(front row left to right) Rodney Cross, Bob Cross
(middle row) Glen Lucas, Fred Cross, Roger Lucas
(back row) Albert Cross, Kenny Lucas
photos courtesy The Dusty Road Leads to Elkinsville
The Hardest Thing Was To Leave
by Bill Weaver
You don’t know what you got until you lose it,” goes the old saw. And like many an old saw it cuts true, something we all feel as progress claims our cities, towns, and countryside. Yet, rarely does a community simply disappear. When a small town is asked to pack up and leave, it doesn’t just vanish. It lives on in the minds and hearts of its former residents.
But what is almost unknown is a community that becomes more prominent with its absence. Yet, this is exactly what has happened to Elkinsville. It’s a community that has refused to dispersea ghost that walks.
Every autumn the former residents and kin of Elkinsville gather at Bill Miller’s farm at the base of Browning Hill, in the heart of what was once as “downtown” Elkinsville, to celebrate the community where they and their families once lived, and worked, and played, and prayed together.
“Brown County Bob” Cross has helped keep this memory alive, collecting stories, writing for the Elkinsville newsletter, and doing much of the writing for the compilation Elkinsville, Indiana “The Town That Was”. Most recently he’s published the much more personal, The Dusty Road Leads To Elkinsville, the purpose of which, he writes, “…is an exercise in friendship and working…to honor the bonds we as a group experienced in living in Elkinsville.”
Located 18 miles southwest of Nashville, Elkinsville was always the most remote place in a remote county. Go there today and you’ll see that it really is deep in the hills, isolated, especially now with the Monroe Reservoir flooding the roads to Belmont and Bloomington. Incorporated in 1850 and named for William Elkins, the first pioneer to settle permanently in the hills of Brown County, Elkinsville was never an easy place to live. Poor, isolated, and plagued by extensive spring flooding, you had to want to live there. And they did, to the extent that many of the “Dads” of Elkinsville had to work a second job in Bloomington, Bedford, Nashville, and Columbus just to keep homes in Elkinsville. “We were so poor,” Cross writes, “we could not afford to pay attention.” But adversity just seemed to encourage the families and to strengthen their sense of community.
This is the landscape that Bob Cross explores in The Dusty Road Leads to Elkinsville. It’s a canny mix of prose, poetry, and photography centering on the lives of the Cross family and the community they’re part of. “None of us were rich in material ways but when it came to having fun and making the most of what we had I think we were not only rich but extraordinarily resourceful.”
It’s also a primer on how values get passed down from generation to generation. How kindness, thoughtfulness, hard work, and generositysuch as that of store owner Ada Bocock to a new family at Christmas timecan inspire the next generation and the one after.
Cross’s viewpoint is loving, nostalgic, and gratefulfor his hardworking parents who taught him to work hard because “If you don’t grow it you won’t eat it.”and for community, which he thoroughly exploresfrom the general store, to the church, the school (where they learned “the three R’s: Reliability, Responsibility, Resourcefulness), and ultimately to spooky old Browning Mountain where “The Watcher” awaits.
Only a few buildings stand in old Elkinsville today, and the cemeterya reminder of those who once lived here and built a community they hoped to pass onto their children. Physically that was denied them when the Army Corps of Engineers bought their land, razed their houses and barns, and built the Monroe Reservoir. But spiritually Elkinsville lives on, proving that a community is not made of buildings, and farms, and floods, but of people, and memories, and communication.
It’s hard to get to but once you’ve found “Elkinsville, the hardest thing is to leave it at the end of the day.”