Henry Ward Beecher and Traders Point

Today during a visit to the Pike Township Historical Society Archives I was researching the history of the two-room brick school house that had once stood within the northeast corner of Lafayette and Moore Roads.   I had recently been shown a photo of the school that Traders Point native Eddie Hightshue had donated to the archives and I wanted to learn more.   While reviewing a copy of a Marion Count Pike Township Map dated 1855, I had noted  the words: Prospect Pres Ch. near the intersection of Moore Rd. Lafayette and West 79th St  I asked Barbara Copeland, the archivist, if she knew anything about the Prospect Presbyterian Church.   She returned with a letter dated 5/15/1978 and signed by Jesse F. Philliffe (sp) in which he shared the following typed history from Sulgrove’s History of Indianapolis: 1884:

Prospect Presbyterian Church:    This church was organized about 1835 at Burns School House by the families of Thomas Burns, Thomas McMannis, James Moore, James Duncan, John Duncan, Joseph Patten, and some others.   In a few years after the organization they built a house of worship on the northwest corner of James Duncan’s land (where the Rural Academy now stands) and the first preacher who occupied the pulpit there was the Rev. Stewart, who continued to preach for this church for a number of years.   After him Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (the noted Brooklyn divine) preached here, and he was followed by the Rev. Reed, who preached for the church for a number of years, and the Rev. Long who was the last minister of this church.   As some of its leading members had moved to the west, and others had died, the house was sold for a school house, and is now known as Rural Academy. (1884).   Below this double spaced information is the following single spaced note:  As I recall, some of the folk used to talk about the Traders Point school  was known as the Academy.   I trust this information will be of some interest and help to you, and he signed his name.   Beneath his name was another single spaced typed note: Since writing the above I learned that this land ws where the church was built was owned by a Mr. Abraham Busenbarrick.   It is also the same location where the Pleasant Hill cemetery is located on the Moore Road about one mile north of Traders Point.

Could this be true?   According to many published sources, the chronology makes this highly possible. 

Henry Ward Beecher, the fourth son of Lyman Beecher (whose mantle, reputation, and personality he inherited), (and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) was born on June 24, 1813, at Litchfield, Conn. Though an undisciplined student with a greater gift for speaking than studying, he graduated from Amherst College in 1834 and Lane Theological Seminary in 1837. He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church (New School) in 1838, serving first a small parish at Lawrenceburg, Ind., and then the larger Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis after 1839. Here he developed the oratorical style – a singleness of aim which sought to achieve a moral response and change in his hearers – that enabled him to become the most conspicuous preacher in the nation for several decades.   In 1847 Beecher moved from Indianapolis to Brooklyn, N.Y., to become pastor of the newly formed Plymouth Church. He remained there the rest of his life and made it one of the most renowned and influential American pulpits, attracting crowds of 2, 500 regularly every Sunday. His striking appearance, dynamic delivery, and ability to speak directly on topics of popular interest gained him a national audience. A stenographer recorded his sermons, which were regularly published and widely read.  

   And a confirming note from “Anecdotes of Henry Ward Beecher” by N. A. Shenstone, p. 62: “(while in Indianapolis) He always preached twice on a Sunday, and in various districts of the city held an average of five other meetings a week.   During three months of every year, by consent of his people, he devoted himself to missionary work throughout the State,  making the journeys on horseback and preaching at some place every day.  His fame spread throughout the whole country, until finally his arrival in any town was sufficient to attract a multitude of people to hear him.   And from page 65: “There was then a feeling in the church, almost throughout the country, which was especially strong in Indianapolis, against discussions on slavery from the pulpit.  Some of Mr. Beecher’s most prominent parishoners were bitterly opposed to the subject being even publicly named by a Christian minister.  But he emphasized his position by early introducing into the synod a resolution declaring that every minister should preach a thorough exposition and condemnation of slavery.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), American Congregational clergyman, was an outstanding preacher and lecturer. He was probably the best known and most influential Protestant minister in the United States between 1850 and 1887. 

So yes, Henry Ward Beecher was in Indianapolis from 1839 to 1847 and he could well have preached here on a regular basis.   But one of the most interesting facts of this timeline is that while the church was here at the time Beecher preached in Indianapolis, the village of Traders Point was not platted until 1864.   

Any historical references to Beecher preaching at this church will be cited as Prospect Presbyterian Church, (which was less than one mile north of the village).   It is also quite possible that the Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery on Moore Road was affiliated with Prospect since we know that it was not affiliated with the other churches of Traders Point.  We also know, based upon dates on graves, that the Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery predates the establishment of Traders Point.

1889 Map showing School No. 12 Rural Academy

Rural Academy site

site of church where Beecher preached

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.
This entry was posted in Area History, Distinctives, Historic Residents, Traders Point in general and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Henry Ward Beecher and Traders Point

  1. Evan says:

    This is fascinating.

    Where are the Pike Township Historical Society Archives located, and how does one go about visiting them?

  2. Lori James says:

    My name is Lori James. My parents bought the land where the old water mill used to be located just west of 86th and Lafayette road. They fell in live with the land the first time they saw it over 20 years ago and had the opportunity to purchase it. They have a love affair with this land that has been passed on to their children and grandchildren. What we would love to have is an authentic picture of the land with the mill when it was still in existence. It would mean everything for them to have this. I have looked in libraries and on the internet and cannot find a picture. I have researched colonel Hessler who I understand ran the post there, but have had no luck. I was wondering if you could lead me in some sort of direction. Again, it would mean everything to my parents who bought the land and love it like nothing I have ever seen. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

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