William Fortune 1863-1942

Few family names have had more lasting impact on the Traders Point area than this one. He frequented the area during the dawn of the automobile and his circle of influential friends included J.K. Lilly who assembled what is now Eagle Creek Park. Fortune’s daughter and son in law Bowman Elder, established a large rural estate on Moore Road in the 1920s. His grandchildren and great grandchildren on both the Fortune and Elder sides of the family remain in the area to this day and operate separate dairies and horse farms. Family members helped create the Traders Point Hunt, one of the truly unique emblems of the region. Great grandson Carter Fortune leads the publicly-traded Fortune Industries, located just a few miles from Traders Point. Yet one must travel to Boonville, Indiana to see any public recognition of the man; a small bronze plaque in front of the Warrick County Courthouse.

The following is bit of background on Mr. Fortune from the Indiana Historical Society.

William Fortune (1863-1942) was born in Boonville, Indiana, the son of William Harrison and Mary (St. Clair) Fortune. After rudimentary schooling, he became an apprentice on the Boonville Standard at the age of thirteen. In 1881 he published a history of Warrick County, and later the same year did research on the Indiana period (1816-1830) of Abraham Lincoln’s life.
In 1882 Fortune moved to Indianapolis. He took a job at the Indianapolis Journal, and soon became city editor. Resigning because of ill health in 1888, he served as correspondent for several eastern newspapers during Benjamin Harrison’s Presidential campaign, and briefly edited a weekly paper, the Sunday Press. He then worked for two years at the Indianapolis News. In 1884 Fortune married May Knubbe. They had three children, and brought them up in a house they built in Woodruff Place.
In the early 1890s Fortune became involved with civic improvement. In 1890, working with Colonel Eli Lilly, he helped found the Commercial Club, which in the next few years worked to pave the city’s streets, to get the city’s first big convention (the Encampment of the GAR), to get railroad tracks elevated, and to provide relief during a depression in 1894-1895.
Fortune was an early advocate of automobiles, heading an early automobile club and working for good roads. In 1904 he took a lead in hosting a visit to Indianapolios by Prince Pu Lun of China. For twenty years he operated a trade magazine for the paving industry, Municipal Engineering. From 1908 to 1924 he was president of a group of independent telephone companies.
Invited to buy some stock in Eli Lilly and Company in 1916, Fortune served as a director of the company for eleven years and as chairman of the finance committee for five years. Through most of his life he was a close friend of J. K. Lilly, and he went on a world cruise with him in 1923.
In 1916 Fortune organized the local chapter of the American Red Cross. He raised large amounts of money, coordinated hundreds of volunteers, and organized the local War Chest. He continued to head the Red Cross chapter until his death. In the 1920s he was active in the national Red Cross and in the national Chamber of Commerce.
After his wife’s death in 1898, and the marriage of his children in the early 1900s, Fortune was essentially a public man. He enjoyed the limelight, and used his prominence to promote his chosen causes.


About Ross Reller

I am pleased you have expressed interest in learning more about the historic Traders Point area in Indianapolis, Indiana. From 1980 to 1982 I was employed in the PR department at Conner Prairie Museum in Hamilton County. There I learned about William Conner, an important figure in Indiana's pioneer days. A decade later I became interested in the history of the Traders Point area and was surprised to learn that William Conner had been the first land owner in the area. In 1823 he acquired, through the Federal land office in Brookville, a patent for an 80 acre tract carved by Eagle Creek and an Indian trail that was about to be named the first toll roadway through the township (Lafayette Road). Thirty years later a village took shape within this tract. A grain mill on the creek, houses, churches, stores, restaurants, and two gas stations would take shape here in the creek valley hamlet of Traders Point. By 1962 all improvements (except a farmer's co-op) had been removed by the Indianapolis Flood Control Board to make way for Interstate 65 and a new reservoir. This blog is dedicated to preserving evidence of this historic area but I will occasionally use it to discuss related topics. To activate this follow, simply click the confirm button below. If you don't want to follow, ignore this message and we'll never bother you again. I am also a member of the Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery, a non profit association still selling burial plots for those who would like to spend all eternity in Traders Point, and I am an officer in the Pike Township Historical Society and the Traders Point Association of Neighborhoods.
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