The Bee Line and Midwest Railroads reset their goals – to St. Louis: Gateway to the West!

See Part II to learn about the Bee Line’s financing dilemma – the loss of control to the Cleveland Clique and Wall Street.

Advertisement, California, Gold Rush, circa 1850
Advertisement for ships to California during the Gold Rush, circa 1850.

Gold! In January 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. The Gold Rush had begun. And with it, the nation turned its gaze to the West.

image of John Brough
John Brough, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

The Bee Line and other Midwest railroads would also reset their goals – to reach Chicago or St. Louis: Gateway to the West. And for John Brough, president of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I], the prospects were particularly tantalizing. While he had already begun to implement a strategy to extend the M&I’s control to the potentially lucrative Indianapolis and Bellefontiane Railroad [I&B] building toward the Ohio state line, the thought of constructing and controlling a line to St. Louis was pure gold.

Midwest Railroads Map, circa 1860, showing the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], and component roads of the Bee Line: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C]; Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I]; Indianapolis and Bellefontaine
Midwest Railroads Map, circa 1860, showing the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], and component roads of the Bee Line: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C]; Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I]; Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
A Cleveland Clique of connected businessmen, politicians and railroad investors had already struck gold of their own. The opening of the Midwest’s first regional railroad in 1851 between Cleveland and Columbus – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] – had proved to be successful beyond their most optimistic expectations. They began to consider expanding their reach, not by building, but by buying or controlling the purse strings of other roads headed west . . . to Cincinnati, Indianapolis . . . and St. Louis.

image of Chauncey Rose
Chauncey Rose, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

John Brough’s strategic and financial needs were more immediate, as the M&I’s business calculus began to wane. One of Brough’s peers on the Indianapolis Union Station’s Indianapolis Union Railway board, Chauncey Rose of Terre Haute, had already assembled a circle of businessmen from Indiana’s largest town west of Indianapolis. In 1847, along with Rose’s New York-based financier brother John, they had gathered the funds necessary to construct the first leg west from Indianapolis toward St. Louis: the Terre Haute and Richmond Rail Road [TH&R]. It would be renamed the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad [TH&I] by 1865, to more accurately reflect its final route.

Importantly, the Rose brothers also insured the Terre Haute circle would retain substantial financial control in spite of tapping into the newly available public markets of Wall Street. They would control their own financial destiny, unlike nearly all other Midwest railroads, until well into the 1870s. On February 14, 1852 the first train completed the entire seventy-three mile trip to Indianapolis. The line proved to be the juggernaut for rail travel to St. Louis and the West via Indianapolis.

Railroads west from Indiana, including the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], Ohio and Mississippi [O&M], Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A], and St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute [StLA&TH]
Railroads west from Indiana, including the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], Ohio and Mississippi [O&M], Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A], and St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute [StLA&TH], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Rose and Brough were running into obstacles, both political and economic, in organizing a rail line spanning the unpopulated expanse of Illinois to St. Louis. While Rose initially focused on indirect connections via Vincennes and the nearly complete Ohio and Mississippi Railroad [O&M] extending across the southern third of Indiana and Illinois, Brough had a different plan. He would leverage on an 1846 Illinois charter – then moribund – for a direct route between Terre Haute and St. Louis through the former state capital (1820-1840): Vandalia. In 1850 Brough teamed with Vandalia business and political leaders – as well as James F. D. Lanier’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. – to resurrect the charter as the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A]. He soon became its president.

James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life, 1877
James F. D. Lanier. Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self published, 1877).

Brough’s venturesome efforts to reach St. Louis did not go unnoticed by the Cleveland Clique. It comported with the Clique’s and Henry B. Payne‘s (then president of the CC&C) vision for reaching and controlling lines to the West. And since Winslow, Lanier & Co. and the Cleveland Clique were already digging their financial talons into the two Bellefontaine lines that would soon carry the publicly-dubbed Bee Line moniker, the collective financial support for Brough’s effort was assured. Along with Brough’s M&I, the component Bee Line roads anted up several hundreds of thousands of dollars in spite of the tenuous financial footing of all except the CC&C – courtesy of the Clique’s urging and Lanier’s financial wizardry or skullduggery.

But Brough was having other problems. As the M&I revenue picture darkened, the I&B’s brightened. Now connected with the Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I] and CC&C to reach Cleveland, the I&B’s passenger and freight revenue per mile spiked during the first year of through service in 1853. In addition, new traffic carried between Indianapolis and Cincinnati – via a connection at the increasingly critical junction town of Union – translated into booming business along the band of steel known as the I&B.

Oliver H. Smith
Oliver H. Smith, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Even before the I&B reached Union, however, the M&I was having trouble meeting its obligations under the five year operating contract the two had inked in 1850. The M&I’s inability to supply and maintain a sufficient number of locomotives and cars capable of handling the increasing traffic across the partially completed I&B was obvious. By the summer of 1852, I&B president Oliver H. Smith had initiated a series of discussions with Brough to recast the arrangement. Brough’s stance was adamant, as Smith reported: “They [M&I] claimed by resolve to run the whole Road for the time specified.” But Brough’s ego did not reflect the reality of his situation.

The Bellefontaine and Indiana’s “Sidney” Locomotive, built by Niles & Co., 1853 (rebuilt 1856)
The Bellefontaine and Indiana’s “Sidney” Locomotive, built by Niles & Co., 1853 (rebuilt 1856), courtesy of New York Central System Historical Society.

At the same time, Smith approached the I&B board with specific proposals to purchase additional rolling stock and motive power equipment. He also proposed building machine shops, an engine house and depot buildings. Smith mapped out a game plan to finance the expansion. It would require selling stock and/or floating $150,000 of bonds on Wall Street. Board member Calvin Fletcher reflected the Hoosier Partisans’ growing concern about Smith: “It was doubted by myself & others whether the Embassader [sic] intended had the qualifications to act in the matter.” Newly dominant shareholders Daniel Yandes and Alfred Harrison would handle the funding question.

image of Calvin Fletcher
Calvin Fletcher, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Things were coming to a head on many fronts. At the I&B board meeting in February 1853 a resolution was passed to terminate the M&I operating agreement effective May 1st, more than two years earlier than anticipated. The M&I and Brough were becoming an afterthought.

Then, in March, Oliver Smith challenged the I&B board to endorse his continued presidency. Given his intransigence on moving the Indianapolis depot closer to the new Union Station – for personal business reasons – Smith’s demand fell on deaf ears. Waxing eloquent, Calvin Fletcher penned a response on behalf of the Hoosier Partisans: “We have no doubt, from your standing in this country . . . that you can do for yourself and the country much better than to remain the President of the said Road.” Smith would resign the presidency on April 6th.

On hearing of the I&B’s bold move to terminate its operating contract with the M&I, Brough was beside himself. As May 1st arrived, Fletcher was concerned, noting “Did not sleep very well having been notified that the M&I would not permit the I&B to have possession & that they would defend with force & arms.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed during daylong meetings between Brough, Yandes, Harrison and Fletcher. The next day the operating contract was dissolved.

image of The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] and involved roads: the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad [P&I], extending north from Indianapolis, and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], extending west to St. Louis. Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]
The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] and involved roads: the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad [P&I], extending north from Indianapolis, and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], extending west to St. Louis. Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R] also shown, courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Adding insult to injury, Brough’s strategy to tighten the M&I’s grip on a second railroad heading north from Indianapolis – the Peru and Indianapolis [P&I] – was also in peril. While a combination with the M&I would be effected in 1853 as the Madison, Indianapolis and Peru Railroad, it unwound the next year. E. W. H. Ellis, president of the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad, lamented upon the dissolution of the combination: “It is to be regretted that, in the days of its [M&I’s] prosperity, the road, its rolling stock and machinery, were permitted to run down and that these heavy burdens are thrown upon the company.” The I&B was already wise to the M&I’s deficiencies.

Still, the prospect of Brough’s push to St. Louis seemed all but certain. Winslow, Lanier & Co. had successfully attracted adequate funds to begin letting construction contracts. The Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A] had overcome political obstacles thrown in its path by an alliance of Chicago and Mississippi River town interests. They much preferred a route to a smaller river town, on Illinois turf, just north of St. Louis. Much like Indiana’s push to establish Madison as its improbable center of commerce on the Ohio River, against all odds Illinois opted to create Alton as its alternative to St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

Henry B. Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To the Cleveland Clique and CC&C president Henry B. Payne, Brough’s progress in establishing and constructing a direct line to St. Louis, in the form of the M&A, was a dream come true. Controlling this line as well as the Bee Line would solidify the Clique’s plan for the West. And, as his tenure at the M&I grew tenuous, Brough would find Payne’s forthcoming offer incredibly attractive.

To the shock of the Hoosier Partisans, Brough was elected president at the I&B’s annual meeting on June 30, 1853. He was now at the head of three roads simultaneously: the M&I, M&A and I&B. Fletcher’s observations on Brough’s election summed up the feelings of the Hoosier Partisans: “In order to carry out the design we had to take Mr. Brough as president who had acted for the Madison RR . . . where interest . . . adverse to the I&B created a hostility to him. But it was obvious that we had to forgo the objection & take him.” It was not an easy pill to swallow for the Hoosier Partisans.

While it may not have been obvious at that point, the Hoosier Partisans’ decision to accept funding from the CC&C and Winslow, Lanier & Co. – let alone seeking counsel from the Cleveland Clique – would be fraught with long-term consequences.

Check back for Part IV to learn more about the fate of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad, and the related destiny of John Brough with the Bee Line – under influence of the Cleveland Clique.

Continue reading “The Bee Line and Midwest Railroads reset their goals – to St. Louis: Gateway to the West!”

The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control

Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad 1853 advertisement-schedule
Indianapolis & Bellefontaine RR train schedule, printed in Calvin Fletcher’s diary, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

See Part I to learn about the origins of the Bee Line and the men who brought it to life.

The Bee Line Railroad almost never was. At the dawn of the Midwest railroad era Hoosiers were slow to embrace what became the technological marvel of the 19th century. Dependent on state funds or newly emerging Wall Street for cash, initial railroad financing prospects looked dim. Instead, canals were the preferred method of transportation in the mind of the public.

The State of Indiana began planning for a litany of “internal improvements” from its inception in 1816.  In his 1827 message to the General Assembly, Governor James B. Ray (1825-1831) admonished the legislators, noting that railways could convey “equal burdens to any that can be transported on a Canal . . . and with double the velocity.” However, at the time, the legislature was not moved by his argument.

Indiana Governor James B Ray and Wall Street financier James F. D. Lanier
(L) Governor James B. Ray, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society (R) James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self-published, 1877).

Finally, as interest in railroads began to percolate by 1832, legislators approved charters for eight – including the Madison, Indianapolis and Lafayette Rail-Road Company. Prominent among its board members was Madison banker James F. D. Lanier, destined to become the leading Wall Street financier of virtually all Midwest railroad era lines during the mania of the 1850s, including the Bee Line.

More than thirty Indiana railroads were chartered between 1832 and 1838. Nonetheless, attempts to lure private capital via stock subscriptions fizzled. Only a mile and a quarter of experimental track had been laid near Shelbyville by the end of the decade.

Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road 1850 Annual Report Cover
Annual Report Cover, Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road Company, 1850, courtesy of the Indiana State Library.

Indiana’s infatuation with canals was reflected in the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act of 1836, which appropriated one-sixth of the state’s wealth for the effort. Of eight state projects funded, only one was for a railroad – what became Indiana’s first: the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I].

Much of the debt to fund these efforts was taken up by the financial barons and financiers of Europe. Rolling mills and metal fabricators in the United Kingdom (UK) were then seeking new markets for their locomotive and rolled rail products. American manufacturers capable of producing such articles were only just beginning, as the Industrial Revolution reached its peak in Europe a full generation before doing so in the U.S. It became a mutually dependent relationship through the 1850s: English products for American dollars.

By the early 1840s Indiana’s failed internal improvements push had become obvious. The state called on Lanier to extricate it from near financial ruin. Before Lanier sailed to Europe in 1847 to negotiate Indiana’s financial exit plan, it had already jettisoned its canal and railroad holdings.

Beyond his success ensuring the state’s survival, Lanier returned from Europe with the confidence of the barons of Continental and English finance. Since the UK was America’s primary source for finished iron rails until the Civil War, the importance of such developed trust was pivotal. These relationships became the cornerstone of Lanier’s success as the Midwest’s preeminent member of Wall Street’s new financial sector: investment banking.

Wall Street Investment House floor circa 1865
Wall Street Investment House, circa 1865.

As part of its privatizing move in 1842, the Indiana legislature had authorized the M&I to borrow money and issue bonds to complete the line to Indianapolis not later than 1848. In his role on the M&I’s reconstituted board, Lanier orchestrated placement of $50,000 (in 1845) and $100,000 (in 1846) of private bonds through the Wall Street firm which would soon bear his name: Winslow, Perkins & Co.

With funds in hand, the M&I finished the final fifty-six miles of track to Indianapolis by October 1847, at a cost of $628,000. Daniel Yandes, subsequently the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad’s primary stockholder, had won a bid to construct ten miles of the road. The whole task was finished nearly a year before its targeted completion date. In comparison, as a state-run company, it had taken seven years and over $1.5 million to lay the line’s first twenty-eight miles.

The M&I’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Perkins & Co. began to weigh in on the railroad’s managerial approach after suffusing it with cash. It foretold the more active role financiers would take in operational decision-making of businesses they were funding. To that end, a new president arrived at the M&I in August 1848: John Brough of Ohio, whose life would revolve around the Bee Line railroad.

John Brough image
John Brough. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

Brough had been a youthful and powerful member of Ohio’s legislature. As a freshman legislator at the age of 26, he chaired the Committee on Banks and Currency. Subsequently he was chosen the state’s auditor, a position he held until 1845. Brough had come to Madison, Indiana from Cincinnati, after a three year stint with his brother running the emerging Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

By the time Brough issued his first report to shareholders in January 1849, the newly christened Wall Street financial firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. held more than $92,000 of M&I cash equivalents. Both Merssrs. Winslow and Lanier held positions on the board of directors.

Wall Street was fast becoming the financial clearinghouse for matching Eastern Seaboard and European investors with Midwest railroad securities. A new class of private bankers arose, backed by European firms, which began to serve as investment middlemen. These newly coined “investment bankers” evaluated the quality of securities, served as investment advisers to individuals with surplus capital, acted as financial agents for the railroads, and frequently took investment positions themselves. They also allocated investment capital among the many railroads seeking cash infusions.

Map of Midwest Railroads, with Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Bellefontaine and Indiana, and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati railroads annotated in color
Map of Midwest Railroads, with the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], and Bee Line component lines: Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I], and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C] annotated in color. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Initially, Brough developed a strategy to build, invest in, or otherwise secure favorable operating agreements with a planned web of railroads radiating from Indianapolis. And invest he did. The M&I, Brough reasoned, would gather agricultural goods from the southern two-thirds of Indiana and funnel them via Indianapolis to Madison for transport on the Ohio River.

To assure its dominant position, Brough used his politically powerful board to block a railroad charter for a rail line headed from Indianapolis toward Cincinnati (Lawrenceburg). He also rejiggered timetables to prevent convenient connections over a newly chartered branch line extending toward Louisville (Jeffersonville) from Columbus, Indiana.

David Kilgore image
David Kilgore, from the author’s personal collection.

David Kilgore, director of the 1848-chartered Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad [I&B] – first leg of the Bee Line extending from Indianapolis to the Ohio state line – noted Brough’s aggressive, anti-competitive tactics: “now they would put their feet upon the neck of competition . . . And why? . . . Rival interests are springing up at other points, and if they can be crippled, so much the better for this city [Indianapolis] and Madison.” It would not be long, however, before Brough would prove unable to stem the tide of competition.

Brough’s involvement planning Indianapolis’ Union Station in the early 1850s, with M&I’s investment in the Indianapolis Union Railway Company, yielded insights about the financial health and intentions of other lines terminating there. Unfortunately for him, in 1851 Indiana’s new constitution was adopted, including a mandate to craft general incorporation laws. No longer would special charters be required to form new railroads. It signaled the end of the M&I’s political agility to stifle competition.

Indianapolis Union Station image circa 1906
Indianapolis Union Station, circa 1906, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

As a result, Brough shifted strategies. He now sought to make two of the newborn and financially anemic lines dependent on the M&I. Brough would set his sights on the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, building northeast from Indianapolis. It was already making plans to connect with roads angling to another key center of economic growth: Cleveland. And with the help of Lanier and his Wall Street firm, the lure would prove to be almost irresistible.

Cleveland Railway Station and Docks 1854
Cleveland Railway Station and Docks, 1854 (James Harrison Kennedy, A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise and Progress 1796-1896. Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896).

To the surprise of investors, as well as the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s board, costs of funding construction and operation of the new railroad had been grossly underestimated. Without access to substantial credit facilities, motive power equipment, rolling stock, iron rails and operating personnel, the I&B was going nowhere. There to “help” was Brough and Winslow, Lanier & Co.

The M&I, as orchestrated by Brough, guaranteed newly issued I&B bonds that Lanier had floated.  Now, it could purchase the M&I’s surplus iron rails, and lease its motive power and rolling stock equipment. The basis of the bargain was a lucrative five-year operating agreement, which commenced in 1850. The M&I would not only supply all personnel, but also collect and distribute ticket and freight receipts, paying itself from the proceeds it handled.

Whose railroad was it anyway? By the time the I&B started partial service between Indianapolis and Pendleton in 1851, the railroad was the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine in name only. It was all as Brough had planned.

image of Henry B Payne, president of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad 1851-1854
Henry B Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

There was another important aspect of the new line’s financial health. By 1853, when the I&B commenced service all the way to Union, the dominant regional player – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] through its president Henry B. Payne – had loaned the I&B and its sister Bellefontaine and Indiana line in Ohio a combined sum of over $100,000.

Thus, no sooner had the smaller combined Bellefontaine lines, now known collectively as the Bee Line, begun full service than they began to lose a grasp on their own destiny. Pulling the financial strings were John Brough, James F. D. Lanier, and a Cleveland Clique of businessmen and bankers headed by Henry B. Payne, then at the controls of the CC&C. The resulting tug of war between the Cleveland Clique and Hoosier Partisans for control of the Bee Line would continue throughout the 1850s.

Map of the Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Mississippi and Atlantic, Terre Haute and Richmond railroads annotated
Map of the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I] and involved lines: Indianapolis and Bellefonatine [I&B] and Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A] annotated in color, as well as the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
But Henry Payne and the Cleveland Clique had other aspirations as well. Controlling rail lines all the way to St. Louis would cement its dominant role among Midwest railroads. And John Brough, recognizing the need for the M&I to control other railroads heading to more viable destinations, had – with the help of James Lanier – already turned his gaze to St. Louis.

Check back for Part III to learn more about John Brough and the Cleveland Clique’s pivotal play to reach St. Louis, as well as the resulting impact on the Bee Line and its Hoosier Partisans.

Continue reading “The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control”

Bill Monroe in Indiana: From Lake to Brown County, Oil to Bluegrass

Learn about the origins of the Brown County Jamboree in Bean Blossom, Indiana in Part I.

Hatch Show Print, circa 1940s, Country Music Hall of Fame, image accessed http://www.wideopencountry.com/15-countrys-coolest-concert-posters/
Hatch Show Print, circa 1940s, Country Music Hall of Fame, image accessed http://www.wideopencountry.com/15-countrys-coolest-concert-posters/

William “Bill” Monroe’s Hoosier roots run deep. While Bill was born and raised in Kentucky, he moved to northwest Indiana in 1929 when was he was just eighteen years old. His brother Charlie had gotten a job at the Sinclair Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, and sent for Bill and their other brother Birch. It was the start of the Great Depression and the crowds outside the refinery of men hoping for a job grew large enough that the police had to move them so the street cars could get through. Luckily for Bill, Charlie Monroe was well liked at Sinclair and was able to help his brother to secure employment there as well. Birch was not as lucky and remained unemployed for some time. Charlie was afraid that Bill wouldn’t be able to do the heavy labor as a result of an appendectomy. Bill soon proved that he was up to the job, unloading empty oil barrels from the freight trains and cleaning them. However, Bill also had to do janitorial work at the company, something of which he was embarrassed and wouldn’t speak of publicly.

Sign for Standard Oil which took over Sinclair in the late 1930s, photograph accessed http://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/tag/whiting-indiana-history/ "Inferno
Sign for Standard Oil which took over Sinclair in the late 1930s, photograph accessed http://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/tag/whiting-indiana-history/
“Inferno

Bill was also sensitive about the problems with his eyes. Bill’s vision was poor, but he was also “hug-eyed,” a term for one eye that faces inward. Around 1930, the brothers were still working at Sinclair and settled in East Chicago, just a short train ride away from the Windy City. Somehow Bill, likely with his brothers’ help, was able to afford an expensive and delicate eye surgery. Luckily a Chicago surgeon was able to align the eye, “a major turning point” for the shy teenager, according to Richard D. Smith’s Can’t You Hear Me Callin’: The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass.

Bill and Charlie Monroe, 1936, accessed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Monroe
Bill and Charlie Monroe, 1936, accessed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Monroe

A lot of southerners were displaced by the Depression, but were able to bring their culture with them to northern industrial cities. The Monroe brothers were no exception. They went to square dances in nearby Hammond, Indiana, sometimes held in an old storefront. “Hillbilly music” had become nationally popular and there was demand for mountain ballads and energetic string bands for both live performances and on the radio. As they had back in Kentucky, the Monroe boys began playing at dances and gatherings around northwest Indiana. Along with their friend Larry Moore, they formed The Monroe Brothers.

Square dance photograph accessed http://www.history.com/news/square-dancing-a-swinging-history
Square dance photograph accessed http://www.history.com/news/square-dancing-a-swinging-history

Despite the death of their beloved Uncle Pen, who raised Bill and influenced his music greatly, 1931 looked like a better year for the brothers. All three now had refinery jobs and a little extra money to head to the square dances in Hammond. Here they were “discovered” by country music program director Tom Owens, who hired them for a “square dance team” which performed at a traveling variety show sponsored by a radio-station. Soon after, a Hammond radio station gave The Monroe Brothers airtime, a Gary station gave them a regular fifteen minute show, and the Palace Theater in Chicago booked them to perform. The Monroe Brothers’ next break took them away from the Hoosier state. Birch kept his refinery job, but Charlie and Bill headed to Shenandoah, Iowa to perform on a radio show. They were a hit and became full-time professional musicians.

Monroe’s 1923 F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin, Country Music Hall of Fame, photograph accessed http://www.popmatters.com/article/118036-bill-monroes-mandolin-continues-to-make-history/
Monroe’s 1923 F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin, Country Music Hall of Fame, photograph accessed http://www.popmatters.com/article/118036-bill-monroes-mandolin-continues-to-make-history/

During the time Bill Monroe was away from Indiana, his career took off. By 1936, The Monroe Brothers signed to RCA Victor and released a hit single, “What Would You Give in Exchange For Your Soul?” The Monroe Brothers disbanded in 1938, but Monroe quickly formed other groups, including an early version of the soon-to-be legendary Blue Grass Boys. In 1939 Bill successfully auditioned for the iconic Grand Ole Opry, which made him a star. By this time, the four-hour Opry radio broadcast reached country music fans in almost thirty states and its stars became household names. With the addition of Earl Scruggs on banjo and Lester Flatt on guitar to Bill Monroe’s mandolin and high tenor voice, the classic Blue Grass Boys line-up was born in 1945. Over the next two years, the band recorded several successful songs for Columbia Records, including “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which again became a hit in 1954 when Elvis recorded it for the b-side of his first single.

The Blue Grass Boys, 1945, pictured left to right: Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs, photograph accessed http://www.flatt-and-scruggs.com/monroe.html
The Blue Grass Boys, 1945, pictured left to right: Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs, photograph accessed http://www.flatt-and-scruggs.com/monroe.html

Flatt and Scruggs left the band in the late 1940s, but Bill Monroe success continued. He signed with Decca records in 1949 and recorded several songs which became classics of bluegrass music, the genre named for the Bluegrass Boys. The New York Times referred to Monroe as “the universally recognized father of bluegrass” and reported that he “helped lay the foundation of country music.” The writer continued:

Mr. Monroe, who played mandolin and sang in a high, lonesome tenor, created one of the most durable idioms in American music. Bluegrass, named after his band, the Blue Grass Boys, was a fusion of American music: gospel harmonies and Celtic fiddling, blues and folk songs, Tin Pan Alley pop and jazz-tinged improvisations. The Blue Grass boys sang, in keening high harmony, about backwoods memories and stoic faith; they played brilliantly filigreed tunes as if they were jamming on a back porch, trading melodies among fiddle, banjo, and Mr. Monroe’s steeling mandolin. By bringing together rural nostalgia and modern virtuosity, Mr. Monroe evoked an American Eden, pristine yet cosmopolitan.

Link to NYT article: NYTimes.com

Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, "My Little Georgia Rose," Decca, 1950, photograph accessed http://www.45cat.com/record/946222
Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, “My Little Georgia Rose,” Decca, 1950, photograph accessed http://www.45cat.com/record/946222

In the early 1950s, Monroe returned to Indiana and was impressed with what he saw at Bean Blossom in Brown County. The Brown County Jamboree was a country music variety show held in Bean Blossom that became hugely popular in the state by 1941. Thousands of people came to the small town to see local musicians and stars of the Opry. Bill Monroe began playing at the popular Brown County Jamboree by 1951. Likely it was that same year that Bill decided to purchase the Jamboree grounds from local owners Mae and Francis Rund. He took over management for the 1952 season. The Brown County Democrat reported:

The famous Brown County Jamboree at Bean Blossom has new owners. Mr. and Mrs. Francis Rund, founders and owners for 13 years, have sold the Jamboree Hall to the Grand Ole Opry entertainer, Bill Monroe, of Nashville, Tennessee.

Monroe himself confirmed the 1952 date in a later interview, stating:

This festival here in Bean Blossom Indiana . . . It means a lot to me. I bought this place here back in ‘52 and to set out to have a home base here where we could play to the folks and give them a chance enjoy and to learn about bluegrass music. And It’s really growing in this state and I’m glad that it has.

The Brown County Democrat reported that when Bill Monroe purchased the Brown County Jamboree, the show continued to operate “every Sunday night from the first Sunday in May until the first Sunday in November.” Advertisements throughout the 1950s and 60s for the Jamboree at the park and the Jamboree musicians (including Bill Monroe) at other venues and on the radio continued through the next few decades. However, in the Monroe years, there was much less advertising. The regular show was well-known and attended and so most of the advertising was done through posters. Bluegrass historian Thomas Adler also states in his book Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals that the Jamboree under Monroe fell into a regular pattern: “Bill opened each season and played frequent shows in the barn and also used the park for other non-Jamboree events, especially those involving rural pursuits like fox hunting…”

Advertisement, Brown County Democrat, September 12, 1963
Advertisement, Brown County Democrat, September 12, 1963

With the rise of rock and roll in the first half of the nineteen fifties, people were much less interested in country music, according to Adler. This affected attendance at the Jamboree and less people visited Bean Blossom. However, with the revival of the folk movement in the late 50s and early 60s, Bill Monroe and his unique style of bluegrass attracted national attention once more. Long time New York Times music reporter Robert Shelton noted in 1959 that bluegrass “is enjoying a vogue in city folk music circles.” Shelton wrote that, through changing tastes, bluegrass was “earning the reconsideration of many serious listeners.” This reinvigorated interest in Bean Blossom as well, and the time was right for Monroe’s next move: a large annual bluegrass festival.

Advertisement, Brown County Democrat, June 22, 1967
Advertisement, Brown County Democrat, June 22, 1967

The first annual festival hosted by Bill Monroe in 1967 was called the “Big Blue Grass Celebration.” According to Adler, Bill Monroe didn’t want to put his name on the event and didn’t want the word “festival” because competing bluegrass and folk events used the term. It was officially a two day event, June 24 and 25, but according to Adler, there were a few performances and a dance the night before.

The next year the festival was extended to three days to accommodate the large crowds. This 1968 festival attracted ten thousand people. By 1969 the event was billed as “Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festival” and the location referred to as the “Brown County Jamboree Park.” This year the festival was extended to a four day event. According to the Indianapolis Star, highlights included “a banjo-pickin’ contest,” a bluegrass band contest, a “sunset jam session,” an “old-time square dance,” a workshop for learning bluegrass instruments, and church services. When the headlining musicians weren’t performing, they participated in “pick and sing” sessions, improvisational jams where the professionals and amateur players exchanged ideas.

David DeJean, photograph of jam session in Jamboree parking lot, 1969, in Thomas Adler, Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festivals
David DeJean, photograph of jam session in Jamboree parking lot, 1969, in Thomas Adler, Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals

The Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival soon attracted not just fans but also performers from around the world. The 1969 festival included “Pete Sayers, country singer from London, England,” and Adler writes that Sayers returned in 1970. However, Sayers appears to be the only foreign performer until 1971. Writing for Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine in 1971, Frank Overstreet, a musician and festival attendee, reported on the event being the first international festival at Bean Blossom. He wrote, “The international aspect of bluegrass was brought to light at the festival this year by the presence of a New Zealand group, the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band and a Japanese one, The Bluegrass 45.” The 1971 festival included concerts, jam sessions, dancing, a church service, a bluegrass music school, and bands which travelled from all over to perform, including from other countries. Nonetheless, the main attraction remained Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys “who started it all,” according to the Indianapolis Star.

Bill Monroe, Bean Blossom, (MCA, 1973) recorded in 1973 at the seventh annual Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival, accessed http://www.allmusic.com/album/bean-blossom-mw0000202383
Bill Monroe, Bean Blossom, (MCA, 1973) recorded in 1973 at the seventh annual Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival, accessed http://www.allmusic.com/album/bean-blossom-mw0000202383

According to Adler, the “golden age of the festival” was 1972-1982, a period which saw steady growth in attendance. In June 1972, the Indianapolis News reported that the previous year’s festival drew 15,000 people and that organizers were expecting up to 35,000 people for the 1972 event. In June 1973, the Indianapolis News reported that 35,000 people attended the festival. In June 1976, just ahead of the festival, the Indianapolis Star reported that festival organizers again expected up to 35,000 people to attend. In the midst of the festival, Monroe confirmed in a locally televised interview that the numbers of attendees was above 30,000. Monroe also stated that attendees represented thirty-six different states and eight foreign counties. In 1977, the festival was extended to nine days (from seven days the previous year) to accommodate the growing crowd; organizers were expecting crowds of up to 50,000 people.

Bill Monroe, circa 1996, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, accessed https://rockhall.com/inductees/bill-monroe/bio/
Bill Monroe, circa 1996, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, accessed https://rockhall.com/inductees/bill-monroe/bio/

Bill Monroe made his festival an international success and repeated that success annually. He died September 9, 1996 in Tennessee days before his 85th birthday. According to the Indianapolis Star, even while he was sick in the hospital, he played his mandolin for the other patients. On September 10, 1996, New York Times reporter John Pareles wrote:

He perfected his music in the late 1940’s and stubbornly maintained it, and he lived to see his revolutionary fusion become the bedrock of a tradition that survives among enthusiasts around the world . . . Every musician now playing bluegrass has drawn on Mr. Monroe’s repertory, his vocal style and his ideas of how a string band should work together. And his influence echoes down not just through country music but from Elvis Presley (who recorded Mr. Monroe’s ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ on his first single disk) to bluegrass-rooted rock bands like the Grateful Dead and the Eagles.

Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park and Campground, photograph accessed http://www.billmonroemusicpark.com/?p=545
Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park and Campground, photograph accessed http://www.billmonroemusicpark.com/?p=545

Upon Monroe’s death in 1996, the deed for the Jamboree grounds was transferred to his son James. In 1998, Dwight Dillman purchased the park and named it “Bill Monroe’s Memorial Park & Campground.”  This year the park is preparing for the “50th Annual Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival” to be held June 11 – June 18, 2016. Bill Monroe’s legacy continues in the larger world of bluegrass and will certainly never be forgotten in Indiana, where he got his humble start at a Hammond square dance. As President Bill Clinton stated the year before Monroe’s death, “Bill Monroe is truly an American legend.”

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