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Dr. John Herschel Lemon Reminisces about Early Life in Bloomington

Blog post by Randi Richardson

The item noted below is based on a column in an unidentified Bloomington newspaper called “Looking Back.” It was found in a scrapbook compiled by a man named Fred Lockwood.  The scrapbook is held by the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.  It also includes information and a photograph from Dr. Lemon’s obituary in the Indianapolis (IN) Star, July 11, 1935, p. 5.

John Herschel Lemon, the son of John A. M. and Cynthia Lemon, grew up near lemonHarrodsburg.  In 1856, when he was about twelve years of age, the family moved to Bloomington where he and his brothers attended the university.  Although the Civil War interrupted John’s academic career, he eventually became a physician and settled in New Albany, Floyd County, Indiana.  In 1929, he wrote John Cravens, secretary of Indiana University, a letter in which he reminisced about his early days in Bloomington.

…We moved…to the northwest corner of the campus in 1856.  South across the street lived Sheriff Pleasant Lorenzo Dow Mitchell, the son-in-law of old Col. Ketchum.  Dr. Eckley Hunter married a daughter, and I think Bruce Shield another.  The Mitchell family was large.

Along west side of town…lived Jim Howe.  His son went into regular military.  I think the next was even then a much worse, two-story brick where Joseph A. Wright* had lived perhaps in his janitor student days.  Emmanuel Marquis, who had served in the U. S. Consulate in some German town, wrapped up a brick that Joe Wright had hodded to the top wall of the Bloomington courthouse.  The brick was presented with some ceremony at Berlin where Wright was minister.  Prof. Marquis said the intention was to show his home folks how a man of the humble laboring class could in America go up to a high place…

North of the old Gov. Wright brick was the large white frame house of Mr. Batterton, the tinner.  He had five daughters.  Jake Wolfe married one and Madison Evans married another daughter.  The Battertons belonged to the Christian Church, and Evans was preparing to become a preacher in that denomination.  He often came to our house to see my older brothers, Alexander Downey and Alfred Homer Lemon.  The death of Evans in 1865 or 1866 was a sad time in our neighborhood.

Next north of the Batterton house lived Mr. McFetteridge (consider McPhetridge and McFetridge as spelling variants) for many years clerk of the court.  After a short distance over low ground was the depot on east side of the railroad.  I think my father owned a lot or two about where the Orchard House is, or was.

We owned a five-acre wood and pasture lot one-half mile or so west of town, south of the Acuff place.  Dr. James F. Dodds’ equal size lot was joining on the south.  Our lot had old, wide-spreading beech trees.  It was a grass slope divided by a small, rippling stream.  Students came often here to declaim or rehearse, especially in commencement time…

I belonged to a militia company.  Several local students belonged, drilling in the clean shade of Dunn’s woods on Saturday, once staying up the night when there was alarm of being attacked by Greene County Butternuts or Copperheads.  The drum beatings, the enlistings and speakings were in the courthouse and public square.  In the college campus, it was quiet as a country Sabbath when a professor was told a student had joined the army, his manner was serious and sad.  Professor Wylie’s son was dead.  Sammy Dodds, the two friends, was dead in distant, bleak Missouri.

Many other young flowers of hope and all faithfulness were dead.  What could these venerable scholar-saints do but enter into a chamber and plead that the time be shortened.

There was always a great crowd at the depot when the afternoon train came with the Cincinnati Gazette.  Oscar McCullough had a news stand opposite the courthouse.  Usually someone read the news aloud.  The others—Wylie, Ballantine, Kirkwood—gathered close to listen, their faces grave as if they heard a voice from land and sea that time was to be no more.  I heard little or no conversation among them.  Kirkwood was slightly deaf.  He had a cane, a worn silk hat and long, black cloak.  After listening to the news they filed away.  They were not good mixers or conversationalists but always polite and kindly mannered and pleased with friendly greeting.  Neither of these three, very great and truly good men, seemed able to contribute to ordinary conversation.

I do not remember Professor Woodburn at the news stand loafing place.  I think he was always busy in the afternoon hammering away with the sometimes large Prep classes.  Truly, the old faculty of the university were a fine, old set of mahogany…

A few months ago I wrote a sketch of Company A, 54th Regiment of Indiana, three month’s men—Captain Daniel Shader [sic] and Lt. William J. Allen.  The company was a fine, made-up group of Bloomington and Monroe County men—some from college.  The names of all are in the reports of [the] Adj. Gen’s office at Indianapolis.  My name appears there as John H. Seamon instead of John H. Lemon.

I have never seen any reference to the service of Co. A, 54th Indiana.  We must nearly all be dead by now.  I was seventeen and one-half years of age in the summer of May 1862…The operations of Co. A, 54th Indiana were for a while as guards over five or six thousand rebel prisoners at Camp Morton and afterwards served in west Kentucky before the slaves were emancipated and shows the attitude of Kentuckians on state rights and against invasion.

Asbury Cravens and his brother were good friends, and their father, General Cravens, and wife, came to see us in Bloomington and to see Richard D. Owen who had a room and board[ed] at my mother’s house when, after my father’s death in 1863, she moved and built a house next to Dr. James F. Dodds, north of his large brick…

Very Respectfully,

John Herschel Lemon, President

Floyd County, Indiana Historical Society

I will mention that in class of 1854, my brother’s name is William Harrison Lemon.  The “Herschel” is in my name.  Also Alexander Dowling should be “Downey” after my mother’s brother-in-law, a preacher about 1824.  South a few miles of Bloomington is [the] Ezra Pering or old Tom Carter neighborhood.

Six years after Dr. Lemon’s letter to John Cravens was published in a Bloomington newspaper, he died in New Albany on July 11, 1935.  His obit was published the same day in the Indianapolis Star (see p. 5).  At the time of his death he was 90 years of age and was believed to hold the record for the longest continued practice of medicine in Indiana.  He also was the father of the Floyd County Medical Society.

*Joseph Albert Wright (1810–1867) was Indiana’s tenth governor.  He served in that capacity from 1849 to 1857 and later became a U. S. Senator.  His father was a brick manufacturer in Pennsylvania who settled with his family in Bloomington about 1819 or 1820.  After the death of his father, 14-year-old Joseph worked his way through Indiana Seminary, later Indiana University, as a janitor, bellringer and occasional bricklayer.

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