STONE HEAD — When Stone Head stood at the junction of State Road 135 South and Bellsville Pike, people would pull over almost daily to have their picture taken with the statue.
Not long ago, a man stopped with that intention because his father had a photo of himself at that spot, and he wanted to do the same.
He couldn’t. The 165-year-old road marker, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was smashed from its base in November, and neither the head nor any parts of it have been found.
“He went out to his car and he actually had a newspaper clipping from the 1970s with general information about Stone Head. He was so disappointed it had been damaged,” Mike Kelley said.
Story continues below gallery
“I always talked to a lot of people who came up and had their pictures taken with it. When people stop by, there a lot of them who had another relative that did the same thing.”
Kelley is the self-proclaimed caretaker of the road marker. He bought the property, including a farmhouse behind Stone Head, in 2002.
“I feel attached to it,” he said.
The marker was made in 1851 by Henry Cross, who lived on what is now Poplar Grove Road, about 2 miles from where Stone Head has stood all these years. Cross carved it in the likeness of a township road supervisor as a trade-off for the labor each resident was to provide.
During The Spirit of Stone Head events Sept. 15 to 17, money will be raised to fund the carving and placement of a new monument to go at the site of the old marker.
“It commemorates the longevity of it,” Kelley said of the new piece, which will be placed sometime in October.
“I think that’s what made it the historical icon it was. History requires time. This is a true antique that stood the test of time, and that’s what made it so valuable to the community.”
Spirit of Stone Head
The Spirit of Stone Head weekend is presented by the Brown County Art Gallery Foundation.
In addition to being a fundraiser, its aim is to highlight the other cultural landmarks Brown County has which are in various stages of preservation or even public acknowledgement.
Six of those icons — the Brown County Courthouse, the Old Log Jail, the Bean Blossom Covered Bridge, T.C. Steele State Historic Site, the Brown County Art Gallery and Brown County State Park — are featured in stories inside this issue.
An art exhibit at the gallery during this weekend will showcase works that have been inspired by these landmarks.
Board President Lyn Letsinger-Miller said she hopes the event will result in increased awareness of the history in our own backyards.
“It’s a major effort to put the spotlight on some iconic locations to prevent another Stone Head (situation),” she said.
“We’re really trying to gear this toward local people. We want them to walk in and really get a newfound appreciation for these sites.”
The only part of the Stone Head statue that still stands is the base of the head, on which Cross carved directions and distances to Indianapolis, Columbus and to other places that no longer exist.
Kelley said he has been approached by four or five people offering to create a new Stone Head; one of them wanted to carve it out of wood. “Every artist wants to be the next Henry Cross for posterity,” he said.
Recently, Kelley donated 122 acres of land to form the Stone Head Nature Preserve around the Stone Head site, which is now open to the public. A few visitors have left coins, religious icons or flowers on the damaged stone. In a window of the farmhouse behind it is a large drawing of Stone Head with tears coming out of its eyes, and a banner which reads: “The Spirit of Stone Head Still Lives!”
“The Spirit of Stone Head is the spirit of goodness, and that’s just because nobody is in a bad mood and has their picture taken with Stone Head,” Kelley said.
He has saved a few stone chips from the neckline in case the head ever comes back, he said.
“I imagine the head is probably in good shape, because if they had knocked the head off with a sledgehammer and it was shattered, they probably would have just left it there.”
He said he believes Stone Head may be around Brown County somewhere.
Police have not been able to determine who committed the crime.
The marker had been stolen at least four times before, according to Brown County Democrat archives. The last time was in the fall of 1974. It turned up unharmed in Indianapolis on Jan. 23, 1975, with the base still attached.
After that incident, Brown County Historical Society Treasurer Alice Lorenz and her sister had a replica of it made, and the original marker was returned to its spot on the road. The women owned the Stone Head property in the 1970s.
“People out there have all kinds of misconceptions,” Kelley said. “Some people will say it’s been stolen four or five times; it will eventually come back. They kind of just laugh it off. This time it was actually damaged. The head is gone.”
“My hope is someday there will be another head out there, but preferably the original head,” Kelley said.
The Brown County Art Gallery’s Collector’s Showcase 2017 will focus on seven Brown County “icons” and will raise money to memorialize Stone Head, which was vandalized and stolen in November from its spot in Van Buren Township.
Several events are planned for The Spirit of Stone Head weekend Sept. 15 to 17:
FRIDAY, SEPT. 15:
- 6 to 9 p.m.: Take a private tour of early Brown County artists’ studios on Locust Lane, hosted by Sarah and John Lechleiter. Transportation will be provided from the Brown County Art Gallery to a reception at the Shulz Cabin with wine and appetizers. Then, the group will walk to the L.O. Griffith Studio for champagne and dessert, and walk to the Will Vawter Studio, which is under renovation. The cost is $25 per person and advance reservations are required.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 16:
- 6 p.m.: An opening reception for the exhibit, Collector’s Showcase 2017, will take place at the Brown County Art Gallery. The exhibit highlights seven Brown County landmarks through the eyes of early and current artists and photographers: the Brown County Art Gallery, Brown County State Park, the Brown County Courthouse, the Bean Blossom Covered Bridge, the Old Log Jail, T.C. Steele State Historic Site and the Stone Head road marker. It’s open through Oct. 30. The reception will include barbecue, music by Rick Wilson’s Bluegrass Band and a pie raffle. Wine and beer will be sold. All guests will receive a Collector’s Showcase full-color catalog. Paintings and photographs will be sold. The cost is $15 per person; advance reservations are suggested. Of the cost, $5 from each person will be earmarked for the Stone Head marker fund.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 17:
- 2 p.m.: A stone carving demonstration and program, “History of Henry Cross: Creator of Stone Head,” will be presented by Indiana University traditional arts professor Jon Kay and stone carver Casey Winningham. The cost is $5 per person.
Buy tickets to any of the weekend events online at browncountyartgallery.org.