132 – Modern Times 1850s

By the middle of the nineteenth century the pioneer era was nearly over. Hoosiers had cleared and planted most of Indiana’s land. Those who could afford it had built and moved into brick homes. Stores were built, and the new hoosiers bought shoes, underwear, and many other items.

A cookbook published in New Albany in 1851 is suggestive of this emerging way of life in Indiana. It contains recipes for oysters and lemon punch.

Hoosiers and the American Story

By 1850, the frontier was a thing of the past in Indiana. It had moved west to Kansas and Nebraska and California.

Not everyone was a full-time farmer. Modern times demanded modern goods and services. Look at the trades in the Versailles city directory in 1850.

Brick mason – (c. 1850s-60s)

It’s in this context that Harvey Jarvis had been able to make a living from his trade as a mason. We will see that citations increasingly refer to him as a mason instead of a farmer.

And his sons were masons too.


In 1850, Harvey and Sarah Jarvis were age 47.

They had been born on pioneer farms in Kentucky at the turn of the century. In 1803, the speed of human interaction was the same as it had been for thousands of years – the rate at which a man or horse could travel.

Now, in 1850, everyone took for granted the speed of a modern railroad train traveling at 15 or 20 miles per hour.

Steam engine at Vandalia

…by March 19, 1851 the Indiana Sentinel reported “two hundred and forty-five miles of railroad in Indiana and it was expected that five hundred miles would be in operation by the end of the year.”

Indiana Railroads

James Jarvis, Harvey’s brother

James and Mariah Jarvis had been among the first Jarvises to move to Indiana before 1820. James was Harvey’s older brother by nine years. James had obtained several land patents just a mile east of Cross Plains.

James had died in 1840 at age 46 and his sons inherited his farms, among them Gilbert, James, Franklin, John, and Parker.

Harvey and Sarah living near James’ sons

In 1850, Harvey and Sarah were living on land owned by his nephew Gilbert. This was land originally owned by Harvey’s brother James. Harvey’s next oldest son William Conner is living next to Harvey and Sarah. Gilbert is living next to them.

1850 Census – Harvey and Sarah, William and Eliza, Gilbert and Joanna Jarvis

Notice that the census lists Gilbert Jarvis as a farmer, but lists Harvey, Joseph, and William as brick masons. I think that’s telling. Harvey and his sons weren’t full-time farmers, but instead made their living as masons.

Harvey and Sarah were age 47. Their five sons were grown, Milton the youngest at age 14. Lafayette, 16, was listed as a farmer. Perhaps he worked for his cousin Gilbert on the farm.

Joseph, 19, and William, 21, were listed as masons, like their father.

Why was Harvey living on Gilbert’s land?

Recall that Harvey and Sarah had bought land in 1846 three miles southwest of Cross Plains in Jefferson County. They had assumed a five year mortgage. The use of mortgages had not been common in America until the mid-1800s. Modern times.

The idea of a mortgage started in England and moved throughout the western world from 1190 onward. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, America’s waves of immigrants increased the need for mortgages and affordable property.

History of The 30 Year Mortgage – From Historic Rates to Present Time

In 1851, Harvey and Sarah paid off the mortgage.

Mortgage statement – Deed – Harvey and Sarah Jarvis from Richard and Nancy May – 1851

They had bought the land five years earlier. In 1851, they paid off the mortgage. Why weren’t they living on their land? Why were they living on their nephew’s land?

Harvey wasn’t a farmer. He spent his time working as a mason. He didn’t need a big and difficult farm.

Harvey and Sarah sold the land in 1852. 85 acres to their son Joseph, and 39 acres to Lemuel Tague. Read more details about Joseph’s purchase in the next post.

Nibbles Extra Credit

Grocery Items

With modern times, people could buy groceries. Some items were things that couldn’t be raised at home, others perhaps just more convenient.

Here are prices from Benham & Smith Grocers & Druggists, at the northeast corner of the public square in Versailles, published in the Versailles Dispatch, July 12, 1860.

  • Butter – 10 cents
  • Beef per lb – 5 lb @ 6 cents
  • Beans – 1 cent
  • Coffee – 16 2/3 cents
  • Corn meal, per bushel 50 bushel @ 60 cents
  • Dried peaches per lb – 15 cents
  • Dried apples – 8 cents
  • Eggs per dozen 8 cents
  • Flour per bbl – 600 @ 6.25 cents
  • Hams – 12 1/2 cents
  • Hay per ton = 8 ton @ 10.10 cents
  • Lard per lb – 10 lb @ 12 1/2 cents
  • Lemons per dozen – 50 cents
  • Molasses per gallon – 55 cents
  • Sugar per lb – 11 cents
  • Salt per bushel – 50 cents
  • Syrup per gallon – 95 cents
  • Starch per lb – 10 cents
  • Wheat per bushel – 1 @ 1.25 cents

Can you imagine buying lemons in Versailles in 1860?

School and Education

The Indiana Constitution of 1816 laid the foundation for a modern progressive education system.

It shall be the duty of the General assembly, as soon as circumstances will permit, to provide, by law, for a general system of education, ascending in a regular gradation, from township schools to a state university, wherein tuition shall be gratis, and equally open to all. — 1816 Indiana State Constitution, Article IX, Section 2

Hoosiers and the American Story

The Indiana school system was slow to implement. In addition, many families didn’t send their children to school.

The federal census of 1840 revealed that less than one-quarter of Indiana children between five and fifteen attended school. Additionally, about one in seven adult hoosiers could not read or write. Indiana’s literacy ranked eighteenth among the twenty-eight states in the Union.

Hoosiers and the American Story

By the 1850s, the education system was joining Indiana’s march to modern times. Township schools were becoming commonplace. The culture had changed such that most children attended school regularly.

Jarvis School No. 12

Jarvis School was a mile east of Cross Plains, on land owned by Harvey Jarvis’ nephews.

Jarvis School No. 12 – Cross Plains, Indiana

Perhaps there was an even earlier log school building near where the Jarvis School stands. Here’s a early interview with teacher Benjamin Vawters from the papers of Violet Toph.

Violet Toph interview with Benjamin Vawters about Jarvis School

Jarvis Site Map

Timeline 1850s


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