A Short History of Bloomington & Monroe County

As prepared by:

Monroe County History Center
202 E. Sixth Street
Bloomington IN 47408

Bloomington, the seat of Monroe County, is an attractive progressive community situated 50 miles south of Indianapolis. It is known as the "Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana". The city was established in 1818 by a group of settlers from Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Virginia. The settlers were so impressed with "a haven of blooms" they called it Bloomington. In more recent time Bloomington has been designated as a "Tree City USA".

The area includes a number of Indiana state parks, nearby state and national forests, as well as city parks and recreation. Lakes Monroe and Lemon in Monroe County have become recreational centers for the state. Lake Monroe, created in the 1960's, has solved the longtime problem of water supply for the county.

Bloomington is the home of Indiana University. Founded in 1820, IU is one of the oldest and largest state universities in America. Most of the university buildings are Indiana limestone.

In the early years most people made a living by farming, limestone extraction and timbering for the furniture industry. One early industry was the salt works in 1822 and the Virginia Iron Works, which made a variety of iron kettles and other goods. Seward's blacksmith shop opened in 1821. Seward was most famous for creating the courthouse fish and beautiful iron fences.

A limestone mill was opened in the Stinesville area in 1827. Several limestone mills were built by the 1860's. The coming of the railroad in1853-54 made travel easier and made transporting limestone more feasible. New communities grew up along the railroad. Showers Brother Furniture, Oaks Manufacturing, and Pedigo Perfection Washing Machine were some of the early businesses. Early banks included First National Bank Workingmen's Building Loan Fund & Savings Association and Monroe County Bank. Public education was required by the state legislature and graded schools opened in Bloomington after the Civil War.

The 1900's brought many changes and growth to the area. Changes included improved roads, Rural Free Delivery mail service, another railroad, Bloomington Hospital, sanitary water, city sewers, and paved streets and sidewalks in town. The limestone industry continued to grow. City parks were developed. Showers Furniture built another plant, and business thrived. The Depression hit Monroe County hard. The WPA, PWA and other New Deal programs employed many men in the area.

In 1939 the city bought land west of town for an airport and completed it in 1944 (now the county airport). RCA bought one of the Showers plants in 1940 and made radios. After WW II they built televisions sets. WW II affected everyone. During the war, there were more female students than male students at IU. After the war students turned to the university in record numbers, with many veterans using the GI bill to help with the cost of their education.

Many businesses grew after the war, and national companies joined RCA in locating plants in Monroe County, including General Electric, Westinghouse, and Otis. Entrepreneur William Cook and his wife Gayle move to Bloomington in 1963 and started a medical device company. They grew the business into Cook, Inc, an international company. Over the years other companies have been developed by Cook, Inc.

In the period between the late 1950s and the 1970s, some of the older business closed. Showers sold their business and Seward's closed. The limestone companies also suffered during this time. College Mall opened in 1965 and brought a new way of shopping to town.

Water problems arose again. Lake Lemon was built in the 1950s. The US Corps of Engineers built Lake Monroe in Salt Creek Valley in the early 1960s for flood control for the White River and its tributaries.

School consolidation became popular in the 1960s. The county now includes the Monroe County Community School Corporation and the Richland-Bean Blossom School Corporation.

Since the 1980s the economy has been moving toward high tech, entrepreneurship, nonprofit, service and governmental employment. There are many artists and musicians, and quality of life is a valued community asset.