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.
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?