• Brigette Cook Jones

The Little Town of Tailholt


James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet and the creator of the original Little Orphan Annie, said this about Tailholt:

"You kin boast about yer cities, and their stiddy growth and size, And brag about yer County-seats, and business enterprise, And railroads, and factories, and all sich foolery-- But the little Town o' Tailholt is big enough fer me!"

This is but one verse of Riley's poem, The Little Town of Tailholt, and like many of Riley's poems - it is based on a real place. However, it also has a connection to Little Orphant Annie - or to clarify - the real person who inspired Riley to create the Orphant Annie character - Mary Alice Smith.

To bring you up to speed as to where we are in Mary Alice's life: She was born in Union County, IN in 1850. In all of her descriptions about her life, she is fairly consistent in saying that something happned to her parents in the year 1854 - either there was a marital separation or a death (I lean towards death of her mother). At this point, the records about her mother disappear, or in the least - I am unable to find any. Her father remains alive - but is unable to care for a small child. So Mary Alice is sent to live with her paternal Grandmother, Alice Smith, who soon comes to live in a little town in Hancock County, Indiana.

The town in question is located on the Brookville Road (US 52) in between the towns of Fountaintown (est 1854) and New Palestine (est 1838). At first, the town was just a little string of houses along the road, and orginally called "Kinder." A post office of that name was established in the town on April 28, 1847. However, this is only the first moniker that this little town has had over the years. On February 28, 1854, the town of Carrollton was laid out by Hiram Comstock in Kinder. The town contained 32 lots, which were sold at auction. It is said that as the auctioneer was selling the lots - he asked what the name of the new town was going to be? The name of "Carrollton" was supplied. He then commented that it looked more like a "Tailholt" to him - indicating that it was a small town (holt) in an out of the way place at the end of the line (the tail). The nickname sort of stuck - and "Tailholt" was the commonly used name for the town for many years. Of course, this is the name that James Whitcomb Riley used to describe this small town in his poem above.

The date of the selling of the lots is significant. As 1854 - is the same year that Mary Alice claims she was sent to live with her Grandmother Smith. Alice Smith was 54 years old when she moved to Carrollton with her 4 year old granddaughter. I find the two of them there in the 1860 census, and Alice is working as a seamstress.

Mary Alice gives a detailed account of her life in Carrollton in a newspaper article. She states that she went to a log cabin school, where she was teased. She also remarks that she enjoyed playing in the Little Sugar Creek, which was nearby. It was from the many travelers on the Brookville Road where she gathered her stories that she would bring with her to the Riley Home. These are some of the same stories that she used to entertain the Riley children. She would come to live with them in 1861 - when her Grandmother became "too poor to take care of her."

So back to Carrollton - Officially, the name "Carrollton" took over the name of the post office on January 26, 1869. However, when the railroad made it to the town in 1867 and was completed in 1869 there was already another "Carrollton" on the line. Two Carrolltons would be too confusing - so the railroad gave the station in Carrollton Indiana a new name - "Reedville." There is evidence that the plotting of Fountaintown and Carrollton both in 1854 - may have been as a result of the coming of the railroad. The Junction Railroad was already buying land in Greenfield in that same year. So it would seem logical that men who wanted to profit from the coming rail line would purchase large tracts of land and then sell off the lots. Mr. Comstock in Carrollton and Mr. Fountain in Fountaintown - both did the same thing, and in the same year. This may have prompted Mary Alice's Grandmother to move into a small town - as these lots were readily available, Also, the existing evidence indicates that Alice Smith had been living a short distance down the Brookville Road near Morristown as late as the mid 1840's.

The saga doesn't end here. Unfortunately, the town lost their post office on September 30, 1905, when it was taken away and mail was delivered by a rural carrier from Fountaintown. Carrollton was then without a post office until October 13, 1912. The people in the community lobbied a local Congressman, Finley Gray, to reestablish the post office. This was achieved on March 1, 1915. However, to honor Congressman Finley Gray for his efforts - this post office was called, "Finley." Tailholt - Kinder - Carrollton - Reedville - Finley - this little town has had five names!

Today, the Finley Post Office is gone - yet the constroversy still remains. Most maps claim this as the town of Carrollton. However, some of the businesses in the town will still bear the name of Finley. Even further back - you will find a few who would go by the town's legendary nickname - of Tailholt - as seen on this grocery store. The railroad station maintained the Reedville name for many years. The station building still stands, but Reedville is no longer on its front.

So you be the judge - is this Kinder, Carrollton, Finley, Reedville or Tailholt?


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