Heather Phillips Lusk Writes New Book that Focuses on Boone County History
Writer / Matt Keating
Heather Phillips Lusk, author of “Hidden History of Boone County, Indiana,” says local readers will be delighted with stories about their county that they haven’t heard before.
“I’m involved with the SullivanMunce GhostWalk, and the museum was contacted by The History Press for a book about haunted stories from Zionsville,” Lusk says. “I spoke with the publisher, but they were seeking personal encounter, versus the type of fact-based local history that we use in the GhostWalk. That started the discussion with the publisher to realize maybe our GhostWalk stories would fit with a different series.”
The History Press is known for books on local and regional history and culture, such as their “Hidden History” series of books. Lusk notes that local historian Joan Lyons had already written about Zionsville specifically, but nothing really existed for Boone County within the last 100 years that included a summary of county history along with stories from each area.”
Lusk says there are many great stories from Boone County.
“My absolute favorite story is about a dog,” Lusk says. “I’m completely enamored with this bit of history. In 1943 a dog named Ace from Zionsville enlisted in the military’s new Dogs for Defense program. Ace was gone for more than a year. Right after he returned, his owner, teenager Donald Spees, was sent to serve in the Navy.”
Based on everything Lusk was able to find and all the people she interviewed, it appears Ace was the only dog from Boone County to serve.
“If I’m wrong about that I’d love to know about it,” Lusk says. “I’ve been trying to find where Ace was stationed, but unfortunately the National Archives has been so backlogged the past two years that I’ve been unable to access the file. I am still hopeful I can procure that information even though the book is complete.”
Another of Lusk’s favorite stories is about a man named Thorntown Cyrus.
“I first learned about him researching stories for GhostWalk,” Lusk says. “He was a vagabond, a resident of Thorntown, who performed in many communities all over the state. Despite his reported intellectual disability, it sounds like he was an incredible engineer, capable of recreating things after seeing them once or simply hearing how they operate. I learned as much about his life from newspapers in surrounding counties than Boone County. There’s an excellent picture of him at the Tipton County Historical Society.”
Lusk says Howard School is a special place.
“This little schoolhouse was falling down, with a tree growing inside,” Lusk says. “A group of residents worked together to restore it, and now they host field trips and events there. These amazing people did most of the work themselves and still manage to keep it going. I’m so impressed with circumstances like these when residents take it upon themselves to ensure our history isn’t erased.”
Lusk was surprised to find out exciting new facts about Boone County during her research.
“I thought I’d come across many of those stories, and my plan was to include all of the locations on the National Register of Historic Places, simply for information since they’re important facets of county history,” Lusk says. “What I didn’t anticipate is how many of them are about to disappear. The church at Oak Hill Cemetery is slated for demolition. Scotland Bridge is slated for demolition, though the county has tried to salvage it and there are many still trying.”
Lusk adds that The Simpson-Breedlove House was also beautifully restored, and was promised protection when it was sold as part of a housing development.
“Now its future also appears tenuous,” she says. “Even buildings that are fighting to remain open and vibrant, like the Strange Cragun House, are in dire need of financial support after two years of limited events and thus no income. There are many in Boone County who are fighting to save our history, but sadly it feels like the desires of developers come first.”
The first chapter of the book focuses on the Thorntown Reserve.
“It was officially created by the government in 1818, but members of the Eel River band, a sub tribe of the Miami Indians, were living in the area for decades,” Lusk says. “The reserve covered the northwestern quarter of the county, and overlapped into Clinton County. The native people were tragically forced from the land in 1828.”
Lusk notes that the book will be available at SullivanMunce Cultural Center, and eventually at CVS in Lebanon, because those locations already partner with The History Press.
“It’s also available at Barnes & Noble, and the publisher is working on other locations in the county,” Lusk says.
Lusk believes much of her work wouldn’t have been possible without the various historical groups and past historians throughout the county.
“Ralph Stark did so much research on the native people from the county,” Lusk says. “His files are located at Lebanon’s library in the Ralph Stark Heritage Center. One of my biggest resources was also the original Boone County Magazine that existed until 1986. I hope that this new Boone County Magazine can help people 50 years from now in the same way that it helped me.”