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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Town of Carbon ready for Covered Bridge Festival

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Mary Phipps, left, with her daughter, Carbon Town Clerk Diane Fields and Mary Egloff at the Carbon Museum. They are standing in front of an old fire engine.

The residents of Carbon are proud of their town and would like to encourage people to come for a visit during the Covered Bridge Festival, which is Oct. 10-19. The museum will be open for tours from 2-4 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 19 and from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 16.

The "little historic church of Carbon" will be serving food and have a yard sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day during the Festival except Oct. 12 and Oct. 19.

No "decent" woman would walk down the east side of the main street in Carbon in the early 1900s. That's where the town's 13 saloons were located. It was on the roof of one of those taverns, Bauman's saloon, that a fire started and nearly destroyed the town on March 25, 1905.

Sparks from a west bound passenger train on the Big Four Railroad Line, now Conrail, started the fire about 2:25 p.m. A strong wind was blowing from the south at the time and within 2 1/2 hours 36 homes and 25 businesses were gone.

The town never fully recovered from that fire. The mines, which had swelled the population to nearly a thousand, were beginning to play out. So many of the businesses and residents who got burned out simply moved on west to new mines at Diamond, Perth, Lodi, Fontanet, Rosedale and Clinton.

This was not what the early settlers had hoped for. According to records kept by Mary Egloff, before 1870, no towns existed in northern Clay County. Word went around that the Big Four Railroad was going to be coming through the northern part of the county, north of Brazil.

All the farmers and homesteaders in that area quickly laid out town sites in a corner of their land in hopes that the railroad would come through at that point and provide them with an immediate town.

Aaron Loveall, who had 620 acres north of Brazil, laid out his town on the northeast corner of his land. He named it Pontiac because he had found Indian arrowheads there and tradition said that Chief Pontiac had camped there before.

Another farmer laid out his town directly across the road from Pontiac on the northwest corner of his tract of land and called it South Carbon.

The Carbon Block Coal Company had a tract of land half a mile north of Pontiac and South Carbon near the Clay/Parke county line. In 1870 they laid out a town and named it Carbon.

The railroad came through at Carbon. Pontiac and South Carbon lost their chance to become towns but the areas are still referred to with those names by the local residents.

According to "A Salute to Carbon" by the late Mary Hoke, initially, the plentiful jobs brought migrants from Austria, Scotland, England and Wales to Carbon. The town was divided into three different sections. The west side was known as Irish Town. South of the railroad was called Austrian Town. The business section was dubbed Stump Town. No one knows the origin of the name Stump Town.

The town prospered with coal mines and clay plants. Besides the miners, there were farmers, merchants and teachers. Just one black man lived in Carbon. Charlie White was a barber. It was said he came in on a boxcar. He had no family close by as far as anyone could recall and his reasons for settling there were never known.

In the early days there were three churches available to the Carbon residents, Methodist, Catholic and Baptist. The Methodist Church was built in 1873. It's burned on four separate occasions but was replaced each time and still serves its congregation. In later years the Catholic Church moved its membership to the Brazil location.

The Carbon Baptist Church was built and dedicated in 1881. It ministered to the people's needs until 1999 when the congregation built a bigger, more modern facility. The new brick Carbon Baptist Church sets on the land with no name between Carbon and South Carbon.

Another factor that aided in the demise of the once bustling little town was the location, or rather the relocation, of SR 59. The highly traveled road used to make a 90-degree eastbound turn immediately north of the railroad overpass, going into Carbon. There it continued on north integrating with Murphy Avenue, formerly called Morgan's Crossing Road, which was the main street in Carbon.

But sometime after 1955 the state put in a new railroad overpass on SR 59. They also straightened out the highway at that point and completely bypassed Carbon.

So over the years the folks of Carbon lost most of their industry and many of their neighbors. But those remaining never lost the love for their community. The friendly little burg now claims a population of about 350 people. They still have three churches, Methodist, Baptist and Nazarene. There's a post office and a new tavern recently opened.

The old Carbon School, which closed in 1963 when the kids were sent to Van Buren, is now the Town Hall and Carbon Museum. The former Carbon Baptist church building, now called the "little historic church of Carbon", is used to hold community functions such as weddings and reunions.

And all the ladies should feel quite comfortable walking down both sides of main street.

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