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The Neeld Family and Bloomington’s Historic Courthouse Square

Blog post by Wayne Hastings

For me personally, the courthouse square has always been strongly linked to how I  perceive Bloomington, Indiana’s quality of place. The shops, restaurants, and festivities held  around the courthouse have forged memories and life experiences that I will likely recite once I  reach old age. Recently, the spread of the COVID-19 virus has forced beloved businesses such as  Darn Good Soup and Vance Music Center to permanently close. Just as these two businesses had  a strong influence in shaping my experiences in Bloomington, historic business owners also  played influential roles in the lives of past Bloomingtonites.

Born to Benjamin Neeld, an early Bloomington blacksmith who helped construct the first  Monroe County courthouse, Cyrus Nutt Simpson Neeld is remembered as a small, yet esteemed  entrepreneur. After returning from the Civil War, Neeld opened Neeld & Co., Hardware  Merchants on the north side of the courthouse square in 1885. While only a hardware store, it  helped serve the basic needs of farmers, homeowners, and blacksmiths. According to receipts,  Neeld sold tinware, stoves, ranges, refrigerators, carpenter tools, and farming equipment – all  tools necessary to make a successful living in the late 19th century.

Photo from the MCHC Collection

Neeld’s son Edward Neeld continued to run Neeld & Co. and later helped establish the  Bloomington Commercial Club in 1910. The aim was to “show Bloomington and vicinity as an  exceedingly prosperous community… [and to] reflect the progressiveness of Bloomington and  her up-to-date business interests” according to a 1912 Commercial Club book. Just as the first  Monroe County courthouse was rebuilt and Neeld & Co., Hardware Merchants did not survive  past 1928, the Bloomington Commercial Club was eventually replaced with the Bloomington  Chamber of Commerce.

While the impact left by the Neeld family is difficult to perceive today, their efforts  undoubtedly shaped how early Bloomingtonites grew to love their town. There was likely pride  in how shops and businesses developed around the modest, wooden courthouse and who knows  how many memories were left behind in the Neeld hardware store. Sons and daughters  accompanying their parents to the store may have fondly recalled the smell of machine oil and  new mown hay just as adults now remember their first encounter with the Schmalz bear from  Schmalz Hardware. What memories are you able to recall about the businesses around the  courthouse square? Anyone else remember the painting of a piglet in a bowl of soup that hung in  Darn Good Soup?

 

Photo from the MCHC Collection

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