They arrived on motorcycles and in vans, pickups and cars bearing license plates from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
They trudged the mile downhill to the reservoir's edge or waited patiently for the DNR-provided shuttle.
They wandered among the common detritus of a simpler time — shards of glass, piles of red bricks and tile, broken posts, the bleached skeletons of long-dead tree limbs, and the jagged foundation of a town's high school, perched above the river bed.
Former residents, descendants of early settlers, curiosity-seekers and a visitor from Texas (who didn't want people to know he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers) spent a sunny afternoon last Sunday strolling the still-visible streets of Monument City. The Huntington County town, underwater since being flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers to create the Salamonie Reservoir, has appeared for the first summer in 45 years, due to the drought that has dropped the reservoir's water level by more than 14 feet.
“Only the northwest third of the town is visible,” explains Ron Lawrence who was 19 when his family was forced to leave Monument City. “There are seven home sites and two blocks of town that are still under water.”
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources will allow people to take a supervised tour of the town site again from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
The area of Monument City along the banks of the Salamonie River was first home to Miami and Osage Indians. Following the Civil War, residents of Polk Township erected a monument in 1869 near the center of the township. Engraved with the names of 27 men who died in the war, the monument became the town's namesake and first structure when Monument City was platted in 1876.
“On the southeast side of the school grounds, there is a concrete platform and steps (that) reveal the original location of the monument,” says Lawrence, whose family later became caretakers of the monument when it was moved to a corner of their property.
“Our family owned 40 acres where the monument sat,” says Roma White, Lawrence's sister. “Our job was to keep it mowed and cleaned up.”
The monument and local cemetery were relocated to a hill a mile north of town in 1963 in preparation for construction of the reservoir.
Frequent spring flooding and catastrophic floods in 1881, 1913 and 1943 were the catalyst for the Flood Control Act of 1958, which authorized construction of Salamonie Reservoir, a project that would claim the towns of Monument City, Dora, New Holland and part of Mount Etna.
Lawrence says his mother, Frieda Ulm, and aunt, Patty Krieg, recalled hearing rumors about the project “ ... for years. Then one day, a government official came to the front door, made an offer, and they took it,” he says.
The Lawrence family had erected a home on their 40 acres in 1951. “We paid $4,000 for the 40 acres, and the government gave us what we paid for it,” he recalls.
Brothers Dwain and David Tilden attended the Monument City School.
“They said it would flood to the eaves of the school,” Dwain recalls officials saying about the reservoir's depth. “That was a three-story building.”
Sherry (Hiatt) Rupert is still visibly moved, standing near the school's playground where she and White once played together.
“The government bought us out,” she says, though tears, “ ... our fifth-generation, 264-acre farm ..., we had to pick up and leave. We had no choice. It was horrible!”
By 1964, the town's population had dwindled to 28, and the Lawrence family decided to move their house to higher ground.
“They didn't do it like they do today, taping the windows and all,” says White.
“We jacked it up, put wheels under it, and the semi pulled out, heading east,” Lawrence explains. “My sisters and cousin were in the house, and there were guys on the roof to move (overhead) wires. The blacktop dropped onto gravel, the house jackknifed, and went into a ditch.”
“You could hear dishes breaking, the piano slid across the living room, all the furniture ended up on one end, and our six year-old goldfish died on the floor,” he recalls
Although the building was eventually righted and moved to its intended location on Division Road, the family feared structural damage, sold it to the moving company, and built a new house next door.
By 1965, bulldozers advanced, leveling Monument City's remaining homes, school, general store and the auto repair garage originally owned by Lawrence's grandfather. The dam was completed in 1966, and in 1967, water began spilling onto the empty streets.
A tight-knit community
“It was a small community, and everyone was related in some way,” Lawrence says. “Aunt Mim, ... Uncle Walt, ... Aunt Zora, who was a teacher at the school. I ran my go-cart and rode my pony all over town. The neighbor's grandsons would visit from Marion in the summer, and we lived at the river where we'd pitch a tent. ... Those were some of the best days of my life.
“This was a fun little town for (having) only 50 people,” adds Dave Tilden.
Dwain Tilden, who is now wheelchair-bound, learned to ice skate on the river. “I never thought we'd have the chance to come back here again,” he muses.
No one wanted to leave, says Lawrence, and “there was little or no contact after the town was submerged.”
“There are a lot of memories here for us,” says White, gazing out over the reservoir's water. “I still feel like it's our property.”