Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rushville -- right next to Heaven

Over the past four decades or so, we've seen more than our share of reports about "America's most livable cities."

These reports are hardly news. They're generated by real estate agencies, tourism departments, or organizations with a vested interested in generating conversation about urban living.

In short, they serve to serve themselves.

Curiously, the concept is hardly new. In fact, it's more than a century old in at least one Indiana area.

Rush County.

Wendell who?
Home of Wendell Willkie and the Manilla Owls.

Well, you may have heard about Willkie.

Green and gold on the other.

In 1899, the thinking leaders of Rush County decided it would be a nice idea to publish a book extolling the virtues of their communities. The time frame is important for a couple of reasons, the main one being that the promoters felt a sense of the "20th century" ... and the other one being that the natural gas had run out.

The gas part is a bigger story but no less important. Indiana had experienced major growth from Rush County north across central Indiana. By the end of the century, the natural gas was little more than a whoosh.

Towns that had endured as a result needed to be creative.

Rush County took matters into its own hands.

In an outlandish exploration, a publication called "The Promoter," of Louisville, Ky., spared no adjectives in boosting Rush County to the world. One can presume that fees were charged.

The original publication itself was reprinted with 1986 rights to Selby Publishing of Kokomo. (I found it in the Valparaiso Public Library's genealogy section.)

Fully illustrated, the 1899 prospectus was edited and produced by George Campbell and George Johnson. Not much was left out.

Ranging from the assets of the Rush County Courthouse to dairies, churches, civic government and social clubs ... everything got a blue ribbon.

"Much of the enterprise noticeable in Rushville is due to the efficiency and hustling proclivities of the city government. Within the last year they have greatly beautified the city by laying a large number of blocks of granitoid pavement."

The many churches, societies and fraternities "tend to the advancement, culture and pleasure of her citizens."

Still not sold on Rushville?

"The women of Rushville are abreast of the times in all that relates to woman's work, and in this city she has taken an active part in the cause of religion, the promotion of education, the advancement of social and musical culture, the upbuilding of character, and the uplifting of mankind from the grosser and more sordid things of life."

So, no more barbarism, please, even in Manilla where the Owls have a big game scheduled against the dreaded New Salem Eagles.

The publication heaped on the praise, selling the water works, the electric light plant, commercial clubs, grand and glorious business opportunities.

The book was sent to all parts of the country, its publishers claimed, because "Rush is a banner county and few counties in the country are more richly endowed. These endowments are easily apparent to the stranger, and no one seeking a location, be it farmer, mechanic, or home seeker, can fail to be impressed with what Rush County has to offer."

One presumes that the promoters of Rush County had almost NOTHING to do with that testimony. (Right!)

Rushville sold itself as a commercial center with "unequaled railroad facilities," which doubtless meant the city could become a manufacturing mecca. "And where is a city which can offer mechanics a better home?"

Better yet, the residents were prosperous, the essay said. "There are no millionaires in Rushville but the great majority of residents are well-to-do." Plus, the publishers were quick to add: "The citizens are genial, social, well educated, thrifty, enterprising and energetic. A stranger in their midst is made to feel at home."

So what was the intent? The publishers explained: "While this book will in a manner be historical, it is not the purpose of the author to delve deeply into history, but rather to give to the outside world an accurate and unbiased portrayal of the Rushville of today."

Oh, well ... if you say so.

Those "fine public buildings are the reflex of public-spirited men, and stamp the community in which they exist as in active and enterprising one."

In that regard, Rushville's courthouse was "the finest in the State of Indiana."

Except the one in ... well, never mind.

The book is laden with portraits of civic and commercial leaders, including members of the Rush family who doubtless owe their name to the county, or vice-versa.

Best of all, the city had the fortune of having the Klondyke Laundry, which we all know was equipped with "the latest improved and most modern machinery in the industry." It was also run by Mr. Webster who, while not really a laundry man, "is a polite gentleman and accommodating with a host of friends."

And while you're there, please consider the Windsor Hotel for your lodging.

Need we explain why?

"The Windsor is the only two-dollar-a-day house in Rushville ... is one of the most popular places on the road ... and gets high praise by Knights of the Grip."

Knights of the Grip ... doesn't get much better than that.

Taxes, meanwhile, were "comparatively low."

*  *  *

The authors issued this disclaimer with a caricature 
who strongly resembled a cartoon face who would 
appear many decades later -- Alfred E. Newman.