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Sep 18, 2012


Rockville began in 1824 as the seat of justice for the newly established Parke County. A small brick courthouse was built, and a fledgling community soon sprang up around it. Within a short time, blacksmiths, furniture builders, harness makers, grocers, druggists, and dry goods salesmen were calling the new public square home. Then over a period of 13 years, beginning in 1870, the face of Rockville was drastically altered as fires destroyed the early buildings. The newly resurrected town would look quite different. As the rebuilding occurred, an exceptional example of small-town Italianate architecture emerged. This new Rockville looked much different than its haphazard Colonial-style predecessor. Three-story brick and stone buildings replaced haphazard one- and two-story wood frame structures; concrete sidewalks replaced wooden walkways; awnings, ornate cornices, and large architectural iron and glass storefronts became the standard. It was during these years that Rockville began to resemble the quintessential American small town it is today.
Sep 18, 2012

Informazioni sull'autore

Blaine Martin grew up in Rockville, living a block from the courthouse square. He is a passionate collector of antique advertising, an amateur historian, and an ardent advocate for the preservation of �Main Street America.� Martin now lives in Jasper with his wife and two children and owns a graphic design practice.

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Rockville - Martin, Blaine



Hewn from the virgin hardwood forests of what is now west-central Indiana, modern-day Rockville began as a collection of widely scattered cabins on the traditional native lands of the Delaware, Pottawatomie, Miami, and Eel River tribes.

According to early Parke County historian Isaac Strouse, the first white settler in Rockville was Aaron Hand, who built a cabin in 1821 in the northeast part of the present town. Andrew Ray came to town in that same year, building a cabin on the northeast corner of the present courthouse lawn. A year later, he brought his family to Rockville and built a tavern on what is now the Rockville National Bank corner. At the same time, Soloman Simmons located a mile southwest of the present courthouse. On February 19, 1824, Gen. Arthur Patterson, Gen. Joseph Orr, and Col. Thomas Smith from the Indiana State Legislature arrived to investigate the site as a permanent seat of justice in the new county. They were met that evening by Andrew Ray, Aaron Hand, James McCall, and several others whose names have been lost to time. The evening was spent in talk and drink at Andrew Ray’s tavern.

The following morning, an eight-person group made its way down a short trail to high ground near a large glacial boulder. Nothing could be seen except a thick forest of trees in any direction. Swamps and wetlands lay to the west and south and a deep ravine dominated the east. The group agreed on this site as the location for the new town. Legend has it that Ray insisted he was the area’s first settler and the town should be named after him. A lengthy and heated dispute followed with Hand and McCall, both claiming to be the first settlers. Hearing the argument, a bystander stepped forward, putting his hand on the large bolder. He suggested that the rock had been there much longer than any of them, and the town should be named after it. Recognizing the poignancy of the situation, the group agreed. After being christened by breaking an empty whisky bottle on the boulder, the town of Rockville ceremoniously came into existence.

Within a few short years, blacksmiths, tanneries, hatters, cooperages, cabinet and carpenter shops, shoe, harness, and boot makers, and purveyors of general merchandise were calling the new public square home. These buildings were mostly rudimentary wood frame structures, built either connected or very close together. Most were heated with wood or coal and lighted with oil lanterns.

According to one visitor’s impressions in 1864, the buildings, then some 30-plus years old, had fallen into decay. The roads were fenced, not graveled, and rutted and muddy. The old brick courthouse was worn and time-stained.

The houses were old and weather-beaten, and the sidewalks were constructed of boards laid down lengthwise and curled up at the ends. The streets were knee deep in mud, and the town contained almost no trees. The north side of the square was composed of mingled brick and wood buildings that were two stories tall and mostly unpainted. Almost all homes had fences around them to keep the free-roaming livestock out of people’s yards.

Another early settler remembers that in the 1860s every store in town was closed on Sundays, and all stores had heavy wooden shutters. They were put in front of the windows every night and laboriously taken down every morning. The appearance of the stores on Sunday was gloomy and odd, looking like they had been boarded up and might never reopen again. As a contrast, during special occasions and events, all the windows in the stores and all the courthouse windows were illuminated with rows of candles. Bonfires made of tar barrels and goods boxes lined the streets. Sometimes candlelight processions of hundreds of men on horseback paraded through the streets.

Then, over a period of 13 years beginning in 1870, the face of Rockville was drastically altered when most of the buildings around the square went up in flames, beginning with the north side on the night of September 17, 1870. Then the south side burned on the night of July 4, 1871, soon followed by the east side on the night of December 8, 1871. Less than two years later, in 1873, the Parke House on the west side burned, and in 1882 and 1883 the Opera House and Kelly Block, located northeast of Jefferson and Ohio Streets, burned. The beautiful old National Bank Building, the sole survivor of the 1870 north side fire, was lost in 1906.

The face of the newly resurrected Rockville was quite different. As the rebuilding of the square occurred over the next few years, an exceptional example of small town Italianate architecture emerged, much different from its haphazard Colonial style predecessor. Three-story brick and stone buildings replaced two-story wood frame structures. Concrete sidewalks replaced wood and brick walkways. Canvas awnings, ornate cornice designs, and large architectural iron and glass storefronts became the standard. It was during these years that Rockville began to visually resemble the quintessential small town that is treasured and protected today.

Over the next century the town flourished into a hub of agriculture, commerce, and government for the county. Electricity was introduced. Roads were paved. The automobile replaced horses and buggies. But, in its essence, the town remained the same. It was still a vital rural center of country and farming life.

Then, after World War II, the face of Rockville gradually changed again. Like thousands of other rural centers of life around the country, this change was brought on by progress. Life was evolving. Younger citizens were drawn away by education and the promise of a brighter future, and many of them did not return home. Travel was no longer an impediment. Shoppers slowly began bypassing local mom-and-pop stores for chain stores in larger areas.

By the 1970s, the change had begun in

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