By Dodie Miller-Gould
Johnson County Museum of History
From the city’s humble beginnings as a settlement cut out of the wilderness to its current state as the largest city in Johnson County, Greenwood has come a long way.
The townships of Johnson County, including Pleasant Township, were created in 1820 as part of a treaty with the Delaware Indians.
Early settlers, including John B. Smock an Isaac Smock, began cleaning land for what would become Greenwood as early as 1823. The Smocks arrived from Mercer County, Ken.
In 1824, Mauks Ferry Road was “cut out” and early settlers began to build houses south of Smock’s Settlement.
Man versus the natural world
Before Pleasant Township could become Greenwood, residents contended with natural forces that threatened their comfort and livelihoods. According to historian David Demaree Banta (1833-1896), a Johnson County judge, “Plowing was done in a few hours of early morning to help horses avoid being attacked by flies.”
Squirrels and raccoons also caused a significant loss of crops, mostly corn. Settlers made attempts at raising sheep, but the presence of wolves made those endeavors futile, and perhaps costly.
The area was also full of rattlesnakes. Banta noted of at least one man who made a sport of killing them and keeping the rattles to mark the number of snakes he had exterminated.
Early church congregations
Patches of land around Pleasant Township were known as “neighborhoods.” The first was referred to as “Smock Neighborhood,” where the earliest church in the area was founded – a Presbyterian church. The first sermon was preached by John C. Smock in 1824.
The 1840s were a time of growth and expansion, as Greenwood built a downtown and several churches had their founding there. The denominations included United Brethren, who built their first church in the area in 1845, and Christian Church, who settled in Greenwood in 1846. These were quickly followed by First Baptist Church of Greenwood, and in 1849, the Greenwood Methodist Church was founded.
Greenwood had its share of churches that began in someone’s home, including the Pilgrim Holiness Church in 1922; according to Jim Hillman and John Murphy, the congregation first met at the home of Della Coffman on East Main Street. This group later combined with the Wesleyan Methodists and formed the Wesleyan Church.
Educational and business development in Greenwood 1900-1950s and beyond
Before there were schools as we know them, churches served as the first learning institutions in Greenwood. Some churches were still used as educational facilities well into the 1850s.
The earliest of these church schools were founded by Rev. Isaac Reed and Garrett Brewer in 1826. The city’s first public school opened in 1864. By 1901, construction had finished on building that would house all 12 grades.
In 1928, Greenwood High School was built, accommodating 1,200 people. The class of 1933 had 18 students: 12 females and six males. Six teachers and one administrator taught and ran the school.
The Polk Canning Company started in 1872 by Civil War veteran James T. Polk and his wife, Laura B. Polk. The Polks canned tomatoes on their stove; the vegetables became known as Polk’s Best. The factory was destroyed in a fire in 1906 but was rebuilt a year later. In 1919, Polk’s Best was sold. From 1930 to 1959, Polk’s Best was owned by Stokely’s.
The names Gabriel Ride Control Products, Maremont Exhaust Products and Schrader Automotive might be familiar in Greenwood’s car industries. They actually grew from the enterprises of Arvin Industries in the 1950s. Before the company was called Arvin, it was known as Noblitt-Sparks, Inc., and formed by QG Noblitt and Frank Sparks after they bought out their partner in the Indianapolis Air Pump Company. The pair moved the company to Greenwood in 1923, and expanded to include the manufacture of automotive products. The company’s name would come from the car heater named after its inventor, Richard Arvin.
There is evidence that residents of Pleasant Township held elections as early as 1829.
The territory began with seven people in 1825. By 1830, 35 people had voted. But some sources state that the Greenwood population at that time was as high as 250 people. By 1900, Greenwood’s population was 1,503. Ten years later, that number rose to 1,608, and by 1920, there were 1,907 citizens. The census records reveal that from 1900 to the present, the population grew to its present count of 58,778.
Greenwood is the 14th largest city in Indiana, known now for its culture and innovation.