Every street has a multitude of stories. As you drive through old neighborhoods you can feel the history, the countless moments that have occurred in the homes that line the streets. Many of these stories are long forgotten, but some leave hints behind and beg retelling.
North 14th Street in Richmond, Indiana is a rather unassuming street. Today, many of its homes are dilapidated and the neighborhood doesn’t have much to say for itself. But in the late 1800s, it was part of a bustling neighborhood full of energy, invention and excitement.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Micajah C. Henley lived at 201 North 14th. It was probably in the backyard of this home, or perhaps an earlier one he lived in on North 13th, that Micajah developed several improvements to the roller skate. His improved roller skates helped fuel the roller skating craze that took over the nation in the 1890s. Micajah and his brother opened a factory on North 16th that produced roller skates–over 2,000 pairs a day at its peak–as well as bicycles, scooters and other various manufactured items. Micajah became known as “The Roller Skate King.”
Sometime around 1881, Micajah sold a bicycle to a neighborhood boy named Wilbur Wright. The Wright brothers lived at 309 North 12th and 211 North 14th between 1881 and 1884. Wilbur and his brother Orville would later move to Dayton, Ohio, open a bicycle shop–taking advantage of another craze of the 1890s–and eventually become the first to successfully build and fly an airplane. While they lived on North 14th, they tinkered with toy helicopters, a backyard lathe of their own invention and many other creative endeavors. While their success came in Dayton, their start happened on North 14th.
In 1883, my great-great grandfather Robert Balser Fetzer, lived with his wife and mother-in-law at 419 North 14th. Within a year or two, they moved to 313 North 14th, a home the family would occupy for many decades. They lived just a few houses down from Micajah Henley. Robert was an engineer and probably rather inventive himself. He made tools; in fact, our family still has a level he made in 1896 with his initials stamped on it. But instead of starting his own business, Robert chose to work for the Richmond City Mill Works for many years. He was a valued employee and was known for never missing work.
In the 1880s, another great-great grandfather of mine, Lewis Kinsey Harris, lived a few blocks away at 300 North 19th. By 1893, he had moved into a beautiful 3,600 square foot home at 116 North 14th that would remain in the family for many years. L.K., as he was known, was a blacksmith who often owned his own shop. He also engaged in business with others from time to time, making agricultural implements and other necessities. In addition to his blacksmithing business and other entrepeneurial activities, L.K. also served on the Richmond City Council from 1880-1885 and 1889-1894. While serving as a councilman, L.K. often brought matters before the city council for his friend and neighbor, Micajah C. Henley.
L.K. Harris’ father-in-law, Edward Shaw, lived around the corner at 312 North 15th in 1893. He had moved around in the same neighborhood for many years. Edward was well known as the manufacturer of Shaw’s Railroad Liniment, “a botanic preparation which is a speedy cure for rheumatism, neuralgia, burns, bruises, headaches, etc., and taken internally is a valuable remedy for neuralgia of the stomach, cholera morbus, etc.” It became very popular and widely distributed in eastern Indiana and western Ohio. Even today, many old Shaw’s Railroad Liniment bottles turn up at antique dealers and on Ebay.
These are just a few stories from an old neighborhood in a small town on the border of Indiana and Ohio. These few hints remain of an exciting time in our nation’s history as the collective endeavors of small businessmen across the land began to turn America into the world power it was to become.
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Edward Shaw, L.K. Harris and Robert Balser Fetzer are all mentioned in other posts on this blog and can be found by using the search function at the top of the page.
As always, if you have any questions or any further info I would love to hear from you by your comments below or by emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org