OLD SETTLERS HELD MEETINGS THROUGHOUT COUNTY
Years ago in Madison County, August meant that the Old Settlers’ Meeting time had once again arrived. The meetings were a natural outgrowth of the habit and custom of the pioneer settlers to meet and exchange their experiences, common to all in the early settlement of Madison County. The county valued their early settlers, and yearly meetings were conducted to honor those that helped to settle the area as well as those that stayed to help the area grow and developed.
Where the concept first began is not clear but counties throughout Indiana and the Midwest adopted the idea which was very popular during the last half of the 19th and into the 20th century. In the beginning the meetings were not held on an annual basis but rather sporadic. The first recorded meeting in Madison County was held in Pendleton in 1856, most likely somewhere near the Falls. Attending were names quite familiar to our county, especially the southern part. Among those who made speeches and whose names will be forever linked to our pioneer history were: John Markle, Able Johnson, Samuel Irish, John Cook, Conrad Crossley, Thomas Silver, and Isaac Busby. Two years later the spot for the meeting was moved about midway between Pendleton and Huntsville. Also attending these meetings were Morris Gilmore, Adam Dobson, William Roach, John Tilson, and Neal Hardy.
In July 1873, the meeting site was moved to Alexandria which drew people from the northern part of the county. It was very well attended with many speeches. The following year, the meeting returned to Perkinsville where everyone gathered in Zellers’ Grove. Jacob Zeller had built a mill there which became known far and near. Early in the morning, people began arriving bringing with them their well-filled lunch baskets. The Perkinsville Silver Cornet Band was on hand and provided entertainment. Several relics of the pioneer period were on display, among which was an old “shot pouch” and powder horn, worn by Benjamin Fisher who was killed by Indians near Strawtown in March, 1821. One of the largest meetings occurred at Chesterfield in 1887.
A meeting was held in July, 1894, at the Anderson courthouse to organize the Old Settlers’ Association and bring life back to the tradition. With this formal organization, the meetings became an annual event. The first one was held in Anderson at Ruddle’s Grove on August 30, 1894. An estimated 3,000 people gathered in the beautiful grove located in what is now Park Place in the area along and south of High Street. Entertainment was provided by the Lapel Brass Band directed by Professor D. K. Elliott. The featured speaker was James Hollingsworth, who had come to Anderson at the age of 14 with his father in 1820.
Annual meetings were held in 1895 to 1896 at Ruddle’s Grove and in 1901 in Chesterfield. Some time after that, the meetings were moved to Mounds Park which was very popular because of the amusement rides, other amenities, and the accommodation of larger crowds. In August 15, 1909, the meeting crowd was estimated at 20,000. The last Old Settlers’ Association meeting occurred August 10, 1919 which was the 26th annual meeting since the founding of the association. However, there is a record of Thomas N. French being a vice-president of the association on May 2, 1921. Exactly when the annual tradition finally ended is unknown.
The pioneer spirit lives on in the members of the county’s many historical societies and museums who have become the stewards of the tradition and history.
Written by Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian