LOOKING BACK: The local man who became character Abe Martin

Despite some early resentment by a few Brown County locals, Abe Martin eventually became a beloved figure, as well as a durable one.

Abe Martin was created by Indianapolis News journalist and political caricaturist Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard. Hubbard promoted the area’s reputation beginning in 1905, when the humorous political-commentary character announced he was moving to Brown County. It has lasted over a century.

In the late 1930s, a Brown County resident who went by the name of Sylvanous “Vene” Schrock “became” Abe Martin. He posed around Nashville for the tourists, dressed in overalls or a vest, sporting a felt hat. When Grover David operated the old Brown County Hotel, he would have Vene dress up and parade around the hotel for the entertainment of the city visitors and to add local color. Grover even had some postcards made up of Vene dressed up as Abe Martin, standing in front of the hotel wearing the overalls and the old felt hat.

An image of Abe Martin created by local artist Will Vawter was one of Hubbard’s favorite images and was said to have been the inspiration for the creation of Abe Martin. Vawter’s sketch was made at the little log cabin that stood just north of Nashville. Vene Schrock posed for the drawing and was made to represent Abe.

The Liars’ Bench was instrumental in creating these Brown County characters. Here is an excerpt from the Indianapolis Star in 1951 by photographer and columnist Frank M. Hohenberger: “The liars’ benches in the courthouse yard are well-patronized these days, and city folks get quite a kick out of stretching their legs and listening to varied conversations. Recently some women from the city got on the scene early and were reading the morning paper when the natives showed up. The fellows think the benches should have rollers on them so the shadows can be followed; also they want a sort of canopy for the hot days. The next bench must be made of soft maple, to hear them tell it. Benches of a similar type are being installed in various places all over the state.” Howard Bock, now in Elwood, wrote this letter: “Each Sunday as I read the Indianapolis Star starting with ‘Down in the Hills O’ Brown County’ I find that the old Liars’ Bench has gently slipped from the column.”

As an occupation, Vene was a mail carrier between Nashville and Morgantown and later carried the mail on the Columbus-Nashville route. He was born Oct. 1, 1860, in Belmont County, Ohio, the son of Samson and Rachel J. Baker. Vene married Emma Jane Kaserman and he and Emma Jane had two sons, Joseph and Estle.

Both sons were in World War I, and unfortunately, Estle was killed in France. Vene died in June 1935 and was laid to rest in the Oak Hill Cemetery, sometimes called South View Cemetery, in Nashville. Vene’s wife and two sons, along with grandchildren and other family members, are in the same cemetery.

This cemetery is, for the most part, abandoned. Many of the early settlers of Jacksonsburg, now Nashville, rest here. There is no good access for the public to gain entry to visit the burial sites or to lay decorations or memorials. We are hopeful that someday this can be rectified.

— Pauline Hoover, Brown County Historical Society