Reelsville and Pleasant Garden
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Reelsville and Pleasant Garden
The area now known as Reelsville was probably first settled by John and Mary Reel in 1826, where they built their cabin and mill. The Reel’s did not file a plat for the 29 lots of land for what became Reelsville until January 5, 1852.
As noted in A Journey Through Putnam County History, 1966, “beginning with the log mill of John Reel in 1826, the Reel family was in the mill business for well over a half of a century. After the mill was washed away in 1875, Daniel, a son of John, built another mill and operated it for some time. More efficient grinding methods forced the mill to be closed. The building was sold to John King, who used the timbers in the construction of a barn on his farm.
According to records of 1879, Reelsville consisted of the Railroad Station, Grist Mill, store house, telephone office, general store, drug store, Dr. Throop office - Dr. S. A. Hinton shared the office, grade school, Free Church and the cemetery. These were all north of the Railroad. The old Virginia House and blacksmith shop stood near the present telephone office. Across Main Street and west along the tracks were two grocery stores, shoe shops, water tanks, coal bins, stock yards, freight station, post office, saw mill and telegraph office. The trains provided passenger service twice daily each way. We must not forget the famous ‘Reelsville Hill’ and the old covered bridge which collapsed.
The tug of war between Reelsville and Pleasant Garden has extended over the years. First Pleasant Garden had the supremacy, then the coming of the railroad and the change in the location of the National Road gave Reelsville the edge. In 1875 there was the ‘August Fresh’ that washed out the bridge over Big Walnut west of Pleasant Garden. The National Road was relocated from about the site of the Old Butler School along the south side of the Pennsylvania tracks to the old wooden wagon bridge or the ‘famous Reelsville Hill’ bridge over Big Walnut and hence south along Washington Street of Pleasant Garden to Cumberland Street or the National Road. This gave Reelsville both the railroad and ready access to the national highway. But in 1922 a new bridge was put over the creek, so the traffic was again by-passing Reelsville as it moved in it moved down the center of Pleasant Garden. Then Reelsville had four stores: the Mullenix Store with eight clerks, the Reel Store with two clerks, the Foster Store with two clerks and the post office and the George and Florence Fox Store.
However, it was about this time that the Reelsville Depot was closed. In the last part of the 1920's a truck hit the old wooden bridge and knocked it down. Reelsville was temporarily cut off from the National Road. The town began to lose its business until today there is not a single business within old Reelsville. Even the post office and school have moved across the creek, but they retain the name of Reelsville. So, the two villages are, to all practical purposes, one.
On January 20, 1830 the plat for Pleasant Garden with thirty-six lots. It was laid out by John Matkins as a rival of Manhattan. Later, J. W. Witty, a Justice of Peace and an enterprising man, laid out an addition to the village. A brief business directory of 1864 listed Hiram P. Allen, Physician and Surgeon, Dr. McCully and John Robinson, Carpenter and Joiner. There was undoubtedly also a blacksmith shop, inn and store.”
The Journey Through Putnam County History, 1966 has this passage: “Where the Holsapple Grocery is now located (in 1966) there was once a two-story log inn with a grocery store and eating place below and the guest rooms above. There are two interesting stories associated with this inn. Back of the inn was a very beautiful garden and in front of it ran the old National Road with its eighty foot right of way for the oxen to graze upon as the settlers moved westward along the highway. It is said that once Abraham Lincoln spent the night there. As usual, he arose early and took a stroll in the lovely garden. At breakfast Mr. Lincoln was reported to have told the lady who owned the inn that ‘You have a very pleasant garden.’ Hence came the name.”
We need to discuss this claim just a bit. I found newspaper accounts referring to Pleasant Garden as early as 1834, so the name had to have been adopted sometime prior to that. One must also keep in mind that the National Road began to be surveyed about 1827 and 1828 and was a difficult to travel dirt road until the grading and gravel created a better macadam type road in 1833 and 1834. So, the National Road was not the well travelled route we might think of it to be until that time. We must also note that Lincoln was born in 1809 and the family moved from Indiana to Illinois in 1830. Lincoln begin his political aspirations not long after that time, running unsuccessfully for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832, and then being elected to that body for the first time in 1834. It would seem very odd to me that Lincoln would have been travelling in Indiana and staying at this inn in the early 1830’s. This bit of folklore of him staying there and taking his morning walk in the “pleasant garden” would almost infer that he was more of a well-known figure, circa 1850’s I would picture. Unless Lincoln did some serious time travelling, I think this story might be a bit suspect.
There seems to be a better explanation as to how Pleasant Garden received its name. John Matkins was believed to have been born and raised in Alamance County, North Carolina, which was originally part of Orange County. Not far from there is the village of Pleasant Garden. When he platted Pleasant Garden in 1830, it is very likely that Matkins named the place after Pleasant Garden, North Carolina.
Also from the Journey Through Putnam County History, 1966: “The inn was once owned by a man named Bill, who was a gambler. One evening a gentleman dressed in western clothes and riding a very fine white horse with a western saddle rode up and lodged for the night. The next morning a very fine white horse was found wandering around in the Huffman bottom fields. A man drove up to the inn in a wagon and Bill wanted him to haul a load of rock to throw into the well because it had been ruined by a rabbit that had fallen into the well. The man thought it would be easier to fish out the rabbit, but Bill insisted, and he hauled the rock. Bill would not let him throw the rocks into the well but did it himself. He ordered another load of rock and dumped it as before. The well was where the electric light pole is now at the southwest corner of the grocery store porch (in 1966). About a year later another gentleman on a fine black horse with a western saddle rode up at the inn. He did not tie the horse but left the reins on the neck and went into the building. He asked where to find Bill. Upon being told that he was in the back gambling room, the gentleman walked into the gambling den and asked for Bill who identified himself. The gentleman said that he had traced his brother to this inn and found no evidence that he had ever left it. Whereupon the man whipped out a revolver, shot Bill dead, ran out of the inn, jumped on his horse and rode away.”
An interesting article in the July 1, 1940 edition of Daily Banner highlights that the National Road, by then U. S. 40, had been widened to four lanes and was moved considerably south of the old National Road, which ran through Pleasant Garden. Much to the dismay of Dewey Osborne, operator of the Trucker’s Haven in Pleasant Garden, and the community as a whole, they were then about as far away from the great highway as Reelsville had been.
It is also interesting that some of the early newspapers referred to what is now Reelsville as “Reel’s Mill.” It appears not uncommon to refer to a community after one of its noted local businesses or landmarks. Sadly, even today people are confusing the Reel’s Mill, which was in Reelsville itself, with the Barnet Mill, which was about a mile to the south of Reelsville on Big Walnut, and an entirely separate place altogether. I have included photos and drawings of each of these two mills, which are quite different in appearance.