The Journal Gazette
Friday, November 25, 2016 10:00 pm

Volunteers keeping county's history alive

ANDREA HOWE | Princeton Daily Clarion

PRINCETON, Ind. – Haubstadt native George Allen remembers playing on a Civil War cannon and a stack of real cannon balls at the gate of Maple Hill Cemetery when he was a child in the mid 1940s.

He doesn’t think anyone knows anything about that cannon and the cannon balls anymore. "They may have been stolen and never missed. How sad," he remarked in an email late last month.

The cannon anecdote is just one of Allen’s memories of Gibson County. Now living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he contacted the Daily Clarion to report his distress at learning that he had possibly received the last issue of "County Lines," the Gibson County Historical Society’s newsletter.

A lack of local volunteers willing to keep the newsletter going or to help with other historical society projects is the reason for suspended publication. Allen hopes someone will be motivated to restart the newsletter and revive the local group.

A long-distance member of the local organization as well as Haubstadt Area Historical Society, Allen believes "the gathering and compilation of an area’s past is paramount to its future."

He credits Betty Ahlemen and Bonita Johnson for doing yeoman work in the Princeton Public Library’s genealogy room. "Please take up the banner for the volunteers who do this work out of love and pride of community," he urged.

Allen said he thinks most people have little regard for the achievements of their ancestors until the memories have faded away – and only then do they search for the past. "If not documented, very little can be retrieved."

Johnson and volunteers spend hours and hours preserving documents in the basement of the library, where walls are lined with shelves containing hundreds of books of donated family histories. Researchers use the library’s resources of historic records from the Gibson County Health Department and Gibson County government to help people find ancestors and learn more about their communities.

Hundreds of photos and glass negatives donated for preservation are also being digitized.

She also updates an area online obituary database maintained by Browning Funeral Home, providing obituaries from historic local newspapers. The size of the obituary depended on the political party of the newspaper and the political party of the deceased, she mused. One newspaper might feature a front-page obituary, while the competing newspaper of the opposite political party might carry only a small death notice for the same person.

It’s often Johnson who finds the missing pieces of local historic puzzles that you won’t discover by Googling the question online. She’s the person who knows that the city of Princeton owes a tremendous debt to brave Evansville firefighters who loaded an engine aboard a flat train bed and made it to Princeton within 30 minutes to help save the downtown square from destruction by fire in the 1800s.

She’s also the person who helped find documentation showing the original intended purpose of Princeton’s Bicentennial Plaza on West Broadway.

Commonly known as the "free parking lot" for decades, the land was originally donated with the intention of building a coliseum honoring war dead.

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