The Herald Bulletin

December 28, 2013

John W. Forrest and the lost town of Forrestville

By Beth Oljace Anderson Public Library
The Herald Bulletin

---- — Although Madison County was established in 1823, the northern part of the county was settled later than the southern townships. It was part of the Miami reserve, which wasn’t open for settlement until the late 1830s. To the early settlers Boone Township must have seemed like the Garden of Eden. Both Lilly and Duck Creek ran through the township. The timber was thick and fine. Game was plentiful. True, it was remote from cities and towns. A trip to Anderson took two days. There were no stores, churches or schools, but the soil was good and it promised to be a fine place to live.

John W. Forrest was one of the early settlers to Boone Township. A Virginian by birth, Forrest came to Madison County in the late 1840s. He purchased 160 acres in Boone Township and settled down to farm. A strong, vigorous man, he seemed ideally suited to the primitive conditions of early Boone Township. He and his sons had to clear his land of trees before the family could even plant a crop. In order to have his wheat crop processed into flour, he had to load it on a wagon and guide the wagon across roadless, wooded terrain to Jackson’s Mill near Anderson. In addition to his own work he was a helpful neighbor as well. In one year, he helped at twenty-six log rollings. (A log rolling was a gathering to help a family build a house.)

In the Boone Township wilderness, Forrest established two new institutions—a Missionary Baptist Church and the town of Forrestville. The church was established in 1850 by the Forrests and two other pioneer families. They met in private homes and school houses until 1858 when a frame church was built on John Forrest’s property. It was built at a cost of $1,400, which was a goodly sum of money in the 1850s. Forrest was a trustee of the church, the superintendent of the Sunday School and occasionally the minister.

Forrest’s other Boone Township creation was the town of Forrestville. Platted and laided out in lots in July 1850, Forrestville consisted of John Forrest and his family initially. The town grew to include a church, a school (which was also built on John Forrest’s land), a general store and a post office. The post master was John Forrest. Forrest continued to be a prominent man in the community. He was Justice of the Peace for 12 years, an important office in a remote, rural area. He was also swamp commissioner. As time went on, Forrest became involved in politics. He started out as a Democrat, but became involved in the Grange movement, a political party which advocated better conditions for farmers and the abolition of most large banks. In the 1870’s Forrest ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature on the Grange ticket. Forrest was also a passionate advocate of the temperance movement and worked hard to keep Boone Township “dry.” He was fond of saying that in the early days of log rollings in Boone Township, there was no sign of a jug of whisky and he wanted to keep it that way.

Forrestville grew slowly as settlers came to Boone Township. By 1870, there were about 100 people living in Forrestville. The town had a blacksmith, a school and a church, but little else to draw new residents. (One amenity that Forrestville did have was a doctor, who was the son of a local resident.) Prosperity, which had probably seemed just around the corner in early years, never arrived. The railroad, which was talked about and which Forrest believed would come through, never did. A trip to Anderson still took two days. Forrestville lost its post office by 1875 and by that time John Forrest must have realized that Forrestville was never going to grow. He died in 1887 and after his death the town began to die. When John Forkner and Byron Dyson wrote their history of Madison County in 1897, they reported that it had all but disappeared. It may not have helped that Forrest’s neighbor, Enoch McMahan, died in a horrific fire a year after Forrest’s death. McMahan and his hired man, Henry Streets, were trapped in McMahan’s barn and burned to death in front of friends and neighbors who had come to help fight the fire. Forrestville became a ghost town. A church building stood into the twentieth century, but it is long gone now. Today there is only one thing marks the place where Forrestville once was.

Forrestville Cemetery, established in 1850, lies on County Road 1650 North, amid farms and fields. Standing in the cemetery and looking around, it’s almost impossible to imagine that a town, even a small one, once stood there, but it is all that is left of the lost town of Forrestville.