Cauli Le Chat

Cauli Le Chat
Cauli Le Chat, MPL Roving Reporter

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Following Paul Hadley's Footsteps, Part Six

I guess you've gathered my little joke about numbering the parts of my Paul Hadley series in French.  (I'm Cauli Le Chat, after all).  Six is spelled the same in French and English.  Spoils the effect, really.  (It sounds different, though.)

Paul Hadley Painting Gallery
at Mooresville Public Library
(Photo from my November 29, 2012 blog post

 "Cabin," by Paul Hadley (1939)

Click images to bigify

As we learned in my previous installment, Mooresvillian artist (and Indiana state flag designer) Paul Hadley painted "Cabin" in 1939. Longtime Morgan County historian Becky Hardin (1908-1995), whose knowledge of county (and local) history was encyclopedic, believed that "Cabin" portrayed "the Spoon home."  Quoting from Hardin's biography of Paul Hadley:
  • "This painting ["Cabin"] was presented to the Mooresville Library by the Tri Kappa Sorority.  A newspaper story says it is 'The Robb Cabin' but some people think it was the Spoon home. [. . . .]  Spoon's Cabin was the subject of Hadley's Paintings at different seasons of the year.  [One shown in her book] is Spoon's Gate and was probably for his [Spoon's] cabin. It is owned by one of Hadley's cousins Mrs. Harold Swift.  The gate is something like the one [in "Cabin"], which has an open gate.  Although the location may have been the same the paintings are different."  [Hardin, Becky, The Indiana State Flag: Its Designer (Biography of Paul Hadley with Anthology of his Paintings), p. 16-17 (1976).  Click here to find links to read a digital copy of this fine biography.]

Certainly, Hardin's interpretation deserves our most serious consideration. Last time, we examined a probable cabin location involving one branch of the Spoon family (Herbert Spoon [1892-1954]), but we also discussed other branches (Peter Spoon [1806-1888] and descendants). We have it upon living memory of a family member (Peggy Killian Benson) where the Spoon cabin was situated, and that Paul Hadley painted it.  So that takes care of that.  Generations of Spoons had spent their entire lives in Mooresville at many different locations around town (on Harrison, High, Main, Madison, Washington, and St. Clair Streets, just to name a few) as well as in the surrounding countryside.  There were more Mooresville Spoons than in most restaurants. (Sorry--bad joke.)

Another (unlikely) candidate for whose cabin Hadley painted was "Robb." Around these parts, "the Robb Cabin" would most likely refer to John Robb.  Once again, Becky Hardin provides us with the historical details (quoting John Robb's great-great-grandson, Harold Scott):

  • "'John Robb lived at the foot of the hills just west of Centerton [in Morgan County, Indiana, about eight miles south of Mooresville].  He had taken out a patent of land on Oct. 30, 1834.  He moved in among a group of early settlers and soon became one of the community's leading citizens.  He had more education than most and became the scribe for his neighbors. In addition, he acted as a local lawyer in settling estates and was usually referred to as "Squire." [. . . .]  After building a small home just west of Centerton, he opened a clay pit and manufactured brick.  The hills behind his house are now known as Robb Hills.  He had a large and active family, some of whom became merchants in Centerton.'"  [Hardin, Becky, ed.. Morgan County Scrapbook, Volume I (1985).  Mooresville: Dickinson Publishing Co., p. 148.]
Where were the federal land patents that John Robb secured when he settled west of Centerton?  He obtained two, in 1834 and 1838.

Land Patents to John Robb (1834, 1838) in Section 3 of
Township 12 North, Range 1 East (2nd PM),
Morgan County, Indiana

 John Robb's land patents were near Center Valley
(upper left corner, above the railroad tracks
[where "Center Valley" is written on this map inset])

Map inset showing State Road 67 (dark road) and Milhon Drive
running across John Robb's land

[Maps from Boyd, Gregory A.  Family Maps of Morgan County, Indiana
(deluxe ed., 2010).  Norman, OK: Arphax Publishing Co.]

Our trusty Morgan County road map shows Robb Hill and Milhon Drive plainly:

Map courtesy of the Morgan County
Economic Development Corporation

Minions, make with the road trip!  Don't forget "Flat" Cauli.

Here's what John Robb's land looks like today.

Robb Hill (looking west)
at the intersection of Robb Hill Road & Milhon Drive
John Robb's cabin was approximately where
the house on the right is now standing

Paul Hadley's "Cabin" (again)

Was Paul Hadley's painting actually portraying John Robb's cabin?  Since the structure is no longer extant, and we don't know any surviving eyewitnesses, we may only speculate.  You can clearly see woods continuing for a considerable distance in the painting's background. This suggests a more rustic setting than, say, inside the town of Mooresville. The presence of winged dinners in the picture is inconclusive--folks throughout Mooresville raised chickens in their backyards during the 1930's, as did their country counterparts--but the continuing trees certainly spell rural to moi.

But trees, of course, are only one consideration.  There's a much bigger object missing from the painting.  Where's Robb Hill?  Or was Hadley facing in another direction, so the hill wasn't in his background view?  In other words, was the hill behind him (or to his left) as he painted?

Regarding town versus country, consider this description by Becky Hardin:
  • "Pictures by Paul Hadley have historic value. [. . . .]  His paintings depict a way of life that will soon be gone.  This old cabin, windowless at one end with a chimney for fireplace is a type no longer built.  A chicken is free to wander about the dooryard which is framed by a board picket fence.  Notice the gable which turns back which is Greek Revival style."  [Hardin, The Indiana State Flag (1976), p. 16.]
Was Hardin describing a country cabin or a town cabin?  We already know that Hardin believed Hadley's painting was the Spoon home, so, certainly, she was thinking town, but I can't help but feel that, in the above paragraph, she's describing a cabin couched in the countryside.  If so, then it could have been Robb's cabin, but it could just as easily have belonged to the Spoon family or somebody else.

As Hardin declared, Hadley's paintings have historic value.  Watercolor moments capturing a bygone era for us to enjoy now and in the future, I'd venture.

Your Roving Reporter On The Go,

Cauli Le Chat

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