Near the turn of the 20th century, a sharply dressed tailor stands in the street where a horse-and-buggy waits to haul debris from the corner where a new hotel was being built.
“He used to work downtown and … probably passed there on the way to Whitlock [Avenue] to go home,” said local historian Bill Helling, who found a photograph of the scene in the Crawfordsville District Public Library’s image database. “He probably just posed one day … and he was captured forever in front of the old Crawford Hotel spot.”
Snapshots from Crawfordsville’s early boom years and other historical photos from local townships are collected in Helling’s latest book, “Montgomery County, Indiana, Through Time,” released last month by Arcadia Publishing.
Through before-and-after photos of main drags and landmark buildings, Helling documents the evolution of Montgomery County from dense woodland to a network of bustling towns, many of which were connected by railroad.
The row of brick storefronts in Ladoga’s business district look nearly the same as they appeared in the 19th century, when the son of a blacksmith opened his atlas and picked the town’s name from a lake in modern-day Russia.
In a scenic postcard, green leaves cast shadows on the main street in Waveland, where all property owners were once required to plant trees.
Helling also documents the rise and fall of smaller, unincorporated communities. The railroad was expected to bring prosperity to Kirkpatrick in Madison Township until a fiery train derailment severely damaged the town in 1917.
The photos are drawn from the library’s sprawling collection of images, which Helling had helped put online. When Helling joined the library in the mid-1980s from Kansas City, Missouri, the archives sparked an interest in Crawfordsville’s history.
“I would go past places that I had seen in old photos, and I realized I was one of the few people who knew what the building looked like [in the past],” said Helling, who later directed the reference department.
His first collection of historical photos, “Crawfordsville,” was released in 2011 and chronicled the city’s development and accomplishments. For the next book, Helling wanted to expand into the rest of the county.
He wasn’t always aware of the township government system, which funds fire services, cemeteries and financial aid for the poor.
“I realized how important townships were to local history here in not only Montgomery County, but Indiana in general,” Helling said.
Chapters on each of the county’s 11 townships feature photos of schoolchildren, farms and churches, covered bridges, sports teams, train stations, theaters and other local sights.
The book can be purchased in the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County’s gift shop or online.