Greenfield, Indiana: A place apart
Travels with Dave and Elaine Violette, #908
Greenfield IN - 8/27/2012
Author: David A. Violette, David@Violette.com
Keywords: Greenfield, Indiana, travel, motorhome, Dave and Elaine Violette
Description: The National Road ran through Greenfield, as did the Indianan Central Railroad, so it saw the growth of a nation going by its doors
The Hancock County Courthouse from the southeast corner
Greenfield IN was first settled in the early 1800s and was named the county seat of the newly-formed Hancock County (named for John Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence) in 1828. Greenfield's population at that time was about 400. Today, Greenfield has a population of 20,602 (2010 census), making it one of America's small cities. And the early history of Greenfield is nicely blended with the present in the buildings you see around town. The County Courthouse and associated buildings are at the center of the town and the early commercial buildings reflect that early character. You can get the feel of the early Greenfield in the narrower streets and buildings side-by-side, but travel north on State Street and you soon come to the modern commercial district, with big-box stores and many restaurants. So Greenfield shows its past but is firmly planted in the present.
The County Attorney's office
A view down Main Street, looking west across State Street
One of the colorful early homes on Main Street
Greenfield was well-situated with two streams passing through it, which provided water power for gristmills that ground wheat and corn for the settlers. The area around Greenfield seems well suited for farming; it is relatively flat and open ground which made it easy to grow crops, and with adequate annual rainfall to water them. Most of Hancock County was or is agricultural, though today housing developments are interspersed with fields of corn and other crops. We stayed at S & H Campground about five miles or so west-northwest from the center of town, and while the immediate area of the campground is wooded, the remaining surrounding area is flat and open. Sugar Creek runs through the campground.
In the areas of town we traveled we saw mostly larger homes on two to five acre lots. Very gracious, well-kept properties for the most part. But there is a lot of older housing stock nearer downtown, with houses on much smaller lots. From what we saw, Greenfield seems like a very comfortable place to live.
A key to Greenfield's early development was the National Road, built starting in 1811 and reaching Greenfield in 1835. This put Greenfield right on the path of a developing and expanding nation, and many people came through town as they were going west. Some, such as James Whitcomb Riley's parents mentioned in an earlier story, went no further but saw Greenfield as a place where they could settle and put down roots. Growing from a town, Greenfield was incorporated as a city in 1876. But the National Road must have brought considerable business to Greenfield over the early years. The National Road became route US 40 later on, continuing Greenfield's presence on the Main Street of the Midwest, and Interstate 70 continues the tradition by passing through the north part of the city.
Greenfield is on the eastern edge of the greater Indianapolis metropolitan area, and if you travel west you see the growth pattern changing from the small city Greenfield, through suburban commercial districts in Cumberland and Irvington and into Indianapolis itself. Once you reach Cumberland you are not aware of passing from one place to another, but east of that the places have their own setting and you can tell where Greenfield starts and stops. That gives Greenfield more of a sense of its own place, and not just part of an urban-suburban-exurban sprawl. Though Indianapolis is just 15-20 miles west, it can also be a world apart because in Greenfield you know you are in a separate place.
Elaine and I both commented that we found Greenfield to be a comfortable place to be in, and that we would not hesitate to return in the future should our path bring us here. Large enough to provide necessary services and businesses, but small enough for peaceful living - that is Greenfield to us. The folks we have met are friendly and don't seem rushed to get us on our way out of their business or town. And we didn't feel that people in Greenfield are under pressure to rush around in their daily lives, but can enjoy where they live.