The Fairmount Web Spot
Back Creek south of Washington Street.

Back Creek

Back Creek is the stream that flows through the town of Fairmount. It flows just more than nine miles (fifteen kilometers) from its sources in Madison County until it drains into the Missisinewa River just north of Jonesboro.


The stream has its sources in Madison County within one square mile south of the county line, converging just south of the county line road and flowing north-by-northeast to Fairmount. Then it flows northward through Fairmount just west of Mill Street until it crosses Fourth Street, whereupon it flows east of Mill. It leaves town north of Eighth Street (State Road 26), flowing along first the wastewater treatment plant and then Park Cemetery, through which a tributary, Winslow Ditch, crosses before emptying into the creek.

The creek then flows parallel to Sand Pike until it passes behind Back Creek Friends Church and across the Winslow farm where James Dean lived as a teen. Then after passing county road 700 South it turns northeast, crosses Sand Pike and flows along a largely wooded course to Jonesboro, where it passes through the town, along its park, and across State Road 22. Finally it hooks up with another tributary, Little Newby Ditch, and flows eastward to empty into the Mississinewa River.


The land around Back Creek was originally swampy, especially at its upper reaches, where the land was flooded by dams built by beavers. Quaker farmers who settled along its course broke up the dams and deepened the streambed to drain the land. They named it Back Creek after another stream of the same name in their native North Carolina. The Quakers first proposed to name it Winslow Creek after one of the first settlers, but the man demurred out of modesty.

Another possible source of the name was the fact that the creek was so low that sometimes the Mississinewa River flowed back into the creek.


During the age of settlement, the land around Back Creek was deeply forested (mostly oaks), and home to all sorts of wildlife, from beaver and deer to bears and wolves. By the late 1800's, the forest had become town and farmland, and the wildlife was mostly gone.

These days, Back Creek has sometimes been described as a drainage ditch; in fact it is legally a regulated drain. Yet it has existed before the first settlers, so it is not an artificial channel as the words ditch and drain imply. And the creek sports fish life from small fry to font-long carp, which are visible when the waters of the creek are clear.


The creekbed at Fairmount is at least two meters lower than the surrounding ground. Yet the creek still has a habit of flooding. The most serious flood was a tidal flood in 1913, when the creek inundated the town.

A serious flood in the early 1990's prompted area farmers to petition for flood relief to the drainage board of the county in which Fairmount lies. The flood relief would include dredging the creek and cutting down trees and brush along the banks from end to end. The town of Jonesboro and residents of homes along the creek north of 700 South objected to the plan. When the council approved a plan, objectors tried to get the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to stop it. The DNR took no action when it found that Back Creek was less than ten miles long and therefore out of their jurisdiction. (The ruling is here.) However, a compromise was reached in which there would be dredging and brush removal up to the banks south of 700 South.

The creek was dredged and cleared of brush along the allotted length, first in 2001, then in 2006. A property tax on farmers and residents within the watershed of the creek (five dollars for residents, five dollars per acre per farmer) provides the money to maintain the creek.


These are quotes from the book History of Grant County, a series of articles on the county compiled in 1886 and published by the Chicago firm Brant & Fuller. Keep in mind that the coordinate system used in locations is based on the Public Land Survey System, numbered relative to the 2nd Principal Meridian that passes through the center of Indiana.

Fairmount Township

This creek was named by Joseph Winslow, after the name of the creek where he lived in North Carolina, Randolph County. It enters the township in Section 6, Town 22, Range 8, and has a generally northerly course, bearing a little east, and enters the township of Mill a little west of the half-mile corner on the north side of Section 17, Town 23, Range 8. The upper portion of this stream was very flat and rather marshy, and was cut wider and deeper about the year 1856, being the first work of any extent in the county — and it is worthy of note that it was done by private enterprise, without process of law. It far exceeded expectation as to its benefits to lands and the public generally. It was a series of beaver ponds and when a channel was opened it was rather astonishing to see bits of timber with the marks of the teeth of these animals in them, and shells of different kind, and in particular those of the muscle [mussel], of large size, which indicated that when these creatures were here that permanent water was held by their dams. Drainage has enabled the farmer to raise grain and grass on these lands where cattle mired in the first settling along the creek. The higher lands and those farther down were first choice for farming and were settled first — mostly by a number of [F]riends from North Carolina, but others soon came, and at an early day the settlement of Back Creek was quite dense for a new country.

History of Grant County, Indiana, Brant & Fuller, 1886, p.336

Mill Township

Back Creek enters this township in Section 8, and flows into the river at or just below the mill in Jonesboro. It also lies deep below the general surface, and has a rapid fall or decline, and at a period in first settlement, and some time since it afforded good facilities for mills and machinery, but of late years it has failed in these respects and not a single mill or machine is driven by its power.

ibid., p.383

Copyright © 2013 by Andy West. All rights reserved. Last updated 11 August 2013.