Filson Family Farm

Filson Family Farm

Monday, May 27, 2013

Talma, Indiana (Coplen Lineage)

Looking for my ancestors in rural America has its challenges. The biggest one is looking for communities that do not exist anymore. I have previously written about Inwood, Indiana, the town of five generations of the Filson family and the beginnings of Talma, Indiana aka Bloomingsburg. It is the little town of Talma which three generations of my Coplen family have lived, which I continue to write about today. My curiosity wants to know what the town was like in the early 1900s when my grandmother was a child. Though it was never a big town, according to Kingman 1898 Atlas, it consisted of two general stores, one drugstore, a meat market, a hotel, two doctors, a wagon-maker, a shoemaker, a blacksmith, a harness maker, a sawmill and a gristmill. It also had an “International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge,” a grange hall officially referred to as “The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry,” a church of 80 members, and a two story school house which was built in 1903. The railroad wanted to come through Bloomingsburg but the community fought against it and this, along with fires and tornadoes, contributed to the demise of Talma.

International Order of Odd Fellows, Talma Indiana
Collection of Fulton County Historical Society
A few years back while attending a wedding in Indiana, I had a wonderful two-day trip to Plymouth with my two brothers to hunt down our genealogical heritage. We started out at the Fulton County Historical Society outside of Rochester Indiana. This is a wonderful historical society with a very impressive museum and I look forward to visiting again. We searched through records for pictures of our grandmother and her life in the early 1900s, in the town of Talma in New Castle Township, Indiana. We found bits and pieces, but not a lot, until my brother approached me with a silly grin on his face, a grin I have seen before, softly holding in the palm of his hand a little homemade 2x4 remembrance book from the year 1915. It consisted of three cut construction paper pages tied together with a small red ribbon. On the front was an oval frame encasing a photograph of the ruins of a burnt down school and inside were the names of the fourth and fifth graders of Talma School. And there was the name of our grandmother – Grace Coplen, HE FOUND HER. A few moments later my other brother found a school picture of Grace in the fifth grade and another school picture. They were both hooked! I could see in their eyes— the excitement of discovery intrinsic to unraveling the history of their ancestors.

Three page Remembrance Book of the class of Talma School, 1914-1915
Collection of Fulton County Historical Society

Class Picture Talma School, 1912
Grace Coplen, 1st row, 3rd from the left
Collection of Fulton County Historical Society
Grandma’s school was built in 1903 and sadly destroyed the night before Thanksgiving 1915 by a fire. They rebuilt the school in 1917 but in the interim, classes were held in Hatfield’s Store and Chapman’s Hardware, along with the church and I.O.O.F. lodge hall. Grandma Grace continued attending school in Talma until 1920 when her family moved to Inwood. Sadly for the school, it was completely destroyed in 1974 by a tornado that I previously wrote about.

Talma, Indiana School 1903-1915
before fire of 1915
Collection of Fulton County Historical Society
Grace and the other children rode to school in a hackney carriage that would go around and pickup them up. In the winter the wheels were changed out for sleds. The older boys would only go to school when there was no need for them at their farms.

Fulton County Folks, Volume 2, Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historical Society

While at the Fulton County Historical Society, I found two wonderful documents; The first, Fulton County Folks, Volume 1 & 2, edited by Shirley Willard and complied by The Fulton County Historical Society. It is a compilation of the History of Fulton County, Indiana and the pioneers that built it. It is a wonderful book and well worth owning for anyone doing genealogy in that area.

The second being a five page typed manuscript by Cleo Hatfield Teeter Nye, a woman I later realized was my grandmother’s fourth grade teacher. Her father, Loring Hatfield, owned the general store in Talma.

Collection of Fulton County Historical Society
The document is entitled “Incidents of the Early Days That Stand Out in My Mind.” Cleo was born in 1893 and passed in 1983. She was 22 when she was a teacher to my grandmother. Even though this document was not written by my family member, it is a great resource to get insight into the community in which they lived. I was thrill when I got back to California and I was able to share the document with a direct decent of someone that worked in that same general store.

Cleo talks about many things in her document (see above). Among them she mentions our cousin:

“12. Chancey Coplen reading the sports news from her dad’s Chicago paper”

“22. Going to Sunday School across the river in a white dress, high shoes, bracelet, parasol, penny tied in a hankie, Leghorn hat, …” This is the same church my Coplen family attended.

“36. [Chancey]Coplen’s carrying the mail each day – leaving for Rochester at 8:00 and back by 3:00…Their faithful horse Barney made the trip every week day for many years”

I was curious about her first comment “Gum Burning in Talma street after McKinley’s second election.” I have never heard of gum burning. A little research leads me to understand this was actually a reference to burning of logs which had a lot of sap (gum). They were burnt to celebrate The 4th of July, elections, etc… These logs lite the night, along with fireworks, speeches and a parade were the order of the day.


  1. I've been researching my husbands's ancestors, most of whom are from Fulton County. I have a photo of the Talma Graduating class from 1933. There are no names with the photo, so I only recognize my father-in-law. Would you like to see it?

  2. I am not from the Coplen family. But, I knew the Coplens who attended Talma School, Bethlehem Baptist Church and were from Newcastle township. Your article was so overwhelming to read. I was so happy to get to know more about my school in the early days. I would have graduated from Talma in 1965, but unfortuately, class of 1963 was the last class to graduate from Talma because of consolidation of the smaller schools. There were dozens of Talma graduates who had been successful from teachers, medical, prominent business owners to politics. Yes, these small schools were one of the kind. You were given almost one to one teaching. That is not true today! Unfortunately.
    I am trying to find the classmates from my class. We were Sophomores in 1962 to 1963. Would you have any idea how I can look them up. Codially yours... Randy S Pfeiffer-Hartman

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I am from the Coplen family, my Father is Dave Coplen, my Grandfather was Artimus F. Coplen and Grandmother Helen Coplen. I came across this by accident and started reading and just could not stop. I love learning about the history of my family. As a child I can always remember when we would go to visit Grandma and Grandpa Coplen they had a photo collage in the front breezeway full of pictures of the damage of a tornado one year, if I remember right it was sometime in the 70's. I was always so intrigued by them and was just asking my mother if she knew what ever happened to them because I would love to have copies. I also remember walking to the little green and white store as a child. If you have any more information you could share with me you could email me at Thank you again for sharing!