Historically Speaking

This is an archive of weekly columns written by Darrel Radford, Board member of The Henry County Historical Society, and published each Saturday in The Courier-Times, New Castle’s daily newspaper.

Maxwell Addition Open to the Public

Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Historically Speaking |

Maxwell Addition Open to the Public

Saturday, April 25th was an exciting day at the Henry County Historical Society. Not only did we hold our annual meeting, but it was the day of our Grand Opening for the new Maxwell Exhibit.

A crowd of approximately ninety members and guests attended the event. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held with several of our local dignitaries and Jenny Washburn, the daughter of Howard Joyner who donated the 1911 Maxwell automobile to the society.

We are so pleased with the wonderful new addition and encourage all our friends and members to stop in to see it soon.

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Remembering Howard Joyner

Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 in Historically Speaking |

Remembering Howard Joyner

Howard E. Joyner, 85, of Lafayette passed away Monday, October 27, 2014.

He was born February 20, 1929 in New Castle to the late William H. ‘Chic’ Joyner and Beatrice Carpenter Joyner. Howard graduated from New Castle High School in 1947 and attended Purdue University. After college he joined his father and brother in the family construction business W.H.Joyner & Sons.

In February 1957 Howard married Arbutice ‘Bootie’ Todd. Bootie passed away April 6, 1996. Howard married Barbara Blair in May 27, 2000. She passed away October 15 of this year. Howard also was preceded in death by his parents and brother John ‘Jack’ Joyner.

Howard JoynerHoward enjoyed playing golf and restoring antique automobiles. He was an active member of the Lafayette Indiana Historic Auto Club, Inc., Veteran Motor Car Club of America (Snappers Region), Horseless Carriage Club of America(Brass and Gas Region), and a number of other car clubs. Howard participated in antique car tours around the country with various car clubs. Howard also was a member of the Masonic Temple, Elks Club, and Christ United Methodist Church.

Surviving are his daughter Jenny Joyner Washburn and husband Alan of Kentland and his son William H. Joyner and wife Trish of Denver, Colorado, and three sisters-in-law, Jackie Joyner and Betty Cashner of New Castle, and Vianna Snider of Lafayette. Howard is also survived by three step-children, Sandra L. Johnson and her husband Brian of Lafayette, James M. Blair and his wife Mary of Crossville, Tennessee, and Theresa M. Marcum and her husband Charles of Morristown, Indiana, along with six step-grandchildren, 14 step-great-grandchildren, and 2 step-great-great-grandchildren.

Family visitation will be 4 pm Friday, October 31 at Hippensteel Funeral Home, 822 N. 9th St. Lafayette IN 47904. The family will welcome friends from 5-8 pm at the funeral home with a Masonic service at 7 pm. Howard’s funeral will be 2 pm, Saturday, November 1 at Hippensteel Funeral Home, with Rev. Dr. TJ Jenney officiating. Burial will be at Resthaven Memorial Park.

Memorials may be directed to the Henry County Historical Society Maxwell Building Addition Fund, 606 South 14th St., New Castle IN 47362 or on-line at henrycountyhs.org.

Hippensteel Funeral Home is entrusted with care. Share memories and condolences online at www.hippensteelfuneralservice.com.

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Remembering Jim Reno

Posted by on Sep 6, 2014 in Historically Speaking |

Remembering Jim Reno

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014 6:18 pm

A 1998 San Antonio Express-News story captured a most memorable unveiling. It reported how television cameras surrounded horse owner Peggy Tweedy as she got her first look at a new statue.

The nervous sculptor watched nearby. Tweedy walked completely around the life-size bronze image.

Then, the newspaper reported, Tweedy smiled and said, “That’s my horse.”

The horse portrayed was none other than Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner. The statue has since greeted visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

The artist? Jim Reno, a man who grew up here in New Castle.

On this Father’s Day weekend, Reno’s story is important to remember. It is a reminder that not everyone is blessed with good fathers and that this weekend should also be about celebrating the father figures who stepped in and took the place of biological fathers, who, for whatever reason, left their sons and daughters behind.

In Reno’s case, his father left when he was five and his mother was forced to take an auto factory to support her two young sons.

Reno, who died in 2008, acknowledged in newspaper interviews over the years that many people here had positive influences on his life.

“Be sure to tell the people who will be reading whatever you may write about me that everything I have and everything I am have come about only because many people were good to me when I was a boy in New Castle,” Reno told Sharon Clifton in a story printed by The Henry County News Republican many years ago.

That’s high praise, considering:

n Quarter Horse News called Reno “a legendary cutting horse industry figure and noted sculptor” upon his passing.

n Reno was president of the National Cutting Horse Association twice and is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame.

n Chicago’s William Wrigley once said “The anatomical perfection of Jim Reno’s people and animals brings life to a legendary era. We share the spirit of that time through his work.”

n He presented a small working model of The Brand Inspector to Ronald Reagan for the White House’s permanent collection and once was the only American sculptor invited by Queen Elizabeth II to the Horse Artist of the World exhibition at the Tryon Gallery in London.

Reno’s youth was molded by local people who took an interest in him from Robert and Dorotha White, who hired him to take care of their horses, to teachers at New Castle High School.

In fact, it was a teacher who first discovered Reno’s talent for sculpting.

When a model of a good beef animal was needed in one of his classes, Jim carved one. It was so good, the teacher entered it in a state competition and it won. The teacher lobbied the prestigious Herron School of Art in Indianapolis to give Reno a scholarship.

An artist of national proportions was born.

Reno went on to produce many memorable works of horse art. It became a means to his true love, with money he made helping him get closer to real horses.

“I’m a horseman,” Reno told The San Antonio Express-News. “I needed a ranch to raise horses. My art let me have the ranch.”

Inside the Henry County Historical Society Museum at 606 S. 14th St. is a Reno work of art that has nothing to do with horses, but everything to do with the strength and grace they possess.

Called “The Gentle Man,” the statue shows a tall, muscular black man kneeling and gazing at a bird he is holding in his hand. Apparently the bird has an injured wing. Jim told Sharon Clifton in her News Republican article that the inspiration for it came from a friend he had here in New Castle.

“We program little boys that it’s not manly to be gentle,” Reno told Clifton. “But that’s wrong. A man can be gentle and he can cry. The Gentle Man is a real man.”

Just last weekend, horse racing enthusiasts were glued to their television sets, hoping that California Chrome could join Secretariat and 1978’s Affirmed as Triple Crown winners. It didn’t happen, a reminder of just how difficult the feat really is.

It was also an affirmation of just how special Jim Reno’s talent really was, to be selected to sculpt one of the greatest horses of all time.

And a reminder that the good, ordinary people of New Castle and Henry County are carving potential pieces of history daily in their own gentle way.

Come see Reno’s “Gentle Man” sculpture and the other interesting exhibits at the Henry County Historical Society. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

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Mt. Lawn memories make the heart race

Posted by on Sep 6, 2014 in Historically Speaking |

Famous band leaders Jimmy Dorsey and Sammy Kaye played there. Chrysler workers who came here from Kentucky once lived there. The “Rushville Rocket” Tony Stewart honed his skills there.

Mt. Lawn has revved up Henry County in more ways than one since Doc Sweigart built the unique, pear-shaped race track. The announcement earlier this month that stock car racing would be canceled at the facility for 2014 created more than just a ripple of sadness in the local community.

But what a ride it’s been up until this point.

Archives at the Henry County Historical Society steer the reader through better times. Historic times. Unforgettable times.

George A. Sweigart began construction of the track 80 years ago in 1934. Today, Mt. Lawn is regarded as one of the oldest family-owned race tracks in the nation.

The Sweigart names – and the friendly, engaging personalities behind it – have kept the track improving, evolving and relevant. From “Doc” to George A., Clara, “Bucky” and now Rick, family has been the engine that’s made Mt. Lawn checkered-flag famous.

In a July 2, 1977 article written by Matt Morris for The Courier-Times, a picture was painted of the track’s earliest days. Morris wrote that traffic was bumper-to-bumper from Ind. 38 with several roads blocked near the track, located five miles west of New Castle.

“Tickets were sold by salesmen jumping onto the running board of cars as they approached the speedway,” Morris wrote.

An interesting twist happened that night, according to Morris, who wrote that the new floodlights failed to work. So, with help from the crowd, the Sweigarts improvised.

“The management asked the crowd if they would line their automobiles around the edge of the track and turn on their car lights. The race was a success.”

Mt. Lawn Speedway would go on to pave the way – literally – for racing and race car drivers in the 1940s. In 1946, it became one of the earliest paved race tracks. Bob Stranahan, a Courier-Times sports editor during those days, pronounced the fifth-of-a-mile track “the fastest in the Midwest circuit and spectators were thrilled by the close finishes.”

Names of drivers who participated here reads like a Hall of Fame racing roster. Louie Meyer, a three-time Indy 500 winner, once built a car for local favorite Kenny Eaton. Jim Rathmann, 1960 winner of the Indy 500, also raced here in the 1940s and early 1950s. Tony Stewart and Kenny Irwin Jr. drove midgets here in the mid-1990s.

But as deep as the racing history is here, that’s only part of the story.

Mt. Lawn was once the place to be in social circles. In a 1985 article by Wayne Slaven in The Courier-Times, a resort area was described that featured 50 cabins and a large dance hall where nationally known big band leader Jimmy Dorsey appeared and local residents could “swing and sway” with Sammy Kaye.

Believe it or not, there was also racing of a different kind done here back in Mt. Lawn’s heyday. It was New Castle’s own regatta of sorts. Newspaper ads for outboard speedboat races urged readers to attend races on the “big beautiful lake” at Mt. Lawn. Nationally known speedboat drivers from Chicago and Detroit were said to participate.

Mt. Lawn also played an important supporting role in the mass migration of people who came here from Kentucky to work at the Chrysler plant in the 1950s. Henry County Historical Society Board President Gene Ingram recalled in a 2006 Knightstown Banner article that his father, Sterling Ingram, maintained the Mount Lawn track and lived in one of the cabins.

Through decades of races and events, Mt. Lawn has been one of the safest and most family-friendly places to be. Only one racing fatality has ever been recorded there, that coming in 1941. The track has refrained from selling alcohol throughout its eight decades of operation, making it a great place for family fun.

Perhaps the 2014 cancellation of races at Mt. Lawn is just a yellow flag for a facility that’s rebounded from challenges more than once in its long and colorful history.

Darrel Radford is a Courier-Times contributor and board member for the Henry County Historical Society. Come look through the society’s Mt. Lawn files and get close to other parts of magnificent local history. The museum is open from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and by appointment, by calling 765-529-4028.


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Lincoln-Kennedy simularities odd and eerie

Posted by on Sep 6, 2014 in Historically Speaking |


For the Courier-Times

This week, America observed two major historical dates. Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Friday marked the 50th year since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

As local history enthusiasts are probably aware, there are several interesting, even odd similarities that forever link Lincoln and Kennedy. Some of these are well-known, others are obscure. Here are a few:

n Both Presidents were shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while seated beside their wives, neither of whom were injured.

n Both were in the presence of another couple, and in each case that man was also wounded by the assassin.

n After both assassinations there were loud and insistent claims that the fatal shot must have come from a different direction.

n Each President in his thirties married a socially prominent twenty-four year old girl who spoke French fluently.

n While in the White House, each President had a family of three children, and both lost a child through death.

n Both Lincoln and Kennedy were second children.

n Both had been boat captains.

n Both were related to a U.S. Senator, Attorney General, ambassador to Great Britain, and the mayor of Boston.

n Each had been elected to Congress in the year ’47 and were vice-presidential runners-up in the year ’56.

n Each was elected president in ’60.

n Before each was elected, a sister died. Both had a friend named Billy Graham and knew an Adlai Stevenson.

n The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

n Both were succeeded by vice-presidents named Johnson: Andrew born in 1808 and Lyndon in 1908, both of whom had 13 letters in their names and two daughters.

n Both assassins have 15 letters in their names.

n Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and fled to a warehouse. Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theater.

n Both assassins were in their turn assassinated by shooters who used a Colt revolver and fired only one, fatal shot.

n Neither one died immediately. Lincoln was taken to the Petersen House, Kennedy to Parkland Hospital (both with initials PH).

Internet chatter added this tidbit: Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a place that used to be Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home until it was seized by Lincoln’s soldiers.

Sunday during a program at the Henry County Historical Society, Lincoln look-alike Wilbur Tague offered one more.

“Who would have thought that an eyewitness to the Kennedy assassination would have nephew that looks like Abraham Lincoln?”

Tague’s uncle, James T. Tague, was in Dallas the day Kennedy was shot, and he was actually wounded by a ricocheting bullet.

“My uncle Jimmy was on the grassy knoll when Kennedy passed by,” Tague said. “He was the only eyewitness on the street hit in the face by a bullet fragment.”

Tague’s uncle has written a book entitled “LBJ and the Kennedy Killing” which alleges Johnson may have been more than just the man who took over as president.


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Museum is hidden Henry County jewel

Posted by on Sep 6, 2014 in Historically Speaking |


Historically Speaking

The year was 1870. Less than 100 years after America won its independence. Just 54 years after Indiana became a state. Only 48 years after a place called New Castle and formation of a county named after a man who famously said “Give me liberty or give me death.”

That year, a stately new home was built for a Civil War general and local attorney – William Grose.

Gen. Grose was definitely not a give-orders-and let-others-do-the-fighting kind of general. He was actively involved in some very recognizable Civil War battles. Shiloh. Chickamauga. Chattanooga. Lookout Mountain. He was regarded as a hero during 100 days of continuous fighting in the last Atlanta campaign.

Today, more than 230 years after American won its independence and nearly 200 years after Indiana became a state, his home at 606 S. 14th St. deserves a general-sized salute.

Since 1902, it has served as home for the Henry County Historical Society Museum and is the oldest, most continuously operating facility of its kind in the state. The historical society itself is third-oldest in Indiana.

It is truly a hidden jewel. The home just oozes with stories of heroism, leadership, visionaries and fantastic dreams that came true.

Walk into the main museum area, and a whirlwind of industry, mystery, inspiration and nostalgia greet you. You immediately see a Jesse French piano, the kind that was made here and shipped all over the world.

Music, not from an MP3 player or boom box, but from a wind up device and an oversized metal disc, fills the air on command, with a nostalgic, rich melody.

Turn and walk toward the back of the room, and you are greeted by Gen. Grose himself and his dear wife, Rebecca. The paintings are in the same place today that they were when first hung in the mansion.

They are just two of many pictures that paint a thousand words right before your eyes. Inspiration. Courage. Wonder.

Inspiration and courage glistens off of the military medals won by Gen. Omar Bundy, a New Castle native who is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

He stood only 5 feet, five inches tall. But Gen. Omar Bundy was credited by some for turning the tide against the Germans in World War I. Bundy became known as the hero of Belleau Wood after he and his troops stopped the German advance in its last great offensive of the war. Bundy defied orders to retreat, a bold move the Indianapolis Star reported “in all probability saved Paris from capture at the hands of the Germans.”

“None of our soldiers would understand not being asked to do whatever is necessary to reestablish a situation which is humiliating to us and unacceptable to our country’s honor. We are going to counter-attack.”

Wonder as in, I wonder how Thaddeus Coffin made this beautiful desk, containing more than 56,000 pieces of wood, with essentially just one hand. Coffin was the architect of the Grose home, but the desk, which includes a piece of wood from a carriage Abraham Lincoln once rode in, is almost as equally impressive.

Wonder as in, how did they build such a beautiful courthouse with such ordinary tools. Some of the tools used in constructing the 1869 marvel are on display in the museum.

Wonder, as in if this canteen could talk, what stories would it tell? It’s from the Revolutionary War.

Inspiration, as you see photos of the Maxwell Automobile Factory, an authentic Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet, and an old-fashioned bicycle – all of which were manufactured right here in New Castle.

We invite you to do what nearly 1,000 people did in 2013 — visit the Henry County Historical Society Museum. The museum is open today from 1 to 4:30 p.m. After today, it will go into its winter mode of operation and be open by appointment only for January and February. Call 529-4028 to schedule tours or use of the genealogy library. Visitors from as far away as Texas and Calfornia came to the museum this year. We hope you will make it a new year’s resolution to come visit in 2014. Happy New Year from the Henry County Historical Society.

(Darrel Radford is a former editor and staff writer for The Courier-Times and a board member for the Henry County Historical Society.)


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