Pioneer Cemeteries and Their Stories,

Madison County, Indiana

Jackson Township

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Jackson Township--Benoni Freel 1821

  

The red barn is a symbol of mid-west Americana, and they do not come any grander than this one. The barn faces White River on "North Bank Road" (CR 280N) just east of Perkinsville.  The white sign on the ground to the left of the cement water trough reads, "Gentry's Homestead 1827."  The Gentry family is listed as settlers to Jackson Township in Samuel Harden's The Pioneer, and descendent Steven Gentry still owns this property.

    Jackson Township is in the middle of the western boundary of the county.  It was named after Andrew Jackson who was President of the United States from 1829 to 1837.  Two families traveled together to live for a short time along the White River in this area, the Kinsers and the Deweys in 1821.  Neither purchased land, however.  That same year, Benoni Freel became the first homesteader.  He arrived from Ohio, bought and cleared land opposite the Perkinsville site, and built the first dwelling.  Pioneer settlers who also planned to stay followed in 1822:  Daniel Wise, George Cunningham, Robert Blair, David William, and John Montgomery.  The latter originally entered the land in 1823 where Perkinsville is located.  By 1825 James White, George, James, and Alexander McClintock, Thomas Forkner, John Connor, Sr., and others had made homes in Jackson Township. (For more on Wise and McClintock, go to the Perkinsville Cemetery page.)

    The village of Perkinsville along the north bank of White River on the western border of the county provided area settlers with a community center and more importantly a mill for their produce.  Perkinsville was laid out August 1, 1837, by Becknell Cole and James and Thomas Beckwith.  (For more on T. Beckwith, go to the Perkinsville Cemetery page.)  They had meant to honor William Parkins but incorrectly recorded the plat as "Perkinsville," not Parkinsville.  William Parkins deserved the honor.  He and his wife and seven children in the fall of 1825 were the first family to live at this location.  They initially lived in a tent in "one vast, unbroken wilderness of heavy timber and thickly matted underbrush [with] no roads except Indian trails."  Within several weeks, Parkins had constructed a rough log hut for his family.

This is Thomas Beckwith's house in Perkinsville as it looks today.  The original structure is pictured on page 110 in the 1880 History of Madison County, Indiana.  The Beckwith store is still standing to the left of the house and is being refurbished.  The house faces White River and across from this home, the Parkins' Perkinsville mill and dam were located.  Thomas Beckwith helped organize the plat for Perkinsville in 1837.

        As the area began to be populated, Parkins became a leader in the pioneer community.  He was a member of and local preacher for the United Brethren Church.  He preached the first funeral sermon in the township when a young man was killed by the falling of a burning tree.  He was also the first blacksmith in the township.  Parkins was a "hackle-maker by trade" and so provided "all kinds of smithing," or basic metal works, including table forks for the settlers.

    More important, perhaps, to the development of the entire township was the mill he built shortly after arriving.  The land in Jackson Township is fertile and local farms produced abundant crops.  The nearest mill in the early 1820s, however, was fourteen miles away at Pendleton, and there were no roads or bridges leading there.  Seeing the necessity, Parkins erected a small hand mill made of round polls and grind stones of local limestone.  While the mechanism was very primitive, the mill, turned by shear muscle power, would produce a good quality corn meal at the rate of one bushel an hour.  Settlers could then convert their harvest into a usable commodity.  With more settlers arriving, the hand mill soon became inadequate.  Rising to the occasion again, Parkins constructed, with the help of other settlers, a dam made mostly of brush across White River opposite the area where Perkinsville now stands.  The river provided excellent water power to operate the "mill run."  He built a log millhouse and actually had two runs--one for grinding corn, another for wheat.

 

This narrow spot in White River is across from Thomas Beckwith's house in Perkinsville.  It was here that several mills were built in succession in the 1800s.  The best was the millrun operated by Jacob Zeller who died in 1878.  It was a three-story merchant mill--a vast improvement over Parkins' hand-operated variety.  The Zeller mill burned in 1896 and was never rebuilt.  Jacob Zeller is buried at the Perkinsville Cemetery.

When the water is low and clear, as it is in this photo (2012), the break in the current marks what is left of the dam: the stone foundation and, now horizontal in the water, the wooden poles which once stood upright and held the rocks, brush, and earth that comprised the body of the dam and retarded the water flow. 

   

    Perkinsville has remained a hamlet for lack of a railroad in its vicinity, and  there is no William Parkins buried at the Perkinsville Cemetery.  Ironically, there is a William Perkins listed who died in 1884.  Might this be another misspelling of William's last name?

Still a hamlet, Perkinsville does have a claim to fame--Bonge's.  Bonge's is not just a tavern, but a restaurant, famous now for having an internationally trained chef who prepares and serves haute cuisine.  People from all over central Indiana travel to eat at Bonge's, which overlooks White River and is on the northwest corner of the main intersection.

The building shown above is also pictured on page 110 in the 1880 History of Madison County, Indiana, and it looks much as it did then, except that the porch has been closed in.  It started out as "A.J. Applegate--Dealer in Drugs, Dry Goods, Ready-Made Clothing, Notions, Hats, Caps, Boots, Shoes, Hardware, Groceries."  Members of the Applegate family are buried at the Perkinsville Cemetery.  A.J., himself, is buried at West Maplewood.

    Of the seven cemeteries on record for this area, five of them are along White River or the old pioneer trail that runs along its south bank; the trail is now called 8th Street/8th Street Road/West 8th Street.  These cemeteries are the Cather, Cunningham, Hamilton/Epperly/Moore, Perkinsville, and Robinette.  The Neese, and Roger/Richwine (destroyed) are located in the northern half of the township.  A main thoroughfare for early Madison County pioneers and settlers, South Bank Road, or 8th Street, allowed access to the rich valley bordering White River, and so this strip was one of the earliest areas to be settled and therefore has many pioneer cemeteries.  White River, another "highway" for travelers, has steep hills on its banks for most of its length. Hills, impossible to plow and "closer to heaven," were traditional locations for the cemeteries of 19th century settlers.

    In connection to the Native Americans of the Lenni Lenape/Delaware tribe who lived along the White River in Delaware, Madison, and Hamilton counties, one of their villages is recorded as existing close to the river's south bank somewhere in Jackson Township's section 1 or 2.  This village was called Nancy's Town by white settlers in reference to Chief Nanticocke.  The exact location is not pin-pointed, and the village does not seem to have had the same importance as those of chiefs Anderson, Killbuck, Pipe, and Munsee.  However, it is indicated in Charles Thompson's 1937 biography Sons of the Wilderness: John and William Conner.

Click here for modern map of township pioneer cemeteries.