Preserving The Past
The Huron Heritage Room Provides the Public with Local & Indiana History Treasures
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography / Huron Heritage Collection,
Avon-Washington Township Public Library
It was her fourth-grade teacher from Brownsburg who first instilled the love of history in Susan Truax, the local historian for the Avon/Washington Township Public Library.
“Mrs. Kelley made history come alive,” says Truax, who also credits her high school history teacher, Mr. Connor, for doing the same. “I’ve wanted to pursue history ever since I was young because they made the subject so interesting.”
After earning a history degree from DePauw University, she got a job with the Indiana Historical Society and then at the Brownsburg Public Library. She then took some years to raise her children, during which time she did some freelance work for the Historical Society — transcribing the William Henry Harrison letters. She joined the staff at the Avon Public Library in 2008.
Though she has multiple duties in this job, a primary role is adding to the Huron Heritage Room, which was created in 2006 when Lynn Peery Mills, former reference department head of the Avon Library, organized an oral history program. The public took interest, as did Joyce Trent (formerly Joyce Huron). Huron, now 93, is the granddaughter of Seth Thomas Huron who wrote a series of “round-robin” letters that date back to 1871.
“Round-robin letters were where the sender would pen and mail a letter, then the recipient would write another letter but also include the first one that came to him, and they would get sent to the next sibling, each time adding to the packet of correspondence,” Truax says.
This series of letters are from 1871 until Seth Thomas Huron’s death in 1928.
The letters, which are currently being transcribed, discuss the ordinary things of the day, including the weather, the church, the distribution of the estate, the agricultural yield and the irritation surrounding the fact that the “inner urban” encroached upon the land, thereby destroying trees. Seth Thomas Huron also talks about his mother’s death and how he lost his only son to cancer.
“As a historian, those letters make my heart go pitter-patter,” Truax says.
The room is named after the Huron family. Joyce grew up in an extremely poor family. Her parents were both deaf. Her dad died when she was young and her mom opted to go to deaf school, leaving Joyce to be raised by her aunt. Joyce’s grandfather, Seth Thomas Huron, was the male father figure in her life.
The Hurons gave land to build the first high school. Called the Avon School, it was a 4-room building that housed all grades. The first graduating class was 1917. When it was determined that it wasn’t big enough to accommodate all students, Avon High School was erected (which is where Avon Middle School South currently stands). The Hurons also donated land to build a church.
“They were very important in the community,” Truax adds.
On the wall of the Huron Heritage Room hangs a painting that was done by Joyce Trent’s aunt of the house in which she was raised. When it was donated, it was in bad shape, but a local art conservator was able to restore it.
“I’ve heard some incredible stories of bravery and courage,” Truax says. “I’ve also heard of some amazing pranks people pulled in school that you’d never get away with today.”
For instance, in an oral history book that was published a decade ago, Ron Masten shared how he “Halloweened” his principal, Bob Price.
“There was a gang of us [who] went out with the truck, loaded it with corn fodder, pumpkins, a few dead animals, and they ended up on Bob Price’s front porch,” Masten says. “[When we] went to school on Monday morning and [Mr. Price] said, ‘You know somebody Halloweened us,’ it was hard to keep a straight face.”
As folks share tales about what it was like to live in Avon decades ago, Truax is reminded how though the world is different, people have remained the same.
“We tend to forget that individuals in history were real, the same as us today,” Truax says. “They gossiped. They stole. They had affairs. They got angry with their children. The big difference is that they didn’t have the modern conveniences we have today.”
The Huron Heritage Room is packed full of interesting items, including diplomas, yearbooks, wills, diaries, maps, ledgers, photographs, paintings and land deeds (in fact, she recently got one for the land where Washington Township Park was located). Other treasures include business papers, minutes from social organizations, PTA scrapbooks and newspapers such as The Shakespearean Echo, which was the name of the school newspaper.
The room has copies of old school records, which are a hoot to peruse — especially the row that lists reasons for student absence. For example, one entry from 1931 states, “Student not here because he went to the city.” Another says, “Student did not come to school because he had no shoes.” A third says, “Student was absent because he was cutting wood.”
Truax also has the minutes for the Grand Army of the Republic.
“These civil war veterans all met in an old school room and these minutes are from their last meeting,” Truax says. “It talks about how their ranks have been thinned and how they must transfer this labor of love to others.”
People come into the Huron Heritage Room for all different reasons. Some wish to snoop around and leaf through yearbooks. Students often are doing research for local history assignments. And then there are the Indiana history buffs. The room houses biographies about famous Hoosiers as well as art and history books. They also have books on wildflowers and birds native to Indiana.
“Hendricks County and Washington Township are just a microcosm of the rest of the state,” Truax says. “This room is dedicated to Indiana history.”
Some items remain in the library while others may be checked out (if there is more than one) and some items are digitized.
Truax is always on the hunt for both old and new items since eventually everything that’s current becomes ancient and is woven into the fabric of our history.
“For instance, if you give me something on the graduating class of 2018, in 50 years, people are going to want to see that to determine how things have changed,” Truax says. “In 1968, what did people think Avon would be like today? Think of all the differences.”
Truax hopes that as more of the general public makes use of this room, they, too, will fall in love with history just as she has.
“A professor once told me that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know your past,” Truax says. “So to me, history is all about figuring out where you’re going.”
If you would like to volunteer or donate local history items, contact Susan Truax at 317-272-4818 ext. 250 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.