This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Downtown Francesville

Francesville's Fall Festival starts tomorrow. A few weeks ago I was in Francesville and took some pictures of the downtown area. Below is a little park on their Bill Street.
The heart of the downtown is the intersection of Bill Street and Montgomery Street. On the southeast corner are a couple of nice Italianate buildings built around 1890. One currently houses a florist shop, and next to it is a bakery.
The front of a small building next to the large corner building shown above has been remodeled to include an unusual stone bench.
On the northeast corner of the Montgomery-Bill Street intersection is the Mallon Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Structures. (The Wikipedia entry is almost certainly by Brian Capouch. See also what he has to say here.)
What is surprising about downtown Francesville is that it is still very much alive as a downtown. Its buildings are not as impressive as those in some other small downtowns (See Wolcott, for example), but most of the other small downtowns are almost dead (see Morocco, for example). The gas stations are now all by the highway, but not much else has moved there.

Crossing the railroad track going west, we find the Francesville's Carnegie Library. It was originally built in 1916 but has been remodeled and added to.
On the other side of the street is an old building that is now an apartment building. I could not find it in the Pulaski County: Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory, but I doubt that it was built as an apartment building.
Looking back toward the east along Montgomery, you can see the library and the apartment building, and in the distance the Mallon building.
Here is what the Progress of Pulaski County: Ten Decades of Development, a souvenir program from 1939 says about the history of Francesville:
The first two settlements in the vicinity of what is now Francesville, were made by Daniel McBride and John Rees Sr. who came in the spring and fall, respectively, of 1837.
Two years later Pulaski County was organized.
In 1843, Salem Township, which had been a part of White Post Township, was organized and named by Isaac Evans after a township in his original home county in Ohio.
In 1853 when the New Albany and Salem Rail Road was being built, its president, James Brooks, founded the town of Francesville and named it for his daughter, Frances.
The first store building was erected and occupied by Alonzo Starr in 1853. The first dwelling was built by T. F. Stokes, the same year on an adjoining lot.
The town was replatted in 1862 by J. H. M. Allison and later several additions were made.
Francesville was incorporated in 1889 and its first councilmen consisted of J. Proud, Gus Daseka, and J. T. Bledsoe; clerk, L. E. Hovis; marshal, J. J. Robinson.
The present board of trustees of the three wards are: George Haring, chairman; Harry Wendt and Charles Severns; clerk, Mrs. Ruth Weaver; marshal, Aug. Moncel.
The town has a population of 712; five churches, grade and high school, employing twelve teachers, (a new grade and community building is now under construction); Carnegie library, Francesville Tribune, an extensive grain market with a mill and three large elevators, Peoples State Bank, tile factory, Welden hotel, several stores, restaurants and meat markets, theatres, garages, three barber shops, filling stations, and a score or more of business and professional men.
Electric lights were installed in 1912, and water works in 1938.
The above passage was from page 18, and the publication has another history of Francesville in its discussion of the townships of Pulaski County that starts on page 29. It reads:
The town of Francesville was laid out shortly after the building of the railroad by James Brooks of New Albany, then president of the railway company. It was named in honor of his daughter Frances. The land on which the town was located was owned at the time by William Rees, who sold out to Brooks. The town was re-platted in 1862 by J. M. H. Allison. The first house in the town was built by Alonzo Starr, in 1853, for a store and dwelling. It was located just across the street south from where the Christian church now stands, and was torn down in later years. A few months after Starr built, Theodore F. Stokes built another house, and William Imes erected the old Commercial hotel building. Samuel Rishling put up the second store building
The first school in the township was taught by Phoebe Shigley, in the house of John Rees, about 1844; the second by Adriana Allen, in a house belonging to Leonard Wilson, a mile and a half east of Francesville; the third, in 1846, by William Stevens in a house of his own. Three school houses were built about 1853, for which much of the material was donated. Along in the sixties a stock company was formed to conduct the Francesville Male and Female College. A two story frame building was erected--a fine building for its day--but was never used for college purposes. In 1870 the building was sold to township, and it served as the school building in Francesville until the present building was erected.
Salem township had had a newspaper most of the time since 1869, when the Local Topic was started by J. C. Winegarden. This was followed, with occasional intermissions and suspensions, by the Pulaski Guard, the Home Banner, the Hoosier Wave, and perhaps others, all forerunners of the Tribune of the present day.
The M. E. church was organized in Francesville in 1853, with Thomas Markham as the pastor. In 1865 the Christian church was organized with John H. Phillips pastor. The Masonic Lodge was instituted in 1856, and the Odd Fellows in 1857.


Ed said...

You might want to check your dates - a lot of 20th century that should be 19th century (misspellings)

Anonymous said...

What a lesson in Francesville history! I will spend some time to enjoy this gem in Pulaski County.

Dessert Survivor said...

Thanks Ed. I hope I got them all.

Anonymous said...

Regardng the white brick building, next to the railroad, that is an apartment house. I remember it as being a hotel in the 1950s and very early 60s. We use to go Francesville to the Devon Theater for movies on Friday night and fish supper at Smitty's tavern.