This Fairfield business directory sign, as it appeared in October 1954, was located on the northwest corner of the intersection of SR 101 and the Fairfield-Bath Road.
This Fairfield business directory sign, as it appeared in October 1954, was located on the northwest corner of the intersection of SR 101 and the Fairfield-Bath Road.

The Brookville Reservoir was impounded in 1974 and was officially dedicated in July 1975. Since it began operation, the dam has prevented over $24 million in flood damages and provided over $367 million in recreation and tourism. It took years to acquire the thousands of acres of land needed for the project and many residents had to relocate. If you don’t know the saga of the little town of Fairfield, I will briefly introduce you to it in three separate installments.

Dams and reservoirs not only provide protection from the ravaging waters of overflowing tributaries, they also provide a refuge for wildlife, and create recreation areas, and occasionally lake-front resort property. However, what many contemporary visitors are not cognizant of is that these areas came with a price — not merely a monetary one – but a human price as well. Every dam and reservoir today displaced someone or something foregone, and buried history under millions of gallons of water. Thousands of people, be it altruistically or pugnaciously, were forced to give up their way of living and their homes for the greater benefit of entire communities. Unfortunately, as time passes the sacrifices these individuals made have been forgotten, and become part of the ever more distant past simply lost to posterity unless publically documented in some form. Generally, individuals do not consider events of their generation or their parents’ generation as history; therefore many times information, stories or feelings are not recorded during the actual time of events. As a result, a history that is considered un-noteworthy is lost within a decade or two. Unfortunately, this scenario has happened to a great extent with many displaced residents’ recollections and first-hand accounts pertaining to the creation of dams and reservoirs throughout the country.

Chronicles regarding towns and their inhabitants who were displaced for dam and reservoir projects are surprisingly difficult to locate through the government agencies that displaced them. Typically, no in-depth accounts are made of historic populations being displaced; more frequently, what are acknowledged by the government agencies are the prehistory and Native American populations that once inhabited the lands. Only by delving into library archives, searching collections of local historical societies and working closely with county historians and genealogists, are clues to the recent past revealed and preserved. Individuals all over the country with the foresight for realizing the importance of common generational history have independently been compiling publications of varying degrees about towns and their residents that once existed where dams and reservoirs are today. Most of these histories are thought to have a narrow scope of interest and are frequently stored in local repositories only near where the reservoirs were built. Very rarely are these publications widely distributed, which is unfortunate because they all portray a unique look at an all too common story.

The summer of 2012 was dry – very dry. As a result of the drought conditions, reservoirs throughout the state of Indiana began to recede – an occurrence that many never remember happening before. From these receding waters manifested curious cultural remnants not seen for decades. One highly publicized account of such an incident occurred at Salamonie Reservoir in Huntington County, Indiana. Wishtv.com posted in July of that year that “four towns were submerged when the Salamonie Reservoir was created in 1967, and this year [2012] what was left of Monument City, one of the towns, was being revealed because of the extreme heat and lack of rain. Here visitors were finding door knobs, old roads and building foundations.”

How exciting for people to find cultural remnants when they knew nothing about the history of the area. These commonplace items suddenly seem like treasures as they resurface. However, what are the stories behind these treasures and the people who once used them? Exactly what happened and why are these things left behind?

Monument City was only one among many small towns in Indiana, as well as throughout the United States sacrificed for the protection of citizens’ lives and property – to put it simply, that town and many others were taken for the purpose of flood control. After the devastating flood of 1937, plans for preventing future catastrophes were implemented. The Flood Control Act of 1938, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, authorized civil engineering projects such as dams, levees, dykes and other flood control measures implemented through the United States Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies. Today, the state of Indiana has over a dozen dams and reservoirs operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, including the Brookville Dam and Reservoir, which protects our Whitewater River Valley.

As early as 1938, areas in Franklin County along the east and west forks of the Whitewater River were discussed as possible locations for a dam. For various reasons the project never materialized and it was not until the flood in January of 1959 that the concept was seriously reconsidered. At that time, a group of Franklin County’s residents came together and the Whitewater Valley Flood Control Association was created. This association was the driving force behind the resurrection of the previously envisioned dam project culminating with the fruition of today’s Brookville Dam and Reservoir. This project, no matter how beneficial it would be to hundreds of people, was also detrimental to hundreds of people. It would destroy an entire town as well as historic sites of the county’s earliest settlements, and change lives forever.

The years 1959-1964 saw staunch opposition from those whose lands were targeted to be seized by the government. Meetings of the Whitewater Valley Flood Control Association met with many protestors, and angry and confused citizens. This included not only Fairfield residents, but also others in Franklin County and a small portion of southern Union County whose properties also had to be taken to ensure that there would be a buffer between the reservoir and private lands. Eventually the residents to be affected by the dam and reservoir project succumbed to the governmental forces that ultimately took their dwellings and livelihoods. The surrender of these residents, who knew they could not win the battle to save their beloved homes, the town of Fairfield, or the small crossroads dwellings at Quakertown in Union County, sadly accepted the impending dam and reservoir project by the end of 1964.

The year 1965 should have been one of gaiety and celebration for residents in Fairfield, for it was the 150th anniversary of the platting of the village. During the 1950s and 1960s, many small towns throughout the United States were celebrating their sesquicentennials in grand fashion; the residents of Fairfield however had just became aware of the town’s inevitable death and celebration was the farthest thought from their minds. How to cope, mentally and physically, and somehow go on with a normal life were the residents’ biggest concerns, for this small town, once a rival for the honor of the county seat, was to be wiped clean from the maps, and the landscape, by 1970.

Julie Schlesselman
Local History & Genealogy Department, Manager FCPLD