By: Ann Warr - Fairmount Historian
Fairmount, Indiana at the turn of the century had a population of 5,300 residents. It is not certain just when the first white man set foot upon the soil of Fairmount Township. According to the best available records, the Indians were the sole inhabitants of Grant County until 1823. Trails carved through the Indian land led brave pioneers west from Cincinnati to Richmond, then north to Jonesboro and up the wilds of Back Creek to what is now Fairmount, about 10 miles south of Marion near the Madison-Grant County line.
The first settler in the area was Joseph Winslow, who cleared land about four miles north of town in 1830, on what is now the Marcus Winslow farm. The first home built within the present town limits was started in November 1831 by John Benbow and completed two years later by Daniel Baldwin at the southwest corner of what is now Indiana 26 - Fairmount's Eight Street and Main Street.
By 1850, the community was a prospering settlement, widely-known for its good water and rich soil. The word spread among the settlers and David Stanfield platted a portion of his farm for the sale of lots. It is said he disliked the name of Pucker for his small town with a population of about 300, which carried this name for 20 years. In 1850, other names were proposed. Stanfield wanted to call the town Kingston, however, his son-in-law Joseph W. Baldwin, had heard about Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, PA and liked the name. The two being unable to agree on the selection of a name decided to let the surveyor they had employed, William Neal, decide between the two names. Neal who had just returned from visiting Fairmount Park, decided in favor of Fairmount.
Before the town of Fairmount was laid out, Grant Post office was established in the home of William Hall, then located at what is now the corner of Adams and Main Streets, the same site where the Fairmount Post Office was dedicated in 1964 with the late James C. Dunn serving as Postmaster. Fairmount then became a saw mill town Back Creek was a sluggish stream an was dug out by hand and its present channel established. From Indiana 26 northward, the stream was more swift and the saw mills along it were water powered. Outlaying saw mill districts were A1, three miles southeast; Pansy, a few miles west; Moore and Clarksburg to the south; Oak Ridge to the northwest; and Quaker Back Creek to the north.
In 1851, Joseph W. Baldwin built a small frame house at the north east corner of Main and Washington Streets. Here a store was opened, and Baldwin became the first merchant in town. Other merchants of the early days of the community included Joseph Hollingsworth, Issac Stanfield, Aaron Kaufman, Paul Williams, and Vincent Wright. The first town election was held December 10, 1870 when the population had grown to 337. The first presidential election in Fairmount was held in 1876. Rutherford B. Hayes was the presidential candidate, a total of 440 votes were cast. Joel Reece, Jonesboro, a newspaper publisher, came to Fairmount in 1877 and established the Fairmount News. The paper was printed on an old Washington hand press. However, competition was supplied by the Fairmount Times, which had been in operation for 11 years.
The Fairmount community gained national attention in 1887 when the Fairmount Mining Company was organized March 4, 1887, for the purpose of obtaining natural gas. On April 26, 1887 the mining co. struck gas in the Trenton Rock at 965 feet at a point on E. Washington Street near the brick elevator which stood there, and is now the current Fairmount Wire Products, Inc. The well was called "Jumbo" and in the fall of 1888, it caught fire and attracted so much attention that excursions were run to Fairmount for hundreds of excited people who came to see the blazing monster. The gas well was said to have a flow estimated at 11,500,000 cubic feet in 24 hours, and was said to have the greatest flow of any gas well in Indiana.
The cost for lights and fuel did not exceed $12 per year for each home and this attracted several glass factories to Fairmount. When the gas failed about 10 years after the boom started the factories left Fairmount, and the population dwindled, but Fairmount regained most of its growth potential, and by 1960 the census report showed the town had a population of 3,080.
The old High School received its commision April 25, 1898. It was completed in 1902 with three additions being added at later dates. The first graduating class form the school was 1900. Fairmount is known as the culture and literature center of Indiana which has 14 times the national average of persons listed in Who's Who of America, because of the old Fairmount Academy and Fairmount High School, these schools have produced three college preseidents, authors, scientists, artists, actors, inventors, and the founder of the state of Oklahoma.
Nixon and Louisa Rush, both prominent Quaker ministers were liberal supporters of the Academy. Fairmount Township was the home of Milton Wright, father of Orville and Wilbur Wright-inventors of the airplane. Wright is credited with founding the first telephone Co., in Fairmount. Edgar M. Baldwin and wife Myra wrote a 500 page book on the history of Fairmount Township. Mary Jane Ward, native of Fairmount, was famous for her book "Snake Pit" which was later made into a movie; Cyrus Pemberton is credited with making and selling the world's first ice cream cone in 1903, and William "Bill" Dolman, who operated a lunch wagon in Fairmount from 1885 to 1907, is said to have made, fried and sold the world's first hamburger. What is not generally acknowledged is that the car Elwood Haynes is credited with inventing was actually the redesigned creation of three enterprising young men who put it together in a shop at 215 East Washington Street in Fairmount. The three young men were Orlie R. Scott, and his two helpers, Charles T. Payne and Nathan Alpheus Armfield, who started puttering around in a shop to create a motor-powered auto in 1888. There was one major flaw to the horseless carriage, they forgot to add brakes and while on a test run north of town, the vehicle hit a rock and tipped over. Ready to give up on the idea, Scott sold the wrecked vehicle to Elwood Haynes of Kokomo.
Fairmount is also the hometown of natives, the late James Byron Dean who skyrocketed to fame as an actor in three major films, "East of Eden", "Rebel wihtout a Cause", and "Giant"; Jim Davis, creator of the cartoon strip "Garfield"; and Phil Jones, CBS Corespondent, Washington D.C. Fairmount currently has an attraction that is bringing visitors from all corners of the world to the town's museum which houses artifacts and memorbilia on the late James Dean, Jim Davis and many other Fairmount natives that have graduated from Fairmount school system and have made a distinct mark in the world. The Fairmount Historical Museum ws dedicated to the Fairmount community on Sunday, September 21, 1975. The museum is located at 203 E. Washington Street, is housed in a landmark that was listed on the National Register of Historic sites and places, November 14, 1979. Town Officials appointed Ann and Harry Warr Town Historians by proclamation, July 22, 1985, to preserve the Historic Past, Present, and future of our area. To promote Fairmount and its Historic Museum, the museum board sponsors "Museum Days" Festival the last weekend of September. Over 10,000 people traveled to Fairmount in 1985 for the three day festival.
Historic Fairmount is surrounded by some of the richest farming land in the United States. Fairmount Natives are pround of their prosperous town with its store fronts basically the same as many years ago, but familiar business names have disappeared over the years such as -- Burr Leach and Sons Meat Market, Barnhart Tire Repair, Rexall Drug Store, Paynes Grocery Store, Allred Electric, Hill Brothers Meat Market, M.W. Hunt Furniture Store, Dale Brothers Hardware, Bee Hive Cash Store, Marys Inn, Club Cafe, and Guy Lewis Shoe Repair. Major changes have been the paving of Main Stret over its brick, new Muncipal Building replaces old Town Hall, luminous lighting system replaces old fashioned lights and a new Post Office