The “Ghost Towns” of Sugar CreekPosted: February 28, 2015
If you look at gazetteers, plat maps, or county histories from the late 19th century you will run across many small villages or hamlets that no longer exist. These were often places that sprung up along railroad stops or crossroads. Some were platted by ambitious town makers who were hoping to make a profit from their landholdings, while others just naturally grew around a business like a mill or store. They were places that mostly drew upon the trade of nearby farmers. But exigencies of life like the economy or re-routing of a road or rail line stalled their growth and stranded them on untraveled paths that left them to die on the vine. These villages just could not reach a “critical mass” to achieve growth and became ghost towns.
We tend to associate ghost towns with the old west, with tumbleweeds scurrying through the empty, dusty streets in an area where a gold mine had been played out and the merchants, miners and saloon girls moved on to the next boomtown. But Sugar Creek Township has it own examples of “ghost towns”
A prime example is Bloomtown. It was located about five miles west of West Terre Haute along what we now call the Old Paris Road. It was platted in 1858 by a young Pennsylvania native named Hiram Bloom. By 1870 it showed some promise of growth. It had a saw mill, gristmill and two stores, which did a nice business among the local farmers. Its sawmill provided work for some in the area, and lumbering joined corn and hogs as the area’s major “exports.”
In its short life Bloomtown had its small share of excitement. Perhaps because it was isolated, it became the site of several robberies. One Sunday night in September, 1870 some enterprising thieves slinked their way into town on a wagon. While the good folk of Bloomtown slept, they broke into Samuel Bloom’s store and proceeded to make off with almost $800.00 of his goods. They then headed off in the direction of Terre Haute.
When Bloom discovered the robbery he raised the alarm and a small posse of Bloomtonians joined him on the trail of the thieves. They followed the wagon tracks for a mile or two, but the villains had turned their load of stolen goods off the road into a farm field and the pursuers lost their trail. They were never caught, and Mr. Bloom’s goods were probably offloaded to an unscrupulous Terre Haute merchant.
1874 saw another robbery, but one in which the felon was eventually caught after a nearly 70 mile chase. A good looking 19 year-old West Virginian named Charles Brown who had lived in New Orleans worked his way up the Mississippi as a roustabout to St. Louis. He then set out for Cincinnati, walking across the breadth of Illinois. Tired and broke, for he said he could not find work along his path, he flopped himself down in the barn of a farmer named Ellsworth in Bloomtown. As he spread himself a bed of hay, her espied a wagon and a fine team of horses who were the pride of farmer Ellsworth.
Brown “got to studying how he would like to have them and ride to Cincinnati to start into the express wagon business.” A planned formed in his mind, and action soon ensued. He hitched up the team and headed east through Macksville and across the wagon bridge to Terre Haute and beyond.
Mr. Ellsworth went out the following morning to feed his prize team. And wagon missing. Believing the thief had headed east he telegraphed the police in Terre Haute to be on the lookout. Just to make sure, Terre Haute Police Chief Shewmaker telegraphed towns east and west along the National Road, but headed east toward Brazil with three other men in buggies in hot pursuit.
Just west of Brazil, the chief and his posse learned that their hunch was right. Witnesses told of seeing a man driving the buggy and team rapidly east. Shewmaker had to return to Terre Haute but sent one of his men, Officer Vandever, onward. With the scent of his prey in front of him, Vandever drove hard and fast. He had to change teams several times and once even climbed on a train in search of the felon. By the time he reached Plainfield he discovered another hunter had caught his game.
J.R. Painter, an ex-Marshall of Brazil, had read the telegram about the fugitive and mounted his own pursuit. Changing horses six times along the way, he stopped in Stilesville where a local blacksmith told him he had just shod a horse matching the description of the team. Of Painter went again on through Plainfield. Finally, about three miles beyond Plainfield he spied his quarry.
When Brown refused to stop, Painter pulled out his pistol and shot twice wounding him. Brown pulled the reins so hard that the horses turned over the buggy and fled across the fields. After stopping to calm the frightened horses and tie them to a fence, Painter went after the fleeing Brown. The chase did not last long. Brown, tired from his night and day of flight and wounded, finally surrendered. Painter later handed him over to Vandever, who took him back to face Vigo County justice.
The team and buggy were returned to Bloomtown. Brown went to the state prison at Jeffersonville.
By WWI, Bloomtown had all but disappeared, its buildings gone and its streets overtaken by farm fields from which they had first been carved.
The hamlet of Larimer Hill stood briefly along the National Road on the bluff jest west of West Terre Haute. It was named after W.H. Larimer, who owned a coal mine nearby. Larimer also opened a store and platted out a few lots from his farmland. The people mostly farmed and worked in the mine until it played out. For a brief period in the 1880s it even boasted a town brass band.
My family lived on Larimer Hill in the early 1960s. About the only vestiges from its heyday were a small grocery store and Zelma’s, a much loved ice cream parlor.
Liggitt grew around a railroad stop four miles west of Macksville along the [Old] Paris Road, just about a mile from Bloomtown. It appears it was never much more than a crossroads where farmers brought goods to load on the trains or to pick up mail. There are few mentions of it in history. By 1924 it seems to have only been the site of a small grocery.
Nelson, the Town That Never Was?
There was a “town” called Nelson. It appeared on a few maps in the 1870s. But was there a there really there. I have found virtually nothing about it. Old records only record it as a mail stop. The earliest maps show that a small district school was there, and that was likely the “post office.” It bewildered me a bit until I found an obscure reference that its postmaster in 1859 was Hiram Bloom, the man who platted Bloomtown. I also noted that it was it was located in Section 16, the same 640 acres as Bloomtown. Possibly Nelson was subsumed within Bloomtown, or never really became more than a crossroads with a school.
So why did these towns disappear? Many reasons. They were just too small and fragile. They were often built around farming or a mill or mine that went out of business. As travel became easier those who might have had to be content with doing business there could just as easily travel to Terre Haute or Paris. In the end they lost their “anchors,” as did Toad Hop when the mines closed, as well as the canning plant.
And would we be listing St. Mary’s as a “ghost town” without it anchor, St. Mary-of-the-Woods?