Almost unnoticed by a traveler today is a two-story brick house on the south side of Indiana 32 at the eastern edge of Chesterfield. However, in the 1830’s, this was quite a house in Madison County.
Built in 1833 in the Federal style, it was the first brick house built in Union Township. Until recently, the roof shingles displayed the 1833 date. The house belonged to William Dilts, the first settler in the township. It is believed he first arrived in March, 1821. At that time, he erected a log cabin on the east bank of a creek and cleared the land. That creek was later renamed Mill Creek, taking its name from the various mills that sprang up later along its banks. It rises from a spring in Union Township three miles south of Chesterfield and flows north before it empties into the White River a half mile north of town. Despite its short length, it has witnessed a great deal of history.
Dilts lived there for four years, but as he did not have the financial means to purchase the land, he moved to Delaware County, where he lived for the next four years. In 1829, he returned to Madison County and bought 160 acres in the same section he had previously occupied, only on the south side of the trace that was the main east-west route throught the county. He built a double log house, living in one half while renting the room in the other half, thus establishing the first hotel in the township. After a few years, Dilts found his hotel was not large enough to accommodate the increasing traffic passing through the county. Selecting a site near the log house, he built a house of handmade brick that also functioned as a home, hotel and tavern. This beautiful home of William and Jane Dilts survives today as a tangible reminder of our county’s early beginnings.
It was at the site of Dilts’ first log cabin that Frederick Bronnenberg, Sr. stopped with his family in June, 1821. He was on the way to the prairie country of Illinois when one of his oxen gave out. While seeking assistance from Dilts, Bronnenberg was told there were no roads to speak of farther west; thus, he decided to locate in the area. He moved his family into an abandoned cabin previously occupied by an Indian trader named McChester. In the spring of 1822, he built a cabin of his own north of White River. Nearby, he erected a sawmill. Burrs for grinding both corn and wheat were added later. The family eventually became large landholders in the county, particularly in Union Township. The descendants of Frederick and his wife, Barbara, are numerous, with many still residing in Madison County today.
A major influence in the development of Chesterfield was the arrival of Amasa Makepeace. He and his wife, Betsey, were married about 1800 in Norton, MA. They moved to Chesterfield, N. H., where they remained until 1818, when they moved west with their children, eventually arriving in Madison County in 1823. In 1825, Makepeace built the first grist mill on Mill Creek, affording settlers in the east central part of the county a place to have their grain ground. The couple’s son, Allen, is credited with laying out the town in 1830. Known first as West Union, it was renamed Chesterfield in 1834. Because he had been given the responsiblilty of laying out the town, I believe he made sure it was named Chesterfield after his birthplace in New Hampshire in 1804, rather than the trader McChester, who has been credited as the town’s namesake.
A second Makepeace son, George, built the brick house that stands today at 5 W. Main street. Built in 1850, it was designed to be a business and a home. It was also the location of the first apothecary in Madison County. The shop was in the front of the house, on the first floor, utilizing the front door and the side door. The doors were elevated above the street to allow customers to pull up their wagons and buggies to pick up their medicines without leaving their vehicles. Deliveries would have been made much easier.
Like the Bronnenberg family, the members of the Makepeace family were also large landholders in Union Township. The descendants of Amasa and Betsey can be found throughout our county histories, as they played important roles in the commercial development and government of Madison County. The industriousness of these three men, their descendants and others was instrumental in the development of this historic community on White River. They left their mark on Chesterfield, a community that has not forgotten its past. I am certain they would be pleased to know there is an annual celebration called Chesterfield Days, a remembrance of times gone, but not forgotten.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian
The above article appeared in the Sunday, April 5, 2009, Herald Bulletin