In the past, I have referred to our “standard” county reference books, which simply means they are the go-to books for the earliest and most concise history of our county. These books were compiled in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries and are the basis upon which we continue to update our history. The standard county reference books for Franklin County are the two volume set of the Biographical and Genealogical History of Wayne, Fayette, Union and Franklin Counties (1899); History of Franklin County, Indiana Her People, Institutions and Industries by August Reifel (1915) and The Atlas of Franklin County, Indiana (1882), which was compiled by a family of map makers named Beers.

First, regarding the two-volume biographical set and Reifel’s, there is somewhat of a misconception that these books were written by a single author. To the contrary, these massive history projects were overseen by one person, but the stories within each were written or contributed by many people. Most of the biographies were written and submitted by the families that they represented and the variety of histories included in Reifel’s book were solicited by the editor, who was August Reifel. People who were heads of organizations, societies, and businesses, and members of the local historical society were among just a few of the people who contributed to Reifel’s county history project. Postings even appeared in the local newspapers in 1914 asking for submissions for the upcoming history book. In addition, Reifel found the information in the old 1882 Atlas so valuable that he even reproduced much of it in the 1915 county history.

The subject of this article, the 1882 Atlas, is addressed as a topic because it appears to be the first published history of our county and because of the tragedy that accompanied it. (It’s hard to believe, but the atlas on which we so heavily rely today for facts about our county and pioneer ancestors, was created when Franklin County had only slightly over seven decades of history under her belt).

In the front of the Atlas, is a short preface, peculiarly short, for such a large project. The compilers stated they searched public records and reviewed various sketches that had appeared in the local papers for the last 40–50 years. Just a few of the contributors and local people who helped Beers in the early 1880s were newspaper editors C.B. Bentley & William Green, Dr. Rufus Haymond, T.L. Dickerson and Dr. George Homsher.

Nowhere in the preface did it say how long the project took, but a newspaper blurb in the July 13, 1882 Democrat noted that Capt. W.H. Sanders of the Beers Atlas Company, left on Monday for his home in Sheffield, Illinois. It stated that he had been here for the last two years. Also mentioned were, G.C. Gooch who was the artist for the Atlas, Mr. McIntosh who was the biographer, and Capt. Steele who was the historian.

Beers stated that in order that a “complete set of plats of this county might be presented, a great deal of work has necessarily been done in the county offices, and special thanks are due the officials for valuable assistance rendered.” The compilers modestly stated, “trusting that it will at least serve as a “basis of correction,” around which others will cast their offerings of research and criticism if need be.”

So, Beers’ goal was that of any other researcher, compiler or author, to create a book to the best of his or her ability with what was available, and have it serve as a starting point for others to build upon, regardless of any possible mistakes.

What’s nice about the 1882 Atlas is that in the preface it lists many of the people who were interviewed and talked to. Many of these people were longtime Franklin County residents, the children of pioneers, or the early pioneers themselves. While their history may not be exact, they retold what they remembered, and many referred to the references they had in hand –personal journals, diaries, store ledger books –things that have long since disappeared or been destroyed because successive generations saw no use for them or knew the valuable historical information they held.

So, why was a history of Franklin County compiled 140 years ago? At the time, the United States was just over 100 years old and the generation of that time recognized the rapid loss of those who could help to tell the history of our country first-hand. This period in our country’s history was the beginning of a phase to document our past through common people.

The Valley House as it looked in 1882.

It appears that the Franklin County project was initiated by representatives of the Beers Map company, not the residents of the county. Surprisingly, it was difficult to find information about the Beers’ Company despite the fact that it had so many family members in the cartographic profession.
According to the Special Collections Department of the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts, “In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Beers Company of New York compiled and published a series of county atlases that today provide detailed information on the evolution of the built landscape of many American towns.”

It’s difficult to say whether or not Beers realized the importance of their endeavors at the time, and how valued their books would become in the future. Had it not been for them, many aspects of our nation’s county and township history would have been lost.

According to the George Glazer Gallery of New York City, “Frederick W. Beers was a prominent atlas and map publisher from the Beers family of cartographers. In 1870, Frederick joined James Botsford Beers in founding J.B. Beers & Company, in New York, the Beers family and collaborators produced atlases of more than 80 counties in 10 states, as well as city atlases, separately issued maps and county histories. F.W. Beers lived in Brooklyn, where he was also employed as head of the map division in the Brooklyn Office of Public Records for 35 years. His long career continued until his retirement at the age of 90.

Beers apparently had multiple companies in different parts of the United States, since W.H. Beers was the supervising manager on the Franklin County project, and identified himself with the northern Illinois firm of J.H. Beers & Co.

The sudden death of Mr. William H. Beers, which took place at the Valley House in Brookville, shook the entire community. The event was communicated in the June 29, 1882 Democrat, and said, “The peculiar circumstance surrounding this event render it one of the saddest in the history of this locality. Personally, Mr. Beers was known to very few of our citizens, except through the various agents and employees who have represented his business interests here, during the last two years. He was the junior partner and manager in the field, of the well-known publishing house of J.H. Beers & Co., of Chicago, and in regular course of duty, he came here on Tuesday evening, the 13th to inspect the work for Franklin County; on Thursday, while waiting at the station for a belated train, he was attacked with severe pains in the stomach, and reluctantly returned to the hotel. Medical aid was immediately called, and all possible effort made to give him relief, with fair prospects of an early and favorable result. On Saturday, his condition seemed better, and hopes were entertained of a speedy recovery, but during the latter part of Sunday, and on Monday, it became certain that his disease was that grave and stubborn type known as ‘Intus-susception’ of the upper intestines.”

“Distant relatives were summoned, and on Wednesday morning the deceased’s only brother and partner, Mr. J.H. Beers arrived from Chicago. The 10 a.m. train, of Thursday, brought the sorrowing wife, accompanied by her brother, Mr. Gately, from Connecticut; these grief stricken friends did not arrive until five hours after the final scene. The mourning party, with the remains, left here on the evening train of Thursday, on their way to their distant New England home; other relatives joined them at Cleveland, and at other points along the route. The burial was arranged to take place at Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut, on Sunday last.”

Mr. & Mrs. Peter Schaf as they appeared in the 1882 Atlas.

According to the article, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Schaf and Miss Mary Schaf, proprietors of the Valley House, accompanied the family as far as Cincinnati.
Mr. Beers was born in Connecticut in 1853, and a man admired by all. The article claimed he was a man exemplary in his habits, refined in tastes, and courteous in his associations with all, and “was universally popular with the scores of patrons and employees, with whom his extensive business relations brought him in contact.”

William, who died in his late twenties, had only been married about three years and left an infant child, with his young widow.

The 1882 Atlas has been reprinted by the Franklin County Historical Society at least two times, in 1976 in the same large format as the original, and in 2003, as a slightly smaller, spiral bound version. Call Martha Shea of the Franklin County Historical Society at 647-5182, for details on how to purchase a copy, or call Julie at the library, 647-4031.

Julie Schlesselman Local History & Genealogy Department Manager FCPLD