Monday, November 23, 2015

Toward the end -- Part 1

Our unforgettable town square
Recollections of the 1937 flood that may have been the second-worst ever in Indiana were still lingering when the federal Congress approved a flood control act in 1938 that actually didn't do much for the East Fork.

Well, yes ... it did, though it took more than 2 decades before anybody noticed. Wars and such got in the way.

It was the flood of 1959 that spurred what would become an enormous scrapbook full of newspaper clippings, photographs and ads all aimed at what was to be the greatest economic miracle in Franklin County history. (Still waiting, I think.)

It's possible I have in my possession every single one of these scrapbook entries.

The first few years of the '60s were pretty sleepy along the East Fork, though conversations about the inevitability of an eventual federal reservoir wove in and out of every election cycle. By 1963, the talk ceased to be idle chatter.

Before backtracking to the beginning, we can start from sometime in the middle, which was effectively the end of Fairfield. That story comes from Max Knight, who was a reporter for the Richmond Palladium-Item, one of the publications that did great work covering the reservoir project from start to finish.

Knight, in an article dated Sept. 7, 1966, explains what life was like at that moment in our town's history:

"Historic Fairfield virtually has become a ghost town.

"By Dec. 1, houses must either be vacated or moved. Many residents already have left. Others are in the process of moving. A few persons are waiting as long as possible to leave homes they have cherished for many years."

Fairfield, Knight said, would eventually be under 30 feet of water.

"Although the town must be vacated by Dec. 1, it is expected to be more than two years before the first water flows into the reservoir."

Knight's research was detailed.

"Congress approved $200,000 in 1963 and $165,000 in 1964 to complete the final designs on the reservoir. Although no funds were budgeted for the start of construction, in 1964 Sens. Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh (both Indiana Democrats) were successful in amending the Senate Appropriations Bill to include $500,000 for construction."


A year later, Knight said, Congress approved another $1.73 million for continuing the work. (The eventual low bid on the project was about $1.8 million.)

It moved that swiftly. First the money, then the eviction notices.

Knight continued:

"Also, plans to preserve the old covered bridge seem to have dissolved and it appears the structure will be torn down as workmen clear the area for the reservoir basin.

"Fairfield residents fought long and hard to keep their town but now that the actual removal of the people is well underway, the fight appears to have gone out of all but a few that remain.

"This town, platted in 1815 and steeped in history, soon will become only a memory."

12-11-65. They got "sponsors" for the ad.
We were all invited. How nice.

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