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Martinsville History: Fires, Floods, and Fisheries

Martinsville history is not comparatively long, since the city was not founded until 1822. One generation after it was formally surveyed and platted, however, all of the lots on its 42 blocks were sold. Martinsville, Indiana is nicely laid out along the White River, and today, after swamp land was turned to practicality in 1899, the city boasts several important fisheries that distribute globally. The town’s proximity to Indianapolis, the state capital of Indiana, gives it easy access to state-of-the-art world distribution centers.

Dating back to the early 1900′s, Martinsville also contained some famous mineral water spas which served as major proponents of Martinsville business. The spas attracted so many visitors, some famous Indianapolis people, that the town still retains two nicknames from those days, “City of Mineral Water” and “The Artesian City.” These spas enjoyed an excellent reputation from their supposedly healing waters until antibiotics came into widespread use.

Fires that broke out during the 1800′s in Midwestern America were generally fought by “bucket brigades.” In 1882, the Martinsville town council bought 100 buckets for $165 and fire protection came into being for the small town. Within a few years, there were ten firemen in the hook and ladder company. By 1917, Martinsville had two shiny new red fire trucks and a real fire house.

During the prairie days of Martinsville history, families home-schooled their children. But by 1827, there was a log schoolhouse offering three-month terms for two dollars a child. Public schooling without charge had to wait until property taxes funded the Martinsville education system around 1843.

Out of the community’s dedication to supporting the education of its children came the Martinsville High School Gymnasium, now the West Middle Junior High School. The gym was famous in the early 1900′s as the “largest gymnasium in the world,” with seating for 5,382. The gym became the prototype for high school gymnasiums all across the Midwest.

Since its early days, Martinsville has a long history of afternoon horse races on Saturdays, which has since been relegated to horse boarding and breeding in the many farms that dot the countryside. The city boasts several historic venues, not least of which is the Morgan County Courthouse, constructed in 1857 of classic red brick with decorative white trim and a three-story clock tower.

The Morgan County Public Library in Martinsville was funded in 1906 by Andrew Carnegie and was originally called the Martinsville Public Library. This historic building has since become the depository for artifacts and memorabilia from all over Morgan County.

Video diary of the 2008 flood in Martinsville, Indiana

At its inception, it offered a lending library of 1500 books, but today it claims more than 180,000, as well as a fascinating genealogy collection. This was made possible by a $1.7 million expansion in 1990. Renovation and restoration of the building has been accomplished to preserve the building’s historic aspects, such as the high domed ceiling and its clay-tiled roof.

As a more recent bit of Martinsville history, in 2008, Martinsville survived a catastrophic 100-year flood. Through this dramatic natural disaster, the community banded together to rebuild and re-energize the town. Today, Martinsville is known as the “Gateway to Beautiful Southern Indiana.”

Mike Woods