Jack Bradshaw had come to the newspaper office to see if he could get a closer look at a 50-year-old photo.
The reproduced image appeared last month in the Looking Back column. It was a shot of men gathered around a stone marker being placed on a rise at what was then called the Second-Third street cut-through, an intersection that served as the entry to the downtown area from the west.
Looking at the photo on the newspaper page, the retired Army officer was struck by the appearance of one of the men. It bore a strong resemblance to his father, who had been a stone mason in Columbus at one time.
The profession tied in with the occasion. The marker was dedicated to Gens. John Tipton and Joseph Bartholomew, two early 19th-century military men who figured prominently in the history of Columbus and Bartholomew County.
A closer study of an enlarged image from the original negative quashed John’s hope that he had come across a 50-year-old photo of his father, but a subsequent conversation with the Columbus resident yielded another story. John asked what had happened to the marker, which at first sounded like a strange question since it has never moved from its original location.
But then I had another thought. The marker had stayed in place alongside the railroad tracks and in front of the old senior center these past 50 years, but its neighborhood had changed dramatically.
The biggest change took place with the opening of the Second Street Bridge back in the 1990s. That became the entrance to the downtown, and the Third Street Bridge became the exit. Sandwiched between the two, the marker today is visible to only a small number of motorists crossing over from Lindsey Street onto Second Street.
Even the marker’s neighbors have moved out. The old senior center sits empty today following the opening of Mill Race Center two years ago.
In a sense, the monument to “two men who helped blaze the trails though the wilderness in Indiana” has become obscured. Some might say forgotten.
That’s not to say it’s been neglected. In fact the grounds around it have been well-kept by maintenance crews from the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.
“It’s the smallest city park in Columbus,” said Nick Rush, director of parks operations. “It only amounts to a 10th of an acre, but it has some obvious historical significance.”
The area even has a name, Tipton Park, a reference to the general who is described on the plaque as “the founder of Columbus.”
That might be a stretch of the truth, since there were a lot of people involved in the discovery and establishment of Columbus. Tipton was, indeed, one of the early pioneers, having acquired a good deal of land in what was to become Bartholomew County, because of his wartime exploits.
He had more of a physical presence in the area than Bartholomew who, so far as anyone knows, never set foot in the county but was a popular wartime leader.
Actually, Tipton’s connections to Columbus were pretty personal. According to some accounts he donated the land on which Columbus would be sited. Unfortunately those accounts are brought into question by records in Bartholomew County Courthouse that show that the transaction was a sale, rather than a gift.
Nevertheless, Tipton was rewarded for his “gift” when the town was called Tiptona. That was short-lived. The founding fathers of the county changed the name to Columbus, and Tipton left the area in a huff.
By the mid-20th century, Tipton’s reputation was still pretty clean. It would be tainted years later by the revelation that he was the commanding officer responsible for the infamous Trail of Tears march in which dozens of Native Americans forced from their Indiana homes died on their way to Oklahoma.
Some local historians lobbied to have a permanent marker put in place honoring him and Bartholomew. The effort was led by George Unger and former county historian George Pence.
The location seemed fitting in that the mound on which it was to be placed was all that was left of Tipton Knoll, a hill overlooking the East Fork of the White River and downtown Columbus. The knoll was one of the features in the city that retained Tipton’s name, but it was removed when the Third Street Bridge was built.
The marker was dedicated 50 years ago last month. Some people might quarrel with its significance and question whether it should be moved to a more visible location.
It’s hard to argue against keeping it in the same place. After all, it’s been there 50 years.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.