A glimpse of history

WHAT: Presentation of portraits of Austin Seward and his wife, Jennett, to the Monroe County History Center.

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Monroe County History Center, Sixth and Washington streets in Bloomington.

HOW MUCH: The public is invited and admission is free. Light refreshments will be served.

Family portraits presented as gift to history center1

By Andrew Graham
H-T Staff Writer

The Sewards--the family that reputedly forged the first courthouse fish--are making another contribution to Monroe County tonight.

Descendants of Marilyn Seward Warden and Nancy Seward Taylor will formally present portraits of Austin Seward and his wife, Jennett, to the Monroe County History Center during a 6 p.m. ceremony at the museum.

The public is invited and light refreshments will be served. After the ceremony, a viewing of the museum's Seward exhibit will be conducted.

Austin Seward is the blacksmith credited with producing the famous fish weather vane that originally adorned Monroe County's 1826 brick courthouse. The origin of the fish perched atop the current limestone courthouse, constructed in 1906, remains a matter of conjecture.

There is uncertainty as to the creator of the Seward portraits, too. Records identify the artist only as a "Mr. Blair." But the paintings have belonged to the Seward family since the 1860s, and museum executive director Kari Price said she's honored to help provide them a new home.

"We don't generally have the wherewithal to purchase artifacts--we rely on donations--and this is a wonderful treat," Price said Friday. "It's quite a treasure. Our holdings don't normally include paintings, and Austin Seward was such a significant figure in the founding of Bloomington.

"He arrived when the county was only a couple of years old, and started a business that went on here for over 150 years."

That business went from blacksmith shop to foundry, to machine shop, to industrial and plumbing supplier--and, by 1967, Seward and Co. became the oldest business in Indiana run by the same family under the same name. It closed in 1983 after 162 years in existence.

Austin Seward was born in Virginia around 1797 and grew up in Richmond, Ky., where he met and married Jennett "Jane" Irwin, a well-educated daughter of a prosperous family. They moved to Bloomington in 1921 [sic], just three years after the community's founding.

Seward was active in the community immediately. He taught Sunday school for the Presbyterian church in 1921. He was hired to paint the courthouse and to provide other services to the county. In 1833 he was one of the incorporators of the Monroe County Female Seminary. He organized and led the first band ever active in Bloomington.

He died in 1872 and was buried in the Dunn Cemetery beside his wife, who had died in 1865.

Reporter Andrew Graham can be reached at 331-4346 or by e-mail at agraham@heraldt.com.

1 This article appeared in the 5 May 2004 issue of the Bloomington Herald-Times. It included the same small pictures of the portraits as appeared in the Monroe County Historical Society's article on their creator, painter Marion Blair.
This page was last updated 16 Dec 2008.