Rushville Republican

November 7, 2012

Ward: Remembering the way it was

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — The next time you go by Seventh and Oliver Streets take a look at the old White Felt area and think about what was once there. Believe it or not, at one time the factory building that was there was a show place for the state and country. Originally, Innis Pierce Furniture Company was on that site. It was, in reality, a rather beautiful place to look at and enjoy. It was a three story brick edifice with at times five and six courses of brick in the walls. There were huge wooden beams holding the floors up and a charming, beautiful building that took up a large amount of the space between Seventh Street and Hodges Branch.

The building was ornate as was the grounds surrounding it. A rail siding came in on the north side and another one on the south of the original building. They had a huge smoke stack close to Spencer Street that was in the old furnace room for the entire plant. The old White Felt building was north of the Innis Pierce building and was used as an ice plant, supplying ice to the true ice boxes of Rushville.

Remember, this was all way before electricity was available in town. As far as I can find, the original building was put there in the 1880s to 1890s and at the time was a show place for many.

The lot east of the White Felt building was enclosed by ornate brick fencing with wrought iron bars between  brick columns along Seventh Street. Each of the brick columns was square and tapered at the top. There was what looked like cannon muzzles with a cannonball-like device hanging off a huge chain that went from both sides of the muzzle to the cannon ball on the bottom of the column. There were, at one time, iron gates that could be closed to keep people out and workers in. They had two ponds with fountains in the front of the building and fish were placed there at one time. In fact, believe it or not, there was an alligator that made one of the ponds home.

The story I heard was one of the owners of the plant became very interested in alligators while on a trip to Florida. He managed to bring a small one back to Indiana and put him into one of the ponds. He had a building built for him and ran a steam line out to the building to keep the reptile warm during the winter. From what I heard from several people, that alligator managed to live to be 14 feet long in his comfy home pond. Finally, the neighbors felt the alligator was more of an attraction than they cared for so the alligator had to go. The Cincinnati Zoo came up and took him down there for the remaining years of his life. Bet he had it better in Rushville than Cincinnati!

There was an area with two huge cement coal bins. An overhead crane went from the furnace room to the coal bins and would drop down, get a shovel full of coal, take it back into the furnace room and dump it in the furnace. At this time most everything was coal-fired. They made steam that ran the machinery as well as heated the building. The overhead crane eventually ended up at the Rushville Electrical Plant owned by the city and worked for many years firing the boilers there for the city. From all I have found, the furniture made there was outstanding and sold all over the country at the time.

During the Depression the furniture factory went belly up and the building then spent time as a warehouse, ice house, moving storage area for (I believe) Mayflower. Finally, it was a plant for International Furniture. International came to town in the late ‘20s or early ‘30s, purchased an existing building and stayed in town for a number of years. They used the old Innis Pierce plant to store raw materials as well as manufacture and stain furniture. Eventually, they added on to the George Street plant and closed the old Innis Pierce and another plant on 11th and Oliver, moving all their operations under one roof. White Felt remained until a few years ago and now even that is gone.

I could see just why the old furniture plant was so beautiful and well known. The office, I would suppose, was for the owner of the operation and had the most beautiful green granite fireplace in it that I had ever seen. Eventually, the city was given the old plant by Schnadig Corporation, owner of International Furniture. My brother was president of Schnadig at the time and I told him he was not doing the city any favors, which as time would tell he wasn’t. After several years of the city attempting to peddle the old building and allowing it to deteriorate to a dangerous state the city contracted a local firm to tear it down.

After several years of tearing down and selling bricks and anything else of value the old building was gone and White Felt purchased the land it had stood on. The smoke stack remained for a few more years but was eventually torn down and White Felt put up a new warehouse where it had stood. Over the years White Felt had purchased the old alfalfa dehydrating plant and warehouse as well as the Innis Pierce building area for their own use. Unfortunately, several years a go even White Felt gave it up and the city now owns the remaining parts of the old beautiful plant Rushville once called its own.