In the 1820s, before the town of New Bethel had even been platted, settlers were arriving in other parts of the township. In 1825 Nehemiah Smith was an original patentee of 80 acres on Southport Road, and he also held another 80 acres in Perry Township. Smith apparently obtained ownership of the land about 5 years before actually moving here, because records show that he settled in Franklin Township in 1830, along with family that included his son-in-law, Abraham Henricks.
In 1833 a group of settlers in that area met to organize a Baptist church, and in 1836 Nehemiah Smith donated an acre of his farmland to provide a site for the church to be built. The church was erected at the northwest corner of Southport and Combs roads, reportedly beside the large tree that is still standing there. One story pertaining to that church tells how one lady, Margaret Powers, had noticed that when converts were baptized in nearby Buck Creek, their long dresses sometimes floated upward in the deep water. Concerned that this might be immodest, Margaret sewed buckshot into the hem of her dress before her baptism so that its weight would keep her dress modestly in place!
The church building at that location has been gone for decades, but there is still a pioneer cemetery on the land (Piner Cemetery), and both the land donor, Nehemiah Smith, and his son-in-law Abraham Henricks are buried there, as well as several other members of their family.
One of these is Abraham’s grandson, Garrett W. Henricks, born in 1865 just one month before the assassination of President Lincoln. Garrett owned one of the first automobiles in Indianapolis, a steam-powered car that was delivered downtown by train, where a crowd gathered to watch the men start up the auto and applauded as it drove off. When Garrett’s wife, June, would go downtown to shop, strangers would stop and ask her, “Aren’t you the lady who rides in the automobile?” Another story tells how Garrett’s steam-powered car frightened a horse pulling a carriage, causing the carriage to overturn. Furious, the carriage’s driver assaulted Garrett, who chased the man away with a pistol he carried.
Garrett was mechanically-minded and an aficionado of many kinds of vehicles, including bicycles. In the 1890s he belonged to the Zig Zag Cycle Club, whose membership boasted other speed enthusiasts including Arthur C. Newby, Carl G. Fisher, and Frank H. Wheeler, who together would go on to found the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Garrett’s most notable accomplishments were his numerous inventions and patents. Many of them were mechanical devices to improve engine function. Best known was his patent in 1900 for a magneto to generate electricity for gasoline engines, which was popular for use in both cars and boats. The Henricks Magneto has been displayed in the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, and the original models are highly collectible and sell for hundreds of dollars today.
Garrett Henricks was married twice and had eight children. His youngest child and only daughter, Rosalynn (Henricks) DeFelice, currently lives in the Mooresville area. Several of Garrett’s descendants still reside in Franklin Township today, including his granddaughter Nancy VanArendonk and great-granddaughter Alena Van Arendonk, both of whom are officers of the Franklin Township Historical Society.
Do you have interesting facts or stories about ancestors who lived in Franklin Township or the surrounding area? The Franklin Township Historical Society would love to hear them! Post them in the comments below, or email your stories and photos to FranklinTownshipHistory@gmail.com. We’ll post them on our blog!