“The Cornfield That Grew An Industrial Idea”

The increase in spending and jobs in Connersville during the war continued to shape the city for the next few decades. Pay increased and the number of jobs was on the increase in the post-war economy. Charlie Hughes recalled the 1950s and 1960s in Connersville as the “boom.”

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From large industries like Stant Manufacturing Company, Dresser-Roots Inc, Ford Electronic and Refrigeration Corporation, and White Consolidated Industries, to small businesses like Mac’s Machine and Metal Works, Customs Extrusions, Metal Plating Company, Ready Machine Tool and Die Company, and McCombs and Son, industry in Connersville was thriving. The post-war period into the 1960s was a time of growth and prosperity in Connersville. Industries and companies reached out to other areas around Connersville to fulfill their growing workforce needs, because Connersville’s population was too small at the time.

“But the war increased the pay and they went from there on right up the scale. I think that the 50s and the 60s were the boom time in Connersville because all the factories were working. They hired everybody, in fact they would put ads in newspapers in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and they would bring bus loads of them in from various other places… the factories would hire ‘em because you got a lot of good ones, you got a lot of bad ones and you eventually weeded out most of the bad ones.” [1]

Industrial Tour June 21 1969
Photograph of an industrial tour of Connersville, published in The Connersville News-Examiner June 21, 1969.

The Connersville Chamber of Commerce held industrial tours of the community to demonstrate its desirability to visiting business leaders hoping to expand or open new companies.  While the tours were held throughout the state of Indiana, Connersville made sure they were a stop on the tours in hopes to draw in more industry. As evidenced from two newspaper clippings – of many – featuring pictures from the tours, the businessmen and community members were all white men, and few of them were young. Tours included visits to current industrial facilities, open locations for future construction, visits to the businesses downtown, and an introduction to the new high school and vocational education program that would be supplying them with workers.

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Photograph of more industrial tourists, taken May 26, 1969 and published in The Connersville News-Examiner.

Connersville’s Chamber of Commerce was extremely active during the postwar period, but it has a long history of promoting business in the community. Since 1880 with the formation of the Connersville Board of Trade – a collection of local business leaders – to the Better Connersville Association created in 1933, which was renamed the Connersville Chamber of Commerce in 1946, the Chamber of Commerce and the business of promoting business within the community has been a concern of civic-minded citizens for over 100 years.

The biggest impact of this period on the locals was the way people acted on Friday and Saturday nights. Dorothy, Charlie and Martha Firsich all recollected the big Friday nights in Connersville during this time:

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The McFarlan Hotel was a place for people to gather for drinks downtown during Connersville’s “boom.”

“Friday night’s now you’ve got to think, Fridays and Saturdays were your big nights in Connersville because all of your merchants stayed open til 9 or 10 o’clock and the streets were full of cars. A lot of people, especially in the summertime, would leave the house early in the morning, go get their car washed someplace, and then they would drive downtown and find a good place to park and they’d leave the car there and ride the bus back nearest to their home. Then they’d come back with their wife or their girlfriend or whoever in the evenings they’d get on that bus and come down there so they’d have a place to park and watch the traffic. And between the hours of 7 and 9 o’clock, Central Avenue was like a parade route, they were just bumper to bumper and people jockeying for a place to park, you know, and all of the restaurants and taverns and we had a lot of taverns and of course, people got used to at this time from the war that they had money and they got a little bit carried away, or at least I thought they did. Anyway, the town was on a real upswing and whatever you wanted could be had for a price – good or bad.”[2]

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Kunkel’s Drive-In today.

The Elliot-Hood Drug Store and Kunkel’s Drive-In  were both popular locations for high school students to hang out and for all community members to visit on Friday nights. Although, like drugstores around the country, Elliot-Hood went out of business, Kunkel’s remains an institution in Connersville and a popular location for people to gather today.

Many changes came in the postwar world: more of Connersville’s home-owned industries were absorbed by national concerns; farms became larger and more mechanized; smaller schools disappeared with consolidation; and malls and the move to the suburbs weakened the downtown area. Yet Connersville continued to grow in the postwar period: they built a new airport, library, and high school, and added to the hospital.

 

In an attempt to fill the growing need for employees in the local companies and in the tradition of their school system, Connersville citizens passed a levy to open a technical career school along with the new high school. Dedicated in 1969 and opened to students in 1970, this new school structure demonstrates the industrial, business focus of the community and the impact that “Little Detroit” companies had on the local community.

Connersville’s history of industry — from buggies to automobiles to war production — affected the local community’s make-up and identity, shifting it toward an industrial basis driven by companies and businesses. Maybe to help keep the industries in Connersville or maybe to keep their citizens employed, the opening of the vocational school in 1970 changed Connersville’s education system and businesses for the rest of the twentieth century.

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