History of Merom Ferry

July 25, 1937
by Anna Bowles Wiley
Transcribed by Barbara Dix

Back in the past, one must go for 100 years to discover that the Merom Ferry which it would seem has recently changed hands, after remaining a century in the Cooper family, was started first by a woman. Mrs. Elizabeth O'Boyle Cooper.

Interest has centered around this ferry recently from two facts, that it has changed hands and because President Franklin D. Roosevelt has allowed a grant with which to build a bridge across the Wabash River.

Elizabeth O'Boyle Cooper was the widow of John O'Boyle when she married William Cooper, who fathered her seven children by her first husband. Mrs. Cooper first landed in America from Ireland and she was possessed by that frugality and determination which made her equal to carrying out any purpose she determined upon.

Using a skiff across the river at Merom was not very practical and Mrs. Cooper decided that the 2000 acres of land she had purchased should pay her back in every way possible. There she ran this ferry, having her own boys, Mr. Cooper or his son, Charles, to paddle this flatboat across to the opposite shore when passengers came along to make it profitable.

A member of the Cooper family has continued to ply this ferry ever since during the century Charles Cooper grew up, and married and his sons carried on. The O'Boyle boys, his step brothers grew up, left Merom, died etc.

The ferry runs (1/2) one-half mile through the Cooper land. William Cooper, son of Charles, was born in 1855. His mother was Ellen Creager Cooper, who died when William was a boy. Himself and brother John are the only ones remaining of what was a large family. John is 84 past and William is 83. It is interesting to note that the late Dr. J. J. Parker was one of men who started the idea of a bridge across the Wabash at Merom and he died before the President given the grant.

THE EARLY DAYS

Mr. Cooper(?), died and her(?) place was taken by a 16 year old girl, (The next line is unreadable), whose son, Watt Cooper, has been running the ferry the last several years. In 1875, however when Mr. Cooper himself died, he willed his posessions to his children, of whom William and John are still living. The land, 1,100 acres, and the money are still in litigation, have been for 53 years. The different suits have been in the courts from time to time and nothing has ever been settled.

In the meantime, William Cooper, who lives at 1413 Third Ave. who once paid $600 a year taxes and who was one of the big land owners and cattle and stock raisers of that section states that he hasn't a dollar.

He told reporters that he has talked with every President from Lincoln down with the exception of Herbert Hoover. He spent one hour chatting with Gen. U. S. Grant. He has been a Republican all his life and is so slated in the history of Sullivan county, but he voted for President Roosevelt in the last election.

Chatting with the press, Mr. Cooper stated that his grandmother purchased the 2,000 acres after she married his grandfather and came to Sullivan, for one dollar and a quarter an acre. Here the land was put to farming use and stock raising, which continued in the Cooper family ever since.

Gill township, where Merom is situated, began its settlement as far back as 1814. The emigrants who went there then, were greeted with a big hail storm which attacked their covered wagons with such force that the women and children were put under the wagons to protect them. Hailstones so large fell with such force that the wagon covers were torn to shreds. They encountered wild animals, especially bears and wolves. Those first comers, William Gill, who gave his name to the township, was the earliest settler. He arrived from Tennessee, while William Burnett, who came very soon after, arrived from Kentucky.

Stage coach routes were established. Later, in 1825, their line extended from Terre Haute to Vincennes, and Merom was a stopping point. A mail route was run by William Griffith and it started from Terre Haute to Merom later.

The O'Boyle store was one of the larger ones, handling the most merchandise. At one time 500 barrels of sugar would be unloaded from a flatboat for their store.

THE RAILROADS CAME

After the operation of the Erie & Terre Haute Railroad however, trade fell away from Merom for other points, but early produce was brought to this little town on the bluff and sold there.

This was once the county seat for Sullivan county, from 1819 to 1842, when it was removed to Sullivan. The court house burned while it was at Merom and the records were all destroyed.

A drug store was opened by W. C. Wilhite in 1867, the first one here. However, it did not affect the Cooper family much, only as to the women folks, for according to William Cooper the men, excepting his grandfather, all died with their boots on. Needed no doctors nor medicine. Sudden death was their fate, he stated.

Merom was sickly at first, however, and many sickened and died, and great need was felt for a doctor and the first to come to that section was Dr. Elliott. He remained there. A number of men followed him. The first tavern was kept by Josiah Mann and his widow continued the business after his death. Lawyers came in plenty. John McConnell, N. G. Ferguson, Joe Briggs and Grafton F. Cookerly were among the first however. John Cooper was the justice of the peace. This was William's grandfather. Liquor was sold by any and all who wished to. In 1872 the George Griswold store was blown up and the explosion shook the town. It is believed that robbers did this. In 1881 an attempt was made to blow up the store of William Cooper but it was discovered in time.

In 1860 the "first Dillinger" arrived in Merom, a man by the name of Paul Linsey, who claimed the east as his home. He became so bad that he finally took possession of the island in the Wabash river, built himself a strong house, took his wife, who is reputed to have been a bad character also, noted for her size, immense strength and terrible temper, and openly threatened any citizen to interfere with him.

The island belonged neither to Indiana nor Illinois. Here he defied the law and constituted himself a receiver of stolen goods and his house was a harbor for thieves. No man felt his life nor property safe, so one Sunday morning, men by large numbers rode into town. The men were well armed, and Linsey, believing himself safe because it was Sunday, was taken while asleep. He surrendered and never was heard from afterward. His house was burned, his wife and children taken to Merom, and his disposal was not known of, except by those who were present at the time.

COLLEGE OPENS

In 1854, the Union Christian college was established as an academy organized by the Rev. E. W. Humphreys. However, to retrace our steps, the first religious meeting was held in Merom in 1813. In 1818 the first school was opened by Mr. Jarvis and Ben Sherman opened the next in 1824, after the first had failed and closed the first year.

Sherman had but two books from which to teach, an English reader and a spelling book. Back then spelling was a recreation and spelling bees were staged of evenings.Teachers, when schools became an established fact, were paid a $1.00 a month per capita for scholars. They never earned more than $2.00 a day. The teacher was notified when he was supposed to treat and should he refuse he was ducked in the nearest pond. The treat consisted of apples and whiskey for the older boys.

The Methodists opened the first academy in 1852. Professor Allen and Miss Talbott were in charge. Back then the boys were happy when they could wear tow linen pants held up by store galluses, a historian has it, "Oh those good old times when everything was what it seemed to be, when the butter was made from cows and the store keeper didn't have to give prizes to sell his coffee."

Indeed, according to Mr. Cooper, Merom was a fine city and he recalls when Dan Voorhees was a frequent visitor, as was Col. R. W. Thompson and others, and took trips across on the ferry which was by that time was steered by wires. He paid tribute to Mary Blakely, his stepmother, who was a fine woman. She married his father after but a brief talk about the matter and assumed the looking after his home and family.

Mr. Cooper has lived in Terre Haute for 27 years. He remembers back when log rollings were a part of the amusements for Gill township. When a farmer wished to turn a piece of woods into a field, the trees were felled and the neighbors were invited in to help roll the logs into huge piles and brush piled on them and then all set on fire. One shudders to think what fine timber was consumed in smoke back then. In spite of the hard work these occasions were attended with great jollity and exhibitions of strength by those men participating. Barn and house raisings were also the means of jolly good times, as were apple butter stirrings later by the women. There was plenty of good whiskey provided at the log rollings and the women did the cooking and set out good meals. Stoves were unknown then and the large fireplaces were used. Delicious corn pone was part of the dishes that was always popular.

The women invited neighbors in for apple pealings after the apple trees grew from Johnny Appleseed's seeds he brought from the east, or for quiltings maybe. All of these events ended with a dance, round dances being the styles. Singing school was another popular entertainment and the women sang tenor as well as soprano. Upon corn and hogs the attention of the farmer was centered.

Mr. Cooper has lived in Terre Haute for 27 years. He remembers back when log rollings were a part of the amusements for Gill township. When a farmer wished to turn a piece of woods into a field, the trees were felled and the neighbors were invited in to help roll the logs into huge piles and brush piled on them and then all set on fire. One shudders to think what fine timber was consumed in smoke back then. In spite of the hard work these occasions were attended with great jollity and exhibitions of strength by those men participating. Barn and house raisings were also the means of jolly good times, as were apple butter stirrings later by the women. There was plenty of good whiskey provided at the log rollings and the women did the cooking and set out good meals. Stoves were unknown then and the large fireplaces were used. Delicious corn pone was part of the dishes that was always popular.

The women invited neighbors in for apple pealings after the apple trees grew from Johnny Appleseed's seeds he brought from the east, or for quiltings maybe. All of these events ended with a dance, round dances being the styles. Singing school was another popular entertainment and the women sang tenor as well as soprano. Upon corn and hogs the attention of the farmer was centered.

 

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