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In its heyday, Harrodsburg was a prosperous town and an important railroad stop. According to local website Harrodsburg Heritage Days,
Harrodsburg was at one time the main trading center for southern Monroe county. During the peak years (1837-1920's) the town was served by several general stores, drug store, tavern, livery stable, two hotels, newspaper, doctors, undertaker, slaughter house, distillery, feed mill, washing machine factory, garage, woolen mill, blacksmiths, Odd Fellows, Mason, K of P and Red Men Lodges, a town band, schools and Christian, Church of Christ, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.
After the closing of the rail line, Harrodsburg began an economic and demographic decline.
Today, Harrodsburg has been undergoing a small but noticeable renewal, boasting a new community center and hardware store. Harrodsburg celebrates Harrodsburg Heritage Days, an annual May celebration of Harrodsburg's history and culture, including select tours of some of Harrodsburg's fine historic homes.
The following transcript of a newpaper article from the Clear Creek Township website offers a fascinating glimpse into the economic and social life of late 19th century Harrodsburg:
Bloomington Telephone, August 11, 1883, p. 4.
NEW JANE, Now Known as Harrodsburg. A Pleasant Little Place of Clever People and Live Businessmen.
In the year 1835 a man by the name of Alexander Buchanan, orginally from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, emigrated to the State of Indiana and located in the southern part of Monroe county for the purpose of making that his future home. He had come all the way from Kentucky in the covered wagons that were so common in those days, a pioneer to select for himself a home and grow up with the improvements around him. Being a public-spirited man, the idea of establishing a little town about him was fully considered in as much as no trading point was nearer than Bloomington, a distance of twelve miles, in those days of dense forests and ungraded hills, a hard day's travel.
So with a few of the earlier settlers, in the year 1837, Mr. Alexander Buchanan first surveyed and laid out the town, now known as Harrodsburg, Indiana, and named it for his wife, "New Jane." This name lasted until the place became quite a villege, when for some reason it was changed to Harrodsburg, supposed to be called for Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Buchanan's native home. It was not long after until the L. N. A. & C. railroad passed by the place, a half mile to the east. When the place was first laid out it grew rapidly and for a time promised to out rival Bloomington, but for some reason in a short time its prosperity ceased, and now Harrodsburg is little larger than twenty years ago, with something over 300 inhabitants. Like most small places, the busines of the town is confined to one street, that being on the road that passes directly through the place from north to south.
For the size of the place, Harrodsburg has always enjoyed considerable business and few places of its size, unless new towns, have better stocked stores with a better trade. A surrounding farming district of six miles or more do their trading here. Several years ago the unfortunate failure of Carmichael and Urmey had paralyzing effect on the business of the place, many losing considerable money from which it has never recovered. The woolen mill, built at a cost of $28,000 in 1861, has now been idle for two years, which also has its effect on so small a place. For years after this mill was erected, it did a paying busines but in later years lost money for its operators and is now in litigation, a man by the name of McMillan of Cinncinnati being the proprietor. The building is of stone and brick and valued at fully $15,000, including the contents. A distillery, east of the town, in years past has also found a good market for grain but the good citizens of the 'Burg prefer to have the grain marketed elsewhere, rather than the results that flow from "the poisonous still."
The flouring mill of John M. Stevenson, just as the place is entered from Bloomington, is one of the useful enterprises of Harrodsburg and, in the course of a year, brings in considerable revenue as the Stevenson flour is an excellent quality. The mill is a large frame building well improved and Mr. Stevenson always gives his customers the benefit of the best market prices.
W. R. McFadden is now the proprietor of the store as the town is entered from the south and keeps a general merchandise that would be a credit to a larger place. With him is that excellent old gentleman, J. D. Urmey, one of the oldest men in Harrodsburg and the oldest settler now living in the place. To him the writer is indebted for many facts of this letter.
W. R. Kinser, on the opposite side of the street to the north, is another of Harrodsburg's reliable businessmen. He has a nicely arranged place of business and in connection with his dry goods, notions and groceries, makes a speciality of county produce. Frank Kinser, one of the nicest young men of the place, and Will Neeld, are his clerks, and they are as accommodating as they are good looking--so the girls say, and that makes it true, so Hol. Woodward says.
One of the best arranged stores in the place, however, is owned by J. W. Sears, on the west side, and in conenction with the Post Office, kept by U. N. Pearson, it receives a share of patronage. Harrodsburg challenges any place in the whole state for a more accommodating post master; and Sares himself is a thorough business man. In addition to his store. Mr. Sares has gone into the bee culture with success, with fifty-two hives of bees, that he takes great care of and when the season is closed, will have harvested 3,000 pounds of honey. He finds a ready market at 12 1/2 cents wholesale, or 15 cents retail. Much of the honey is used in Bloomington.
Dr. Simpson is the man who made the race for the nomination of Representative in a Democratic convention, and if he was not successful had the pleasure of knowing he had the suport of his own township. He keeps a good drug store and talks politics.
J. W. Brown is the confectioner of the town, and Simeon Pedigo supplies the furniture. Both are good businessmen and equally good citizens. Joe Woodward has a dry goods and notion store with his share of the trade, having been in business over four years. Griffin does the tailoring, always giving a good fit, and A. T. Smallwood makes the shoes and boots, giving complete satisfaction; while Joshua Moore clothes the horses. Mark Rainbolt is the photographer and his wife is the milliner of the place. Bonher and Buchanan are the smiths, also George Smith, and they have a well established busisness.
Though Harrodsburg is a healthy place, it has a cemetery over the hill, to the north, it being impossible for Drs. McLahlan and Louder to save all their patients. Both are excellent physicians and are known throughout the county as skilled in their profession. Dr. McLahlan was Coroner of Monroe County one year.
But Harrodsburg is not all business, for it has its educational, religious and fraternal circle. An excellent school building stands in the west of the town, with an average attendance of 100 or more. William Neeld is the principal and is quite popular with the scholars. Miss Belle Lee has charge of the 3rd grade and William Smallwood of the 2nd. Both were employed last year.
Religiously speaking, Harrodsburg is by far from being lost, there being three well attended churches.
The Methodist Church, in charge of Rev. Bruner, has a membership of near ninety; the Christian Church also has a good attendance and Rev. Krutsinger is their pastor. The Cumberland Presbyterians are now without a pastor but maintain a good organization, though they seldom have services.
The Mason Lodge was established here in 1864, and is known as "Harrodsburg Lodge," being number 322. The order has a membership of 35 and has a hall of their own over the Methodist Church room. No. 23 of the Knights of Pythias is here known as the "Mystic" Lodge and is in a flourishing condition having 25 active members with a good hall over Simpson's drug store. Several years ago a flourishing lodge of Good Templars was in existence, but has died out.
A history of Harrodsburg would not be complete without mentioning "Uncle Mose," as they call Moses Fields. He is the hack-man, and his good wife sets a dinner for a King. It is worth riding twelve miles in the hot sun to get to set at Mrs. Fields' table.