to 1940, as well as Marion County marriage records, Indianapolis City Directories, and several local cemeteries’ records.  With the details I collected from these sources, I put together a Cotton family tree.  Isaac had two children by his first wife, Emmaline (Duzan) Cotton, who were named Edessa Jane and Coanthus John;  Isaac had four children by his second wife, Sarah Ellen (Wells) Cotton, who were named Ostorius William, Candolus Allen, Robert Orestes, and Cortes Charles.  I found no son named Henry.  In addition to there being no son named Henry, the sons’ ages in 1890 would have been between 17 and 30 years, which would have been fairly young to afford the purchase of a substantial home on considerable acreage.

However, Isaac Cotton did have a brother named Henry.  Henry Tucker Cotton, M.D. (1833-1909) and his family lived only a few miles away, just off Lafayette Road/US 52 in Boone County.  Henry had a private medical practice in Zionsville.  Henry would have been 57 years old in 1890, and being a professional, would have been more likely to have the means to buy a farm.  I’m thinking the Henry Cotton to whom Isaac and Sarah sold their property in 1890 was Isaac’s brother, not their son.  In any case, whichever relative it was, the property was sold again not long after.  For the next several decades, the house passed through several owners until 1937, when it was purchased by Frederick Noble Ropkey Sr. (1900-1988) and Marjorie Chiles Ropkey (1904-1979).

The Ropkey family owned the property for more than half a century.  The Ropkeys operated the Ropkey Engraving Company, founded in the 1890s as the Indianapolis Engraving Company by Ernest Ropkey (1871-1966).  They also owned the Ropkey Armor Museum, which was originated in Indianapolis by Frederick Noble Ropkey Jr. but is now located in Crawfordsville, Indiana.  In 1997, Frederick Noble Ropkey Jr. and his wife Lani Valdez Ropkey were successful in having the Cotton-Ropkey House placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The home is one of the few remaining structures in the Indianapolis area that predate the Civil War.

1892 image of the Cotton residence at 6360 West 79th Street (photo courtesy of Indiana Landmarks)

1892 image of the Cotton residence at 6360 West 79th St., two years after it was sold by John and Sarah Cotton             (photo courtesy of Chad Lethig, Indiana Landmarks)

The Ropkey family owned the property from 1937 until selling it to a subsidiary of Kite Realty in 2004.  Upon learning that Kite’s West 79th Street Associates LLC had gotten permission from the City of Indianapolis to level the residence and other buildings on the property, Indiana Landmarks (called Historic Landmarks Foundation at that time) stepped in to stave off demolition and save the landmark.  The new owners agreed to postpone development of the site, while a buyer for the historic structure was found.  The property is available for purchase for $1.  However, the home must be moved to a new lot, and there are covenants that must be observed in its renovation.  Information about the offering can be found on the Indiana Landmarks website here .

Cotton-Ropkey House at 6360 West 79th Street as it appears today (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Cotton-Ropkey House at 6360 West 79th Street today, awaiting a new owner to move it to a new lot and bring it back to life                            (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The small cemetery that is located on private property in the West 86th Street Addition is known as the Harmon-Cotton Family Cemetery, as members of both families are buried there.  James B. Harmon (1797-1847) and his wife Philadelphia Dickerson Harmon (1797-1847) were reportedly the first white residents of Pike Township. The Harmons arrived in the area about 1820, and purchased 160 acres of land from the United States of America in 1823.  The Harmons’ land was in Section 14, adjacent to Elisha Cotton’s land.  The resting places of ten persons are known to be in this pioneer cemetery, although there may have been other burials there whose markers did not survive.  The gravestones that remain today overlook Cotton Creek.

The Harmon-Cotton Cemetery is on private property near Cotton Creek (photo courtesy of

The Harmon-Cotton Cemetery is on private property near Cotton Creek         (photo courtesy of