Excerpt from

So This Was Hillside

By Frank Lindley Churchman
(Published in 1979, pages 5-9)

Francis M. Churchman, the sixth child of Micajah was born April 5, 1833, in Wilmington, Delaware. He moved to Indianapolis, in 1847, when he was fourteen years old and spent the rest of his life near Hillside.

Little is known of the early life of Francis M. Churchman and it can only be assumed that he had a normal life by the standards of that day. The hardships of the life on a farm and the attempts of an early education are not unusual for that period of America. The religious influence of his ancestors and the early attempts toward acquiring an education were very strong.

When he arrived in Indianapolis a boy of 14 he had attained less than three years of education. His first jobs in Indianapolis were as a messenger and sweep-out boy for some of the merchants. One of these was the private banking house of S.A. Fletcher. Francis lived a busy life, working long hours and then studying and. reading. Each evening he read all types of books, a habit that continued all his life.

Francis somehow improved his education sufficiently to enable him to join the banking house of S.A. Fletcher as a clerk in 1852, when he was nineteen years old. It was during these years that Francis prepared himself for his future as the managing partner of the bank which later became the Fletcher and Churchman private bank. Through the years, by changes, reorganizations and consolidations this has today become the American Fletcher National Bank of Indianapolis, Indiana.

During this early period of his life Francis developed a knowledge of human nature and a vast store of information about the residents of Indianapolis. This was a necessity in the days of early banking as an extremely large number of loans were known as character loans. A character loan was based entirely upon the character of the individual borrowing the money with nothing to guarantee the repayment but the word and character of the man. The banker had to be correct in his judgment of the borrower. A large portion of business was done on a handshake and the word of a man.

In 1847, Indianapolis was a town of less than four thousand population, situated in the wilderness. There was no outlet except through vast forests and almost impassible roads. The roads at that time were little more than paths through the wilderness and were extremely hard to travel even on horseback. Much of the time the mud was very deep and even roads within the city had stumps where trees had been cut down. It was necessary to ride around the stumps in order to travel at all. There were no fences and roads made excellent mud holes for hogs and other livestock to wallow.

The first attempt at transportation was made by the Central Canal. That started at the most favorable point on the Wabash between Fort Wayne and Logansport and ran via Muncietown to Indianapolis and down White River to the forks, then by the best route to Evansville. The failure of the States Improvements Acts in 1839 (an organization created by the State of Indiana mostly to improve the State's transportation), completely paralyzed business for a time and gave the prospects of the town a terrible blow. As the clouds became blackest help was near. The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, which had been started at Madison, was finally completed to Indianapolis late in 1847.

The year of 1847 marked the first really great change in the conditions and prospects of Indianapolis. New businesses were created, old ones flourished and the town expanded eastward from its original location along the river. This was Indianapolis a few years before Francis Churchman arrived.

One of the first banks in Indianapolis was a private firm known as Fletcher's bank. It was located on Washington Street and it was here that Francis M. Churchman started his career and spent the balance of his life.

Francis was a man of small stature, five feet, seven inches. He wore a flowing beard which was never shaved from his face. It was necessary for a young man to look older in those days in order to gain the respect of those with whom he must transact business. This was true especially in the banking business. Francis entered the banking firm as a clerk and advanced rapidly. In five years he was managing partner, a position he held until his death.

Sometime during his first few years in Indianapolis he wrote a letter to his brother, William H. Churchman.

(The following is a letter written by F.M. Churchman to his half brother, Wm. H. Churchman in Nov., 1857.)

Dear Will,

Thy letter of the sixteenth is just received and finds me at half past ten o'clock in the morning with nothing to do, a thing that does not occur once in six months. The cold weather and the hard times is causing business to almost stop entirely. I feel better this morning than I have anytime for six months. I slept well last night, a thing I have not done before for months. These are some of the reasons for answering thy letter so soon, a thing I am so seldom guilty of, that I cannot do it without some explanation.

The new employee received his place at the Blind Institute by what I would call false representations. Having such a mean class of men to deal with, a dirty or dishonest trick is more commendable than otherwise. He went before the Board of Trustees with the recommendations of democratic friends of such standing, as not to leave doubt in their minds as to his faith. They had doubtless forgotten him. He was poor, was thrown out of employment, by the suspension of the Banking House in which he was employed and with a hopeless prospect of getting anything to do this winter. Taking this view of the matter was he not warranted in practicing this little piece of deception? I think he deserves a good deal of praise for so successfully throwing dust in their eyes.

Now that Stoughton has become fully converted to my doctrine about dividing the surplus fund of the Central Plankboard Co., I begin to think it may soon be done. All that is required is to elect the proper directors, which can be easily done by displaying a little energy at the next election. I will see what can be done by my little influence in the matter.

The doctor intends putting up a shop, I believe, on one of his lots, and bringing himself in competition with the Blind Asylum. I have less doubts of his success, than I have of Newell's. Thy remarks about their want of backbone in 1853 are perfectly understood. Has not someone written somewhere, "That self preservation was one of the first laws of nature"? I do not blame anyone for first taking care of his own interest, but when he sacrifices his own interest, or even risks it for that of a friend, much praise is due him. He has done something generous and noble.

Thy remarks about family affairs in my last letter were intended to be strictly confidential. If I can possibly get away a week next summer, I intend to visit Philadelphia and find out how matters stand there. Am determined not to be imposed upon by Pierce or anyone else. Have been thinking about the matter for sometime. I do not like to pay out money without knowing where it goes and I am going to find out pretty soon.

Nothing would give me more pleasure than entertaining thee during the Holidays. I could not command much of my time during business hours but all I could and my leisure time should be devoted to making thy visit a pleasant one. I have a pleasant room, a comfortable bed - (one of the doc's best hair mattresses) and a boarding house the equal of which is not to be found. All these thee can enjoy. Come along and bring the folks with thee. Last night, the wind and snow blowing a perfect storm without, I was sitting by myself with a comfortable fire, enjoying a good cigar, wondering if there was another such place in the whole country. I do not believe there is. The thought of giving it up would make me sad. If I am sick so I cannot leave my room, my landlady is the first one to visit me giving me all the attention that I can possibly require. The thing that used to trouble me the most was my clothes and if anything ever put a thought in my head about getting married it was that very thing. I would sometimes go to put on a clean shirt on Sunday morning and could not find one with a single button on. This used to make me mad; but now my clothes are all kept nice by my landlady. We pay 50 cents a week to have our beds made, room swept out, water carried up, etc. leaving nothing to do but to make our fires, which is done by patient kindling and does not take two minutes. So we live and try to enjoy ourselves. Occasionally we go out to eat a few oysters and come home at midnight with our brains a little fuddled. Get up in the morning with a glorious headache wishing all the banks in the country would "bust up". All this is very funny and makes up life with its joys, pleasures, etc.

It is most time thee was losing thy attachment for Indianapolis. What is there here that seems so much like home to thee? It is a great place I must admit (75,000 people) but it is made up of some of the worst material that could be found anywhere. I do not believe you could go to California or Utah and find a more miserable set than constitutes more than half of our community. A grand set of rascals and hypocrites. Our city has improved the last few years. A good many fine buildings have gone up. You would hardly know Washington Street, it is so much improved. Judge Blackfor is erecting a fine business block on his corner and a fine theater is going up opposite the Masonic Hall. Property as a general thing has not declined much in value since the commencement of the money panic. Our lots go off as readily and at the same price as they did a year ago. It is a class of property all the panics in the world could not effect. In other words, a losing speculation. Thought I was worth two or three thousand dollars, instead of which if my debts were all paid, I would not own a cent. I am bankrupt. A good time to start anew.

I do not know where I could turn to find more enjoyment that at Janesville. Could I possibly find time, Sister Mary Anna, and thyself should be troubled with my presence at least twice in every year. But my star is an unlucky one. What little pleasures I do see must be manufactured in Indianapolis, and the manufactured article bears no resemblance to the natural article by any means. I sometimes wish I could go back to where I started from and had the power to control my existence and then no Francis Churchman would have never lived.

Feeling in unusually good spirits, this morning, and running out of work, I set down on the receipt of thy letter to write a long one in reply. Eight pages is the result. Four more than I thought I could possibly write and all about nothing.

Give my love and a kiss to sister Anna. Thee can serve the Colonel likewise. If I was there, I would try to do it myself. I remember a kiss on a certain occasion. Does thee? let a fellow hear from you all semi-occasionally. The Colonel might write as well as sister Anna.

F. M. Churchman

P.S. Tell Anna, she must not go and get married. She is to wait for. That is the arrangement between her and me.

Author's note: The instructions in this letter were carefully followed as F. M. Churchman was married to Anna J., the adopted daughter of this half brother W. H., Oct. 12, 1859 in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Indianapolis continued to grow and improve during the years following the opening of transportation and in the year 1862 Francis had advanced sufficiently to purchase a house and lot located on the West side of Alabama Street. This was just north of the building now occupied as the State Museum, formerly the Indianapolis City Hall. This lot was described as part of Lot Number Three, in Square Thirty Eight of Indianapolis and was 135 feet east and west and forty two and one half feet north and south. The lot was purchased from S.A. Fletcher for $5,000 to be paid in installments of $550.00 in one year from October, 1862, and $550 every year thereafter with interest at 6% until paid. The house was well constructed. It is still standing as part of the building now located there and has been incorporated into the building in such a way that it is hardly noticeable.

Three of Francis and Anna's children were born here. They had seven children altogether, Nettie, born at Janesville, Wis., May 19, 1860; Anna Lindley, born April 20, 1863; William Francis, January 22, 1865; Edward Micajah, June 21, 1869; Frank Fletcher, August 11, 1872 (my father); Henry Cottman Churchman, born June 29,1875 and Robert McClintock, born Dec. 22,1877.

Thus ends Chapter 1, covering the period of time and events in the life of Francis M. Churchman, my grandfather, during the years of his life before the purchase of Hillside.

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