Johnson County Museum – Chronicles 200 Years of History
by Ann Craig-Cinnamon | Photos by John Cinnamon
As you zoom through the busy intersection of State Road 135 and Stones Crossing with its McDonald’s, Marsh Supermarket and strip malls, ponder this: 200 years ago this same area was being traversed by Conestoga wagons. In fact, it was considered an important crossroads for pioneers as they were heading west. I’ll bet those pioneers would have found the drive through at McDonald’s pretty handy after a long, dusty ride across the Indiana plain. That little tidbit is just one of the many interesting things I learned about the history of our area during a recent visit to the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin.
I guess I’ve been living under a Center Grove rock, because I didn’t even know there was a Johnson County Museum of History and I’ve lived in Johnson County for more than 30 years! Not only do we have a very nice museum but it has 30,000 artifacts and just celebrated its
80th birthday. It was originally housed in the Franklin Courthouse but had to move out during World War II. After a few relocations it finally found its permanent home in the 1980’s in the old Masonic Temple on Main Street just a couple of blocks from the Courthouse Square and just down the street from the Artcraft Theater. I’ve been by it many times but just didn’t see it. You would think the log cabin that sits next to it and is the Museum’s prized possession might have caught my attention. It’s not every day that you see a 180-year-old fully restored log cabin on a busy city street.
We toured the exhibits with the Museum’s Director, Brenna Cundiff and the Museum Board’s Secretary, John Richardson,
who has been actively involved with the Museum for more than a decade. John spent much of his life teaching English in Southern Indiana but came back to his family’s farm in Center Grove to retire. Retire? Well, he hasn’t exactly been rocking on the front porch. His plan was to grow grapes for Indiana wineries. Not long after, he decided to make the wine himself and Mallow Run Winery was born. The winery sits on the Mallow/Richardson farm that has been in the family since John’s great-great-grandfather, George Mallow, staked out the land off Whiteland Road just west of Morgantown Rd. back in the 1830’s. In fact, John still lives in the house that he was born in and that all of his ancestors have lived in since it was built in 1835. John is so obviously proud of this and deservedly so in a society that often seems to place little value on preserving things built by previous generations. I’ll bet John’s great-great-grandfather never imagined that the home and farm that he labored long and hard and sweated over would not only still be standing and thriving almost 200 years later, but that it would be a living testament to what can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance. Can you imagine how hard that life must have been back then? He traveled here to start a new life, bringing with him his wife and eight children. Everything they owned could fit in a wagon and I don’t mean a station wagon. It’s rather ironic that the house and farm built by pioneers back in 1835 is today surrounded by tract after tract of big modern homes that have every conceivable convenience. Yet it’s still there and it’s still producing. George Mallow isn’t the only member of his family who has made the most of the land. John is doing it too.
John’s interest in the Museum is understandable in light of the fact that he can trace his family’s history to the very beginnings of settlement in Johnson County and, more specifically, the Center Grove area. He looked a bit surprised when I suggested that his was one of the founding families of our community and replied with simply “I guess you could say that.” You never know, maybe your family came here on a wagon too. You can find out by using the museum’s Genealogy library with free access to Ancestry.com’s “Ancestry Library Edition.”
The Museum is a mini time machine with the time travel clock starting in the early 1800’s when the Miami and Delaware Indians had permanent settlements here. That’s before they got kicked out in 1818. There are stops in pioneer days, the Civil War era, Victorian Times, World War II and all the way to the rockin’ 1950’s. I’m guessing that those Conestoga wagons were rockin’ as they rode over the rocky, untraveled terrain on their way to their new home in the Indiana territory. A Museum donor actually found the sideboard off a real 200-year-old wagon in their barn and it is proudly displayed in the pioneer hall of the Museum. It is believed to have come from the Hopewell Community, which settled here and was very important in the development of the area. That’s another reason never to throw anything away. It might be an historical artifact! Another valued Museum
collection piece is a Civil War flag that was carried in battle by Billy Davis who was from Johnson County. It’s a little torn and faded, but you would be too if you were 150 years old and had been through a war. Another war, World War II, is highlighted in an exhibit that features Edinburgh’s Camp Atterbury, which was an important military facility both then and now. A little known fact about Camp Atterbury is that it was home to the largest hospital in the country at one time. Edinburgh was also home to Shaffer’s Drugstore that opened its doors back in the 1920’s. The Museum inherited items from the store such as antique prescription bottles and old medications that are part of a permanent display depicting the old drugstore. While there are a few over the counter medications that you might recognize such as Tums and Milk of Magnesia, there’s also some strange items such as “Purgative Tablets” that I don’t even want to know their intended purpose.
The trip through time ends with the old soda fountain from Nick’s Candy Kitchen which was a popular teen hangout in Franklin back in the 1950’s and a display from the Meridian Drive-In which ran it’s double features where Meijer now hawks its wares on State Road 135 in the Center Grove area.
Brenna says the Museum of History changes exhibits every year to freshen things up and bring out artifacts that have not been on display. And they are always looking for historically interesting items and experts in certain fields for their oral history program. If
you have a collection that you are especially proud of you could loan it to the Museum for its “Collector’s Closet.” There are special programs every month, a community room that is free for groups to use and an auditorium that can be rented for special events like weddings. “The museum is important because it highlights the culture of the community,” John says. And, he adds, “Our history is fascinating”.
All in all, the Johnson County Museum of History was a pleasant surprise. No need to drive an hour up the road to Conner Prairie when you can bring the family for a tour of the Hendrick’s cabin from 1835 complete with re-enactors, check out the museum exhibits and then walk down the street to catch an old classic movie at the Artcraft. Perhaps, like me, you’ll learn a thing or two about the community in which we live. Cg
Ann Craig-Cinnamon is a 30-year Radio & TV Broadcast veteran. You may recall her as the host of popular radio morning shows in Indianapolis for many years. She and her husband, John are also business owners. Her lifelong love of world travel led them to start a travel franchise, CruiseOne, in Center Grove. Ann is a writer, travel speaker and author of an upcoming book about her time spent living in Iran.