By Stephen Jackson | For The Times-Post
The Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis Railroad provided the town of Lapel with its initial start.
And, it was the route the railroad followed through the town that was responsible for its rather unusual name.
That occurred in 1875 when the newly laid tracks left a strip of land between the railroad and the Pendleton & Fishersburg Turnpike (SR 132) that, when viewed from the air, was thought to resemble the shape of a man’s coat lapel.
Samuel E. Busby, one of the railroad directors and town founders, is attributed with first suggesting the name.
He and David Conrad platted the town in 1876.
In the beginning the name was spelled “Lapelle”.
Some early plat records show the spelling to be the original way while others are spelled the current way.
Apparently the spelling was optional for a brief period of time.
Lapel has another unusual distinction.
Geologists have determined that Lapel rests on one of the 60 or 70 coral reefs that have been found in Indiana.
Indiana University Geology professors examined fossils found at the Cascadden limestone quarry to make the determination.
Lapel and its next door neighbor, Fishersburg, are the only two communities in Stony Creek Township.
Fishersburg actually predates Lapel as it was platted May 10, 1837.
Initially it seemed as if Fishersburg would be the larger community, until the railroad was built giving Lapel the advantage.
Actually, the railroad was to pass through Fishersburg but a surveyor’s error routed the railroad through Lapel instead.
Lapel’s first resident was Benoni Freel who built a cabin in 1828 in the area that is now Lapel.
Over the next 50 years the town grew slowly with the addition of a general store, a flour mill and several houses.
The town began to grow in the late 1880s after the discovery of natural gas.
“Old Jumbo” was the name of the first gas well drilled in Lapel in 1889.
It was located in the heart of the town.
This well, and many other wells in the area, resulted in the construction of another flour mill, a planing mill, a flint bottle factory, a pump and gas regulator factory, several tile mills and other minor industries.
In less than 20 years after the initial planning and naming, Lapel was incorporated in 1893.
When the gas supply ran out many of the businesses were discontinued, but one firm remained, the Sterling Glass Co.
The company was incorporated in 1914 by Arthur Woodward.
Over the years the company has changed hands several times and is today the Owens-Brockway Glass Container.
The grain elevators, so prominent in Lapel today, had their beginning in 1886 when James and William Woodward built the first one.
Now there are two elevators towering over the town like book ends keeping watch over the community they serve.
During the Civil War recruiting officers stood upon a particular rock to address prospective recruits.
The rock became known to the residents as “Recruiting Rock”.
For years after the war the rock could be located just inside a field on the north side of SR 132, east of the bridge over Stony Creek between Lapel and Fishersburg.
A recent examination of the site revealed the rock was no longer there.
Looming large on the northwestern edge of the town is an abandoned stone quarry.
The site had been the farm of Eli Passwater and in 1893 a deep vein of sandstone was thought to be below the surface.
Midland Railroad Co. ran a spur of track to the pit from town.
A crusher was installed and sand was shipped beginning in 1893-94.
However, the sandstone vein was shallow and work soon came to an end.
Limestone was also quarried there and used in laying building foundations.
It proved to be too difficult to remove and therefore did not pay.
For a number of years an old sand car remained on the track which overhung the pit.
Its position was tempting for locals and eventually some boys pushed the car into the pit where it remains today covered with water.
West of the old quarry was a 46-acre nine-hole golf course.
The northeast corner of the course is the site of the former Hidden Cemetery which dated back to 1821 making it one of the oldest in Madison County.
At one time there were slab markers of Niagara limestone at the graves containing names of some of the earliest settlers in the area such as: Opdike, Gwinn, Huntzinger and others.
The cemetery no longer exists but is marked by a sign several hundred yards east of the site on the south side of SR 32.
There is another burial that has been the subject of discussion and speculation for many years.
Long before there was a Lapel, or even a thought about Lapel, there was man by the name of John Castor who had a farm in the area.
It was sometime around 1848 when he is supposed to have buried thousands of dollars in gold somewhere on his property.
The tale took hold and continued to persist through the years to the extent that even well into the 20th century people searched his land for the elusive treasure.
Divining rods were used from time to time, but to no avail.
By now Mr. Castor’s farm has been thoroughly searched, but the buried gold has eluded everyone and remains a mystery.
The real treasure in Lapel is a trip through its streets where the past mixes well with the present and where its rich history is evident in the several old buildings along Main St, buildings that have witnessed the growth and development of this unique Madison County community.
Madison County Historian Stephen Jackson is leading a series of “First Sunday” presentations covering the History of Madison County townships. The talks are set for 2 p.m. on the first Sunday each month in the Bowman Room at Museum of Madison County History, 11 W. 11th St., Anderson. The talks began Sept. 4, 2022, and run through Nov. 5,. The information he prepares for those presentations form the basis of this series of columns in The Times-Post.