Brownstown’s official 200th birthday celebration Friday evening lasted less than an hour but came packed with plenty of history.
The event, conducted inside the livery barn at the Jackson County History Center, brought out many folks, including two lifelong friends who were born in Seymour but raised in the county seat.
Lucinda Wagoner and Judith Schlicker, who are both 62 and graduated the same year from Brownstown Central High School, also share a love of the past, especially anything to do with local history.
“My fifth great-grandfather was Abraham Miller, and he helped build Fort Vallonia,” Schlicker, 62, said. That was sometime around 1810 about six years before Jackson County and Brownstown were officially established.
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“He’s buried in the town cemetery right over there, and that’s why I’m here,” she said.
Schlicker said many pioneer families passed through the Jackson County area on their way to other places.
“This was truly the crossroads (of southern Indiana),” she said.
Schlicker said she found one portion of the ceremony particularly fascinating.
That’s when town council President John Nolting and town Clerk-Treasurer David Willey gave a presentation about the original survey of the town on April 8, 1816.
“It’s astounding to me why they set out the streets that wide,” Schlicker said.
Most of the town’s street that were laid out at that time were 60 feet wide.
“I wonder if they knew the automobile was coming,” she said. “You just wonder. It’s nice they are that wide.”
Schlicker said she thought the 200th birthday was commemorated very nicely, and she was glad to be a part of it.
Wagoner said the bicentennial celebration ties in nicely with her efforts to work on her own genealogy.
“This is all interesting to me,” Wagoner said. “I had a few stories from the old folks when I was a kid. So I’ve been working on this and working on that.”
Although the two share a lot in common, there is one big difference, Wagoner said.
“Actually, I’m from the other end of Brownstown,” she said. “I’m from Ewing. We have to get Ewing in there.”
Ewing, which is now part of Brownstown, was laid out in 1857 in anticipation of a railroad being extended there from Seymour.
A post office was established in the same year, and Brownstown and Ewing would have separate post offices until 1967, when Ewing’s closed.
Wagoner said she remembers the sesquicentennial celebration back in 1966.
“That was a big thing,” she said. “Who would have thought we would have made it and still be here on the 200th?”
Gloria Cross of Brownstown grew up in Freetown and attended in part because she is a member of the history center.
“It was good, and I enjoyed it,” Cross said.
So did Tom Cooley of Seymour, who came dressed in clothing as an early outdoorsman, complete with his muzzleloader.
“Fifty years ago when we had the sesquicentennial, I was down here dressed up (the same way),” he said.
Cooley, who said he has lived in Brownstown a couple of times during his 77 years, also competes in muzzleloading competitions and dresses the same for many local events, including Fort Vallonia Days and annual demonstrations for fourth-graders visiting the history center.
During the parade for the sesquicentennial, Cooley met his wife, Darlene Nielsen, who had moved to the area to teach at the local Lutheran school.
“She moved back to Minnesota, and I went up there and married her and brought her back down here,” he said. “She’s been here ever since.”
The bicentennial celebration was originally going to be conducted outside in the pioneer village at the history center but was moved inside the livery barn there because of the cold, said Cliff Sommers, who is one of the leaders of the Bicentennial Planning Committee of Jackson County.
“We were going to have it there (the pioneer village) because the original courthouse looked like one of the barns there,” he said.
Sommers talked about Brownstown and history 200 years ago during the formal part of Friday’s celebration.
“James Madison was president,” he said. ”The War of 1812 had just gotten over the year before. The War of 1812 was actually pretty important to Jackson County, believe it or not, because we got two namesakes from it.”
Brownstown was named for Jacob Brown, a hero of that war, and the county was named for Andrew Jackson, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans. That battle in early January 1815 was the last of the War of 1812.
“In 1816, he was the celebrity, he was the ‘guy,’” Sommers said.
The Louisiana Purchase also occurred around the same time period and, along with the end of the war, pushed a movement of people west toward Indiana and the county, he said.
Sommers said 1816 also was known as “the year without a summer,” and that also had people looking westward.
“In New England in June, it snowed six inches, and that year, they had had frost in each month,” Sommers said.
He said farmers even planted in August with the hope of getting a crop, but it didn’t work, and the winter of 1816-17 was a hard one.
Sommers said the state established the state park system in 1916, leaving a legacy for the centennial celebration, and sesquicentennial celebrations left a lot of memories for many. He would like to see the bicentennial celebrations from this year leave behind both. The county celebrated its 200th birthday Jan. 1 with a ball on New Year’s Eve in Seymour. The state will celebrate its bicentennial Dec. 11.
Sommers said he wanted to challenge people to come out and support all of the events planned for the remainder of the year and consider leaving behind a legacy project.
One of the bicentennial legacy projects is a program to establish a scholarship program at each of the county’s five schools. That’s something that’s going to need financial support from many, he said.
Nolting said he thought the celebration was exciting for the town of Brownstown.
He said the town might consider taking a look at the Heritage Park that is being developed this year and using it as one of the legacy projects suggested by Sommers.
“We’re hoping it will be done by the end of the summer,” Nolting said of a project to erect a stage at the park. That park is located on the site of a former feed mill in the 100 block of East Walnut Street across from the courthouse.
“The name, Heritage Park, is really not cased in concrete,” Nolting said of the idea of renaming the park.
“Bicentennial Park is one of the suggestions,” he said. “Maybe it will change.”
Others who spoke briefly during the ceremony included Matt Reedy, president of the Jackson County Commissioners, who issued a proclamation, and state District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. Rene Stanley with the state’s bicentennial commission also spoke about the commission’s work at the state level.
After the official ceremony, many traveled the short distance to the Bicentennial Planning Committee of Jackson County headquarters on Main Street for a reception that featured cake, drinks and music. During that reception, those on hand also sang “Happy Birthday” to the town.
They were accompanied by local musician Wayne Deaton on the guitar
On Saturday, a less formal party featuring food, drinks and music for the town’s 200th birthday was conducted for families at Pewter Hall.
Many other bicentennial plans have been set for the remainder of the year by the planning committee. Those activities include events during all of the festivals throughout the county, including Fort Vallonia Days, Seymour’s Oktoberfest and the fair in July.
A big festival also is being planned for the weekend of Oct. 7 to 9 at Freeman Field in Seymour, Sommers said. That event will include sports, food, speakers, a flyover and much more.
“If you can think of it, we will have it,” he said.
The committee plans to end the year with another New Year’s ball similar to the one conducted this past year.
“We figured it went over so well,” he said. “People liked it.”