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September 28, 2015

Early Memories of Noblesville

Early Memories of Noblesville

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

With construction work starting on the new park at Federal Hill Commons, it’s good to remember that the site has a long history.  One of the first owners was William Nixon, who had a farm there which can be seen on the 1866 map of Hamilton County, and which is how Nixon Street got its name.  Interestingly, there is a short reminisce of the area by William’s wife, Susan, in the Indiana Room files.  It was originally transcribed in 1993 by her great-great-grandson, Charles E. Clover.  (I have left it as he transcribed it except for some clarifications in brackets and endnotes.)

Susan Jackson was born in July 1825 and married William Nixon (1811-1859) in Noblesville in 1844.  After he died, she married Daniel Huddleston in 1860, was widowed again, was a toll gate keeper in 1880, then moved to Illinois and died sometime around. 1910.  In her reminiscence, she may have possibly been unclear on dates and certain details.  For example, in 1842, John Nixon would not have become her brother-in-law for another two years.  It’s still a fascinating look at the town from only about twenty years after it had been established.

Nixon farmReminiscence by Susan Nixon

Noblesville as it was when I first saw it in 1842.  Coming from Wayne County on horseback with my brother-in-law, John Nixon[i], we entered Noblesville and there were comparatively few houses.  There stood the old Court House with locust trees around it, and the little Brick House in the corner of the lot used for the Recorder’s Office[ii], and the old wooden jail that was subsequently torn down and moved across the river by Judge Garner[iii] and made into a corn crib.  Finally it was torn down again and a part of it was made into a handsome armchair by Luther Swain[iv].

Now to return to Noblesville.  On the North East corner was a little frame house [-] one story.  Going south were a few cheap houses[.]  a little back from the street stood a little red brick house occupied by a Mrs. Stoops[v], a widow.  On the corner was a two story house where John Fisher and Thomas Lindsay run a Grocery and Bakery.  Across the street south was another frame house occupied later by Saw[y]er and Hall.  The south side were all frame houses.  About midway the late William Carlin run a hotel.  Where the Wainwright house is[vi] there was a little frame house Emery Powel once lived.  The West side were all cheap houses.  In the North West corner stood a little Brick house belonging to the Tanyard (Tannery)[vii].  The lat[t]er was on the bank of the river at that time run by a Mr. Williams.

There were no bridges.  In times of high water the Ferry boat and Ships were used for transportation.  At that time the Ferry boat was conducted by a Mr. Collier.  He lived in a cabin where the first house now stands across the river.  I remember how beautiful the river looked as we stopped to let our horses drink.  That was in September.

The North Side of the Square were small houses except two: one two story painted yellow.  Jesse Sparks once lived in it.  The other on the Corner was occupied by Cole & Coggswell Dry Goods Merchants.

The first County Fair was held in 1864[viii] on the Bank of the river north of the City[ix].  There were no Race Tracks and not much on exhibition.  A Mr. Henry Adolph[,] a Coverlet Weaver[,] had some for sale and my Husband bought a pair and we have them now in our possession almost as good as new[.][x]  they were very pretty.

There were a few houses outside of the Square, among them the Old Methodist Church.

Boody, Ill., Jan. 23, 1906

[i] John Nixon, (b. Wayne Co. 1813 – d. Jay Co. 1887)
[ii] Now the site of the Hamilton County Historical Society museum in the 1875 Sheriff’s Residence and Jail
[iii] William Garver (1816-1895) owned the land where Riverview Hospital is today.
[iv] The Swain family purchased Judge Garver’s land.  According to one story, Luther Swain (1851-1929) suggested giving the high ground west of the river the name of “Federal Hill” in the 1870’s because of his admiration for Stephen Foster.
[v] Possibly Mary Jane Stoops
[vi] The Wainwright House was a hotel that stood on the southwest corner of Conner and Eighth Streets.  The site is now a parking lot.
[vii] The tannery was formerly run by the Cogswell family and was the first industry in town.
[viii] Some sort of county agricultural fairs had been held as early as 1852.
[ix] On the 1866 map of the city, the fairgrounds are at the site where North Elementary School is today.
[x] Examples of his coverlets are in the collection of the Hamilton County Historical Society.