Crawford County is, well, a thought-provoking, bantam place. According to the census, just over 10,000 people live there -as many as live in either Peru, Greencastle, Wabash, or Bluffton- just take your pick. None of its four incorporated towns reach a population of 1,000, and English is by far the state’s smallest county seat with only 645 residents. Out of 92 counties, Crawford ranks 88th in population density, 90th in per capita income, and 89th in median household income. Though a single interstate -I-64- stretches seventeen miles across the place, it largely ignores its surrounds, only stopping once north of Leavenworth and again near the unincorporated community of Sulphur. Whether you’re headed to Corydon or Holiday World, you’d be well-advised to stop for gas prior arriving at the borders of this bleak habitat.
Crawford County’s got an interesting relationship with water that probably informs its desolation. On the positive side, three of the area’s biggest draws have water to thank for their creation. Sometime in the Pliocene era, water began to dissolve underground limestone near the future sites of Marengo and Leavenworth, creating the Marengo and Wyandotte caves, both National Natural Landmarks1. Much later, in 1972 the Patoka River was dammed by the US Army Corps of Engineers to create Patoka Lake, an 8,800-acre reservoir that dips its fingers into about 3 square miles of the northwestern portion of the county2. At its southern border, ramps in Alton and Leavenworth provide Ohio River access for recreational boaters. Thanks hydrogen! Thanks, oxygen! And thank you again, hydrogen!
But despite the recreation and tourist dollars those elements have provided the county, they’ve also proven to be extremely problematic. Here I sit drinking a huge, 48 ounce bottle of the stuff like its nothing, but Crawford’s first county seat, Mt. Sterling, was abandoned in 1822 when officials couldn’t tap into a sufficient water supply3. After two more relocations, detailed here, the county’s government finally set up shop in English in 1895, slapping together a “modern” courthouse (albeit one without water, plumbing, or central heating4) that looked sort of like the high school in Hoosiers. Located where the Camp Fork, Bird Hollow, and Brownstown creeks converge to form the Little Blue River, officials knew they wouldn’t have any problems with water. The fools!
The relocation of the courthouse caused English’s population to explode 53.4% from 1890 to 1900, reaching an all-time high of 839 people in 1950. By that point, it was clear that the outmoded courthouse needed to go, so it was demolished in 1958 and a replacement -by far Indiana’s most humble- was built in its stead. The courthouse wasn’t much, but least it had running water, heat, and a shitter, so it represented a major improvement over its predecessor.
Though the end of the decade brought a planned, modern courthouse, it also brought a big surprise. While the three creeks just northwest of the courthouse were generally shallow and tame, they could get mean and nasty really fast, carrying thousands of acres worth of runoff and swelling up to twenty feet in a matter of hours5. I dated a girl like that! In 1959, the big cataclysm happened. Five years later, it happened again. In 1979, after fifteen years of relative peace, the creeks flooded again, sending thirteen feet of water cascading down Main Street and ruining all 30,000 books in the public library6. After another flood in June of 1990 covered the business district under seven feet of water7, county officials finally acted: they’d simply move the town.
Though census data shows that the population decreased substantially after the 1959 flood (-16.8%) and slightly less after each subsequent one, moving even a tiny town of 614 people, along with all of its associated buildings was a complicated affair- it took a decade, along with $20 million! But by November of 1999, much of the old town was relocated to new land a mile northeast of, and 265 feet higher than8, the site of “Old” English. Among the first buildings were a new post office, the First Savings Bank of English, and new Crawford County Public Library. The old courthouse and jail buildings sat on a hill south of downtown and stayed for several years, even as the former downtown was demolished, decontaminated, and turned into the Lucas Oil Golf Course.
It makes sense to have the courthouse downtown, though, so it was only a matter of time before county officials abandoned the 1958 structure and moved to where the action was. They hired Indianapolis architects ShenckelShultz, primarily a designer of schools and jails, to draw up plans for a replacement located just west of “New” English on IN-64. The result of their efforts was a structure that remains true to the spirit of its 1958 forebear.
The 2003 Crawford County Courthouse -officially, the Crawford County Judicial Complex- is a single-story, brick, V-shaped structure that features most county offices in its east wing and jail facilities to the west. At the building’s elbow, an arched entry pavilion adorned with two rectangular lanterns represents its only concession to ornamentation and provides access to a recessed entryway. Narrow windows on each wing flank the entrance. The courthouse was built by the Krempp Lumber Company, J.E. Shekell, Inc., and the Mel-Kay Electric Company.
Though the courthouse sits about 450 feet back from the highway via the looping Strawberry Lane, a Crawford County Veterans Memorial -dedicated in 2017 about two weeks before I made it there9– sits closer to the road. Funded entirely by donations, the memorial features a seven flags and eight jet-black granite markers in a cement-and-brick-paved plaza. For all the embellishments that the new courthouse lacks, the memorial in front of it is, indeed, impressive. Less so is the metal-sided former Dollar General next door that acts as the county annex but hey- you can’t win them all, especially with limited funds.
Central to the veteran’s memorial is a granite statue of an eagle. Head held proud and high, it seems to be looking towards a greater future. For a bleak and lonesome county with a seat that’s moved five times across six courthouses, it’s fitting. Though the community may lag behind the facilities of our more prosperous and stable counties, the 2003 Crawford County Courthouse, jail, and memorial plaza are all light years ahead of the structures that preceded them. Hopefully residents of “New” English can be proud of what they’ve got, and look towards that beautiful eagle with certainty that they’ll finally be safe from the floodwaters.
Now let’s just hope the water supply doesn’t dry up like it did in Mount Sterling.
Crawford County (pop. 10,621, 86/92)
English ( pop. 642)
Courthouse Square: No square
Height: 1 story
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 “Marengo Cave” National Natural Landmarks. National Park Service. 2019. Web. Retrieved 10/12/19.
2 “Patoka Lake” Lakes. US Army Corps of Engineers. 2019. Web. Retrieved 10/12/19.
3 Enyart, David. “Crawford County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 10/12/2019.
4 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Crawford County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Web. Retrieved 10/12/19.
5 “Flood-Prone Town Will Move—Uphill: Disaster: The people of English, Ind., got fed up with being washed out. They want a new start in a new location.” The Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles]. September 30, 1990. Web. Retrieved 10/12/2019.
6 “English gets help in flood clean-up” The Daily Journal [Franklin]. August 7, 1979. 3. Print.
7 “English residents unsold on move to high ground” The Indianapolis News [Indianapolis]. July 18, 1990. 45. Print.
8 “Moving along” The Republic [Columbus]. November 29, 1999. 2. Print.
( “Veterans memorial dedicated in Crawford County, Ind.” WHAS11. ABC. November 11, 2017. Web. Retrieved 10/12/2019.