MAGNET INDIANA – PERRY COUNTY

It’s been in the planning stages for months. I was told to mark my calendar we’re going to a cabin on the Ohio River for the weekend. My daughter-in-law and son are the ones who came up with the idea and decided to invite two other couples to tag along for the weekend fun. It was long ago when it was first announced. But as the date got closer, I was forced to come to the reality I was going camping and I was going camping with three other couples.

Carla, my daughter-in-law, has some crazy and very expensive family vacation ideas. Carla is as adept with a credit card as is Newt Gingrich’s wife Callista is with a charge at Tiffany. Carla has rented family vacation homes for us on Dolphin Island, the Outer Banks, Tybee Island and Savanna, Georgia. She always invites a bunch of people to share the vacation experience and expense. These vacation multimillion dollar homes rent from between three thousand to as much as seven thousand dollars a week, but Carla is quick to say she always gets a better deal.

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DOLPHIN ISLAND VACATION HOME – 2008

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OUTER BANK – 2009

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TYBEE ISLAND VACATION HOME – 2010

I had no idea what to expect this time around as I was told it was a simple cabin on the Ohio River. I needed to load the address of the cabin into my GPS and so I called and asked the name of the town we were going to.

“It’s called Magnet. Magnet, Indiana”

“You mean like two pieces of metals that cling together, Magnet?”

I was told it was originally a French settlement and the town is pronounce Mage ’net.

“We have a town in Indiana with a French sounding name? How is it spelled?”

“M-A-G-N- E- T!”

My Garmin GPS didn’t find the town in its memory under an English or French pronunciation. I had to consult my computer and look on line. M-A-G-N-E-T, Indiana. There it is… it looks like it’s located West of Louisville Kentucky, about 40 minutes and almost dead center at the bottom of Indiana on the Ohio River.

I traveled south out of Indianapolis on the super slab and followed the signs heading to Louisville. I had time to think for the next couple of hours. I long ago developed and embraced what I will call the “Three Day Rule”. The Three Day Rule is as follows; fish sitting out on the kitchen counter, relatives’ and family who come to visit during the holidays, and vacations with people you don’t know well… start stinking after three days.

I knew all I had to do was pace myself to Sunday afternoon. I will admit I was thinking about bugs and flies and creepy crawly things, too. I’m not an outdoor kind of guy. I kept telling myself, “Duncan… this is a cabin not a tent.”

Friday night is my normal “Drinking Night” on the BLVD. I limit myself to one night a week to enjoy the taste of a quality brand Scotch. My dear friend, Jack in Gig Harbor, introduced me to the good stuff. Before Jack’s sage advice I didn’t have much of a pallet for Scotch. I was a guest in Jack’s home for the Christmas holidays. We were standing next to his glass shelved, elegantly lit bar. He invited me to have a Scotch with him. I told him, “No, thank you”. I thought scotch tasted like card board.

Magnet Indiana

“What brand do you drink?”

I told him I didn’t know, but I think it’s called McGregor, it comes in a green plastic bottle and cost about ten dollars. Jack suggested I move up in the world and taste a quality brand of scotch. He was right. The good stuff costs a fortune, but man what a difference in taste.

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JACK, MARTHA, DUNCAN – GIG HARBOR

“Friday Night” started years ago and it has become a ritual. Sitting on the front porch with a glass of sprits on a Friday night watching the cars drive by on the BLVD is now a habit. My friend Jeff who lived next door would enjoy a beverage with me after work on Friday and we would talk about what happened during the week as we settled into the weekend.

We would watch the cars go by on the BLVD and guess how many were exceeding the posted 35 mph speed limit. One late Friday night when Jeff and I had a few too many, he was peevish about the speed of the cars driving by the house. I told him I knew how to put a stop to the speeding. I went into the house and brought out a hair dryer. I told him it was a radar detector and tucked the power cord in his belt.

“Jeff, go down there by the road and point the radar detector at the cars and watch how fast the brake lights come on!”

I quickly realized we were going to get shot if we kept pointing a hair dryer at passing cars.

So here it is Friday afternoon and upon my arrival to the cabin on the Ohio it will be “Friday Night!” I resolved myself to enjoy the company, the food and a glass of Scotch with a rich view of the Ohio River. The promise was I would be living very large on the Ohio River.

Once I got off the big highway it was rural roads the rest of the way to the cabin. You can’t help but think about how it must have been to live in this area back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The voice in my GPS stated “DESINATION ON LEFT!” There in front of me was a rural and rustic sign that announced I had arrived in Magnet.

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Down the hill and on the left I found the cabin. This place looks like it has just been built. The cabin had two floors. The top floor had two bedrooms with a living room, kitchen and dining area. The lower level had two large bedrooms, a pool room, hot tub and all the mechanicals.

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We were the last to arrive. The party was already in full swing. After unloading the Buick, it was time for snacks and a drink. Ron had brought a very good bottle of scotch and I poured myself a couple of fingers…thank you, Ron.

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TW, CARLA, DON, SCOTT, FRAN, LINDA, RON

Carla is a great cook; I will give her her due. You’re never going to go hungry when Carla is in the kitchen. We all sat around the oversized dinner table and enjoyed a meal of seasoned grilled chicken, baked potatoes flavored with garlic and rosemary and generously buttered broccoli on the side. Did I forget the garden salad? Every one brought a couple of bottles of wine, so the wine list was fairly extensive.

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FRAN, DON, SCOTT, CARLA, TW

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After dinner we adjourned to the porch. The temperature in Indiana has been hot…real hot for the last couple of weeks. But it was pleasant sitting out with friends with the Ohio River as a back drop to a pleasant evening’s conversation. As darkness closed in and I was in conversation with Don, I noticed a barge moving slowly down the river in the middle of the night. Every once in a while a strong search light would come on and light up the river as the barge continued to move past us and out of sight down the river.

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RON, FRAN, LINDA

I had packed my laptop computer, but discovered there was no connection to the internet. In fact, there wasn’t any cable for TV either. I don’t remember a telephone in the building. So the weekend will boil down to talking, eating, drinking, sight seeing, board games, napping and reflecting.

The following morning after Carla’s world famous biscuits and gravy, I decided to take a late morning stroll. I stepped out of the cabin and discovered it was hot and muggy… again. I walked toward the entrance to the Magnet boat ramp. At the top of the hill was a historical marker.

In the 1820’s, the community was known as Dodson’s Landing, after John Dodson who operated a wood yard to fuel steamboats. Jessie Martin took over in the 1830’s and it became known as Martin’s Landing. Martin owned a dog “Rono”, who was widely regarded by rivermen. Job Hatfield, who operated a store boat on the river, arrived in 1842. He became post master of the community in 1859, opening the “Rono” post office. In 1889, the community’s name was changed to Magnet. So called many believe, because the currents creates a great deal of drift at the location of the river’s bend, to be deposited on the bank here as if “attracted by a magnet.”

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After reading the sign and continuing my stroll my mind bounced around thinking about what happened in this place almost two hundred years ago. How could one make a living in 1820 cutting wood and selling the wood to the riverboats for fuel? John Dodson, who was he and how did he get here? Where did he come from? And where did he go? Jessie Martin takes over. Who was Jessie Martin? How do you live in a forest, work the land, market and sell your product in 1830?

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I walked past the only business in town. The sign on the building said Betty Ray’s Landing. It’s a bar and restaurant. The sign in the window said it was closed. I decided to come back later to go inside to get a closer look.

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Back at the cabin I told everyone about the sign. I told them about the how the town acquired its name. I also talked about Betty Ray’s and I wanted to go inside and have a look around. It was announced to me that they had already been in Betty Ray’s before I arrived late Friday afternoon. It’s smoky and dirty and no place for us!

The group decided they wanted to drive to French Lick to view the restored West Baden Hotel. I had been to the historic site several times and decided I would stay and just relax while they were gone.

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Later in the afternoon it was time for me to walk over to Betty Rays. The first thing I noticed was the steps to the front door. A ramp was built to the left for the handicapped. Once inside my first reaction was that this was a house and at some point was converted into a bar and restaurant. Dollar bills hung from the ceiling with slogans and interesting comments; “It’s only kinky the first time”, “Tony is a stud!”

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The jukebox was playing a country tune. I noticed a room off the bar area where people were having a meal. I grabbed a bar stool and waited for service. Beth came around the corner and asked me if she could help me. I asked for a scotch.

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Beth with that Southern Indiana charm in her voice said, “We don’t have any liquor.”

“You just sell wine and beer?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, how about a dark… dry… red wine?”

“Honey, I have one bottle of Zinfandel in the back would you like a glass of that?”

I leaned in closer to her and asked, “This is a beer drinking place isn’t it?”

She smiled and simply said, “Yes”… I ordered a diet coke.

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I was reading the front of Betty Ray’s menu which also had the story of Magnet, Indiana. I did notice it had a few discrepancies in the story compared to the historic marker at the boat ramp. A couple sitting at a table behind me asked where I was from. I told them I was staying the weekend at the cabin down the road and I was from Indianapolis. I asked if they had any additional information about Magnet.

It seems the story of John Dodson being the first to settle in the area is consistent with just about everything I read and heard spoken. The story of Jessie Martin taking over from Dodson is consistent, too. No one really knows where John Dodson went. Why did he give up the timber business? No answers to these questions.

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The story also rings true that Jessie Martin took over the timber business in 1830 from John Dodson. I discovered Jessie Martin had kids and a wife. But Jessie Martin’s dog, “Rono” which lived for an astonishingly long time I’m told, received top billing in these parts. The area first was known as Dodson’s Landing then folks referred to the community as Martin’s Landing and at some point the river men called the area “Rono” after Jessie Martin’s dog. Jessie Martin must have been a real personality for a community to refer to the village by his dog’s name. Or the dog must have been a real personality. I also was told Jessie Martin built log cabins in addition to supplying timber for fuel to the river boats.

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Now here is where there is a little 12 year gap in the story. I assume river traffic is brisk. I assume boats and steam ships are moving goods and merchandise and performing like a general store back then. The boats would move up and down the river, tie up and do business and move to the next river town. At some point river men get tired of moving and look for a place to call home.

The story moves to 1842 when Job Hatfield, one of several brothers from an Ohio family, came down the river in a store boat. After remaining for a year or two afloat, though tied to the bank with increasing trade at this point, Job Hatfield finally landed his boat above a high water mark and conducted the store as a fixed establishment moving his family into a log dwelling which was being built by Jessie Martin.

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From that time to the present the Hatfield family through the blood lines of Job, Lorenzo Dow and William, have been associated with the cliffs of “Buzzard’s Roost,” which come close to the river north of the rich bottom land between Oil Creek and the Ohio. We won’t worry about that story right now.

It is now 1846… enter stage right a guy named Lorenzo Dow Hatfield, brother of Job Hatfield. “Just call me L D”. L D Hatfield liked what he saw and decided to make this a permanent location to do business with his brother. He contracted Jessie Martin to build a house and general store and moved his operation off the water to higher ground.

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L D and Job Hatfield’s operation really took off. They also rented space in their building to the first doctor to settle in Magnet. Additionally, they built a smoke house and started smoking meat. They also conducted a business in general produce and merchandise shipping flatboats South like most other dealers during that time. In 1856 this store, their frame warehouse and the office of Doctor Curry were destroyed by fire.

The Hatfield’s then built the stone building yet standing which they used as a smoke house. They smoked and retailed to the surrounding county as much as 15,000 pounds of pork in one year, in addition to conducting a general produce business in the newly built store. This dealing in smoked meat was conducted on an extensive scale for the next 10 or 15 years.

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I was asked if I noticed that a lot of the roads and hollows around Rono/Magnet are referred to as “ buzzards”. It seems the buzzards enjoyed the leftovers from the smoke house operation all those years. The place was swarming with buzzards during the smoke house years.

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When a mail route was established in 1848 Job Hatfield was appointed postmaster and the settlement appears under the name “Rono.” The hamlet remained as “Rono” until 1896 when the postal department changed it to Magnet, the present name of the town.

There was one more interesting story about Job Hatfield. Job Hatfield was the last treasurer of Perry County who held office in the old courthouse at Rome. There was an incident during his term, 1856-1860, right after the smoke house fire.

There were then no banks in Perry County available as depositories, and the county funds were kept in places of security as the treasurer could devise. On one occasion of taxpaying, when exceptionally large sums had been paid in, some circumstances aroused Treasurer Job Hatfield’s suspicions, so he decided not to leave money in the rather fragile Perry County safe that night.

Carrying home after dark, all the coin and bills in a huge sack whose weight was about all he could handle, he put the sack of money into a coal-scuttle which he then filled to the brim with loose coal completely hiding the money bag. Then Hatfield calmly went to bed. The first news to greet him in the morning was that the treasurer’s office had been robbed, the safe broken into and all its contents stolen.

Job Hatfield received the messages with no sign of disturbance, merely saying that he would be at the courthouse for business at his usual hour. And it was to be, quietly bringing with him the money which he had hidden the night before. No one, not even his immediate family, knew until long after just where the county treasure had been hidden overnight.

I walked back to the cabin form Betty Ray’s, my head full of stories. Several customers had interjected their version of the story challenging others about their stories. But I will admit the woman who was sitting next to me at a table kept placing her hand on my leg under the table when she wanted to speak. Her husband or boyfriend was a very large fellow and it seemed her hand a double edge sword.

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We had a light dinner in the cabin Saturday night and sat out on the porch overlooking the Ohio River the rest of the evening. As night fell the board games began inside and I decided to retire.

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Carla, Ron, Linda, Scott, TW, Fran, Don

Sunday morning we had a light breakfast of left over gravy and eggs. The coffee was good as was the view of the Ohio River with a coal barge slowly moving up stream.
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The sign on the cabin wall directed us to remove our sheets from the beds and place them by the washing machine in the lower level, empty the waste baskets and sweep the floors. We all packed our cars, exchanged hugs with each other and then departed. It was back to reality. As I started to pull out, I looked down the road at Betty Ray’s Restaurant and Bar. I noticed a single buzzard in the sky and thought again about all that had happened in Perry County, Magnet, Indiana in the last 200 years.

About the author

Stephen A and Scott Duncan publish “ByDuncan.com”
Scott photographs (Duncan Photography) and is the guy who keeps this site running.
Steve (left) is a photographer (Duncan Photography) and writes to “ByDuncan.com”