So, why is Henry County also called Raintree County?
For Raintree County is not the country of the perishable fact. It is the country of the enduring fiction. The clock in the Court House Tower on page five of the Raintree County Atlas is always fixed at nine o’clock, and it is summer and the days are long.—Ross Lockridge Jr.
Author Ross Lockridge, Jr, published his first and only novel, Raintree County in 1948. The book begins and ends on the Fourth of July, in 1892, but unfolds out of chronological order across several different years in order to structure the narrative.
The setting of the 1000+ page book is the eponymous (but fictional) Raintree County, Indiana.
It was also made into a major movie with Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Lee Marvin. The movie is over three hours long.
Raintree County is described in the book as being smaller than Henry County and further away from Indianapolis, but it is clearly based upon Henry County (For example, it contains the ‘National Road” as a key feature), and much of it is based upon real locations right here in Prairie and Blue River Townships. Mr. Lockridge used the 1875 Henry County Atlas to define and describe his imaginary setting, and borrowed or renamed from local places to become parts of his fictional county:
Raintree County locations based upon places in (or near) our school district
Moreland - Mooreland
Danwebster - Hillsboro (original post office there was “Dan Webster”)
Beardstown - Knightstown (Charles A. Beard was well-known in the day)
Waycross - Straughn
Summit - Springport
Mt. Pleasant - Mt. Summit
Climax - Luray (I have no idea why the name…)
The Three Mounds - Earthworks at Van Nuys
Shawmucky River - a weird serpentine mix of both Big Blue River
and Little Blue River
Clay Creek - Flatrock River
Lake Paradise - Shively Park
Great Swamp - Swamp in BBR between SR 103 and 100 East
Freehaven - New Castle
The protagonist is a gentleman named John W. Shawnessy, who was a poet and Byronic Hero - a runner, war veteran, writer and schoolmaster from fictional Raintree County, Indiana. Mr. Shawnessy marries a mentally-ill southern woman (Susanna Drake) who flees to the South upon the start of the Civil War, he serves in the Union Army during the Civil War, and then he becomes a schoolmaster and marries a much-younger local girl in his old age. His lifelong friend is Garwood Jones, who later becomes a Senator, and he serves in the war with his childhood foot-racing rival, “Flash Perkins.” Young Shawnessy is raised by his father, Dr. T. D. Shawnessy and his mother, Ellen.
Another main character is Professor (the “Perfessor’) Jerusalem Webster Stiles, who is the local intellectual. The initials JWS are found throughout the book - such as with John Wickliff Shawnessy and Jerusalem Webster Stiles, and are formed by the upper course of the river in Lockridge’s hand-drawn map of the county.
His unfulfilled heroic quest is to find the legendary Golden Raintree, a mystic and magical tree - a tree both the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge - rumored to be hidden somewhere in the large dense swamp formed in the lowlands of the Shawmucky River, just north of the Eden-like Lake Paradise. And, as in many quests, he is foiled and distracted from it by worldly desires, conflicts and distractions, although he is, one dark night, unknowingly right upon it, only to leave it forever.
Author Ross Lockridge, Jr. Ross Jr. was born in Bloomington and did live in and visit many parts of Indiana. It was his mother’s family which was from Henry County. This was the only novel he ever finished. The novel had been a hugely successful “Book of the Month Club” offering, and he was negotiating with MGM for film rights. The book was rising on the best-seller lists, and some critics had declared it “The Great American Novel”.
It became the number one best-selling book in America on March 5th, 1948, and on March 6th, 1948 Mr. Lockridge went into his garage, locked himself in his running car and killed himself by carbon monoxide asphyxiation.
He was just 33 years old.
There are now many “Raintree”-themed businesses in Henry County (Raintree Square, Raintree Inn, Raintree Insulation, Raintree Plumbing, Raintree Habitat for Humanity….) Waycross Drive and Raintree Drive are just north of New Castle. This practice started after the release of the movie.
There is a Lockridge marker in front of the courthouse, dedicated by Mr. Lockridge's son.
The book’s protagonist, John Shawnessy, was largely based upon Lockridge’s maternal grandfather, a real-life Henry County resident named John Wesley Shockley (died in 1907, buried in Lewisville) and John Shockley’s father, Dr. William B Shockley, was the model for the novel’s character T.D. Shawnessy. Both Dr. Shockley and his wife Louisa Shockley are buried in our school district, in the very out-of-the-way Messick Cemetery (Among the oldest in Henry County - with burials beginning very early in the 19th Century), tucked well off-the-road between an abandoned railroad track and a farm field. This cemetery is about 2 ¼ miles southeast of our campus.) Dr. Shockley died in 1876, at 74 years of age, and his wife died at 67 . Also buried at Messick Cemetery is a “Susannah Duke” who was John W. Shockley’s first wife - from whom Mr. Lockridge very loosely derived the character of Susanna Drake, who was portrayed in the movie by Elizabeth Taylor. His second wife, Emma Rhoton Shockley, is buried in Lewisville near her husband.
John Wesley Shockley
Ross Lockridge, Jr.
Page 5 of the 1875 Henry County Atlas -
“The clock in the Court House Tower on page five of the Raintree County Atlas is always fixed at nine o’clock
Lockridge’s Map of Raintree County
Original Movie Poster, 1957