Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

June 25, 2013

Map shows glimpse of Batesville's past

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — It’s hard to stump Jean Struewing, Batesville Area Historical Society president, who knows volumes about city history.

But RomWeber Flats developer Bruce Rippe did just that when he showed her an early Batesville map. “I think it may be the only copy in existence. Jean had never seen it.”

The yellowed diagram, 24 inches wide by 29.5 inches long, “appears to be one of the original plats for the city of Batesville.” The drawing of landmarks plus 412 lots “appears to be done by hand,” he points out.

According to the Batesville man, “We’ve had some surveyors look at this. We have yet to piece together the details of when we think this map was created.” His best guess is between 1850-70. One clue is that the former American Furniture Co. and Batesville Cabinet Co., established in 1879 and located where RomWeber Flats and RomWeber Marketplace are now, are not labeled on the map.

How did the historical item end up at his business? “This is purely speculation. George Hillenbrand was the first mayor of Batesville. A lot of his papers stayed in this building.” He explains George’s dad owned the complex of structures, which passed to his children. George Hillenbrand’s sister married A.W. Romweber. In 1929 the Hillenbrand and Romweber families decided to split up the businesses. George was aligned with Romweber Furniture, which used to be American Furniture Co. and Batesville Cabinet Co.

“It wasn’t until we started preparing ... (for the apartments on the site) that I started taking a hard look” at the map. “What was really telling … to me was the fact the first train station was on this property. It existed here because of access to a well right in front of RomWeber Marketplace.” He adds Batesville’s first stagecoach stop was where the Big Four Tavern used to be across from the property at the northeast Depot and Pearl intersection.

The document is unsigned, so the mapmaker remains a mystery.

Because of its age, the map was delicate and unreadable. “When we came across it again, we knew something had to be done with it.” The developer tried to find paper conservators to restore it. “Given its condition, we were not able to find anyone within the Greater Cincinnati or Indianapolis area.” Batesville resident Gloria Paras mentioned her daughter was an art conservator in Chicago. Rippe drove it there last August. One of the conservator’s friends specialized in paper artifacts. When the map returned here in early April, he noticed “they had removed all the varnish … coats and coats that had turned yellow and made it virtually impossible to see what was on here.”

As Rippe imagines what the city used to be like over a century ago, he remains fascinated. Struewing told him, “There are some drawings on the map of key buildings that had previously been undocumented.” The developer notes, “This predates St. Louis.” A Catholic church was designated, but not named. There are drawings of a post office, warehouse, Boehringer dance hall and hair factory (the hair may have become wigs or mattresses).

After Teunis and Nancy Amack purchased 120 acres from the U.S. government Feb. 20, 1836, they built a log cabin for their eight children on Lot 1 across from the Big Four. C. Rapp’s Flour Mill is now the site of RomWeber Marketplace’s reception area. A free school morphed into the food pantry on Sycamore Street. A Romweber home was constructed on lots 81-82 facing the Big Four railroad tracks (now Pearl Street). A brewery operated at the northeast corner of Park and Pearl.

The map also shows a Hartman sawmill, brickyard of H. Boehringer’s and Co. and drugstore on George Street, but not where the former Nolte’s Pharmacy was. A logyard and stables were located on Boehringer Street. Houses on some lots were marked Dr. Parson, F. Dickman and Jac. Blank.

Street names have changed: Devol Street became Depot Street, West Street is now Park Avenue and Adolphine Street is currently St. Louis Place. The old Napoleon and Brookville Road became State Road 229 and East Street was lengthened into Eastern Avenue. Boehringer Street flowed into North Street, but now the entire road is known by the first name. Between Vine and Main streets and north of Schrader Street were First through Seventh streets, which now all have different names. Numbered streets can be found today between West Pearl and Washington streets.

Rippe’s next move is to digitize the image, then enlarge it to display in either the Big Four Café or RomWeber Flats so the vintage map can be shared with the public. “It’s amazing how people, particularly in the ... café, have really embraced the history” seen in photos, antiquated posters and other items on the walls. “People are reading the placards about various elements.”

He promises, “As we continue to develop the property, we’re going to bring more of this out of the archives so everybody can really see the heritage of Batesville.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.