I was born in a small town. No apologies needed to John Cougar Mellencamp. I really was. And it was a small town only about 50 or so miles from the small town he sang about. At left is one of the main streets in Bedford, Indiana. There’s not a “Main Street” in Bedford, but this is close … running along the north side of the courthouse square. And yes, the courthouse is in the middle of a central square in the middle of town. It just doesn’t get more Midwestern that that. You can’t see it very well in this small picture, but if you look very carefully, you’ll see a train just coming into view from the right at the bottom of the hill. It’s something we lived with every day in our small town.
The railroad was just a fact of life. My grandfather was a brakeman, I think, for the Monon Railroad. I do recall that the very first time I was ever in a train, I was in the locomotive with my paternal grandfather slowly making it’s way through downtown Bedford. I was 5, I think. Interestingly, I don’t have any recollection of climbing up into to the loco, or getting back down. But I can vividly see several of the controls and guages, and downtown moving slowly by from the window of the biggest thing I’d ever ridden. A couple of the guys did a variation of the “Pull my Finger” joke. I was told to pull on someones belt. I did, and someone else pulled the whistle cord. I think I figured it out. That same grandfather was also the first to let me drive a boat … his pontoon boat on KenRay Lake … but that’s another post.
The courthouse, like so many other things in town, was built of Indiana buff limestone. The other part of my heritage is the limestone business. My maternal great-grandfather founded a limestone company. Can’t find anything Carl Furst on the web, which doesn’t surprise me. But my mother is still living in a house he built in 1901. I have pictures of it on a CD around here somewhere. I’ll try to find one and post it online, because I don’t know that we’ll have it much longer.
I didn’t have much reason to be in the courthouse in Bedford, thank goodness. I wasn’t really doing news at that point, and I didn’t have much reason to go to court. I was called once for jury duty, but one of the attorneys was handling my grandmothers estate at the time, so I was excused. It’s a pretty courthouse. Jacksonville should take notice.
Another impressive limestone edifice in town is the Otis Park community band shell, built as a WPA project in the 1930’s. My dad used to play in the community band here, and there were many summer nights spent chasing lightning bugs, swatting mosquitoes, and enjoying the music. I don’t recall ever playing in the band shell, but I’m sure the high school band must have played there at some point. It it architecturally interesting, and one of the focal points of who I am.
I’ve lived in big cities, but I think I’ve always had a small town sensibility. I was never comfortable in a big city. It’s one of the reasons I like Jacksonville so much. There are many of the benefits of living in a city, but has very much the feel of a smaller town. It’s comfortable, it’s home, and I’m in for the long haul.