The Monroe County Historical Society was organized in 1905 when interested members of the community met at the Christian Church and heard Rev. Amzi Atwater read a paper titled “Recollections of the University 40 Years Ago.” Atwater was the first president and curator of the Society.
Atwater came to Bloomington to attend Indiana University in 1864. After completing two degrees, he was called to be the pastor of a Disciples church in Ohio, but returned to IU in 1870 to teach Latin and Greek. In 1888, he was made a vice president of the university and served in that capacity for four years.
About 1890, he built a large frame home for his family just a few short blocks from the university at 321 E. Kirkwood, the northeast corner of Kirkwood and Grant. The home was filled with valuable antiques that had been passed down to Rev. Atwater from his ancestors. It also contained treasures collected by the Monroe County Historical Society. At one time the treasures were stored in a room in the “new” courthouse, but when that room was needed for use by the court, Atwater took the artifacts to his home.
After Amzi’s death on March 12, 1919, his son, Munson, took occupancy of the home and many of its contents. In the early morning hours of October 21, 1930, the Bloomington fire department received a call that the house was on fire. In spite of a quick response, it took several hours to extinguish the flames. As the firemen fought the flames, neighbors helped to carry the furniture out of the house. Their efforts were, however, inhibited by plaster falling from the ceiling. Not much was saved.
The loss of the home was estimated to be between $10,000 and $15,000, but the loss of the antique furniture and the items of interest belonging to the Society were of even greater value.
Theophilus Wylie, Indiana University, Its History from 1820, When Founded, to 1890 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, Lithographer, 1890), pp. 128-129.
Bloomington (IN) Evening World, April 5, 1905, p. 1.
Amzi Atwater. “Indiana University Forty Years Ago,” Indiana Magazine of History, September 1905, pp. 140-149..
“Firemen Fight Vainly to Save City Land Mark,” Bloomington (IN) Evening World, October 21, 1930, p. 1.
“On Burning of Historical Data,” Bloomington (IN) Daily Herald Telephone, October 17, 1953, p. 9.
Post Submitted by: Randi Richardson (Research Library Volunteer)