AUBURN, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)-William Lock and the late DeKalb County historian John Martin Smith spent three years investigating the county’s ghost towns, they uncovered 48 of them. and made a movie, aptly titled ‘Ghost Towns of DeKalb County Indiana’, little bergs that once bustled with stores, churches, blacksmith shops…and then disappeared. Much of this story begins in the 1870’s when the U.S. Postal Service set up rural post offices every two and a half miles along county roads.
“People would come get their mail, the postmasters a lot of them decided to put a little store in you know,” says Lock, “maybe a blacksmith saw all the activity; he’d build a blacksmith shop. And some of these little towns just developed.”
Little towns like Coburn’s Corners in Spencer Township. a church, store and school sprang up around the local post office, a tight knit little community proud of its volunteer brass band. And Fairfield Center, the towns sawmill a big economic draw along with stores, blacksmith shop, even a hotel…one day vibrant little centers of commerce…the next day, gone. What killed them was RFD, Rural Free Delivery, door to door rural mail delivery launched in 1903. Overnight the little country post offices shut down and dozens of little towns shut down with them, most without a trace. This farm field is where Centerville, Indiana once stood. Other towns left something, the good people of Houltenville once worshipped in this church. Today only the church survives to bear witness to a story Bill Lock says is important we remember.
“Every human being likes to have roots.” says Lock. “Some people don’t have any kind of roots, they’re the kind of people that get in trouble. It gives you a sense of belonging to a place and an area.
And it makes you wonder with every rural road you travel, ‘what stood at these four corners not so long ago, who called this place home, and what kind of folks were they?’ this is Eric Olson reporting.
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