Bricks that was once part of the school house still lays at the site where the town of Monument City once stood before being demolished to make room for the Salamonie Reservoir in the mid-1960's on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. The area was closed off to the public on Sunday, July 22, 2012 after people were walking through and taking things from the site which are considered artifacts. When water levels are down in the winter the same areas of Monument City can be seen year in and year out stated Marv
Andrews, IN (written by Jill Disis/Indianapolis Star) -- At the bottom of Salamonie Lake, about 100 miles northeast of Indianapolis, lie the remains of Monument City. Established: late 1870s. Population: 30, more or less, covering about 13 acres.
The town was submerged about 50 years ago when the reservoir was built. It normally stays that way during the summer, but this year's historic drought lowered the water levels by more than a dozen feet, revealing what's left.
Truth is, there's not much: some dirt roads, a few building foundations and a few red bricks from the old schoolhouse. The city's namesake, a Civil War memorial statue built to honor the locals who died in battle, was moved a mile away to higher ground where the cemetery is now. The remnants are so few and far between you'd really have to know where to look.
Paul Stanley knows. The 80-year-old Huntington, Ind., resident has been down there a few times -- mostly during the winter and early spring when the water is usually a lot lower.
"I can remember who all lived where," he said. "I don't think some of them houses had much foundation under them to speak of anyway."
Stanley knows because he used to go to school there. While not a true resident of Monument City -- "I was in the 'suburbs,' " he says -- he remembers the people well: the rest of the schoolchildren, a few of the teachers, the farmers drifting in from out of town to visit the general store.
"(The store) was a good loafing place for the area farmers who went down there every night," he said. "They'd chew their cigars, and some of them chewed tobacco. Told all sorts of tall stories, long stories, whatever you want to call 'em."
It was a simple town, he said, "no real big thing going on there too much." And he said the area is well known among local townsfolk who try to sneak a peek during other seasons when the water's low.
Which is why local officials say they have a tough time understanding why the spot has attracted so much attention that they had to close the entire area off.
"That's the funny thing. Everybody thinks it's the city from Atlantis," said Marvin McNew, director of Interpretive Services at the state's Department of Natural Resources. "It's nothing real big."
But that hasn't stopped curious sightseers from taking a trip up to the lake and poking around.
"It just spurred more interest and people were coming from here, there and anywhere," said Phil Bloom, DNR spokesman. "Staff became concerned when people started looking for and collecting artifacts. We closed access to the site on Sunday to protect the anthropological resources."
Though you can't walk around on the grounds, they're still visible from a bluff overlooking the area on the east side of the lake. McNew said even that location has been lined with people since word got out about Monument City.
"The uniqueness of it all is that we have lower water levels this year," he said. "You're not going to find anything down there that's really worth value."
But tourists are still looking for information. Saturday, a DNR official said they were receiving calls every five minutes about the town.
McNew said the lake fluctuates so much because it is essentially a flood control reservoir. A division of the Army Corps of Engineers based in Louisville controls the levels.
"All it was built for was to save the towns down stream and along the Wabash (River)," McNew said. "We don't use it for drinking water or anything."
Those towns include Wabash and Peru, each with a population of about 10,000. Repeated flooding led to the construction of a reservoir in 1965 that would control the water and save the towns. Monument City was one of the casualties in the process.
Stanley was one of the locals who heard the town could be seen again.
He estimates how many people lived right in town -- 30 to 35. He counts off the number of houses to help: one, two, three, four, five, six, eventually landing on seven.
Barely anything is left of those houses now, but for a century, it was a crossroads, of sorts, for the citizens of Polk Township.
"Most of the people that lived there were working somewhere else. They'd just go back there every night," Stanley said. "That was home."