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Title: The House that Elisha Built
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It is all that remains of the river town Baltimore, Ind.

On old Indiana Route 63, a February wind sweeps cold rain across the hill where the big square house of brown brick sits. The house is Italianate style, with sculpted window hoods and second story doors that once led onto elegant balconies of white wrought iron.

It's all that's left of the once-thriving river town of Baltimore, Ind.

When Baltimore was founded in November 1829, the Revolution was less than half a century in the past, the Civil War 32 years in the future.

The town, supposedly named for the Maryland Baltimore, was laid out in Warren County's Mounds Township by landowners William Willmeth and Samuel Hill. They are identified as town "proprietors" in a Warren County Historical Society history. They reserved a space for a marketplace, another for a public spring, and another for a school and meeting house. Soon there were 70 people in the town proper.

As the town grew, it showed every sign of success. Barges came up the Wabash from New Orleans. There were steamboats and ferryboats.

People and goods landed regularly on the Baltimore wharf. There were numerous grocers, some advertising themselves as selling both "wet" goods (liquor) and dry goods.

The house on Baltimore Hill looks down on the Wabash River. When the river is low, you can see the pilings from the old railroad that started Baltimore's decline by taking away much of the river traffic and furnished it by leaving.

The house was built in 1881 by Baltimore farmer and postmaster Elisha Rodgers for the then-princely sum of $5,000. Rodgers, a native of Connecticut, had built a frame house earlier. That was torn down.

The hill house - old, forlorn, but still majestic - has passed into other hands again and again. From its riverbank, it watched Baltimore flourish and then die.

"At one time, Baltimore was as big as Perrysville and Danville were," says one of Elisha Rodgers' great-grandsons, Ray Rouse of Danville.

The house, built from brick kilned at the top of the hill, was at the end of the steamboat run from New Orleans, Rouse says.

"There were warehouses on top of the hill, a post office, and a hardware store. It was built when my grandmother (Rosa Rodgers Rouse, daughter of Elisha and his second wife, Mary Ann) was 13.

"I can remember a building on the back for servants. The house had big square rooms and four chimneys. There were four rooms on each floor.

"It was not real elaborate on the inside. There was a big basement. That's where all the cooking was done. On the back there was a big frame structure that was the maid's quarters. A stairway went all the way to the top of the roof to the widow's walk. Where the garage is now, there was an ice house."

Rust has eaten through the white paint on the iron fence in front. The tall cedars that sheltered the house from the road are gone, as is the widow's walk on the roof, from where barges and steamboats could be seen coming down the river.

Dorothy Hickman of rural Williamsport, Ind., is a granddaughter of Elisha Rodgers. She remembers the flat boats coming down the Wabash, and the house "with ceilings so high you couldn't reach them with a broom.

"There was a back stairway and a front. My grandmother was very particular. She put white linens on the front stairway for special company to walk on. The rest of the family used the stairway in back."

Camilla Hegeler Buckingham of Danville went to parties at Baltimore Hill when the house was a summer place for E.X. and Mabel Cannon LeSeure.

Mabel was the daughter of Joseph G. "Uncle Joe" Cannon, Danville's legendary speaker of the House of Representatives. Camille and Uncle Joe's granddaughter, Virginia LeSeure (daughter of E.X. and Mabel) were friends.

"Virginia would ask all her friends to come for the weekend," Camilla says. "We'd bring picnics and then we'd look at the Wabash. At night, we'd dance the two-step and three-step."

Camilla was a bridesmaid at Virginia's wedding.

"She was married by proxy. The bridegroom got sick with the flu and could not go to the wedding. His brother was his stand-in. Then the brother got the flu. The bridegroom got well but the brother died a week after the wedding."

Newspaper articles tell of Uncle Joe enjoying breezes of Baltimore Hill. Helen Baum, of the Warren County Historical Society, says it's so.

Supposedly, she says, "he gave great parties there."

Don Van Pelt of Danville once played in the mansion on Baltimore Hill. His friend, Merle Hickman, lived there.

"We lived on a farm down the road from the Hickmans," he says. "It was an innovative farm. Instead of a regular pump, our water was delivered by a hydraulic ram from a spring."

"There was a tombstone in our front yard, for a Sarah Watkins, I think it was, and her husband. At night we kids (Van Pelt and his sister and brother) would look at it and get scared."

"Our house faced old Route 63 (now 263). The house is gone; Flexel owns the land now. But the tombstone is still there."

Lloyd Hickman,brother of Merle Hickman, lived at Baltimore Hill from the age of 10 to adulthood.

"The walls were about 12 inches thick," he recalls. "It was always cool in summer and warm in winter. The Wabash was down over the hill."

Good in Baltimore's heyday were cheap. Howard Rodgers, one of Elisha Rodgers' great grandsons, sayd that his grandfather's record book for the years 1836 and '37 show whiskey selling at 12 to 19 cents a quart, tobacco at 10 cents a pound, shoes at $1 to $2 a pair, and silk hats for 75 cents each. That was nothing compared to the price of land. When the town failed, Elisha is reported to have bought lots for as little as 10 cents each.

In 1954, Baltimore Hill was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. George Davis. Their son, John Davis, owned it next. Current owners are John's daughter and son-in-law, Catherine and Martin Johnson of Walkterton, Ind.

But somehow Baltimore Hill still is the house of Elisha Rodger, advocate of temperance and children (he had 11), who built a schoolhouse on his farm, who believed in the prosperity of Baltimore, who thought his house on the hill would last grandly and forever.

Date: 2/11/1991
Origin: Commercial News
Author: Jean Byrum
Record ID: 00001566
Type: Periodical
Source Archive: Warren County Historical Society
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Collection: Mound Township
Entered By: Amber M Knipe

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