Monday, December 14, 2015

Our lasting memories -- Part 1

Main Street in Fairfield
It's unlikely that the state of Indiana, as it celebrates its 200th year in 2016, will regard the Fairfield 200 blog as historically significant. It's also likely that it doesn't matter.

Considerable expense will go into the bicentennial observance, and it's probable that Franklin County will be an integral part of the telling of that story. It's obvious the county has a key role in that history, and we've shared a lot of that on this blog.

It's also likely that Fairfield will not be integral to that story. That's also not likely to matter. Our town's history has been delightfully preserved. Unlike most other small towns that continue to exist in one form or another, Fairfield has no future. It has only its past.

For that we are perhaps a little more grateful than we might otherwise be. Those other towns carelessly erode into time, soliciting nothing other than being a place to be when we are not elsewhere. Nobody is inclined to ask or care about the history of most places.

A number of years ago, I met Marilyn Luke Gausman at one of the Fairfield reunions and she told me she intended to write a book about the town. I found myself skeptical for obvious reasons, chief of them being . . . what the HELL would she say about it?

She had more photographs and notes stashed away than that.

Finally, several other people began to throw their stuff onto the pile and . . .  we suddenly had enough that Marilyn could use for a book.

I had no idea what this book might include.

When Marilyn and Julie Schlesselman produced The Town Under the Lake and a companion book about Fairfield's Schools, the definitive print work about the town had arrived.

It's not a history, but it's historic. It's a shared remembrance of times and people.

The photographs are priceless.

The Franklin County Historical Society was, I was told, somewhat astonished that we could have gathered this much of our past, coordinated it, shared it and made sense of it -- all without much help the society's end.

In short, you just gotta care.

The official word from the folks outside the valley of the East Fork was that "we just all went somewhere else."

Thompson hut
As if that was good enough.

It's not necessary to go over the innards of the 2010 work Julie and Marilyn did with assistance of the county library district, and with the help of some really smart people. I will include a few juicy bits just to whet your appetite. The books are in very limited print, but I suppose it's possible to get a CD ... those do exist. Perhaps you can negotiate.

In summary:

"The following chapters tell a story of Fairfield – not “the story” or “the history” of Fairfield – just a basic story. The information following is to give the reader an idea of what Fairfield looked like; acquaint him with some of the families that lived there and businesses that operated there; and enlighten him as to the distressing and emotionally disturbing events that families endured when they were forced to leave their beloved homes for 'the good of the cause'.”

So what was so great about Fairfield?

"An observer contributed the following article praising Fairfield to the April 23, 1869, Brookville American."

Editor of the American, It has been some time since I wrote anything for the Press, but I will give you some of my observations in and about Fairfield, which you may print if you think them worthy. Fairfield is one of the pleasantest little towns in Eastern Indiana, and is improving faster than its neighbors. Property is in good demand. There are not houses enough to accommodate as many as want to settle here.

Um ... not too phony.

A few years later:

The following appeared in the August 5, 1875, Brookville American under the Fairfield Items column.

A stranger driving into our town would imagine that an extensive dairy was run here. There is not less than fifty head of cattle running around town and the streets are worse than a great many barnyards – especially the street running east and west, south of Miller & Tyner's store. If people will keep cows in town they should keep them up of nights and not let them run around as most of them do. It is a perfect nuisance and the people of this place should put the new stock law in force. We move that the public square be fenced in, and set aside for the use of our dairy-men, as they won't keep their cows up at night. It is becoming a decided nuisance, and a stop should be put to it."

Sorry about that.

A couple of months later, another 'observer' penned a column in the Brookville papers claiming:

"If there is a neater, happier village than Fairfield, it has never been our pleasure to see it and mingle with its people."

See, we told you.

The book moves nicely through the town's peculiar history, touching on details, trivia, and anecdotes.

The best parts include personal memories from former Fairfielders, the people who cared enough to rescue our history and embed it into posterity.

And if you want to know what the town looked like, we can thank Luana Himelick, whose husband John H. Himelick, "was instrumental in implementing the Brookville Lake project and in the late 1960s. I spent many days photographing every house in Fairfield and did water color paintings of each of them. It was already a ghost town at that time – deserted and very sad!"

Mrs. Himelick's contributions go beyond priceless. She, along with Jim Senefeld provide the photographic backbone of the publication.

Julie writes:

S.R. 101 at Bath Road
"Most of the photos were not labeled or identified, but with the assistance of Jim and Judy Thackrey and a map that Judy drew of the town in 1971, we were able to come up with the following locations. We organized them the best we could as if one were walking down the street. Luana has our sincere gratitude and indebtedness, for without her photographs we could not have given the reader such a comprehensive view of the town. They are wonderful!"

Judy adds this at the end of her personal recollections:

"Growing up in this small town had been unique and had many rewards. Hardships were not uncommon, but we were resilient. Lifelong friendships were made, and to this day we still introduce one another to strangers as being from Fairfield. No matter that the town was drowned by the Brookville Lake, we will always call it home."

Jim Hughes, who provided tons of material for the book and has done a remarkable job identifying people, places and events, recalls:

"Playing sports meant I had to practice after school and Mom and Dad would have to pick me up after practice or a game. They were very supportive and made sure of getting me to where I needed to be. Many times, coming home, Mom and Dad would stop at a neighbor's house and just “shoot the breeze.” That doesn't happen much anymore. They would see a neighbor outside and pull into their driveway and talk."

Ranging from memories about Herschel Klein's school bus to Mary-Alice Helms' recollections of movies in the town park, the publication is a must-read.

From Bill Snider:

"The 1940s and early 1950s were a wonderful time to live and grow as a child in Old Fairfield. We, all children, in Fairfield were carefree. We had freedoms then that children have never had safely since. We were poor but so what, so was everyone else. We always had enough to eat, were loved and cared for, had clothes on our back and a roof over our heads and were happy!"

The book also contains some savory history about the town's public buildings, namely the Masonic Hall, the schools and the Methodist Church. The Masons rebuilt their lodge in New Fairfield. Most of that is covered in other entries on this blog site. The menu is on the right. ------> (over there).

In what became a regular somber reminder of our future, as published July 2, 1964, in the Fairfield town news items:

“As there will be no school in Fairfield, the flag pole was presented to the Sims Cemetery. It was erected Wednesday evening.”

Marilyn writes that news from Fairfield seemed to disappear from the Brookville papers in 1966.

"In all probability correspondence stopped because no one had time any more. Everyone was concerned with moving and had no spare time to inform the rest of the world what was going on in Fairfield."


The December 17, 1970, Brookville Democrat seems to be the first time that community news once again comes from Fairfield – this time New Fairfield. The correspondent was Mrs. Joyce Davidson. She ends her column by saying “The town of New Fairfield is brightly decorated for the Christmas season. All of us wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year.”

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