A Brief History of the Floyd County Historical Society

Complied by Ann Baumgartle, Secretary
September 2020
All information from the minutes of the Floyd County Historical Society

The Southern Indiana Historical Association started in 1916 following the State of Indiana Centennial celebration. According to a report by the historical society secretary in 1923, “A small number of members enrolled. It seems to have been a loosely organized group of congenial people who met for their own pleasure in a common subject, and with no plans or purpose of a public or general interest.”

Sometime in the early 1920’s another loosely formed group began meeting as a historical society. Minutes of meetings exist starting in 1923. In June of that year Alice Greene was elected president. Under her direction the name was changed to Floyd County Historical Society, a Constitution and Bylaws were adopted, and a membership fee of 50 cents was collected.

The minutes from April 1926 state, “Interest in the Society is not what we would like it to be, and the meetings have been irregular.” The officers were attempting to hold 4 meetings a year on the last Tuesday of February, April, September, and November. During this time, meetings usually consisted of members reading papers they had written or reading from other written works that they thought would be of interest to the Society.

In spite of low attendance and lack of interest in meetings, the FCHS was able to undertake a project to mark the graves of Michael C. Kerr, Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1875 to 1876 and Ashbel P. Willard, Governor of Indiana from 1857 to 1986, at Fairview Cemetery. The project was funded with $1,000 from the Indiana legislature. A public ceremony was held on Decoration Day (Memorial Day), May 30, 1928 to unveil and dedicate the monuments.

Apparently the FCHS stopped meeting sometime around March 1936 through February 1950, when a reorganization meeting was held. By April 1950 the group was again meeting regularly with an emphasis on collecting historical material and was conducting an ongoing discussion of the history of street names in New Albany. By mid-1950 it was decided that one half of the meeting would be devoted to discussing street names and the other half to discussing a historical event. Dues would be 50 cents and regular meetings would be held on the 4th Tuesday of the month.

In 1951 it was suggested that the society have pamphlets printed of historical events in Floyd County and distributed to school children. The next year, 20 copies of the forerunner of the Our Community books were given to each public school in Floyd County and Providence High School in Clark County. 1,000 additional copies were for sale for 50 cents each.

Also in 1951, the FSHS President, John Cody, had a gavel made by Hale Anderson which incorporated 2 pieces of wood that were said to have been from the original White House in Washington DC and, which cost $2.50. The gavel was first used at the August 29th meeting that year.

On April 27, 1954 the FCHS was presented with the original surveyor’s chain used by John Grisham when the site for New Albany was originally surveyed in 1813.

In 1954 a committee was formed to begin working on the idea of erecting historical markers. The committee secured the sponsorship of the WLRP radio station, which would pay for 2 markers for 5 years, plus would carry 13 weekly history programs. It was decided that each year the FSHS would select 1 marker and the 2nd site would be chosen by an essay contest for 4th graders. The students were given 18-page booklets with topics and information that their essays were to by written from. The markers selected over the 5 years were: Floyd County fairgrounds, steamboat building, Greenville Academy, Dr. Clapp’s house, Georgetown, Camp Whitcomb, glass works, buffalo trace, Monon railroad station, first bank. Three additional markers were placed after the initial 5-year program: old market house, county courthouse, and schools.

In the late 1950’s the FCHS was asked by the Board of School Trustees to name new schools. Grant Line Elementary and Nathaniel Scribner Junior High were named by the FCHS.

In the 1950’s the FCHS often met in the auditorium of the public library. In 1960 the auditorium was converted to a children’s room and the FCHS mostly met at Centenary church. On January 27, 1970 the FCHS met for the first time at the newly constructed New Albany-Floyd County library which eventually became the regular meeting place.

In January of 1957, Nicholas Leist presented the first New Albany 100 Years Ago program. From January 1962 until 1972, Griffin Pleiss presented the 100 years ago program that became a staple of the FCHS schedule of programs.

1963 brought the New Albany Sesquicentennial and the FCHS embarked on a project to name and mark historical buildings. Around that time efforts were underway to preserve and restore the Culberston Mansion. A room there was devoted to local history and the FCHS was asked to fill it with materials and artifiacts. Griffin Pleiss was appointed to be in charge of the project.

Mrs. Irene Burke Allen donated 300th of an acre of land and the Old Toll House on State Road 150 to FCHS on November 21, 1972.

Over the years, FCHS placed or paid for several historical plaques: a historical marker for the National Cemetery was presented in 1973 and replaced in 1987 when a mistake was discovered on the plaque; in 1987 a plaque for the sculpture at the library, The Search; in 1986 a plaque for the Cora Martin (Shelby Street) school.

In 1971, 1972, and 1973 the FCHS published portfolios of sketches by local artists which were sold for $10, primarily at Harvest Homecoming. The portfolios were: Scenes of New Albany, Steamboats, and Old Buildings and Landmarks.

The FCHS commemorated the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976 with four projects:

  1. Dedication of a marker and restoration of the Scribner family gravesite at Fairview Cemetery.
  2. Historical displays in downtown store windows.
  3. Reprinting Buffalo Trace leaflets and asking the local Audubon Society to sponsor a hike along the route of the buffalo trace. (The hike was rained out, unfortunately.)
  4. Sponsor and oversee production of a series of “slide-tape” (filmstrips?) presentations.

During the Bicentennial year they also published A Photo Collection of Early New Albany Scenes which sold for $4.

Starting around 1961 with the pending demolition of the Floyd County Courthouse, the FCHS began advocating for preservation of historic buildings and in some cases made donations toward preservation projects, including the Cardinal Ritter house and the Town Clock church.

The John A. Cody Lecture Series was started in 1998 in recognition of the Mr. Cody’s activities of behalf of the FCHS. Mr. Cody and his wife, Bebe, were avid supporters of the Society. They both presented numerous programs and Mr. Cody served as FCHS president, a board member, and on many committees.

Starting in the late 1990’s the FCHS began to actively submit proposals for historic markers through the Indiana Historical Bureau. Some of the markers erected include: Downtown Historic New Albany, Gateway to Freedom, Floyd County Underground Railroad, Fairview Cemetery, Division Street School, New Albany-Salem Railroad, Cardinal Ritter Birthplace, and others.

The FCHS was given the Woodward house at 509 West Market Street, New Albany by Mr. and Mrs. James Padgett to be used as a museum. An exhibit of Floyd County history, titled By the River’s Edge, that had once been on display at the Carnegie Center for Art and History was given to the FSHS and was installed on the first floor of the museum. A large wood and glass store display case from Madden’s Pharmacy was donated by the Police Department. It was placed in the downstairs hallway to be used as display space for rotating exhibits. The Padgett Museum was dedicated September 1st, 2007. It is typically open each Saturday from 1 to 3 PM, from the 2nd Saturday in May through the 2nd Saturday in December.

Marilyn Peel established the FCHS auxiliary in August 2007 to help fund the expenses of the Padgett Museum. The tradition of holding a bake sale at the end of meetings was started by the auxiliary.

The FCHS meets the 4th Tuesday of the month, from August through November and February through June. A Christmas open house is held at the Padgett Museum in December. Typically a season opening for the museum takes place the second Saturday in May and kicks off a new rotating display in the front hall display case.