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.
The Bean Blossom Bridge became listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 10, 2022.
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, wooden 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
February 17, 2021
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.