The crowd on East Kirkwood during the Bicentennial Street Fair. Photos by Rodney Margison

The crowd on East Kirkwood during the Bicentennial Street Fair. Photos by Rodney Margison


On June 22–23, 1818, in the first public sale of real estate in the newly formed Monroe County, commissioners sold parcels of land by auction—perhaps around a barrel of whiskey. On June 21, 2018, the City of Bloomington will celebrate its bicentennial with a family-friendly bicycle ride beginning and ending at Cardinal Spirits—perhaps also around a barrel of whiskey.

Robyn Wirkerman, Cardinal Spirits’ general manager, says there will be a whiskey barrel, if only for iconic purposes, but there is also a chance that one of the 3-year-old distillery’s bourbons will be ready to serve. “I can’t promise that,” Wirkerman says. “It really is listening to the drink and seeing when the spirit is ready.”


  • June 21—Bloomington Bike-centennial Ride & Solstice Celebration at Cardinal Spirits
  • July 4—Bicentennial-themed July Fourth Parade in Downtown Bloomington
  • October 6—Bicentennial on the B-Line: A walk through the past and into the future
  • November 11—Bicentennial 5k at City Hall

Keep up with the City’s bicentennial activities at

Some written records report that Monroe County’s new commissioners bought a barrel of whiskey to lubricate  attendees at the auction of land in what is now the city of Bloomington. Indiana University history professor Eric Sandweiss says the sources behind the whiskey-barrel story aren’t good enough for him to say with certainty that it happened, but it may well have.

“If it did happen here, it would be pretty typical of the whole land-sale business,” Sandweiss says. “It was an entertaining activity, as all auctions are, and you wanted to draw people together with other attractions in order to get the biggest crowd and, therefore, the highest value for your sales.”

The Bike-centennial Ride & Solstice Celebration

The Bloomington Bike-centennial Ride and Solstice Celebration is a 5-mile, family-friendly ride along the B-Line Trail and around Bloomington on June 21. The ride leaves Cardinal Spirits, 922 S. Morton St., at 5:30 p.m. The Solstice Celebration, also at Cardinal Spirits, begins at 7 p.m.

“The goal is to get 200 people to participate, so each person gets to represent a year,” says Beth Rosenbarger, bicycle and pedestrian
coordinator for the City of Bloomington. “And then, if we get more, they can be the future.”

The rain date is June 28.

Register online at

Charles Blanchard’s Counties of Morgan, Monroe and Brown, Indiana: Historical and Biographical, published in 1884, reports that the price for all the land sold in those two days in 1818 was $14,326.85. This went into the county’s coffers, minus $2,100 the county paid for the land, $33.50 it spent on whiskey, and $2 it paid the “tapster” who doled out the drinks during the auction.

What, besides distilled spirits, attracted people to that first auction? Other regions boasted better farmland and easier access to navigable waterways. The state’s seminary, which would become Indiana University, was already established in Vincennes, and there was little reason to think that it would move to Bloomington. The area’s limestone wealth was in every sense unrealized—builders of Bloomington’s earliest stone houses had bricks shipped in from Kentucky.

Could it be that the early buyers of land knew this would be a great place for cycling? The earliest map of the county dates to 1856, so it can’t be confirmed whether the map used at the first land sale included bike lanes.

There is, however, a current bike map you can check out. To see it, visit


Check out this gallery of photos from the Bicentennial Street Fair, held on Sunday, April 29, along East Kirkwood. (Click on the photo below to view the gallery. Use the on-screen arrows or the arrows on your keyboard to navigate forward and backward.) PHOTOS BY RODNEY MARGISON