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Madison County History
Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. Kept Area Intact for Future Generations
The house built by Frederick and Hula Bronnenberg still stands to the east of the Great Mound. It is one of the oldest in Madison County and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Recently restored in period correct detail, this centerpiece can be toured while visiting Mounds State Park.
The first written description of the mounds is a land report done in 1803 for the governor of the Northwest Territory. The first record of the Great Mound, itself is found in 1821 in a federal land office survey. The first map drawn of the earthworks was produced in 1878 for the state geologist. The description accompanying this map stated: "... the most unique and well-preserved earthworks in the state are on the banks of White River three miles from Anderson." The main reason the earthworks were at that point untouched, intact, and not desecrated, is because Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. and his family owned the property through most of the 19th century.
The large Bronnenberg family had arrived from Ohio to the sections west of Chesterfield in 1821, making this German family among the earliest of settlers in the entire county. In the years following, Frederick Jr., his male siblings, and his father Frederick Sr. purchased hundreds of acres of land on both the south and north banks of White River. Junior's property contained what is now Mounds State Park.
From the beginning of his ownership, Bronnenberg appreciated the site's antiquity and importance. The earthworks were not plowed over, leveled for building, or re-purposed in any fashion; the area was honored and kept intact. During Frederick's lifetime, a fence was built around the Great Mound, and he allowed visitors to walk through the beautiful location. In consequence, the mounds were thought of as a park even before that title became official.
While Frederick Bronnenberg knew nothing of the Hopewell/Adena cultures that produced the mounds around the time of Christ, he took pride in protecting "these mysterious places." In the early 1840s, Frederick and his wife, Hulda Tree, chose to erect their two-story federal style brick home just to the east of the Great Mound and close to the trail (old Indiana 32) that led from Anderson into Chesterfield. The bricks were made from the local clay, the foundation of limestone was quarried at the edge of nearby White River, and the house's interior woodwork was produced from tulip trees taken from the surrounding forest. Here they raised their family, managed their farm and business enterprises and oversaw the mounds locale. (See picture above)
The close proximity of the house to the ancient site proved to be fortuitous because during a night in 1853, there was an attempt by grave robbers to dig into part of the Great Mound and make off with any items and/or human remains. The family discovered the intruders and chased them away before any serious damage was done. Upon examining in the daylight the spot of the incursion, the Bronnenbergs discovered that the thieves had actually uncovered reddened clay pottery shards and human bones that had been charred by fire before burial centuries before. All items were reburied, and no further criminal disturbances were recorded.
A few times in the late 19th century Frederick did allowed state officials to excavate in the mounds, they could do so only while he was present watching over operations. They also had to agree to leave with him half of any artifacts discovered. During one of these official digs in the 1880s, scientists chose to examine the top of the central hill of the Great Mound. Once again reddened pottery clay and burned human bones were discovered. These items would in the 20th century help researchers piece together some of the cultural conventions of the Hopewell/Adena peoples.
In the late 1890s, Frederick Bronnenberg's heirs sold the 60 acres that contained the mounds to the Indiana Union Traction Company. This business built on the land an amusement park which contained among other things a roller coaster, row boats on the river, a merry-go-round, a roller skating rink, restaurants, a dance hall, and even at one point, hot air balloons. From 1897 to 1929, Andersonians could take the traction company's interurban cars from the city to "Mounds Park" and enjoy the fun-making and thrills, and stroll among the mounds in nature's beauty. Astonishingly, the Great Mound and most of the other ancient earthworks were not disturbed or changed during these amusement years. Evidently, Bronnenberg's attitude of preservation had fostered a similar mindset in area residents and in the business. The only exception to this principle was some damage done to one of the small earthworks during construction of a building.
The fun stopped for everyone, however, in 1929 with the stock market crash that brought on the Great Depression. The traction company in early 1930 sold the mounds acreage to the Madison County Historical Society, which had been waiting for a chance to obtain the property in order to provide for the mounds' protection. The Historical Society understood that the surest way to preserve the ancient site was to give it to the state. The Society donated the land to the Indiana Department of Conservation that managed the state's parks then. On October 7, 1930, Mounds State Park was officially established, "for the express purpose of the preservation of the mounds and earthworks within its boundaries." Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. would be proud.
County a Longtime Source of Winter Fun
One hundred plus years ago, the drainage system was not what it is today, and standing surface water could be found in many parts of Anderson throughout much of the year. These areas, together with the various ponds, mill races, and canal beds afforded ample skating opportunities when frozen over.
The ice season generally lasted from late December through January, depending upon the severity of the winter and nowhere was that more evident than the river. There was almost no limit to the distance a skate could travel on White River as long as one stayed away from the shallow places. However, as it does today, the river usually froze later and thawed sooner than the ponds and other areas of standing water. The big Blackbird Pond located south of the Big Four railroad tracks on what later became Jackson Street was a favorite site for students from the Smoky Row and Central Avenue schools to congregate after school.
The abandoned Hydraulic Canal made its way through Park Place and water from melted snow and drainage made for great skating. Further east, the old Hughel School stood on the west side of Rangeline Road at Fifth Street. Immediately behind the school was a pond used by the children during recess and at noon for sledding and ice skating.
On the south side, at what later became south Main Street near the 2400 block, was a pond that attracted area children from the south end. When Main Street was put in, the pond was still there and the street ran around the east side of it. This explains why today the street sweeps to the east in this area.
Over on the west side was the large fish pond on West Eighth Street. It was located on the William Morris farm. Sometimes the skating was ruined because the slaughter houses, ice merchants sawed and stored the ice in sawdust from this pond for summer use. In later years the popular site was known as the Conservation Club Pond. The mill races, for both Killbuck and Moss Island mills, were considered among the best and most desirable skating areas because their water froze smooth. When it came to sledding, Anderson's hills afforded great opportunities.
One of the better slopes was known as Beachler Hills. Located on the north side of the river across from the William Morris farm, it was reached by either crossing the frozen river at the ford, which lay north of the fish pond, or going west to the Moss Island Bridge to cross. The farm was owned by Al Beachler who taught school during his career in two area buildings: Whittinger and Moss. The popular teacher welcomed his former students to slide on the farm hills. Today, these hills are Grandview Golf Course.
Outside the corporation limits(of the 1890s) and west of the city was a ridge that extended westward along present day 11th street beginning a Locust Street and extending past Atwood Drive in Malibu Heights. It sloped toward the north and in some places reached what is now Ninth Street. Before 1900, much of this area was pasture land and there were many places where there was little or no brush which made for excellent sledding.
With the discovery of natural gas here and the subsequent rapid growth of the city, this sledding area began to disappear, and most of the area east of Arrow Avenue was platted and homes began to appear on the hill sides. One of the last hills to relinquish its sledding slopes was the Huntzinger Hill in Malibu Heights. Located directly north of the old Fairgrounds Ford, which was immediately west of the Madison Avenue Bridge, was another fine group of hills. At the ford, children pulled their sleds across the frozen river or walked the railroad trestle to the east to get to the hills on the river's north side. Those hills today, are in the Anderson Country Club Heights.
The inner city children found sledding on the downtown streets where traffic was light. It was before automobiles and children would use the large hill on Jackson Street beginning at Tenth Street. Under good conditions a ride of several blocks was enjoyed. And, if you were lucky, you could attach your sled's rope to a passing horse and wagon and be pulled about anywhere the drayman would take you. Later on, when automobiles appeared, ashes were scattered for tire traction which ruined the sledding until the next snow.
Farm children enjoyed what was called a bobsled which was a grain wagon bed mounted upon sets of home-made wood runners. Inside the bed wide boards were installed for seating. Heated bricks were placed in straw scattered over the bed to act as foot warmers. Hitch up a couple of horses, wrap yourself in a blanket, and a full day's fun was had by all as no snow drift was too deep for the draught horses. Most of these former winter time recreation sites have disappeared or been altered by development. Nonetheless, for those who can recall them, they elicit great memories and still echo with the sounds of joy.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian
Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)firstname.lastname@example.org