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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

The firsts of Bloomington

In the 200 years since Bloomington was founded, it’s been the setting for many notable firsts – including the 12 we mention here. Without these events, Bloomington might not be the city it is today.

In September 1967, Sarah Parke Morrison became the first woman to attend and gradute from IU. Her legacy is carried on at IU with Morrison Hall. // Photo courtesy of Monroe County History Center Collections.


First public land sale in Bloomington

On June 22 and 23,1818, 64 of the first Bloomington settlers purchased plots of land from three men by the names of Jonathan Rodgers, David Rodger and Robert Graham for 30 cents per lot in a live auction. Graham was paid just $900 for 150 acres. The auction made a total profit of $14,326.85, and the town of Bloomington was up and running.


First store opens in Bloomington

Bloomington settler William Hardin opened Bloomington’s first store, primarily selling whisky along with a limited amount of sewing supplies. The name and location of Hardin’s store remain unknown.


First use of cut Indiana limestone

The first recorded use of Southern Indiana’s limestone was to help build the foundation for the second Monroe County Courthouse, which replaced the first courthouse – a double log cabin located on present-day Walnut Street.

September 1867

First woman student at Indiana University

Sarah Parke Morrison became the first female student to attend, and later graduate from, IU. After completing her master’s degree, Morrison subsequently became the first female professor at IU, teaching English literature. In 1942, Beech Hall was renamed Morrison Hall in her honor.


First African American Intercollegiate Athlete at Indiana University

Preston Eagleson became the first black athlete to play on an IU sports team in 1893 when he played halfback on the football team until 1895. Although little is known about his time playing football at IU, Eagleson later went on to become the first African American to graduate with an advanced degree from the university.

June 1895

First African American graduates from IU

Eagleson might have been the first African American to earn an advanced degree from IU, but Marcellus Neal was the first African American to graduate from IU – period. He attended IU on a full scholarship and graduated with a BA in mathematics. The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center on campus is named for him and for Frances Marshall, who became the first black woman to graduate in 1919.

October 1911

First airplane flight in Bloomington

As pilot Horace Kearney took off from Dunn Meadow in Monroe County’s first airplane flight, his plane caught on a barbed-wire fence and crashed. After recovering from the accident, Kearney attempted to complete a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, during which his plane crashed into the ocean. Sadly, he did not survive.

November 1920

First woman casts vote in Bloomington

At 75, Mrs. C.H. Berry became the first woman in Bloomington to vote in any election. She cast her ballot for presidential candidate Warren G. Harding at 5:30 a.m. and spent the day working for the Republican Party, recruiting other women to vote. By 1 p.m., three-fourths of the female population had cast votes.


First bar mitzvah celebrated in Bloomington

At 13, Arthur Fell became the first boy to celebrate his bar mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age celebration, inside Bloomington’s Hillel Jewish center. The Fell family were important members of the Bloomington Jewish community, responsible for starting a Sunday school prior to the construction of the Hillel Center.


First pizza parlor, The Pizzaria, opens in Bloomington

The Pizzaria – now known as Café Pizzaria, opened at the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and Grant Street. They served plates for 25 cents each and would showcase their pizza pies in the front window to passersby who wanted to see how the new food was made.

April 1967

First black Bloomington police officer

Charles Brown, Bloomington’s first black police officer, joined the force as a patrolman and eventually made his way up the ranks to captain. Looking back on his career, Brown later told a newspaper that one of the five other policemen on the force wouldn’t talk to him because of his race. Despite racial tensions at the time, he had no issues dealing with the public. In 1983, when Bloomington officers fatally shot a black IU student, Brown was part of the investigation. He remained critical of the department throughout his career and retired in 1989 after 22 years of service.

November 1973

First official 911 call

Mayor Frank McCloskey made the first call to the 911 emergency line attached to the local police switchboard. The idea for a national emergency number came in 1967 when the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice suggested there be one universal number for emergencies. In March 1973, the White House issued a notice saying that the 911 number should be adopted nationwide.