Center Point, Indiana was named from its position near the geographical center of Clay County. The town originally sat on the main road from Brazil to Bowling Green, and was founded in 1856 in an attempt to become the new county seat. That designation eventually went to Brazil, but Center Point has made a name and reputation for itself as a town that thrives. Whether it was at the height of its population or today when residential numbers are lower, community members always work together to make Center Point a place in which they are proud to live.
“We’ve all heard the phrase that it takes a village, well I like to say that it takes villagers,” said Center Point resident Roy Smith. “The people of this town have all stepped up and they do the best they can for their community, including putting their own money in to make Center Point a nice, small town to live in.”
A Tradition of Business and Fellowship
In 1852, the first train from Terre Haute to Indianapolis began running. Two years later, the first post office in Center Point was established. The implementation of the railroad reestablished daily mail service to Center Point, as the town was located on the main route between Terre Haute and Bowling Green, the former county seat. Two years later, Center Point was a thriving town. The 1858 business directory lists one blacksmith, two carpenters, one cabinet maker, two wagon makers, two general stores, two dressmakers, one steam grist mill, one steam sawmill, one harness maker, one hotel, one nursery, and one church.
By 1890, Center Point — and Clay County — were firmly established as thriving communities. There were 117 schools (most one-room schoolhouses) with more than 12,000 students enrolled in Clay County schools. By 1900, Center Point reached its peak population, with approximately 900 residents.
Today, the Center Point population is around 207, according to the 2020 census. While the numbers have decreased, the pride and dedication to the town has not. So many residents have taken an active role in stepping in to refurbish buildings and parks and make Center Point a small town in which people are proud to live.
Smith tells the story of a 92-year-old gentleman who grew up in Center Point. He’s been gone from the community for more than 60 years, but over the last five years has grown nostalgic for his hometown and continues to invest thousands of dollars into Center Point. He paid for upgrades to the Center Point Hardware Store and donated money for park improvements, as well as the building of a new restaurant in the old gas station.
The Center Point firehouse is newly built, and renovations are planned for the Clay County Genealogy Library building. Residents consistently come together to tear down crumbling houses and rebuild others. Three families completely rebuilt the wooden playset in the town park a few years ago, buying all the materials themselves, and spending weekends building the structure. They did this to continue making Center Point a place of pride.
The Center Point Business Scene
Today, there are just over 25 businesses in Center Point, which range from fencing companies to a bank, RV sales and an animal rescue center.
The Center Point Hardware Store has an endearing history and is more than just a place to purchase parts and supplies. It’s become known as an official gathering spot and headquarters for the town. Center Point Hardware is owned by Karen Stearley, who retired from the U.S. Post Office after 30 years to take over the business for her father. The Hardware also serves as an archive of sorts with old newspaper clippings and vintage signs hung throughout the store.
Ryan Schopmeyer was born and raised in Clay County. He studied agricultural systems management at Purdue University, but later transferred to Indiana State University and earned a degree in secondary math education. He was set to begin a master’s program in actuary science at Ball State University when his grandfather passed away and he was asked to learn the family business.
Today, Schopmeyer and his father own and operate Schopmeyer Ag, the full-service ag retail company started by his grandfather. Schopmeyer Ag has locations in Center Point and Rosedale, and primarily serves the counties of Clay, Vigo, Parke and Putnam. The company employs a total of 26 employees, 15 of them in Center Point.
One may not expect tigers to be living in the heart of Western Central Indiana, but that’s exactly what you’ll find nestled in Center Point. The Exotic Feline Rescue Center is a rescue center to exotic cats that have been abused, unwanted or neglected. There are currently more than 120 felines (of 12 different species) that call the Center and its 200 acres home.
Joe Taft, founder and director, started the center in 1990 with two tigers and a leopard. But his affection for felines started as a young Indiana State University student.
“I thought it would be cool to have a Lotus to drive fast and a cheetah that would sit well-behaved next to me,” said Taft. “I looked at Lotuses and realized they’re not compatible with student budgets; same with cheetahs. So I downsized and scraped together and bought an MG and an ocelot. The MG didn’t last, but the ocelot had me.”
Soon after that, Taft took in a leopard that he lived with for 19 years. Shortly after she died, he rescued two young tigers that were living in the back of a Volkswagen van and used in a photo booth business. Taft took in the cats and came to Center Point looking for a place to build them a home. And the Exotic Feline Rescue Center was born in 1991.
The Rescue Center takes in felines from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, United States Department of Agriculture, from states across the country, from California to Kentucky, as well as from people who bought them as pets and realized they were in way over their heads. Once an animal comes to the Center, it stays the rest of its life. The site has worked with the same veterinarian for 18 years and has a strong relationship with the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine.
The cats eat approximately 2,000 pounds of food per day. It’s given to the Center by local farmers and Tyson Foods donates chicken and turkey. They also acquire poultry that’s packaged for sale overseas but never made it to a boat and therefore cannot be sold in the United States. Taft admits that the price of food has increased considerably over the last year. But the price the Center charges for admission has not changed since the first day it opened to the public. He feels it’s important to keep the Center accessible to people who ordinarily would not have the opportunity to see these exotic animals.
Center Point has a rich history, and from its inception to today, is a town where business remains strong and plays an important role in the life of its residents. Business owners provide agricultural supplies to farmers. They rescue exotic cats and allow people from West Center Indiana and beyond to access nature’s beautiful creatures that are rarely seen in the Midwest. They provide a place to buy hardware, as well as sit together for a community gathering. Whether it’s building new playground equipment to improving the infrastructure and look of the community, the residents of Center Point are proud of their small town and work hard to keep it a place that people want to live.
To learn more about the Clay County Community Builders Institute, please contact Jonathan Eilbracht, Clay County Community Engagement Officer, at email@example.com.
Article written by Leah Singer, a freelance writer who lives in the Wabash Valley.