By Rob Cox
---- — GREENSBURG — Margaret Lowe can trace her family lineage back over 800 years to medieval Scotland.
As one listens to her discuss history, it’s clear she knows far more about her family origins than the average person. Names and dates; accomplishments; anecdotes; and a multitude of complicated connections between friends and family; between business and political associates; between husbands, wives, lovers and foes fly out one after the other, in rapid succession, and there’s little-to-no hope of keeping track of it all. Lowe’s recollections offer a fascinating, if dizzying, look into local and personal history.
For Greensburg Community High School (GCHS) History Teacher John Pratt, it’s an elated dizziness. In September, Pratt launched the “Decatur County History in 100 Objects” project, which will be displayed at the Decatur County Historical Society the first three weeks in November, coinciding with Pratt’s upcoming annual Chautauqua event, Nov. 4 and 5.
Lowe, with her vast collections of pictures, letters, keepsakes and artifacts, could fill the exhibit by herself – several times over, no less – and she readily agreed to participate in the 100 Objects project. On Wednesday afternoon, Pratt visited Lowe’s home to examine parts of her historical collection, to listen to the stories behind the objects, and to decide which pieces he’ll use for his project. He was accompanied by GCHS Junior Caroline Pratt, who is both one of his students and his daughter. The pair invited the Daily News along, too – an invitation this reporter gladly accepted.
Lowe’s roots in Indiana are deep and complex. Her family ties include links to the signing of the Indiana State Constitution and the founding of IU. The Lowe family name will likely be familiar to many Daily News readers, in fact.
Margaret Lowe’s great-grandfather, Davies Batterton, came to Greensburg “somewhere around 1837 or 1838,” shortly after his graduation from IU with a Masters in Philosophy. Sometime in the 1850s, according to Lowe, Batterton founded the paper that would eventually evolve into the Greensburg Daily News. Around the same, Batterton also founded Batterton’s Pharmacy, which would remain a fixture in the community until the 1970s.
The Batterton family would eventually sell the paper in the 1880s, but Lowe’s father, Walter Lowe – born in 1896 – would eventually go on to become the paper’s publisher and part owner.
As a child, Walter Lowe was also one of the first recipients of a gift from the Greensburg Daily News Cheer Fund, which was founded in 1911 by the paper’s owner at the time, James E. Caskey.
Walter Lowe would, in fact, become a virtual, one-man Decatur County institution who would sit on the boards of multiple community-based organizations and help found the Decatur County United Fund.
He died in 1976, still working for the Daily News at the time. The group with which he owned the newspaper, however, had sold it three years earlier to the World News Corporation. Margaret characterized selling the Daily News as one of the most difficult things her father ever did.
“I was only 24 when he died,” she said. “I had no idea the kinds of questions I should have asked him while he was still alive – not until I was older.”
Margaret Lowe has since sought out many of the answers she might otherwise have solicited from her father when he was alive – had she known the right questions – through interviews, extensive research and, of course, her collection of pictures, documents and artifacts.
There’s no Decatur Countian more thankful than Pratt for the time, energy and legwork Lowe has expended in compiling her personal window into Decatur County’s past. For Pratt, Lowe’s collection is a treasure trove, a prime example of the types of items he’s soliciting for his project.
In an interview with the Daily News about the project last month, Pratt explained, “The idea is to co-host an exhibit at the museum with unique items which will do a good job in reflecting our history. If you go through this exhibit, you will have a good all-around background into the key events and people that have made the county what it is today.”
Walter Lowe, Davies Batterton and their many descendants certainly fit nicely with that description, but Pratt isn’t quite finished with his collection. With Lowe’s contribution, in fact, he’s about halfway to his goal of “100 Objects.” He clarified, though, that although he’ll use several pieces from Lowe’s collection, he’ll only count them as a single part of the overall display.
The veteran teacher welcomed anyone with “a unique piece of local history” to submit it for 100 Objects. He also assured potential contributors that all items will be treated with utmost care and will be kept under lock and key. All items will be returned at the close of the exhibit.
Pratt hopes to collect a diverse range of items for the display, including photographs, postcards, sheet music or musical instruments, sports memorabilia, local newspapers, military medals, primary documents (deeds, licenses, etc.), fossils, Native American artifacts, flags and diaries.
With the Nov. 5 and 6 Fall Chautauqua centering on the Civil War and its local impact, he also hopes some of the items will provide a Decatur County connection to America’s war against itself.
The project, Pratt explained, is designed to expose and inform students about the “wealth of history that exists within our own county borders.” Each of Pratt’s students will be assigned an object from the collection to research and write a report about. Those reports will be displayed with each item, with a corresponding museum program compiled for exhibit guests.
Pratt commended Lowe for her contribution. “When you have projects like this that are school based and involve the community,” he said, “they don’t succeed without citizens like Margaret Lowe, who see the value in local history and local history projects.”
The value of Lowe’s contribution to 100 Objects, Pratt added, is that her story is both unique and uniquely Decatur Countian. “Her story shares the great heritage of the local newspaper – among many other things. It’s the type of insight you don’t find in history books, which is precisely what I’m trying to convey to my students – the value and importance of local history; the fact that it’s something to be treasured. Local history is a lot more interesting and important than they tend to believe. I’m hoping, now, that others will step up and offer items for the collection. Everyone has an interesting history and story to tell. The more we can capture those personal histories through projects like this, the more our students and our community stand to gain.”
To find out about donating an object to the Decatur County History in 100 Objects project, call GCHS History Teacher John Pratt at 663-7176 ext. 1222, or email Mr. Pratt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011