The Story of James C. Parmerlee near Bean Blossom, Indiana
Steve Arnold (great-great-great-great-grandson)
James Clark Parmerlee had already been engaged in the tanning of leather before he left Middlesex County, Connecticut before 1834 traveling with an elderly widowed mother, sister and brother-in-law west. The group first lived in Hamilton County, Ohio. Here James married Mary Burgett in the spring of 1835. The following year the couple's first son, William M. Parmerlee, was born.
According to family tradition, James and his party then settled in northern Indiana. Finding the geography there flat and forlorn, the party moved south. He and the others settled near Williamsburg, now known as Nineveh in southern Johnson County, around 1839. In this area he and his family were content. It was said that this part of Indiana's geography suited him well, as the gently rolling hills reminded him of his Connecticut birthplace. HIs sister and brother-[in-law, George and Louiza Botsford, remained in Williamsburg for the rest of their lives.
In this place, James sunk vats for the tanning of leather. For a number of years, he and a few employees manufactured leather until the source of tan bark, namely from oak trees, was soon depleted. He was aware that just south of his location, Brown County, was still a large and untapped source of tan bark. It was near Bean Blossom Creek just four miles east of Bean Blossom that he chose to begin his tanning operation in Brown County.
Around 1839, in the same area as James had chosen, another man, Jacob M. Neely, had already began production of leather goods. Indeed, Mr. Neely's operation was quite extensive for the time. He had sunk between 40 and 50 vats needed for the tanning of leather. When James moved into the neighborhood, around 1844, he began building another large tannery, Mr. Neely became so enraged at the prospect that another would ply the same business so close to his. According to family folklore, one early September day, Mr. Neely began walking from Bean Blossom to Nashville, in order to file a suit against James in the circuit court. On his way to the county seat, a storm suddenly formed. Out of nowhere, as if it were from some perverse divine intervention, Mr. Neely was struck by a bolt of lightning and killed instantly. Sadly, he left a widow and several children.
Shortly after the episode, James' young wife became ill and died. By then, he was left to raise four children, the youngest being just three years old. It came to pass the following summer that James became betrothed to the Widow Neely. She bore James four additional children in the ensuring years.
So it was that the large family shared the Parmerlee's red brick home located near his tannery. Indeed, the bricks were made on the property that the house would be built on. By 1849, there were eight tanneries in Brown County, with the Parmerlee Tannery being the most productive.
After some time, James took on a partner in the business. His partner, Daniel Yandes was one of the first settlers from Indianapolis and was a highly successful businessman in his own right. So close was the partnership, that James named one of his younger sons Daniel Yandes Parmerlee.
The leather tanned at the Parmerlee establishment reportedly won state, national and international prizes for its quality and had an estimated yearly income of $100,000. In the early 1870s the Parmerlee enterprise headed west. A store was purchased in Sedalia, Missouri where hides were bought and sent back to Brown County to be tanned. From Bean Blossom the tanned hides were sent back to Sedalia via the railroad. A teamster would transport the hides overland to the nearest railroad depot at Morgantown.
In the early morning hours of August 10, 1872, James Parmerlee and a business associate were riding the train back home from Louisville, Kentucky when tragedy struck. The pair had been in Kentucky to register a patent. James reportedly held several patents, including a steam scouring machine. The train car carrying Parmerlee had pulled to a brief stop at the depot at Edinburgh, Indiana, when the two stepped onto the platform. The elderly Parmerlee fell under the moving train as it pulled away from the station and suffered fatal injuries. He was taken to a nearby hotel. Two doctors were summoned but to no avail. James died shortly afterward.
The tannery continued in business under the leadership of his eldest son, William Parmerlee, and a younger son, James Parmerlee, Jr. Meanwhile, the store in Sedalia continued a booming business for several more years. The Bean Blossom Creek tannery continued until about 1879. In 1935, more than 50 years after the business had closed, the vats were dismantled.
A MODIFIED HOWE THROUGH TRUSS BRIDGE
The Bean Blossom Covered Bridge is one of Indiana's most loved, painted and photographed, being featured in magazines and periodicals throughout the country. It is a very rare type bridge and one of only three still in existence.
A bit of history: In June of 1880, Mathias Gilbert and 39 other concerned citizens petitioned the County Commissioners for a bridge to be built over Bean Blossom Creek to accommodate travel, teaming and transportation of mail between Nashville and Georgetown (now Bean Blossom). The petition was granted at a special meeting in July. Bids were then taken for wooden, iron and wrought iron bridges, some including masonry. The award was given to Captain Joseph Balsley, at that time a carpenter and stair builder, of Seymour, Indiana.
Timber, carefully chosen, came from a farm near Nashville, and stone for abutments came from a nearby property which Captain Balsley and Albert Ludkey had found earlier. This is what made the difference in price in the bid ($1,075) and won the award. As promised the covered, woodeen bridge over Bean Blossom Creek was completed by October 1, 1880. And the Captain's son, J. D. Balsley, got to paint it red! Captain Balsley passed away in 1912 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.
The bridge soon became part of the main road between Bean Blossom and Nashville until State Road 135 bypassed it in 1936. While frequently repaired (and even closed at times) for well over 100 years, it has somehow been carefully maintained to preserve its original form and integrity which many in the community contributed to.
In 1967 the bridge was closed once again to thru traffic and in 1968 both the bridge and road were reported to be in bad condition. A campaign was started to save the bridge by Doris and Mario Panicci, who lived on a farm close by. Considerable repairs were made and approaches amended making it safe to travel again. In 1976 and 1982 it was closed for short periods for repairs. More recent was the Building Trades high school class. Under the direction of Chris Todd they renovated the bridge in 1988 using materials supplied by the Highway Department. The Bean Blossom Boosters was another group that through contributions and fund-raising activities strived to maintain it by painting, cleaning and doing minor repairs. Their members would also inspect and report any need for major work to be done to the County Commissioners. They even won a grant, which they were able to use a part of, for repairs and saved it again! Not only is it the oldest, but the only single-lane covered bridge in Indiana in its original location.
So, this is where we are today. Somehow, this little old-red-bridge found off the beaten path, still captures the hearts of those who live here and those who visit as well. It may also capture yours.
Written by Dorothy Babcock
Sign sponsored by Faith Walk
Current picture taken January 25, 2021
This lovely post card collection belongs to Cathy and David Martin who was kind enough to loan them to PVH for this blog. We hope you enjoy them.
The Bean Blossom Overlook is nestled in the heart of the designated "Brown County Parkway" along HWY 135N between Bean Blossom and Nashville, Indiana. This corridor was set aside to preserve the landscape's scenic beauty in 1932 by the Department of Natural Resources State Parks director, Col. Richard Lieber.
In 1985, the DNR gifted approximately 150 acres of land that included the Bean Blossom overlook to the Brown County Parks & Recreation Department to ensure the property remain in local stewardship. Since that time, very little has changed, however, the maturing hardwoods continued to grow, blocking the once majestic view of the countryside.
In 2017, I was approached by members of Peaceful Valley Heritage Preservation Society requesting that the Parks Department consider re-opening the view from the overlook. I was told that decades ago the spectacular view from this overlook rivaled that of any other in the state. Aside from the aesthetic benefits to the locals, the Bean Blossom overlook was, at one time, a major attraction among tourists along the parkway. I was shown late 1950's-early 1960's era photographs of families picnicking, artists with easels, painting the scenery, and others viewing the landscape will binoculars.
With approval from the Park Board, and after examine several options, I reached out to a local timber buyer and arranged for a timber harvest to take place to re-open the view. This allowed the project to be completed with no cost to the BC Parks & Rec. Dept. Since the re-opining of the overlook view, we have received numerous compliments regarding the project. I have also noticed that now, each time I drive past, the overlook typically has several visitors picnicking or just enjoying the view, much the same as it did decades ago...
Mark Shields, Director
Brown County Parks & Recreation
Postcards Supplied By: Cathy Martin
Signage Sponsored By: Wolff and Wolff
In Hamblen township there lays a little village called Sprunica about half way between Bean Blossom and Spearsville. In its heyday it was a thriving town with a bustling trade. The village was supposedly named by Chris Duhammel in 1876 when he said “Sprunica would be a fine name” and it was used ever since. Originally it was called Spooning and finally the name Sprunica stuck. In the village there stood a two story building that was once a Red Men’s Lodge which had been converted to a storage building for feed. Every Saturday night folks from all over Hamblen Township drove thru axle deep mud or thick clouds of dust depending on the weather to get to the Red Men’s Lodge. Downstairs in the building there was also a thriving general store owned by J. R. Brickey. Unfortunately the building burned to the ground in 1945. An annual event, the Sprunica Fair, lasted about four days. It became a very popular event and people came from as far away as Indianapolis. The fairgrounds were located on the Sam Walker place. There was a half mile horse race and many people bet on them. On Saturday nights there were cock fights with considerable betting going on there as well. In a Democrat article Delphia Clark, age 94, in 1993 reported that “In the winter we put a wagon bed on a sleigh and heated up some irons or bricks to tuck under quilts to keep warm on the way to church. The local church was the gathering place for all the local folk; everyone went to church back then. Ice cream socials, dances, and political meetings drew everyone around to the church. The Sprunica Church formerly called the Walker Creek Church was established by early pioneers, the Walker family, on land owned by Franklin Walker. The first families to attend the church were Franklin Walker, Samuel Walker, Abraham Chappell, Jacob Walker, Henry Burton, Solomon Wiatt, James Parmerlee, Moses Thorp, Conrad Kirtz, Samuel Smith, John Smith, Sorther Calvin, Stephen DeBoard, Wiley Guy, William Hamblen, and others. The church was first a Christian church and then became a Baptist church. The last Baptist preacher was Ralph Schrougham who preached 1945 to 1955. The area just north of the church was a gathering place of the local people for picnics and community events. The Red Men’s Lodge was east of the church and the fairgrounds were north of it. On the west side was the Sprunica School. The church has since been restored by the local community, and is a landmark for the area. Nothing remains of the old school and the lodge. Other families that moved into the area were the Porters, Foxes, Derringers, Vaughts, Waymans, Fords, Waltzes, Burtons, Campbells, Meads, Poultons, and Youngs, of which many are buried at the Sprunica Church Cemetery. Sprunica still has the old church, next to a new church, and an elementary school but the bustling community is no more. Also located at Sprunica was a regional Normal School where young men and women could further their education to become teachers.
Contacting the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is the first step. We needed to discuss our interest in obtaining a marker for Frank Hohenberger and seeing if they are in agreement. PVH was convinced that Hohenberger was a viable historic person deserving of a marker. Once that was determined PVH could proceed.
PVH contacted James Glass PhD of Historic Preservation & Heritage Consulting LLC to discuss his interest in filling out the application; an agreement, contract and half deposit was made in the beginning of 2018. Applications are tedious and require significant research, every point must be proved; professional historians are not necessary but PVH felt Frank Hohenberger deserved to have a proven professional fill our this application. The final application cost was $5,203.18. Once the process was started we were drawn into meetings to discuss the correct wording by members and others which took months of correction and rewrites, reviews, meetings and input from Casey Pfeiffer. Finally we were ready to submit the application to the DNR's Indiana Historical Bureau. At that point they had their own review before it was approved and once the approval was given the application went on to be made which was in June, 2019. The cost for the marker itself was $2,950 which was paid by a grant received from the Brown County Community Foundation. The marker was delivered and then a date had to be agreed upon within all of the parties involved. August 29, 2019 decidedly worked for PVH and DNR. PVH contacted people involved with getting the marker the point of installation. Members got commitments from speakers and decided Buzz King, who had personal experience with Frank Hohenberger agreed to talk about the man his family considered a friend. Members started on advertising the event, preparing posters and printing programs. The building and area needed cleaned which took many hours over five days. So the time came, area set up, cookies baked by members and lemonade was ready; people came along with the editor of the Democrat and a journalist with a camera from WTIU. The final cost of the marker was close to $8,500. A gift to the community that will last a life time.
O'Brown County By Frank M. Hohenberger
Indianapolis Star, November 4, 1945
Deserted cabins and barns hold a fascination for me. The weather has frayed the edges and oodles of color has been added--especially where the rust from metal roofs and mold on clapboards can be seen. Over in Hamblen Township I came across a nice specimen owned by Riley Lawson. It is a one story affair with various leantos--one of those homes where, when the owner accumulated a few dollars, he built an addition. At the west end of the house is an immense elm tree and its branches provide shelter over quite an acreage. This must have been a happy playground for happy children in days gone by. Crossing the creek afterwards I saw several cars parked on the concrete slab where men folks were passing the time in conversation. One of these men was Amos Burton who has lived in Brown County 50 years. His farm joins the Salt Creek line and he told me he put in the last six years taking rock from the bottom of the stream to build a fence. More than 150 loads of rock have been "lifted" from this immediate site and hauled in two country places north of Indianapolis. Driving up the hill I was soon in the village of Sprunica. Here on the right is the Red Men's hall, now converted into a storage place for feed. Once it was a thriving general store.
Mrs. Jesse Coyle lived in one side of the place and she said she moved there because fire had destroyed her home not far away. She wants to tear it down, and I don't blame her, but that's how we eradicate the old landmarks around which history was made and the gossip pot kept boiling. Inside the place was a sign, "J. R. Brickey Store." The next stopping store was in Goshen neighborhood was the site of the Bill Lee tanyard. Part of a wall which held back the water from the institution is all that is to be seen of the landmark. I met John Fox, 84, who said he recalls folks hauling bark in the place, known at one time as the Parmalee farm. John had just came in from the tobacco field where he had put in five days cutting Burley tobacco. One of his boys won't work in tobacco on account of his dislike for the weed--not because he doesn't like to work. for that Fox family is always up and at it when there is something that needs looking after.
Frank M. Hohenberger, photographer, began his 82nd year far too busy even to consider retirement. Hohenberger, spent 40 years in Nashville turning out from his one-man studio photographs and writings that depict the picturesque countryside and those who live there. "I've devoted most of my life to this work," Hohenberger said, "and I wouldn't be happy doing anything else. So how could I consider retirement?"
In June, 1923, he wrote his first column for The Indianapolis Star titled, "Down in the Hills O'Brown County." Jos war,. good-natured writings about the folksy ways of Brown County citizens were a regular feature of The Star for more than 30 years,. In 1952 he wrote a book under the same name with an authoritative history of the area. Hohenberger worked in the composing room of The Star for several years before the passion for making good photographs got the best of him and he departed for Brown County and national fame.
Born near Defiance, Ohio, he became an orphan when 5 years old and was reared by his grandparents. After an apprenticeship in the printing trade, Hohenberger came to Indianapolis where he obtained a job on the old Sentinel. While dreaming of a career as a photographer, he spent the next several years working for newspapers at Dayton, Ohio and Louisville, KY.
He returned to Indianapolis after the turn of the century and went to work for The Star. It wasn't long, however, before he cleaned his hands of printer's ink for the last time and announced he was leaving for Brown County to start in business.
"My associates told me I'd be back soon, but they were wrong," he said. He was never to return to a print shop although he was still a member of International Typographical Union 1. Hohenberger believes his picture of "The Liars' Bench" is the most famous of any he has taken, and that includes thousands. The photograph was made in the courthouse yard at Nashville in 1923. The bench was said to be the meeting place for the best storytellers in the country.