Taylorville: 60 Acres of Hell

taylorville house

If West Terre Haute and its people were looked down upon by many (and they were), there was no place more reviled in Vigo County than Taylorville. Taylorville was quite literally built on a dump, and most viewed those who lived there as little more than human debris. It and its people were seen as the flotsam that washed up along the west bank of the Wabash across from Terre Haute. According to many, Taylorville was merely the home to ragpickers, thieves, whores and the diseased. It was 60 acres of hell.


Taylorville is located south of the National Road along the bottom lands between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute. It was sometimes also known as Dresser and Central Terre Haute. It is unknown whether it was called Central Terre Haute because it was along the center of Terre Haute or because it lay between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute. But Taylorville is the name that stuck. It was supposedly named after a “Capt.” Taylor, a farmer who lived on Ferguson Hill near West Terre Haute. What exactly was Taylor’s connection to the hamlet that bears his name, or how he became a “Captain,” is unknown.


The first settlers were squatters, people looking for some kind of home. The place left to them was near the Terre Haute dump. They built their crude houses from whatever scraps of wood, tin or brick that washed up on the river bank. They scrounged the dump for food to feed their children and scraps of metal, rags or other items they could sell to eke out a sort of living.


Taylorville’s plight was highlighted by the Indiana State Board of Health in March, 1913, shortly after the Great Flood of 1913.. It called the place “The Peril of Terre Haute.” The article described the “hovels” in which people lived and how they were often driven from those ramshackle homes several times a year by flooding. The people, it said, “were of the American gypsy type” who subsisted as “ragpicker, push-cart, slop-wagon driver” types.


To eat, they gathered anew with each new dumping of discards from restaurants and stores. “It is a familiar sight when the dump has received a new supply of garbage to see men, women and children…. delving arm deep in such material for food for their tables. Half-rotten oranges, and other fruits, pieces of bread soaked in the slops from some hotel, decaying scraps of meat—all are seized with avidity and carried away to the filthy places, their homes, where they eat, live and have their living.”


In short, they lived amid filth and squalor. People and animals often lived under the same shaky roofs, sharing the spaces with “countless billions of flies.” Sanitation was all but unknown. Their water came from the river or fetid wells. Disease was their constant companion. The report particularly noted widespread gonorrhea and syphilis, even among the young, in these “derelicts of humankind.”
Interestingly, though the authors of the report felt badly about the people of Taylorville and how they lived, they seemed almost more concerned about how the “derelicts” might effect, or infect, the good people of Terre Haute. Taylorville was a “constant menace to the public and a positive disgrace.”

The article ended on the “hopeful” note that there was even a movement afoot to condemn all of Taylorville, move its people out and the land turned into a park. Indeed, there was discussion of creating a riverside park there at the time, but nothing came of it.


The condition of Taylorville was noted by many in Terre Haute, and some charitable organizations sought to help. Mainly driven by women, these organizations tried to do what they could by teaching hygiene, getting medicines to the area, and offering advice to mothers. But they were hamstrung by an indifferent society and government which somehow saw the conditions merely as the fault of those who lived there.


But there were those who take advantage of Taylorville. Politicians eager to rig elections always visited the area to buy votes and the voter fraud was so rampant that it would have made a Chicago ward boss blush. There was scarcely an election in Terre Haute that was not followed by accusations of cheating by the losing side. Pimps prowled the street seeking young women. Those who could not afford the prices of Terre Haute brothels would slink to the tawdrier dens in Taylorville.


Prohibition was a boon to Taylorville, and may have helped spur its economy. Officials estimated that over 100 bootleggers cooked up their brew there, likely accounting for more than half of the illicit booze concocted in Terre Haute. Money follows crime as surely as crime follows money, and some of it trickled down to the people of Taylorville. In a previous blog on bootlegging I mention “peck” Anderson. Peck, who moved from Taylorville to buying and selling houses in west Terre Haute (and bootlegging),.  His brother Joe ran a store and was known as the “Mayor of Taylorville.”


By the 1930s conditions had improved a bit in Taylorville. After all, they could not have gotten any worse than they had been earlier.
The WPA Federal Writers Project hired unemployed writers and others to, among other things, do reports on each county, its towns, and its history. Taylorville, noted one such report, was peopled those who were “entirely American. And are noted by their hatred for negroes. No colored person is allowed in the town under any circumstances.” Teachers there felt they could not teach the Civil War history because of having to mention Emancipation.
The report, written in 1936, expounded on the sad history of Taylorville, but noted that some residents were now being employed in factories in Terre Haute or in other WPA works projects. Conditions were improving.


It listed the bare essentials of life in the hamlet. There were no monuments or parks. There was an elementary school, five grocery or general merchandise stores, three churches. The only “industries were the Valentine Meat packing plant and an auto wrecking yard. About 700 people lived there.

Image courtesy Vigo County Historical Society

Image courtesy Vigo County Historical Society


What all these reports failed to see were the real people. They saw conditions. They saw diseased bodies, but not the person. They saw the struggles, not the causes. They did not look into the faces and see people who were trying their best despite poverty, lack of education and resources. They did not see, or take note, of those trying to better themselves, or helping others, as the grocer who carried people and their bills so that their families might eat.


Do you have stories of Taylorville to show the fuller story? If so, please Email me
.

1913 Flood.  Image courtesy Vigo County Historical Society

1913 Flood. Image courtesy Vigo County Historical Society

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59 Comments on “Taylorville: 60 Acres of Hell”

  1. Susan Tingley says:

    I never knew Taylorville had ever had grocery stores and churches! My earliest memory was going there to volunteer at a recreation center for kids. Crazy to learn that there was talk about moving the people out and turning it into a park 100 years ago, just as there is today!

  2. Kathy says:

    Wonderful story!

  3. deanmay says:

    “The article ended on the “hopeful” note that there was even a movement afoot to condemn all of Taylorville, move its people out and the land turned into a park.”

    Too often this is the do gooders solution: We feel bad about your poverty, so we are going to eradicate your existence.

    People are concerned about the “homeless.” The reason we have homeless people today is because we’ve outlawed cheap housing. It’s always for their own good, of course. And so we can sleep easier believing we’ve done something good. But really, it’s only so we don’t have to look at it anymore.

  4. john wilson says:

    be as it may even tho we cant pick where we come i dont think i would change a thing i know my family did all they could do and im proud of them i hate that my decendants had such a hard time living or making a living but it sure made the rest of us stronger and im proud of where i came from and im sure everyone that had family come from there feels the same { god love west t. } the people here still carry the strong bone .

  5. Darla Reynolds says:

    I married a man from Taylorville back in 1968 I was from West Terre Haute. I never saw any difference in the people from Dresser than us in West Terre Haute. We all are HUMAN beings & eked out a living however we could. There were a lot of God fearing Christians in Dresser. And I Loved Them.

  6. Retta says:

    Very interesting story. Where did these facts come from? I believe most people in the early1900’s all struggled. Yet you want to try to belittle the good people that did what they had to do to survive. Terre haute and West Terre haute is not that far apart so I feel it is a safe bet that life styles were the same as in both places as it was Taylorville. Just like the lady commented before this there are many good people that came from the families that you just called “Filthy American Gyspies”.

    • tcrumrin says:

      The facts came from the state board of health and the American gypsies was a quote from the sztae board of health report (so designated because it is in quotation marks) and does not use the term :filthy, not my opinion. If you think I was belittling these people you completely misread the tenor of the blog. If you re-read the article carefully, you see that I am in complete sympathy with those forced to live in conditions not of there own making and noted that those using such terms saw bodies.not the human beings.

    • JS says:

      Re read. He was not putting the place down. He was not passing judgement.

  7. I am NOT ASHAMED to have my roots in Taylorville. I didn’t find out my kin were from there until 1986. I have a newfound family of 5 half brothers and 3 half sisters that grew up there. And I love them all.

  8. moocow says:

    My mom was born there in 1933. The doctor threw her at the end of bed and told her Aunt (in the room) they are both going to die and walked out (meaning mom & grandma) after child childbirth. Yet my mother’s aunt nursed them both back too health and they both lived. The railroad and coal mining saved many lives of that time and area, yet it as well killed many too.

  9. cheryl says:

    Both my children are descendants of these ” American gypsies” and they were hardly “filthy”. They were good people who loved their families. Most people there took care of each other.
    I do remember ,however, that you couldn’t get a pizza delivered there to save your life. lol.

  10. Peggy Cox says:

    I taught school in Dresser from 1968 to 1972 when the new school, West Vigo Elem. was built. I can tell you it was one of the greatest experiences of my teaching career. The parents were all willing to do whatever they could and cooperated with the school any way they could. The students were eager to learn and we gave them many opportunities they might not otherwise had. I have fond memories of Dresser School and remain friends with many of the parents and students.

    • nedt@johnsdental.com says:

      @ Peggy Cox – I believe my father was principal at the school during some of those years and he always said the kids were very worthwhile and deserving. (Jerome Tennis Sr.)

      • Peggy Price says:

        Mr Tennis was a wonderful man . You should be proud . He always treated us with dignity and respect . Not everyone did .I grew up there . And so did my husband . We have worked very hard to educate our children and give them a better life then we had . Our parents did as well . My grandfather was the hardest working man I’ve ever known . He retired from two different jobs and went back to work at a third and was working up until shortly before he died at eighty two .

    • Carol Weir says:

      I also married a man from Dresser George Weir I loved living over there lots of good memories from there and lots of good people from there you didn’t have too worry about locking doors and having too worry about your children there

      • George was in my class in 5th and 6th grade. He was a sweet, intelligent young man. His brother, Raymond was in my kindergarten class, too. Their family was very caring and interested in their boys. I really enjoyed my teaching years at Dresser.

      • George was in my class in 5th and 6th grade. He was a kind, intelligent young man. His brother, Raymond, was in my kindergarten class. Their parents were wonderful, people who,were very interested in their children. I enjoyed my teaching years at Dresser.

  11. Dave says:

    Fascinating!

  12. Richard Ralston says:

    In the early 60’s another man and I started a boy scout troop there. We were amazed at the community support we received as everyone wanted to help the kids. We got scout uniforms for them and a lot wore them every day. It helped me decide to become a shop teacher and later run adult basic education programs in order to help people improve their lives.

  13. Larry Scank says:

    I AM 77 YEARS OLD AND I DON’T REMEMBER TAYLORVILLE BEING A DUMP.MY WIFE PATRICIA A.( AKERS) SCANK WAS FROM TAYLORVILLE AND SHE WAS A GOOD WIFE AND MOTHER.AND I RAN AROUND IN TAYLORVILLE WHEN I WAS 16 AND HAD SOME VERY GOOD FRIENDS FROM THERE.THERE WAS A LOT OF GOOD GOD FEARING PEOPLE IN TAYLORVILLE.I WAS RAISED IN THE SOUTHEND OF TERRE HAUTE.

    • Terri says:

      Larry, you might know my dad. Benny Ellingsworth. We grew up in Wisconsin but would go to Taylorville and stay with my Grandpa, Elmer. He owned a tavern there. Those were good times. I do remember seeing a washing machine floating down the Wabash one time when we were there. I have a step brother and step sisters that still live in Terra Haute I think. I’ve lost touch with them. I learned to love Sassafras tea from my visits. I am going to print this article and send it to my dad. He still lives in Wisconsin. I think he will enjoy it.

  14. JS says:

    Enjoyed your story and recognize you were NOT belittling anyone, simply reporting historical events and quotes. Yes there were/are some good people from Dresser but also some questionable and not so great people from Dresser. Enjoy your articles immensely ! Keep up the good work.

  15. Ben Baldwin says:

    I used to hang out there in the early 90’s and the people I met were really nice folks. No matter what it was like back then – the people must have overcame that situation because there was no difference between the good people of Taylorville then those friends from Terre Haute and West Terre Haute. People were still talking about them being rough necks and trash but it wasn’t like that at all. If people would take time to meet people instead of passing judgement they might discover the world has a whole lot better place. Even though I have lost touch with most of the people I met back then I still have pleasant memories of that time in my life. People still talked about the way they lived in the 1990’s. Given the fact some of the houses looked rough on the outside but most were very nice and Clean on the inside. I fact most were nicer then mine.

  16. mw says:

    Where can I find that Board of Health report?

  17. billyboyxoxox says:

    My mother was a public health nurse during her nurses training in 1943 and one of her duties was to check on the whore houses on both sides of the river to make sure the girls were keeping clean. She said the girls in Taylorville were cleaner than the ones on 1st street.

  18. Luke says:

    Elmer Peck Anderson was my grandfather and he was always proud of where he came from

  19. Linda says:

    Very interesting! Proves something I’ve said for a long time that poor people who have little or nothing, are nicer, more generous and more willing to share and help one another than others!

  20. William L Strecker MD says:

    I am Dr William Strecker, now long retired, but while I was still doing Family Practice in the 40s, 50s & 60s, I made house calls to Dresser on many occasions. Many were in the middle of the night because that’s when patients get sicker and really need a doctor. The families that I saw were always gracious & very glad to have someone come & take care of them. I never felt threatened or that any of them were bad people.

    • tcrumrin says:

      Dr. Strecker, thanks for your comments. In speaking to those who lived in Taylorville after the war, it was obvious of the Taylorville/Drsser of that period was a much different place than that of the first decades of the century. Thanks for further affirming that.

  21. brookelyn says:

    I be lived in t•ville for almost three years and I love it I’m wanting to bring some life back to taylorville I’m wanting to open up a little mom and pop like convenient store right by the park so we don’t have to drive all the way to terre haute late at night for a glass of milk of pack of smokes… I think its a really good idea I mean we are still a town were on the map we deserve a little grocery store nothing fancy just something,small were u can get your Necessities and everyday stuff..I don’t have a lot of funding just a idea I want to see through I wanna keep it small and simple though like for say there is this old blue school bus that’s been here since way back before my bf was born and he is 26 anyway I wanna move it by the park and make it like a covenant stand to start off and see how it does I think my idea while bring a smile to taylorvilles faces and show terre haute that we are still a town and we exist and that were are more then a old dumb and river side park!!

  22. Amy tapp says:

    I started going to taylorville when I was 12 with a friend who lived there . all the people were nice and nothing any different than anywhere else. I hear stories of all places . I think taylorville is a good place. In the last few years a lot of problems with drugs but that’s everywhere . and I hate that there isn’t much left. I have very good memories . and I found one of the best men in the world there. My husband Dennis Tapp.

    • Peggy Cox says:

      Dennis Tapp was one of my students when I taught at Dresser. I believe he had a brother John, also. Their mother was Patsy. She was a good lady.

      • Amy tapp says:

        Dennis said you were a very nice teacher. And thanks for what you said about the taylorville school.

  23. Amy tapp says:

    When I was a kid I loved taylorville.

  24. Camille Costa Kuglin says:

    Great story, tcrumrin! Not once while reading did I think the author was belittling or condemning the people of early Taylorville, merely quoting a previous article.
    If you ever write about Shirkieville, Libertyville, or Sanford, Indiana, all of which are west of WTH, look me up. My grandpa bootlegged out of Shirkieville in the 20’s and I remember his colorful stories.

  25. Well that’s all great, but what most people don’t know is how chemicals from Commercial S. was pumped and dumped into the field in Dresser for years. Or how the Cancer for people living in that area is at a higher rate over the dumping. How pollutions was gotten rid of threw crooked elected officials and paid under the table to look the other way.

    • Mike Anderson says:

      My grandfather Joe Anderson was forced to sale his river bottoms ground to Commercial Solvents so they could have a place to pump there chemicals. He was told either sale it, or they would condemn the ground and take it. He used to raise Tomatoes there and sale to Campbell soup which made Tomatoes soup in Terre Haute back then

  26. Mike Anderson says:

    Elmer Anderson (Peck) was my uncle and Joe Anderson was my grandfather. Yes there were more than one grocery store, and more than one tavern in those days. Hack Browns tavern which was the last one and it burned down some years ago was my Uncle on my Grandma Anderson side. They can say what they want about Taylorville, but my family all started out there and made a great life for several generations. I found later on my grandpa Joe Anderson book that he carried people on at the grocery store till they could pay, and he still had several thousand outstanding on it when the store went closed. He made sure every child in Taylorville had a pair of shoes as he was able to wheel and deal during the depression and got them. So out of this place a lot looked down on came my family which all worked and done great, and many others, some who worked for major considerations, some who went to Rose Hulman and others who have done far better than others around. Its not always what you have but what you do with it.

  27. My Great Aunt Edna Concannon helped build the first school in Dresser. She and my Great Uncle Thomas Concannon were very much involved in education. The school, when I moved from TH is where the Shrine Grotto is located. My grandmother was also a teacher and my family taught me to never look down on folks, as you never knew where your life may take you!

    • tcrumrin says:

      Edna’s thesis about education is available at Cunningham Library at ISU. I may even have a copy somewhere in my files.

    • Peggy Cox says:

      Yes when I started teaching I taught in the school, Dresser, which was where the Grotto is now.

      • Jackie Jones Thompson says:

        Mrs Cox
        I was your student for a few years. I remember you always dressed so pretty. I also remember you treating David Smith and myself to lunch for I think a spelling been.
        I have often thought about you over the years.
        You was my favorite teacher.
        Jackie Jones Thompson
        Noblesville Indiana

      • Jackie Jones Thompson says:

        Well I can spell… but my phone corrected bee to been…..

  28. Ryan Childers says:

    Grew up there and very glad I did even growing up now dresser gets a bad rap. My friends from West terre haute and terre haute couldn’t come over cause where I lived. But I’m very glad to be from a place where we all where so close knit I know my family has been there six generations and we use to run Rose and Floyd’s tavern.

  29. lea mae says:

    Both of my parents are from W. T. Lota fam still there. I heard stories about T. ville. can’t remember a lot but I bet my mom does. Creasey’s –Stultz’s — family’s last names.

  30. MaryLu McFall says:

    I taught 8 years total at West Vigo. Loved my students, and some of the best behaved were from Dresser.

  31. Stacey says:

    My 92 year old grandmother was originally from Taylorville, I used to love hearing stories she wld tell from back in her younger years, I remember her talking about Gypsy’s.. my ex in law’s were from there also, the main things both my grandma and mother in law ALWAYS talked about and took pride in was that every one knew everyone and they were a tight community that believed in helping each other..

  32. Susan Abel says:

    New to this site but loved hearing about Taylorville. I am from TH originally, but I grew up in the 90’s so I don’t really remember Taylorville but I do know where the Grotto is. We used to drive over there when we were in high school and drive around and look at the houses by the river. Yes, some of the houses were decrepit but I never heard of any crime or anything out there. I think West T people and people from the river bottoms get a bad rap but everyone I have known from there were good people. I married a man who actually went to West Vigo Middle School for a short time. Love hearing about the history of both West T and TH!! Thank you!!! 🙂

  33. ann says:

    my family also lived there my mom was born there and they where good people there and yes dresser does get a bad rap they are all gone now but I m proud to be related to them I would not change a thing

  34. Peggy Cox says:

    Jackie, yes I remember you and thank you for the kind compliments. I would love to hear more from you and learn about your family. If you are on Facebook please friend me. My granddaughters grew up in in Noblesville and a grandson lives there. It is a small world.
    Sincerely,
    Peggy Cox

  35. Art Williams says:

    I taught school(kindergarten and 5th and 6th) at Dresser from 1964 to 1969. I was wondering how many of my former students still live in Dresser. I would enjoy hearing from any of you. Find me on Facebook. Mrs. Cox, as well as Mrs. Coveleskie and Mrs. Collins were the teachers then.


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