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Indiana Blogs: Pennville

This marks another addition to the regular feature here at little Indiana: Indiana Blogs! If you are an Indiana Blogger, please use the contact form and send me an email. You may be featured right here on little Indiana.

Indiana Blogs: Pennville Blog
Indiana Blogs: Pennville Blog
The Pennville Blog is an Indiana blog with a mission: to document and preserve the history of the town of Pennville, Indiana!

Though now a sleepy little town, Pennville was once bustling and busy–and a stop on the Underground Railroad back in the day.

Today, you can follow along in the story of Pennville as new information,  items, and other tidbits unfold and are brought to light. I know you’ll love reading about the lives of the people in Pennville–I know I did!

Indiana Blogs: Pennville Blog

Why did you start The Pennville Blog?
In 2002 I was living in Europe. That year my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was feeling very homesick and stressed. I began to fondly remember the little town I grew up in and how cozy and simple my life was then. It was such a great town in the 1960s and 1970s – most everyone in town knew each other, and I went to school with the same 70 classmates from first grade until we graduated Pennville High School. I’d always been interested in local history, so, as a diversion, I began to search the Internet for everything I could find on the town’s history.

When I went back to the US to visit, I visited the local library and the county’s historical society for more information and I began to compile a small book. Since I knew writing the book would be a lengthy process, I decided to start blogging to keep me writing. Strangely, I started the blog in December 2005, but after what I felt was a decent first post, I didn’t post again until June 2008 – I had sidetracked myself by becoming more interested in the book and my research. In the three and a half years since then I’ve posted consistently and really committed to the blog.

What are three of your most favorite posts?

What keeps you ready and raring to post? Why do you blog?
I find that being truly fond of Pennville (population 700) and its past is key to keeping me posting. I never tire of being interested in the town’s history. I also find it interesting to really research and find out more about things I remember from my childhood, such as the town’s involvement with the Underground Railroad, or even crimes I’d heard about.

I love finding more about the teachers I had, or the local people I knew back then, and researching what they were like. I realize that others have a desire to reconnect with their past too, and I enjoy sharing my new-found knowledge with them through the blog.

Where do you find all these photos, old brochures, postcards, etc.? Do you have any favorites?
Since I began researching in 2005, I have collected everything related to the town’s history that I can get my hands on. I’ve bought any books that the Jay County Historical Society has that mention Pennville history, and copied and photographed many things in their collection. I do the same with the Indiana Historical Society, and the Indiana State Library here in Indianapolis.

I buy everything that I can find on eBay and at area garage sales. People from the town who read my blog are kind enough to donate things they may have, which is great – I have many readers who are older than me and have access to a lot more than I do. Each acquisition is cataloged and placed in acid-free storage and kept in a small room in my house, the “Pennville Room,” which is completely dedicated to my collection. Paper items, such as articles, pictures, obituaries, etc. are kept in several large binders and organized by category. I plan to later donate the entire collection to an appropriate organization, such as an historical society.

My favorite acquisition is a small “tip tray” with horses from a downtown store that burned completely down in 1908. This might be one of the only pieces connected to the store that survived.

Another favorite is a picture that a family member of a friend found in a box, which shows the Friends (Quaker) Church being built in 1910. Pennville has a strong Quaker history and I grew up in that little church. Incidentally, I met this friend when I bought the tip tray on eBay. He emailed me wondering why I was interested in the tray and wondering what tie I had to the town.

It looks like there were a lot of characters in Pennville. Is there anyone in particular you would like to bring to the attention of little Indiana readers?
Well, I love the story of Benjamin Franklin Talbert (1875 – 1959), a Pennville blacksmith that went on to achieve nationwide recognition as a master farrier (horseshoer). During his 30-year career on the race track circuit, Talbert fitted shoes to some of the most famous race horses of the time, including Sir Barton, who in 1919 became the first Triple Crown winner.

He is buried near my parents at the IOOF Cemetery outside town. On his gravestone is his original anvil, and a plaque which reads – Here lies an old horse shoer “maybe not the best, but as good as the rest.”

Some of my favorite Pennville characters are people I remember from childhood. I remember Pearl Coggeshall Child (1890 – 1980) as a charming old lady that helped me with a town history project during junior high school. She used to come into the “laundrymat” when my mother was doing our laundry and look through the trash for used soap containers to clean up and fashion into crocheted toilet-paper holders. What a fascinating lady she was!

She spent her long life in the community, and her stories of town life are legendary – from the night she left her post as operator at the telephone company to sneak a peek at Halley’s Comet, to her experience as an unintentional surgical assistant to Dr. Caylor at Pennville’s only hospital.

Mrs. Ruby M. Wilson Crosbie (1900 – 1997) was really more of a force of nature than the mild-mannered housewife she seemed. She was meticulous in recording Pennville’s history over a life that spanned nearly the entire 20th century. Beginning with her school notebooks from 1919, Mrs. Crosbie memorialized the town’s history by collecting all manner of town programs, church happenings, Pennville High School graduation programs, newsworthy newspaper clippings and other valuable ephemera in large scrapbooks. She was also a tireless political worker and town leader. Without her efforts, we’d know a lot less about Pennville in the 20th century.

Is there anything else that you would like little Indiana readers to know?
Firstly, I would like your readers to be aware that Pennville exists, that it has an interesting history, and that like many small towns in Indiana, it hasn’t always been so sleepy or rundown.

It’s easy to forget that like countless other small Indiana towns, this was once a vibrant community – at one time having a hospital, a railroad, doctors, dentists, and successful businesses. Pennville was at the forefront during Indiana’s gas boom, due to finding gas and oil locally, and was an important cog in the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad.

I hope that by understanding the histories of small towns in Indiana, we can remain hopeful about their revitalization.

The Memories Remain

Every town has a story. I hope the story of Pennville has inspired some of you to seek out local history! Thanks to Daniel for popping over to little Indiana today to share the story of his small town.

Small Towns: Destinations, not Drive-Thrus! I’m Jessica Nunemaker and THIS is little Indiana!

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About Jessica Nunemaker

Jessica Nunemaker is the Owner of Little More than a website, Little Indiana is a PBS segment on the state-wide program "The Weekly Special," a bi-weekly column in a local newspaper, and a book. Look for "Little Indiana: Small Town Destinations" published by Indiana University Press in April 2016--just in time for Indiana's BIG 200th Birthday Celebration.

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