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July 06, 2016

Another View of the Old Grain Elevators

Another View of the Old Grain Elevators

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

With final destruction of the old Model Mill wooden grain elevators last week – a full history of which can be found here – I thought it might be interesting to look at a couple of photos that were taken when they were fairly new. These photos, however, are not of the elevators themselves –they were views of the city taken from the top of the building.

Somewhere between 1898 and 1908, a Noblesville high school student named Earl Brooks became very interested in photography and decided to take pictures of things that interested him around town. The collection of the shots that he took eventually ended up at the Hamilton County Historical Society and have now been put online by the Hamilton East Public Library. It’s a truly unique document.

The wooden elevator structure had been built around 1904, right in the midst of the natural gas boom in Hamilton County. The two photographs that Brooks took from the top of the building are great illustrations of this time period.

JohnstownOne of the photos is looking southwest, towards an area of town known as “Johnstown”, which is how the photo is captioned. Johnstown was on the site of William Conner’s farm that he established after he moved to Noblesville in 1837. Leonard Wild bought the land and developed it when the natural gas boom started in 1887. There were several factories that were established in the area to take advantage of the proximity to the railroad and the water from the river. The land was notorious for flooding and got its nickname after the great flood in Pennsylvania in 1889.

Brooks’ photograph shows the houses that were built for the factory workers, several of which are still there. The church that can be seen eventually became the AME church. The large smokestacks in the back belong to the Strawboard plant which manufactured cardboard boxes out of straw.

RailroadThe other photograph is looking north along 8th Street. There are two prints of it in the collection, a square one and an oval one. The oval one shows more of the edges of the scene, but the square one is a sharper print. There is a great deal of smoke in the scene, this being a time period when people saw black coal smoke pouring from a chimney as a sign of prosperity and were proud of it. This was also the area of the railroad station and switching yard.

The station can be partially seen in the lower left of the picture. It stood about where the flagpoles are today for the IDI building. In the photo, the train has pulled out and is crossing the intersection of Hannibal and 8th. I doubt if any of the buildings on the left side of the tracks are the ones that exist today. On the right side of the tracks, the peaked roof at the bottom of the print was the Sohl Brothers mill. It was built in 1869 and was the first grain mill on the site. It was eventually purchased and incorporated into the Model Mill, which stands just behind it. It’s now a parking lot.

North NoblesvilleThe Model Mill building, of course, still exists today, although it looks slightly different. One of the big changes is the chimney, which is now on the other side of the building and round. Just behind the chimney, you can see the courthouse clock tower. On the right of the oval photo, you can see the steeples of at least three churches.

We’ll look at more of Earl Brooks’ photos in the future.

See video of the destruction of the old Model Mill here.