History of Morgan County

When the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary's ceded all land south of Fort Wayne to the United States Government, settlement of this vast area began in earnest. It was in that same year that Jacob Whetzel and his son Cyrus blazed a 60‐mile trail following an Indian trace from Laurel in Franklin County to an area known as "The Bluffs" near the White River in Morgan County. Known as Whetzel's Trace, it served as the primary route for settlers coming to central Indiana from the east and was heavily used until the construction of the Morgan CountyNational Road through Indiana during the late 1820s. Morgan County was founded in 1821 and was named for General Daniel Morgan, a Revolutionary War hero. With the organization of the county, settlement increased and a number of early communities were established. The county seat of Martinsville was founded in 1822 along the east bank of the White River. The town's ready access to the river encouraged its early growth. During the mid‐nineteenth century, the community was one of central Indiana's leading shipping points for pork and grain. Two early settlements in northern Morgan County included Brooklyn and Mooresville. Settlers arrived in Brooklyn as early as 1819. Located along the White Lick Creek, the village was known for its distilleries. Mooresville, also first settled about 1819 was closely associated with the Society of Friends, who established a meeting in the area in 1823. As the town developed into northern Morgan County's largest community, the Friends opened one of the county's first subscription schools during the 1820s. The Academy Building, an 1861 brick school, remains as a testimony to this influential early religious group.

Founded in 1837, Waverly sprung up as a product of the construction of the Central Canal linking Indianapolis with Newberry in Greene County. Construction on the canal began that same year with large numbers of Irish workers coming to the area. Only a year later, with a small segment of the canal completed, construction was suspended due to financial problems. The demise of the Central Canal signaled the beginnings of the railroad era in Morgan County. In 1847, the Martinsville & Franklin Flatbar Railroad, operated by the Madison & Indianapolis line, began service to the county. During the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the early‐twentieth century, the railroad would have a lasting impact on the county's commercial, industrial and agricultural development.

Although only a limited number of lines crossed the county, the railroad's economic impact was felt county wide. Paragon, located in southwestern Morgan County was platted along one of the lines and is one of the county's few towns established solely as a result of the railroad. More typical was the dramatic growth of already established communities such as Morgantown, Brooklyn and Mooresville. Even towns such as Monrovia, Hall, and Eminence, that had no direct access to lines, benefited from the railroad. With access to distant markets, area farmers boosted their productivity and prosperity. Evidence of this is seen in the many substantial late‐nineteenth century houses built throughout the county's rural areas.

Nowhere was the railroad's impact more apparent than in the county seat of Martinsville. Beginning in the 1850s, when the town was linked by rail line to Chicago and Indianapolis, and well into the earlytwentieth century, a number of significant industries bolstered the local economy. The Adams Brick Company and the Poston Brick Company took advantage of the large deposits of shale in the cliffs north of town. The Old Hickory Chair Company, later the Old Hickory Furniture Company, operated a large plant in town, manufacturing bent wood chairs and other pieces. Martinsville also became known for Grassyfork Fisheries. Established in 1899 and now owned by Ozark Fisheries, Grassyfork was, by World War II, the world's largest supplier of goldfish.

Manufacturing was not Martinsville's only major economic activity. Between about 1885‐1950, the town was nationally renowned for its eleven mineral water sanitariums. People would travel by rail to bathe in and drink the healthful waters. Only two of these sanitariums remain. On North Main Street, the Morgan House, now subsidized housing, is the former New Highland Sanitarium. The Martinsville Sanitarium on West Harrison Street is currently vacant. As Martinsville's industrial activity waned during the mid‐twentieth century, the town, like many of the county's other communities, relied on the area's agricultural economy.

In more recent years, the Morgan County population increased faster than the Indiana average from 1990 to 2000 with 19% growth during that time period. This growth was accompanied by more land being developed for housing as well as complementary commercial and institutional uses. The majority of this growth was clustered around areas such as Mooresville and in spots along SR 37, and represents a notable decline in agricultural land use in that part of the county. For the purposes of this parks and recreation master plan, it is certainly appropriate to consider the provision of parks and recreation areas in portions of the county where population growth has occurred. It is also important to look at historical landmarks that might serve as center pieces for a park or a recreation program or activity. The Morgan County Historic Preservation Society maintains a 10 most endangered historical sites list, which should be considered by the parks and recreation board as potential sites for expansion. A few potentially interesting sites from the 2005 list include:

  • Pioneer Cemeteries
  • Goethe Link Observatory
  • Grassyfork Fisheries Office and Showroom
  • William Landers Farm
  • Martinsville Sanitarium

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Morgan County Parks and Recreation
180 South Main Street, #112
Martinsville, IN 46151
Phone: (765) 342-1007