Charlottesville shares its name with a small town in the Midwest

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Charlottesville shares its name with a small town in the Midwest

Photos by Doug McSchooler

August 2017 may have made Charlottesville, Virginia, a hashtag, but it barely caused a ripple in the day-to-day fabric of the other C’ville.

Judie Wells, a lifelong resident of the state of Indiana, said she’s heard of Charlottesville, Virginia, but like most of her neighbors in Charlottesville, Indiana, she’s never been there. “I’ve seen it on the map, let’s put it that way,” she says.

Samantha Green, a postal support employee who works the window in the small white post office building on U.S. 40, the highway that bisects Charlottesville, Indiana, an unincorporated area 30-some miles east of Indianapolis, referenced Charlottesville, Virginia’s past summer’s troubles as “the recent tragedy” and something she “saw on Facebook.”

Others quizzed about the events had no idea what happened in Virginia last summer.

“Was there a shooting?” “Did it have something to do with teachers?” “Was there a tornado?” were all responses when Charlottesville Hoosiers were prompted to recall what might have happened in mid-August 2017 in the Virginia town that bears the same name as their own.

Charlottesville, Indiana, an unincorporated area that lies partly in Hancock County and partly in Jackson Township, is home to an estimated 200 to 600 residents.

Humble start

You can’t even buy a cup of coffee in Charlottesville—Charlottesville, Indiana, that is.

“We need a GrubHub or some kind of coffee delivery service here at least,” says Samantha Green, the young woman who commutes from Muncie, Indiana, about an hour north to put in her four-hour shift at the post office, which is only open for four hours a day, from 8am to noon (the postmaster for Charlottesville, Indiana, works out of a separate office in Greenfield).

Don’t worry, your baggage isn’t likely to be rerouted here, as there’s no airport. There’s no mayor, no fire hydrants, no police officers and no exit signs from nearby I-70. The only two businesses that have any kind of prominence in this almost 300-year-old community are Payne Auto Sales & Parts Inc. and Kessinger’s Lawn Care—and neither of them serve food.

“You see my white truck there? That’s mine,” says Kevin Kessinger. “If it’s there, I’m open. Those are my hours,” declares the business owner, chatting street side through an open truck window with his visiting uncle, up north from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

This unincorporated community in central Indiana straddling U.S. 40—historic National Road—lays claim of being named for its larger, more enterprising counterpart in central Virginia. A 1916 history of Hancock County states that David Templeton, a native of Charlottesville, Virginia, laid out the first 56 plats in 1830. Estimates put Charlottesville’s current population as anywhere from 200 to 600. C’ville demographics put our inside-the-city-limits at something like 48,000 and climbing; especially when you include 16,000 students August through May. Aerial street views or a drive past the residential homes along a grid of maybe two dozen streets explain why parking problems and traffic woes are not major issues in this part of Indiana.

“Indiana is [made up of] a whole lot of small towns,” says Green, matter-of-factly. Most of her previous post office jobs have been in small communities.

The post office in Charlottesville was closed for a year, when residents only had the option of rural delivery. Home delivery continues, likely a reason only five of the couple hundred available post office boxes have subscribers even now.

Charlottesville, Virginia, and Charlottesville, Indiana, are certainly not doppelgangers. The roadways in Indiana are flat; the dirt is a deep, rich brown. Where dormitories might be prominent in one, cornfields are commonplace in the other. But they do have at least one similarity: Residents of both places are prone to abbreviate their address as C’ville.

Assistant Fire Chief D. B. Bowman claims he no longer pays much attention to the news but he knows enough about Charlottesville, Virginia, to quickly locate a framed poster given to one of the station’s volunteers who passed through the city once.

Retired construction worker and Indiana resident David Goff caught some of the news last summer but doesn’t so much now that he’s retired. As for racism in his town, “it flares up” because it can be found everywhere, he says.

One recent transplant to the unincorporated community was startled to hear claims of Nazis in Virginia. “I thought the Nazis were long gone,” said Tammy Jones, who had just finished picking up around her above-ground swimming pool on one of the primary residential streets on the small grid. Unlike Virginia, which has separate jurisdictions for cities and counties, Charlottesville, Indiana, is partly in Hancock County, and partly in Jackson Township. Constant weather checkers in Virginia may mistakenly click on the Indiana town that pops up as one of the Charlottesvilles listed on a smart phone’s weather app, and Jones says the Virginia city pops up frequently when she’s browsing the internet.

Randy Payne, right, owner of Payne Auto Sales & Parts Inc., is considered the unofficial mayor of Charlottesville, Indiana. Customers often stop by his shop to talk local history.

Jones, who likes her “good Christian neighbors” and the attitude that causes most of them to help each other out when needed but otherwise mind their own business, moved recently to Charlottesville with her boyfriend and youngest of her six children. She was surprised to hear that the other Charlottesville was home to a university.

Greg Brinson knows better. When he played NCAA football video games, he would always pick the University of Virginia “so home games would be in Charlottesville.”

Brinson is the son of Randy Payne, owner of Payne’s Auto Sales and Parts. Randy Payne co-owns the junkyard of upward of 2,000 abandoned cars with his brother, Steve. His son and nephew might be found behind the counter at the 24-hour wrecker service that Payne compares to Wally’s Filling Station on “The Andy Griffith Show.” His father started the business as a bicycle and bait shop. A 1958 Charlottesville High School community calendar hangs on the wall.

“’58 was the year Charlottesville won the sectional in basketball,” Payne says.

Kessinger claims that Payne would be mayor if the residential community had a mayor. Stools topped with round green vinyl seats in front of the auto repair counter make it possible to sit down on a summer’s day and talk history with Payne, Brinson and Payne’s nephew, Cooter Payne.

Asked how frequently they spot a Confederate flag in Indiana, they all agree the image of the Southern Cross might be seen on pickup trucks and front yards in rural parts of the state. But not at businesses. And not in Indianapolis, the capital city just to the west. General consensus in the auto parts store, however, is that young people don’t know the “real meaning” of the Confederate flag, in other words, anything about its symbolism in the South.

“To them it’s just a rebel flag,” says Brinson. Or it stands for “back in the day.”

Never mind that Indiana sided with the North, and Charlottesville, along with nearby places like Knightstown and Greenfield, sent hundreds off to fight for the Union in the Civil War. As George B. Richman’s 1916 History of Hancock County, Indiana recounts, Captain Reuben A. Riley, Henry Snow and others organized a fife and drum corps and made a circuit of the county to stir up enthusiasm for enlistment. In page after page of names, Richman details the various regiments and companies served by the young volunteers. Those are followed by transcribed letters home from the men on the frontlines in Virginia writing about the “enemy,” the “traitors,” the “rebels” and captured “secessionists.”

The three men at Payne’s estimate that Charlottesville, Indiana, is “98 percent” white. It’s relatively free of crime, disregarding the occasional transgressions from “punk kids.” Charlottesville is the kind of place where people don’t have to lock their doors. Nevertheless, the men remember hearing about KKK meetings in the 1950s and seeing Klan fliers distributed house to house.

The post office in Charlottesville, Indiana, is open four hours a day; only five of its 500 post office boxes are used.

Local color

Judie Wells says her husband, Raymond, is a longtime member and treasurer of the local Lions Club that has adopted the stretch of U.S. 40 that runs east-west through Charlottesville. The members of the club meet twice a year to clean up the road that bears their organization’s name and the image of the Indiana state bird—a cardinal, just like in Virginia. Wells mentions how the Lions just finished hosting a corn and food tent for the 4-H fair to raise funds for the high school band and youth swim team. “And we have a fish fry every year,” she adds.

John Rasor lives in a two-story home that fronts U.S. 40, between Greenfield, the county seat, and Charlottesville. He is credited with being one of the most knowledgeable local historians for Hancock County, and keeps a three-ring binder with old photos and documents in clear pages to reference major events—like the time a car and a semi truck crashed in front of what was then a Charlottesville grocery store. He points out his bicycle in the photograph that made the paper. Born in 1938, he moved to the Charlottesville area in 1949 from Knightstown—the town’s nearest city to the east, the place where Sam Green tends to get her morning coffee. Like Randy Payne and other locals, Rasor was an Eagle and attended the former Charlottesville High School. Today, children from the area attend class in a merged Eastern Hancock County school system.

Rasor can walk on the property of the old brick Charlottesville schoolhouse (it’s now in private hands) because “I know the guy who owns it,” he says.  But he is averse to going inside. Abandoned vehicles, broken windows, asbestos tile and a bad roof keep it from being developed, though the brick structure is sound, he speculates. As for Charlottesville, Virginia, he knows about the city’s events of last summer, and remembers driving through the city a few times. His reaction to the news of the violent rally echoed the sentiment of others in town, along the lines of “glad that wasn’t us.”

“People who stir up the most trouble” tend not to live there, says the white-haired Rasor, adding they typically come from places “like California, New York and Detroit.”  He notes, laughing, that in comparison, “around here, once in a while somebody hits a possum.”

His souvenir from one of his Charlottesville visits was, not surprisingly, a $2 bill.

Misty Flannagan is a more recent arrival in Charlottesville, Indiana. She moved to a tidy house at the corner of Carthage Road and Railroad Street less than a year ago to join her boyfriend, Erin Hensley. She does the taxes for a company near Indianapolis, and he is an ironworker and a farmer, tending more than 2,000 acres in nearby Rush County, growing feed corn, sweet corn and soybeans. The two of them took a day off recently and drove to southern Ohio for a day at Kings Island amusement park, a predecessor by three years and once a sister amusement park of Virginia’s Kings Dominion.

Hensley, like Rasor, has been through Charlottesville and Virginia a number of times, having served in the military, and was alerted by news channels to the events of August 2017. Despite being a union worker, his voting patterns tend to match those of others in his Republican-leaning state, he says. “We just don’t have problems like that in our teeny-tiny town,” Hensley says. “You saw it. There’s maybe 300 people actually living here.”

Flannagan, too, is happy with her choice to move to Charlottesville, and points out the former railroad bed just south of the home she shares with Hensley as a bit of local history. All that’s left now is the raised earthen train bed and some serious scrub brush, but in 1865 the train that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body home to Springfield, Illinois, traveled that route, she says.

The seven-state, 10-day funeral train procession was noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which was the challenge of keeping the assassinated president’s body from deteriorating too much for the thousands of mourners who turned out to view their beloved Union leader. The roundabout route through the northern states of Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois didn’t necessarily include a depot stop in southern Indiana, but author and Indiana native Robert Reed noted that the train carrying Lincoln passed through his home of Knightstown on Sunday, April 30.

Adam Goodheart’s reporting for National Geographic in 2015 outlines the significance of the Lincoln funeral train as it passed through small northern towns like Charlottesville, Indiana:

“Especially in the rural Midwest, ordinary Americans felt a connection with Lincoln that went beyond just the tragedy of his assassination. Like him, they had suffered the agonies and triumphs of four years of war, and this emotional journey was bound up with memories of the railroad, too. It was at the local depots—the same ones where the funeral train now passed—that, long before, many had caught their last glimpses of sons and brothers who would never return. It was here that civilians brought the bandages and clothing, food and flags that they contributed to the war effort. It was here that the first news of defeats and losses on distant battlefields arrived, carried by the telegraph lines that ran along the tracks.”

This statue of poet James Whitcomb Riley, known as the “children’s poet,” in nearby Greenfield, Indiana, is decidedly less controversial than our city’s monuments. Photo by Jeanne Nicholson Siler

The other nod to local history in Charlottesville, Indiana, typically goes to James Whitcomb Riley, of nearby Greenfield. His statue in front of the courthouse in Greenfield is much less controversial than the mounted statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Gaining a reputation as the “children’s poet” or the “poet of the common people,” Riley made a name for himself for penning the words to “Little Orphant Annie” and the oft-recited verse, “When the frost is on the pumpkin…”

 

Billy Giddings won the James Whitcomb Riley award as a volunteer for the Red Cross in 1983. By that time, he and his family had been in Charlottesville, Indiana, for more than 10 years. He and his wife bought five acres and an old wooden barn on a property on the north side of Charlottesville in 1972. Their two children walked to school, and though the children have moved on, their parents are still content to live—and work—in the area. Billy works for McAllister Machines in Indianapolis, a unit of Caterpillar, and his wife works in the rehabilitation department of the hospital in Greenfield. “This is a small place and everybody knows each other,” says Billy.

But small is relative.

Rasor points out there’s yet another Charlottesville, Indiana, to be found on the printed state road map. That one, south of Richmond (Indiana, that is), in Union County, has its white dot not far from the Ohio state line. But he describes it as one of those “oh, wait…you just missed it”-sized places.

Flannagan moved to Charlottesville last November from Greenfield, just 10 or 15 minutes west on Route 40, but she loves it in Charlottesville.

“It’s more peaceful here—not that Greenfield is huge, but here you are surrounded by nature,” she says. “We have a couple churches, sure, but you can hear the owls hoot at night, or the coyotes. That’s what I like. And the people are really great. That’s what makes it wonderful.”


City stats

Charlottesville, Indiana

Founded: David Templeton, a native of Charlottesville, Virginia, laid
out the first 56 plats in 1830.

Population: Estimated between
200 and 600

Charlottesville, Virginia

Founded: An Act of the Assembly of Albemarle County established Charlottesville (named after Queen Charlotte of Great Britain) in 1762.

Population: 46,912


Historic site

U.S. 40 gained designation as the country’s National Road as early as the mid-19th and early 20th century, when cars ran on solid rubber tires and speed limits were 10 to 12mph. Federal highway construction funds were allotted for the promotion of the new “gas buggies” by making road beds that would allow for long-distance travel from coast to coast. U.S. 40 was built atop the famed National Road, and stars-and-stripes signs today still proudly boast of the road’s early heritage.

Correction: The title “Little Orphant Annie” was misspelled in the original story.

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