The Fulton area, which apparently encompassed more than the official area annexed to the city of Madison, was commonly called “Pottersville” at one point in history, according to those “in the know” in Madison. Neighbors frequently referred to the area as Pottersville because of the large number of family members by that name. Things being what they were, it seems almost everyone in this section of town was somehow related to a Potter, even the Brushfields (the family that first caused me to start this blog) were related by marriage.
Because of my research I was honored to meet and talk with the great-great-granddaughter of William and Mary Potter from Delaware, one of those early pioneer families in the area. Mary DeCar is the starting point for information in this post. A second interview is definitely in order. Little did I know, Mary DeCar, one of the women who works at the local JayCee Grocery, where I generally shop downtown, is also the wife of a local steamboat historian, Mr. Louis DeCar, who has given many presentations about steamboats in the local schools. I have used a couple of quotes about part of Madison’s history as Mr. DeCar told it. I include a little information on Mr. DeCar at the end of this post.
Although we cannot positively identify who’s who in this photo, we can start with the presumption that they are related. I was told the photo contained “original Potter brothers”. The history rescue project’s mortality lists of 1850-1880 censuses listed a John Potter, age 66, from Delaware, as deceased, October 1870, so he may have been gone by the time this photo was taken. Mr. DeCar seemed to think one in the photo was John Potter, Mary’s great-grandfather, John Potter, who showed up as being alive on the census, shown in a link below. Who knows. Maybe other photos will someday reveal who’s who. I do think the shantyboat house is what I see in the background.
Mr. DeCar offered this up when I looked over the original family photo, “We know that Fulton was there in 1835 (when the William Potter family settled here) because when the original Potter family came here from Ohio, they, uh, I think it was oh, probably, 150 miles north of Cincinnati, up that way…and they migrated down here and that was where they settled…was in that area up there…but I think some of those structures were already there.”
No doubt, some structures were there before the Potters came to the area, but anything built in Fulton proper, before 1937, was washed away in Ohio River floods. The “hint” of a building is shown in a photo of Mary’s grandmother (Samantha/Mattie) with children. Virginia, her mother, is the child at the right in photo (see enlarged). Mrs. DeCar said (about this photo) “That’s the home that went away in the ’37 flood. That’s my grandmother, that’s my mom, that’s Aunt Laurie, that’s Commodore and Bailey that is Ednie, the other girl.” The photo was marked c1910; the flood that took the house was the 1937 flood. If anything was on the part of Fulton closest to the river, it’s gone.
In checking the 1835 date for the Potters settling in the area, I came across the death notice for John Potter, son of William and Mary Potter, one of those original (Potter) pioneers in Madison’s Fulton area. The death notice (1835-1922) stated the family came to Madison when John Potter was 9 months old.
The 1920 census shows John Potter, age 85, living with a 20-year old boarder, next door to the William Potter family on one side and the James Potter family on the other side. The Tommy Gibbs family (a family who Mrs. DeCar says in whose house her aunt once lived) was nearby in the mix of Potter families on Brooksburg Road (now State Route 56) and Fulton Street. I still haven’t been able to access any deed records for Fulton and realize that will be difficult. One neighbor told me he has a copy of his, so that will help. I will get around to these at some point. Records are still not complete in the recorder’s office since the courthouse fire, but then, Fulton records may not have ever been part of those.
Where was I? Oh yeah, back to Mr. Potter.The death notice for John Potter, found in the Madison Courier, dated April 21, 1922, stated that Mr. Potter was “one of the best known citizens of the east end and the last of the original Potter brothers of pioneer river days,” further describing that Mr. Potter’s passing, due to Bright’s disease, had occurred at 5:50 in the morning, “at his home in Fulton, thelittle settlement adjoining the Madison corporation line on the east, which the family had practically built and made for more than half a century.” The notice stated that Mr. John Potter, Esq, was the “last of a sturdy race, the decedent lived to a hardy old age (87) and was active” up to a recent time near his death. He was the last of the “original Potter family” that settled in Fulton, somewhere east of Ferry Street, in Madison, Indiana.
As for those original settlers, the 1850 census shows William and Mary Potter, from Delaware, ages 49 and 40, listed with nine children. Mr. Potter’s occupation was listed as a fisherman. The 1860 census does show a John Potter, then a married adult at age 26, was born in Delaware, living with wife Rachel, a 21-year old. An 1880 census shows father and son (both named John) Potter as fishermen. During my interview with Mrs. DeCar, I told her I had seen census records that mentioned some Potters were fishermen. She recalled her grandfather’s fishing. I asked her what she remembered, to which she replied, “My grandfather fished all the time. Like we used to make doughballs for him. But he made…I told Louis I wished to God I ‘da kept one…but didn’t have sense enough, he made his own nets. I can see him now with those, and you know they made those needles or whatever you call them, they were wood; they’d carved them out. I ‘ve seen him sit and carve; that’s how they made them, and then they’d dip them in that tar, and see, back then we didn’t think they was anything to be so great.”
I would love to find more information on the fishermen in the area, but that will have to wait. While on the subject of fishing and boating Mrs. DeCar asked (about information found in my research), “Did anybody ever mention anything about my grandfather, his brother having boats on the river? Well…They had a gasoline boat; they hauled stuff to the distillery across the river…Grandpa and Bill (William Potter) had… they hauled stuff over there”….she deferred to her husband who said, “they operated it from Fulton, the docks there…across to Richwood. Grandpa Potter. That was quite a little business there; they hauled grain.”
Hmmm, sounds like a nice little enterprise; I will need to further investigate, though, because I could not figure out where Richwood was supposed to be on a map. Always something…
As previously alluded, Mary’smaternal grandparents were “Pud” John (25 Jan 1863 – 24 Sep 1948) and Samantha (also known as Mattie) Potter (10 Dec 1867 – 17 Jul 1936) of Madison, Indiana. “Pud”, as he was affectionately known, called his wife “Maddie” or “Mattie” because she was often upset with him about staying late and drinking at a relative’s shantyboat up on logs in Fulton. There is a house in Fulton that was built atop the shantyboat, but I am not sure yet if that was theirs. Mary added that her grandmother was not the only one who had a husband that frequented the shantyboat too many times. Sounds like I need to do more research for another post.
Looking through the local library’s history rescue project, I found two of the birth records listed for two of John and Samantha’s children. I noticed John’s middle name was different in the listing, but believe them to be the same person.
Potter, Chester John (age 36) & Samantha Bailey (age 30) Potter. Feb. 6, 1899 (3rd child) Fulton
Potter, Gilbert John (age 32) & Samantha Bailey (age 26) Potter. Mar. 18, 1894 (1st child) Fulton
The 1900 census listed John and SamanthaPotter minus one child, leaving Commodore as the only child at that point. The 1920 census showed John and Samantha Potter living on Brooksburg Road, also known as State Route 56 in Madison, Indiana, with five children, one of whom was Virginia Potter, Mary’s mother. Neither parent was listed as being employed at the time of this census but Commodore Potter was employed as a button cutter at the Melish Button Factory. Teenaged Virginia and brother (Daily or Bailey on records) worked at the Cotton Mill at that time.
Mr. and Mrs. DeCar had a photo of Commodore (shown above on the left) with “Pud”. Mary told me that Commodore was deaf due to a “bug” in his ear as a child. Commodore is also shown in a few other family photos. I found he had a distinct look about him, which usually made him easy for me to find in the other photos, even those without markings.
I was happy to see there were a couple of photos still available. I only used my camera to photograph them, rather than scan them in. The photo below, showing everyone’s chicken catch of the day, was marked left to right as: Albert Potter, Edward Potter, William “Bill” Potter, Bailey Potter (boy in front of Bill), M. Gourley, John “Pud” Potter, Taylor Livingston “Bert” Potter. BUT…I think there was a mix up on the names on the photo because the second man from the left looks like one of the Gourleys in the neighborhood now, so I will assume I am correct due to the familiar face:
We can assume the barrel contained some of their favorite neighborhood brew. The house in the background appears to be the one that still stands on Filmore (sign now says Fillmore as of 2013) Street, mentioned in my post Bertha’s Bevy. Maybe it was the day they put the addition on the house, who knows.
A great photo of the Potter Button Factory, as it was known, can be found in my post, Button, Button. It would seem it was operated out of a frame house on Park Avenue. Part of a newspaper account about the factory is mentioned in the aforementioned post.
Another photo worth mentioning is one which showed nearly all the men in the neighborhood at the time the photo was taken. The building, one of many stone houses built in the area, is long gone of course, and fortunately, this priceless photo remains, showing the names of those included in the photo.
Before I get too far off on the family, which proves I need more than one post about Potters, let’s get back to Mary Frances Robinson Potter DeCar. Mrs. DeCar, Mary, is the second eldest of 10 children. At the time I posted this, I had not confirmed her birthdate, but she’s the daughter of Charles (29 Jun 1896 – 27 Nov 1976) and Virginia (Potter) Robinson (27 Mar 1903 or 1904- 18 Jul 1990. Mary’s parents were married April 21, 1923, in Trimble County, Kentucky. They lived at 1004 Park Avenue when Mary was born. Mary and her older brother were both born there. Mary told me,“They (her parents) were in the upper half, and the side next to Ferry Street were the Potters, Bert (Taylor) and Mame Potter. Out front they had a filling station in front of their side.” That would mean it was at the corner on the western side of the building on the Ferry Street side. I would think if there were any partial graves left (from the original cemetery there) they would have been destroyed by digging a spot for an underground storage tank. Anyway…I looked at the 1920 census which showed Taylor Potter and family living on Park Avenue. Mary volunteered that across the street from where she was born, at the Heilman house, she, on occasion, drank from the cement trough because the water was always cool. She drank from it until she found out it was a horse trough.
When I asked about other houses she remembered, Mary told me her aunt and uncle lived in the Gourley house “They had a barn, he had two cows, he had the horse, he had bees, I don’t know what else.” I asked if that was Wesley, and she said, No, It was Arthur.” They called him Opp. At one end of the house that way he had a garage, cause he was a mechanic, and THIS end they had a building built and it was, they had gasoline pumps in front of it, and you could buy soft drinks and bread or stuff like that. …It was right on the road.
Yes, the Gourley house is one about which I will do a post when I interview Patrick Gourley, who says he has a deed to the property I can look over. A Gourley shows up in one or two of the photos she shared with me.
I asked about the house next door to me, if she ever went there when it was what another neighbor called “a dance hall”. Mary said, “You know where the Chappells lived. (Yes) Bill Potter lived there and had a night club there. He did. They had dances there; the young kids hung out there and everything. My mom and dad would never let us go because mother didn’t approve of him. When he had that he was staying down there with my grandfather. But his daughter wouldn’t have him in her house because she was the post mistress. He was her father but that is as far as it went. (Stella Cisco?) Yeah, Stella.”
I think we will just leave that one alone for now. It is obvious I need to do another post or two or more on the Potter family, but for now, I will try to bring this post back around to Mary and save the rest for another day. I did find an 1850 census listing for George and Sarah Robinson, who must be related to her father’s family, but I will connect those dots some other time.
As I said, Mary Frances Robinson DeCar was the second of ten children. Mary said she was raised on Filmore, worked at the neighborhood grocery store, which was under two different owner during the time she worked there, next to Greiner’s Brewery at the corner of Ferry and Park. Mary married a man from another neighborhood family, John Henry Moore, Jr. Mr. Moore was her first husband. Mr. Moore. was the son of Bertha Sheets and John Henry Moore of Madison. The 1920 census shows John H. Moore and wife Bertha on Filmore with seven children, one of whom was John H. Moore, Jr., born July 10, 1906 in Covington, Kentucky. An earlier census, from 1880, showed Henry Moore living on Filmore with his wife, Martha, two daughters and their son, John H. Moore, so the family owned the same property for quite a while. Another post ( Bertha’s Bevy ) gives a little more on the Sheets-Moore family.
Mary was married to Mr. Moore until he died on Sept. 14, 1945. The Moores had one daughter, Nancy Ellen Moore Coghill, who was born September 19, 1945, just a few days after her father died. Unfortunately, Mrs. Coghill died a couple of years before this interview, on May 3, 2007. Nancy was raised by her mother and step-father, Louis DeCar.
The DeCars met at Mary’s sister Polly’s wedding to Donnie Stewart, a man from another neighborhood family. The DeCars married July 3rd, 1955, so Mr. DeCar became step-father to Mary’s daughter, but the DeCars had no children together. I met Mr. DeCar when I was looking for information on the Potters and Robinsons of the east of Ferry area of Madison and figured I should mention him someplace in the post.
Although I had a short interview with them both at their Madison hilltop home, Mr. DeCar gave me the mini-version of his usual schpiel, which I found interesting. I am sure he is a wealth of information about Madison in general, but my visit was mainly to get information about Mrs. DeCar’s connection to the Potters from the time period the area east of Ferry was referred to as Pottersville. He had drawn a little map of the neighborhood of who lived there in 1961, putting down the name Robinson at the address at which I now live. He also had some Potter genealogy as well as a couple of photos to show me.
Louis DeCar was born in Madison, Indiana, to Swiss immigrant, Angelo Luigi DeCarlo (shortened to DeCar) and Helen Rector, a native Madisonian, on June 30, 1923. Angelo DeCar, who learned horticulture at the University of Milan, Italy, worked at the Madison State (Psychiatric) Hospital. Louis was born in the old John Hinz house on the hospital grounds. His father died in 1924, so Louis was raised alone by his mother.
Louis DeCar graduated from Madison High School in 1941, served in World War II, lived and worked in Madison all of his life. He is an ardent fan and supporter of all things basketball and is a steamboat aficionado as well. He has given many talks to local schoolchildren about his memories of Madison.
When I asked Mr. DeCar if he knew anything about the Brushfield family he mentioned both he and his wife remembered Richard Brushfield, but neither elaborated. He mentioned that Elizabeth Brushfield, daughter of Benjamin Brushfield, who lived on W. Main Street had been his Sunday school teacher. After we discussed a couple of the Brushfields, Mr. DeCar said,“The way they sold their brooms, they peddled them from house to house, on foot, and they come to our house every year and he’d ay to my mother, Time for a new broom, and mom would buy a broom. My mother swore, somebody told her she could buy brooms in the store and she said, They’re not as good as the Brushfield brooms.”
I kind of figured as much.
The DeCars told me there is a yearly Robinson-Potter reunion. Maybe I can get some more information from the next one.