West Eighth Street Road
A History Museum for Modern-day Drivers
In the first third of the 19th century when pioneers were settling Madison County, Indiana, there were no roads, in the modern sense of the term. Footpaths connected the many Delaware Indian villages strung along the Wapihanne(White River). For Native Americans, taking a canoe for a float down to Wapiminskink("chestnut tree place" or Andersontown) would have been common.
But the vast majority of settlers weren't going on a day trip; they were changing their lives. They were transporting every portable item they owned in ox-drawn wagons and traveling in large groups of families and friends.
They needed defined overland routes and, to that end, pioneers had few options to enter east central Indiana's forested wilderness. One of these routes was the Conner Trail, part of which Madison County has now labeled West 8th Street Road.
Along the Conner Trail
Many of Madison County's early settlers were from southern Ohio, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. After rafting down the Ohio River or traversing Daniel Boone's Wilderness Trail, settlers from the southeast would have connected to the Conner Trail.
The trail was originally an ancient Indian footpath developed by the Conner brothers as a trade route. It started at Cincinnati, wound overland northwest to the Conner brothers' trading post located on the Whitewater River in Franklin County, found its way to Connersville, and then pointed through the wilderness towards New Castle.
Just north of that settlement, the trail divided, the west branch striking out for Andersontown. From that point, our part of the Conner Trail followed White River until it reached another Conner trading post south of Noblesville, the site of the present day Conner Prairie Farm, a living history museum.
Because the Madison County section of the Conner Trail followed the southern edge of the river, the route was initially referred to by local settlers as South Bank Road or River Road.
It is hard to estimate how many hundreds of first families in the early 1800s traveled the road as they moved into present-day Madison County and areas further west in the New Purchase. Today, we know the route as West 8th Street Road.
When the county part of the trail got wider and acquired ax marks in the bordering trees to more clearly define the route, it was referred to as the Strawtown Trace.
The slashes in the trees traced the land route to the next hamlet. When the trace was given a road bed or foundation and later with more improvements - the trace was known as the Anderson-Perkinsville Pike.
As settlements expanded and smoothing, straightening and paving became the practices in the 20th century, the footpath once used by Native Americans and our ancestors was renamed West 8th Street Road. That western section of the old trade route still mirrors the river and undulates with the topography of the land just as it did with the pioneers.
The land on either side of the road was some of the first in the county to be settled, and evidence of that early history can be found today.
The western section is laced with early homesteads, hopeful villages and more historic cemeteries than any other trail/trace/pike/road in the county. Some of the route's homesteads are still owned by descendants and display an Indiana heritage sign spotlighting their legacy. A fine example is the Daniel Wise 1829 two-story brick home at the route's junction with County Road 800 West.
The settlement, started in 1836, once labeled Hamilton and later Halford, is still indicated by the houses and buildings clustered just east of the route's intersection with County Road 600 West and on the county's western border, Perkinsville, platted in 1837, continues to assert its existence.
Less visible, perhaps, but more personal, are the five pioneer and settlers' cemeteries lining the route. These old burial grounds cradle the remains of the intrepid early settlers who travelled the trace, built a home, worked the new land, put down their own roots and forged our community.
West of Park Road, just before West 8th Street turns sharply north is the Moss Cemetery, named for the John Moss family who owned the land in the late 1830s.
The Moss family also gave their name to a nearby island in the river and subsequently to the large mill - so important in 19th century life - once on the opposite bank of the river.
Traveling just inside Jackson Township, the Cather Cemetery sits on a steep, cleared hill to the south. The first burial here, in 1837, was for 19 year old Jasper Cather who drowned in White River while attempting to help a fisherman just months after the family arrived. The Cather ancestors were from Scotland, and those members buried here are related to 20th century Pulitzer Prize winning author Willa Cather.
Further west is the Epperly Cemetery which holds a man whose life illustrates what many of our early settlers endured. Joel White came to the Connersville area around 1813 as one of the first settlers in that region. He was originally from North Carolina, had traveled through Tennessee and Kentucky, and spent some time at the fort at Cincinnati. After the New Purchase opened in 1818, he decided to move his family west of Andersontown and homestead land south of White River.
Joel died March 21, 1845, at 71 years of age, making his birth date around 1774, before the American Revolutionary War.
Continuing along West 8th Street Road, the Cunningham Cemetery on the north side near County Road 650 West, holds members of the Ashby and Coy first families as well as the Cunninghams. George and Catherine Cunningham purchased land between the road and White River as early as 1822. The old graveyard now sits inside private property, the present owner of which, out of respect, dutifully maintains the early settlers' resting place.
Finally, the Perkinsville cemetery, on one of the highest hills bordering the river, safeguards one of the largest and best kept of any of our pioneer burial grounds. It contains, in fact, the oldest, legible, intact gravestone in the entire county - "Mary, wife of Alexander McClintick, died Aug. 12, 1821, 43y 7m 11d."
Instead of a history museum with living re-creators, West 8th Street Road is in its own category: it's a history museum for the modern-day driver.
By Melody Hull, Secretary of the Madison County Cemetery Commission. Melody is the author/manager of its website: http://www.cemeteries-madison-co-in.com
Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)firstname.lastname@example.org