Aurora is a historic river town that is situated 35 miles west of Cincinnati, Ohio, located in the Southeast corner of Indiana. Aurora was settled in the early 1800's and incorporated in 1845 and has strong historic connections to the Ohio River. Aurora is full of unique and historic buildings that preserve its older rivercity characteristics.
What's in a Name
Folklore states that Jesse L. Holman, trustee for the "Aurora Association for Internal Improvements", changed the name of the proposed 1819 town from Decatur to Aurora because of jealousy with the thriving downriver community of Rising Sun. The rationale stated, "The Aurora (goddess of Dawn) comes before the Rising Sun." In Roman mythology, Aurora renews herself every morning and flies across the sky, announcing the arrival of the sun.
In 1810, Holman chose a spot atop a bluff rising 427 feet above the Ohio River and built a two-story cabin with a brick addition. The Holmans decided to name their new home Veraestau, from parts of three Latin words, ver (spring), aestas (summer), and autumnus (autumn). Holman hoped that there would be no winter in the new home as their arrival in Aurora was in the dead of winter with bitterly cold nights.
The Aurora Ferry was a system of several boats and tugs connecting Aurora to Kentucky for over 160 years. Even before Aurora’s incorporation in 1819, getting across the Ohio River was important to early settlers. In 1819 the Aurora Ferry was issued a franchise from Boone County, Kentucky. (Kentucky owns the Ohio River.) Early ferries were powered by horses walking on treadmills, and the first engine powered tug was the Etta Belle in 1918. Beginning in 1943, Charles Farrar began to operate the ferry. The C.J., owned and operated by Farrar, and later by his widow, Jessie Farrar, was the last ferry to ply the river full-time. Named in honor of the Farrars’ daughters Carol and Jane, the C.J. was operated until 1978 when the I-275 bridge was completed. A ferry was briefly operated again in the early 1990s when U.S. 50 was rebuilt between Aurora and Lawrenceburg. For many local citizens, the Aurora Ferry is an icon of times gone by.
In 1888, near Hogan Creek, a mineral water spring was discovered when drilling for gas. An attractive small pavilion was built for spring as it was thought to have curative, healthy benefits. The water was enjoyed until the great flood of 1937 when it and the pavilion were lost. In 1966, the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and the Aurora Business and Professional Women’s Club restored the Blue Lick and built a new pavilion.
Aurora Post Office
The Aurora post office houses an example of New Deal artwork: a 1938 Section of Fine Arts mural by Henrik Martin Mayer, entitled “Down to the Ferry.” Mayer, an Indianapolis artist, cemented the oil painting to the lobby wall, May 28, 1938, above the postmaster's office door in the Aurora Post Office. The mural shows the Aurora skyline, including the old Southside School and the steeples of the Fifth Street Church, the Presbyterian Church and St. Mary's Church, from the Kentucky side of the river. Farmers with livestock and other travelers anxiously await the ferry boat to transport them across the river to Aurora.
Post office murals were produced in the United States from 1934 - 1943, through commissions from the Procurement Division of the US Department of the Treasury. The principal objective was to secure artwork that met high artistic standards for public buildings, "where it was accessible to all people". The murals were intended to boost the morale of the American people suffering the effects of the Depression, by depicting uplifting subjects the people knew and loved.
Murals produced through the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture were funded as a part of the cost of the construction of new post offices. Aurora's new post office was opened in 1935.
Aurora’s first steam fire engine was purchased in 1876, and was donated to the City of Aurora by Thomas Gaff, prominent businessman and founder of the Gaff Distillery. The “Thomas Gaff” worked many famous Aurora fires including Royer Wheel Works and once pumped for 72 straight hours during the Crescent Brewery Fire, thereby setting a world record for endurance. The “Thomas Gaff” was sold to a local junk dealer during a World War II scrap drive for $50.00. Its nameplate was given to Aurora Fire Company No. 1 by Earl Huffman, long-term fireman, who purchased it from Dolph Holler for $5.00.
The steam pumper "Aurora" was purchased by the city on February 20, 1885 from the O & M Railroad Company for the sum of $3000.00. After a 3-2 city council resolution, the "Aurora" was loaned in 1962, to the Cincinnati Fire Museum Association for rebuilding and display in the Cincinnati Fire Museum. Under the terms of the agreement between the Fire Museum and the City, the City of Aurora retains ownership of the engine.
In 2017, Don Andrew commissioned Christian Dallas Art to paint a replica of the steam pumper "Aurora" on his building facing Gabbard Riverfront Park on Judiciary & Second Street. Andrew paid $11,000 towards the total cost of $16,000. The rest was paid from the City of Aurora's 2017 Facade Improvement Grant funded through riverboat gaming.
Aurora City Building
Built in 1886-1888, the City Building is part of the register-listed Downtown Aurora Historic District. Built into the original architectural design of the historic City Building, is an artistic rendering of the first light of dawn, “The Aurora” which can be seen from the Third Street side of the building directly to the left on the second floor. Entered into the National Register of Historic Places March 14, 1996, the building at 216 Third Street was built in the Italianate and Romanesque style and designed by Louisville, Kentucky architects McDonald Brothers & Louis Kreite.
In 2004-2005, the building went through a major renovation which included an adjacent building and re-construction of yet another building at 233-237 Main Street.
Today the building houses the Mayor, City Manager, Clerk Treasurer, City Attorney, the Aurora Police Department, Main Street Aurora, Purdue Extension Dearborn County, We Care Packages, an unoccupied jail, and Indiana’s longest continuously used city council chambers.
Although the automobile was to have its greatest social and economic impact in the United States, it was initially perfected in Germany and France in the late 1800’s. Thirty American manufacturers produced 2,500 motor vehicles in 1899. One of those vehicles, purchased by J.P. Coulter of Aurora, was the first automobile in Dearborn County.
Coulter, born in Philadelphia May 29, 1835, came to Aurora around 1877 with the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad and given charge of the main road and branches at the Cochran Railroad Shops, 690 miles in all.
Coulter was an aggressive self-promoter and after leaving the railroad, founded The J.P Coulter Company, selling carpets, curtains and general dry goods. The building built in 1860, which Coulter moved into at 311 Second Street in 1895, boasted a decorative cast iron and pressed tin store front and an elaborate canopy.
The Trustees of the new city set aside three lots 210, 222 and 288 for school purposes and the first school was held in a log cabin originally erected and later vacated by Mrs. Joanna Fox on Fifth St. This school was of the first institutions incorporated in the State in 1826. The same year a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Lucius Alden of Boston, combined preaching and teaching and took charge of the Aurora Seminary and was the Superintendent of Schools for a salary of $300 per year. Assistant Stephen S. Harding received $13 per month for his services.
Constructed on “Seminary Square” during 1859-1863 Southside School was opened in 1867. In 1867 the building was insured for $15,000 and the first janitor was hired to care for the school property. One of his many duties was to keep all hogs and cattle off the school playground.
The first commencement exercises were held in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1868 for three high school graduates; Lucy Stedman Hurst, Seth Stedman & Charles C. Stevens. In 1879 the Commencement was held in the Opera House on Second St. which was then known as the “New Opera House”. Admission was 10 cents.
Southside School closed in 1962 and demolished in the early ‘70s to make room for the construction in 1972 of two apartment buildings now owned by Aurora Apartments Inc. at what is now 109-111 Dewers Street previously Seminary Lot Aurora Outlet 33.
Dr. George Sutton
Dr. George Sutton, born June 10, 1812 in Greater London, England, was the seventh mayor of Aurora from 1863-1867 and President of the Indiana State Medical Society. He died June 13, 1886, in Aurora at age 74. He is buried in River View Cemetery and was an original incorporator of the cemetery and acted as its first president.
Dr. Sutton reviewed revalent epidemics in southeastern Indiana for a period of nearly 50 years. He wrote many papers detailing what he thought were the causes of many of those diseases.It is said that a steamer bound for New Orleans landed in Aurora with a slender man looking for Dr. Sutton. “I have read papers from his pen on cholera and black tongue and I esteem him as one of the most learned men of the medical profession in the United States, and it would afford me great pleasure to make his acquaintance. My name is Andrew Jackson and will you do me the kindness to mention my name to Dr. Sutton?”
Dr. Sutton, wife Sarah, and his children lived on what is now known as Sutton Hill. It was here, after rendering to the sick and injured of Aurora, that he returned each evening to rest and contemplate.
His office, now the Dr. George Sutton Medical Office Building is located at 315 Third Street. It was built about 1870, and is a small two-story, Second Empire-style brick building. It sits on a limestone block foundation and has a mansard roof. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 located in the Downtown Aurora Historic District.
The Aurora City Park is located on 16 acres bordered by Park Avenue, Manchester Street, and Hogan Creek. It was deeded to the City of Aurora in 1860 by owners Strawder Cheek and Peter Williams, and was originally designated as the home for the Dearborn County Agriculture Society.
In 1860, a nearly completed amphitheater could accommodate 10,000 persons and was OPEN TO THE WORLD. It was said to contain enough lumber to build fifty average homes, had four side stairways leading to the interior that would allow ample ingress and egress for a very large crowd.
The Peoples Building & Loan
November 24, 1887, ten prominent men joined to form The Peoples Building and Loan, in Cochran, Indiana. The first office was located in a former one-room school on Center Street in Cochran. Built in 1903, the second office was a small brick building at 210 Center Street. The business grew and the third office was opened in downtown Aurora on Bridgeway Street in 1951 with H.C. Watts Sr. being the first full time employee. The final location at Second & Bridgeway Streets sat between Love’s Creamery and the Chat and Nibble Restaurant (later the Wagon Wheel Restaurant), which opened in 1964 and expanded in 1978.
Soon after its 100th anniversary The Peoples Building and Loan changed from a mutual savings and loan charter to a mutual savings bank charter, thus Peoples Federal Savings Bank (PFSB) was born on October 31, 1998. Peoples became a publicly held stock company in November of 2001.
As part of the public offering of PFSB, a charitable foundation was formed and Peoples Federal Savings Community Foundation was started. The goal was to create a trust which would perpetuate the community service standards that had long been a part of Peoples history, a history that continues to this day. One of the many contributions was the building of the Cochran Playground Area which sits near the site of the first loan offices in Cochran.
In 2005, the bank was sold to Peoples Community Bank of Lebanon, Ohio. The former building at Second & Bridgeway Sts. was purchased by St. Elizabeth Hospital of Northern Kentucky and houses St. Elizabeth Physicians Partners - Aurora Primary Care.
Clayton W. Lischkge was born and raised on Decatur Street in Aurora, and was an apprentice mechanic as a young man working for little or no pay in exchange for learning the trade. In June of 1924, Clayton married Jesalena Rogers, and in August that same year opened Lischkge Motors in a leased building on lower Second St.
Doors stayed open through the Great Depression, after which he purchased a horse livery at 216 Judiciary St. Lischkge Motor moved into the building in 1933.
The legendary flood of 1937 completely covered the town of Aurora, and its crested on the Lischkge second floor. Though Lischkge had endured four floods, on March 27, 1964, Clayton and son Bobby said they'd had enough, and Lischkge Motors moved to higher ground.
Lischkge purchased the Round Barn on US 50. Built in 1901, the structure is the largest round barn in the State of Indiana. It took Lischkge two years to convert the wooden structure to concrete block and steel. The building is now a preserved historic landmark as well as a thriving business.
In 2018, the Lischkge family, company employees, friends and customers celebrated 80 years as an authorized Mack Truck Distributor, making Lischkge Motors the oldest Mack Truck distributor in the world today.Lischkge Motors' success today reflects the experience, hard work and commitment to the customer-foundations placed by Clayton with his prevailing business philosophy, "All Repair Work Must Give Satisfaction."
Aurora’s Thomas Gaff, of T. & J.W. Gaff & Co. Distillery, built a corn and hominy mill at 607 Jackson Street in Columbus, Indiana in 1880 along with partners Joseph Gent & Thomas Co. A rolled corn product was developed called Cerealine. Cerealine, also known as malt flakes, was a 19th century cereal product and the first dry breakfast food in American retailing. Cerealine was corn grits in the form of uncooked flakes and was also used for beer brewing. Touted as the first ready-made cereal in the world, Mr. Gaff is said to have committed America in the lead of breakfast cereals.
Cerealine Flakes were shipped to Niagara River Brewing Company in New York from 1883-1893. To produce 6,000 barrels of beer a year the plant used: 12,000 bushels of barley malt, 15,000 pounds of hops, and four railroad carloads of Cerealine.The Cerealine Manufacturing Company moved to 18th & White River in Indianapolis prior to 1893 to take advantage of lower freight cost. Cerealine joined nine Midwestern mills in 1902 to form American Hominy Co., which continued business into 1920s.
Thomas Gaff, along with brother James, was involved in many business adventures besides the distillery and the corn and hominy mill such as: Aurora’s Crescent Brewing Company, farming, Nevada silver mines, a Cincinnati jewelry store, foundry and machine works, turnpike and canal construction, two Louisiana plantations, steamboats, backing Aurora’s first utility company (Aurora Gas and Coke Company), the founding in 1856 of the First National Bank of Aurora, as well as being involved in many other civic affairs.
The magnificent Hillforest mansion, built by Thomas Gaff, was home to he and his family between 1855 and 1891, and remained in the family until 1926.
Aurora Lawrenceburg Trail
After 12 years of dreaming, planning and construction ”lifelong bicycling enthusiasts” known as the MUD Brothers, John Mehrle, Richard Ullrich and, Ed Dierking’s vision came to fruition on March 4th, 2006 when the Aurora section of the Aurora Lawrenceburg Trail, as it was originally known, opened to the public with speeches, ribbon cutting, and fanfare.
In the early 1990's, John Mehrle, then SDHS teacher and later SDHS Associate Principal & Superintendent, discussed the rail bed’s potential as a rails-to-trails project. The trail could be built on the abandoned railroad bed where The Big Four railroad (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway or CCC&StL) tracks were located in Aurora. Richard Ullrich, Aurora clerk-treasurer, then mayor during the trail creation process credited the major push behind the ALT bike trail to former city councilman and businessman Ed Dierking who, “had a vision and stuck to it”.
The MUD Brothers received right of way donations, sold T-shirts (who’s logo was designed by 1999 SDHS student Lindsay Hunger), recycled glass among other fundraisers, but finally after their third attempt at grant writing garnered $1 million in Transportation Enhancement Activity funds, plus a $480,000 Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act grant in 2000.
The 5.4 mile trail connects Manchester Landing (Aurora) to High St. at Williams St. (Lawrenceburg) to Walnut Street to Hollywood Blvd. (Greendale). The trio’s vision included connecting with Rising Sun. In 2013 two signs were dedicated along the trail crediting the three for its establishment.
Elmer Davis was born January 13, 1890 in Aurora, Indiana. He was a news reporter, author, the Director of the United States Office of War Information and a Peabody Award recipient (1940, 1947, 1950).
Davis began his lifelong career in the news industry after his freshman year at Aurora High School, landing a summer job with the Aurora Bulletin as a printer's apprentice. At the age of 16, Davis entered Franklin College, where he served as editor of the school newspaper selling his first story to the Indianapolis Star for $25. Davis earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1910, graduating magna cum laude and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Queen's College at Oxford University.
While at Oxford, Davis studied Greek language, literature, and history. In 1911 he was awarded a master's degree from Franklin College for courses completed while in residence. Davis graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1912. While in Europe Davis met Florence MacMillan from Mount Vernon, New York, whom he married on February 5, 1917. The couple had two children, a son and a daughter.
In 1913 Davis took a job as an editor for Adventure magazine, and in 1914 took a job as a junior reporter for the New York Times. As Davis moved from sports writing, to become a foreign correspondent and editorial writer, he created the cartoon Godfrey G. Gloom in 1920, who was a columnist and political commentator, the strip was retired in 1936.
A temporary assignment in 1936 soon became Davis's new career when he joined Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Davis's nightly five-minute news summary became the standard of the profession. Radio commentator Edward R. Murrow claimed that “no one else could explain the why of the news in such brief compass; and even Davis's rivals conceded his ability to condense effectively more information into less time than any other newscaster."
Davis played a vital role in helping shape public opinion during World War II and used the slogan, "This is a people's war, and the people are entitled to know as much as possible about it.” In June 1942, President Roosevelt established the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) and named Davis as director.
In 1945 he resumed his career as a news broadcaster with the American Broadcasting Company until suffering a heart attack in 1953. Davis was a long-standing member of The Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to keeping green the memory of Sherlock Holmes. He suffered a stroke in March 1958 and died two months later on May 18 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 68. Davis was cremated at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland. His published writings were: The Princess Cecilia (1913), History of the New York Times (1921), Times Have Changed (1923), Giant Killer (1928), Love Among the Ruins (1935), Not to Mention the War (1940), But We Were Born Free (1954), and Two Minutes till Midnight (1955).
Jacob Ebersole, well-known Cincinnati surgeon, was born May 15, 1820 near Eaton, Ohio. After Ebersole graduated from the University of New York he began medical practice in Aurora where he remained for nearly 20 years. He was married two months shy of sixty years to Frances Glenn of Cincinnati and the two had five children; three sons and two daughters. Ebersole built a home in 1860 on 23 acres of farm land at what is known today as “The Big House” at 603 West Conwell Street.
Aroused by a spirit of patriotism, Ebersole offered his services to the government, enlisting April 15, 1862, and received his Commission as an Army Surgeon of the 19th Indiana Volunteers in General Bragg’s famous “Iron Brigade”. On April 23rd Ebersole arrived in Washington and was assembled in preparation for battle.
The Minié ball, a new rifled musket technology, caused severe tissue and bone damage making it necessary for a staggering number of amputations. Three-fourths of a surgeons time was spent amputating the limbs of wounded soldiers. Dr. Ebersole was a well-respected surgeon who became extremely skilled at amputations, he recalled his time serving in the Battle of Gettysburg as one of the worst battles of the Civil War.
Jacob found interest in horticulture and agriculture, practicing scientific methods in the cultivation of fruits and cereals. In 1870 Jacob was said to be a farmer in Huntington County, Indiana and by 1880 he worked as a grocery clerk. He died at his home at 701 South Crescent Avenue in Avondale, OH on July 27, 1905 at the age of 85. He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Hamilton Co., Ohio.
Kirtley Baker was born June 23, 1869, in Aurora, Indiana, to Emily Gibson Baker of Manchester. The Bakers are known to have lived in the house built in 1890 at 109 Fourth Street.
At the age of 20, Baker debuted as a pitcher and left fielder in Major League Baseball. The right hander and batter played for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (now Pirates) in 1890, Baltimore Orioles in 1893 - 1894, and the Washington Senators 1898 - 1899. One source says he was traded to Boston in 1900. He played nine years, with his last game June 14, 1899 at the age of 30.
Kirtley never had a winning season in the majors, but he did have a good ERA in 1898. As of 2018, Kirtley Baker is one of 57 Major League pitchers in history who had an infinite earned run average (ERA) season. A member of the infinity club, consists of those pitchers who have an entire single-season ERA of one or more earned runs without retiring a batter. Baker accomplished the feat with the World Champion 1894 Baltimore Orioles.
Baker married Clara B. Northern Baker and had one son and two daughters; he died on April 13, 1927 at the age of 57 in Covington, KY. He is buried in Greendale Cemetery.
Leslie M. Baker, M.D.
Beloved hometown doctor, Leslie Mayer Baker, and twin brother Lester, were born Saturday July 11, 1914 to Gatch Leroy and Mayme Mayer Baker in Wilmington, Indiana.
In 1931, Leslie became the first Eagle Scout in Southeast Indiana. He graduated from Aurora High School in 1932, where he was class president and captain of the basketball team. Along with brother Lester, Leslie attended and graduated from Indiana University in 1936. He graduated from IU Medical School in 1939.
Drafted into the Army in 1941, Leslie served in the 437 Medical Battalion in General George Patton’s Third Army. He was honorably discharged as a lieutenant colonel in 1946.
Dr. Baker who is said to have delivered more than 3000 babies and made house calls for 45 years. He started his medical practice in Aurora in 1947 with Dr. J. Kenneth Jackson at 221 Mechanic Street, then opened his own private practice at 501 Fourth Street in 1958 where he remained until his retirement in 1993.
Leslie married Dolores Emly Baker “Dodie” and had four children; 3 daughters and a son. Dr. Baker and brother Lester were active in the founding and development of the Dearborn County Hospital (now Highpoint Health), whose intensive care unit is known as the Baker Intensive Care Unit. He and wife Dodie were two of 10 local citizens who banded together to purchase Hillforest from the VFW and founded the Hillforest Historical Foundation opening the historic property to the public in 1956.
On Thursday July 8, 1999, three days shy of his 85th birthday, Dr. Baker died from complications of pneumonia. He is buried in River View Cemetery. After Dr. Baker’s death, South Dearborn High School graduate Dr. Steven Gerke, along with the Baker family established the Dr. Leslie M. Baker Memorial Scholarship Fund through the Dearborn County Community Foundation providing scholarships for students attending the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Dr. Gerke learned that Dr. Baker helped a number of students, such as Gerke, with financial support in their education and wanted to honor Dr. Baker for his philanthropy.
Aurora C. Schuck
Aurora C. Rulz, daughter of Alfonzo and Devinda Pardo Rulz was born July 14, 1927 in Havana, La Habana, Cuba. In 1947 at the age of 20, Aurora adopted the town with her namesake. ”She was glad somebody named a town after her”, and in 1948 married Raymond Schuck, owner of Schuck Plumbing and Heating, Inc.
Ray and Aurora purchased a new 1976 red Eldorado Cadillac and she put over 100,000 miles on it traveling Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan before retiring from the Internal Revenue Service. She often quipped that she liked her Cadillac so much she‘d like to be buried with it. Upon her death, on November 7, 1989 at 62 years old, she got her wish.
To honor Aurora’s request, a garage-size vault required a total of 14 plots be purchased. A concrete vault measuring 27 feet by 12 feet and 6 feet deep, and a crane, were needed to lift the car into the vault. It required 25 yards of concrete to build the vault with a top that weighs 16 tons.
It was an all AURORA ceremony; AURORA Schuck was buried in an AURORA Casket with a personalized AURORA license tag, including an AURORA stamped brick with a “Unique AURORA” license plate.
The Schuck Christmas window displays at the Heating and Plumbing “Schuck Building” at 302 Second Street were a hometown favorite for nearly 50 years beginning in 1968 and continuing after Aurora’s death in 1989 and Ray’s death in 2002. The display opened annually on Thanksgiving Day, 1947, the day that Aurora first came to town. The tradition was carried on by Ray’s second wife, Diane Shirl Schuck until the selling of the Schuck building in 2015.
Aurora and her beloved Cadillac are buried in Historic River View Cemetery.
Capt. Alexander Pattinson
Alexander B. Pattison was born May 20, 1835, in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio.
Within twenty-four hours after the start of the Civil War three companies had offered their services and were soon on their way to the State capital to enlist into the Seventh Regiment for three months. These three companies formed the vanguard, of what afterward proved almost an army itself, that went from Dearborn County.
One local resident enlisting into this regiment was 26 years old Alexander Pattison who was commissioned into "E" Co. IN 7th Infantry through July 15, 1861 as a 2nd Lieutenant. Pattison was then commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in "A" Co. IN 7th Infantry on September 13, 1861 through September 20, 1864 and made Captain on April 30, 1862.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863 at Culp's Hill, Pattison shielded himself behind a large stone during the battle. Three musket bullet marks on one side of the stone are in evidence. After the war the large rough stone was secured by Captain Pattison from Culp's Hill on the Gettysburg battlefield and was transported to Aurora and was placed near his future gravestone as a monument to his memory.
In 1883 the Aurora National Bank opened for business. Pattison served as cashier at the bank located on the southeast corner of Second and Mechanic Streets. The Aurora National Bank discontinued printing money one year after Pattison’s death at age 71 on August 16, 1906.
Captain Alexander B. Pattison is buried in Historic River View Cemetery. The boulder continues to serve as protection sitting next to Captain Pattison’s grave and marker in Section I, off Rose Avenue.