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Reader’s Question: 

I saw a post on a Facebook group’s page about an Old Settlers Reunion.  Would you have any information on that event?  ~ Catharine T.

HI’s Answer:  

The Old Settlers Reunion was an annual gathering celebrated by Marion County residents for more than eight decades.  It became a well-established feature of the community’s social life during the period of its existence.

By the 1860s, State of Indiana was approaching its half-century mark, and the City of Indianapolis was only a handful of years behind the state in reaching that milestone.  Some of the earliest settlers had already passed away, and the ones who were still living were becoming quite elderly.  Counties throughout Indiana, as well as in other states, began holding annual events to honor their founders and reminisce about the early days.

The first mention of an Old Settlers gathering of Marion County pioneers in a local newspaper was in August of 1870. The event was a collaboration of Marion, Morgan, and Hendricks Counties.  The first president of the organization was an Indianapolis physician, James W. Hervey (1819-1905), who held that position for more than a decade.  The first Old Settlers Reunion was held in Mooresville, Indiana.  Between 3,000 and 4,000 people attended.

1870 newspaper clipping appeared in the Indianapolis News

(1870 Evening News clipping )            CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Old Settlers Reunions continued as a joint effort of Marion and adjacent counties for about a decade. Each year, the number of attendees grew.  Newspaper accounts reported that the reunions were attended by thousands of people.

1872.08.12.Indianapolis.News_Old

Eventually, the Marion County contingency decided to host its own reunion in its own county, rather than make its people travel down to Morgan County.  Beginning in the early 1880s, the Marion County Old Settlers Reunions were held in Huffman’s Woods, the area along White River that eventually became Broad Ripple Park.  Jonas Huffman was the original owner of the land, having purchased it from the federal government in 1822.  He left the acreage to his son upon his death.  Jonas Huffman Jr., along with his business partner Charles Dawson, promoted it as a recreational destination.  The site was already a popular place for picknickers when it became the venue of choice for the Old Settlers Reunions.  Its desirability for the event’s locale was greatly increased with the arrival of the Monon Railroad in 1883 and the Indianapolis & Broad Ripple Transit Company in 1887.

The Monon Railroad carried passengers to the Old Settlers Reunions (scan courtesy of )

Beginning in 1883, the Monon Railroad carried passengers to the Old Settlers Reunions in the area that’s now Broad Ripple Park

In addition to introductions of the old-timers and speeches by dignitaries, there were also musical performances, poetry readings, singing of songs, and contests.  The program was always followed by a picnic.

1883 Old Settlers Reunion Picnic was held at Broad Ripple Park (photo courtesy of Bob Alloway)

Beginning in the 1880s, the Marion County Old Settlers Reunion Picnics were held in the area that is now Broad Ripple Park              (1883 photo from the archives of Mardenna Johnson Hunter)                           CLICK TO ENLARGE

The organizers of the reunions also gave awards to the attendees in categories like the oldest person present, the couple who had been married the longest, the family with the most members in attendance, the oldest person without any gray hair, the person who traveled the farthest to get there, etc.

1883.06.27.Indpls.News_Old.Settlers.prize,jpgBy the end of the nineteenth century, the Marion County Old Settlers Reunion was so popular that it had expanded to become a three-day event.

(1895 Indianapolis News article courtesy of newspapers.com)

(1895 Indianapolis News article)            CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1907 Indianapolis Star clipping courtesy of newspapers.com}

(1907 Indianapolis Star clipping)

(1916 can courtesy of newspapers.com) CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1916 Indianapolis News )        CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1915 Indianapolis Star scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

(1915 Indianapolis Star )

(1916 Indianapolis News scan courtesy of newspapers.com) CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1916 Indianapolis News )               CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1928 Indianapolis News scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

(1928 Indianapolis News )

(1931 Indianapolis News clipping courtesy of newspapers.com) CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1931 Indianapolis News clipping) CLICK TO ENLARGE

(scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

(1932 Indianapolis News )

(1934 scan courtesy of newspapers.com) CLICK TO ENLARGE

(1934 Indianapolis Star )                             CLICK TO ENLARGE

Although Old Settlers gatherings occurred during World War II, they were scaled down.  The attendance went down dramatically.  Gasoline rationing kept many from attending, and food rationing caused them to dispense with picnic basket dinners.  All frills were eliminated, like the prize for the oldest attendee or the largest family.  A few songs were song, and Dr. Roy Ewing Vale, pastor of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church was the guest speaker.  After his speech, people split into small groups to talk about the past.

(1948 Indianapolis Star clipping courtesy of newspapers.cpm)

(1948 Indianapolis Star )

The last newspaper article I could find regarding an Old Settlers gathering in Marion County was in 1952.  The event was held in Holliday Park on Sunday, August 24, 1952. Although the article refers to the 1952 reunion as the 69th annual meeting, that information is not exactly accurate.  It is true that 1952 was the 69th year the event was held in Marion County proper.  However, the pioneers of Marion County had participated in the Old Settlers Reunions for more than a decade prior to their hosting gatherings within the county, making the reunions in existence for more than 80 years.

1952 scan courtesy of newspapers.com) CLICK TO ENLARGE

1952 Indianapolis Star )                CLICK TO ENLARGE

Although Old Settlers Reunions are no longer held in Marion County, they are still held in a few counties around the state, as well as in a number of other states.  If any Historic Indianapolis readers have memories of such events, please leave a comment below this article.  We’d also love to have scans of photos that were taken at Old Settlers gatherings.

 

7 responses to “HI Mailbag: Old Settlers Reunion”

  1. Basil Berchekas Jr says:

    I don;t know for sure, but I think the Mapleton community had a gathering too, but didn’t last but a few years. Maybe they were part of this one…I don’t know…

  2. Duane Palmer says:

    My grandfather, Henry Jordan Palmer (1903-1978), remembered attending McCormick family reunions as a boy. I have found mentions of them on Newspapers.com, but no pictures. I remember having seen, years ago, his copy of a tattered newspaper article (with photos) about such a reunion, so it might have been from a paper not digitized yet.

  3. Mike O'Banyel says:

    Sharon,

    I just clicked on the link you left in your response for the other articles you’ve written here, and this one caught my eye. I wonder if this name has anything to do with the “Settlers” Class at Tab that was originally called the “Young Settlers”. Perhaps they chose that name because of this group.

  4. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Mike,
    .
    Logical assumption, but I don’t think so. The Old Settlers Reunions were not sponsored by any church or religious group, although newspaper accounts of the gatherings mention prayers and the singing of hymns. Old Settlers Reunions were established in many counties in Indiana, as well as in several other Midwestern states, to honor the pioneers who had settled various cities and towns. These were more like family reunions of yore. They were always held in warm weather, and they had the feel of a huge picnic or a county fair. If you click on the link and read the article, you will see that the lead photo was taken in Broad Ripple Park in the 1880s.
    .
    Sharon

  5. beckett says:

    This site is forcing me to sign in each time I want to read an article. Not user friendly!

  6. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    You may want to check your cookies and security settings, as that is not the typical user experience, and it is not set up to function that way. Thank you.

  7. Christie Hawkins-morgan says:

    I love it. The idea of old settlers getting together is very special to me. However I have old settlers who lived in Shelby co. Indiana. The Hawkins family from Ohio & Virginia. I’m not sure if they had any old Settlers meetings. Thank you for your information on this group. I had never heard of it before.
    Christie Hawkins-Morgan Phoenix, AZ.

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