The Fairmount Web Spot

Fairmount 1940's

A picture book of James Dean with text and side material was released by the British publisher Dorling Kindersley in 2005, to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of his death. The book covers a lot of Dean's childhood years, and as background provides a page on the town where he spent his teenage years.

Fairmount is a small farm town in Grant County, and is little more than a crossroads on the straight stretch of the Indiana highway 26, running east from Lafayette.

The little main street in Fairmount happily lacks McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, and all the other emblems of a homogenized America, and the town diner wears an air of timelessness, with its unpretentious decor, and tasty daily specials. The maple-shaded Main Street, running north, lined with comfortable Victorian houses, looks magnificent in the fall, as the leaves burst out into an array of blazing colors. Inevitably, the work of the artist Normal Rockwell springs to mind. This is a surviving fragment of the Americana he celebrated in his covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

Fairmount is on a byway off route 9 to Marion, ten miles north, which is where the shopping malls, highway hotels, fast-food outlets, and gas stations can be found, rendering it indistinguishable from everywhere else. A short distance to the east of Fairmount the federal superhighway I-69 passes, connecting Indianapolis to Fort Wayne. The Fairmount exit is numbered 55, in accordance with the custom of designating them after their mileage on the freeway — a coincidence in that '55 happens to be the year of James Dean's death.

In the 1940's the center of the town — the intersection of Main and Washington, then controlled by a traffic light mounted on a yellow pole, which is now preserved outside the Fairmount Historical Museum — may have been livelier than today. The southeast corner was occupied by a long-vanished Rexall drugstore, then an institution throughout America, with its chrome-heavy soda foundation acting as a social focus for the young population. Officially, Fairmount has over 3,000 inhabitants, but it is normally so quiet and traffic-free that it is hard to imagine where they all can be. As though in recognition of its quintessential American character, the first name given by the US Post Office was A1, which was actually based on its map coordinates. Other pioneer designations included Kingston and Pucker. In 1850 it received its present name, after a park in Philadelphia.

Remarkably, for such a small a place in a vast country, James Dean is not the only world-famous local boy. Jim Davis, the creator of the Garfield comic strip, was born in 1945 and raised on a farm close by. Fairmount also lays a claim to having thought of the hamburger many years before it was supposed to have made its official debut in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair, although quite a few small towns in other states also have a case. A similar claim is made by Fairmount in respect of another St. Louis invention, the ice-cream cone. Fairmount remembers James Dean on its welcome sign with the slogan "Where cool is born."

— From James Dean by George Perry. Dorling Kindersley, 2005, p. 33.

The photo that accompanies the text shows Fairmount's downtown in the 1940's, just after World War II. It was taken facing north from the middle of Main Street between Washington and Adams streets.

The buildings are more or less the same as they are today, except for the Barey Block next to the traffic light. That building burned down in 1967 and was replaced by a cinderblock structure that is now the Dollar General. But apart from the two banks, Citizens Exchange and Fairmount State, none of the businesses in the photo remain.

Copyright © 2013 by Andy West. Quotation copyright © 2005 by George Perry. All rights reserved.