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Crumrin recently retired as historian at the Conner Prairie living history museum in Hamilton County after more than 20 years of helping to tell the people stories of 1800s Indiana. He had moved away from Vigo County in 1989 after earning degrees at Indiana State University. But frequent visits to his West Terre Haute roots have been a constant for Crumrin, and those stories of long ago have turned into an online blog that he intends share as a book.

His current ongoing project — his long-time fascination — has been to remember the people of West Terre Haute. It’s a town, he told the Tribune-Star, that has long been the butt of many unkind jokes due mostly to its economic hardships. But it is a town rich in memories that deserve to be shared.

"My family has lived in [West Terre Haute] since at least 1850," Crumrin writes in his blog at wthhistory.wordpress.com. "Among the many good people who have roamed its streets were my grandparents, Ray and Hilda Chrisman. It was they who regaled me with stories of the town and their lives that made me an historian, something I have known I wanted to be since the age ten."

On Monday, Crumrin will be honored for his many years of work at Conner Prairie as he receives the 2014 Eli Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award during Indiana Historical Society’s annual Founders Day event at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis.

The Eli Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award is given to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions over an extended period of time to the field of history and/or the affairs of IHS. The annual Founders Day dinner celebrates the accomplishments of historians, teachers, writers and businesses from around the state, as well as the work of IHS.

Crumrin was nominated for the award by the president of Conner Prairie, where he focused his researched on parts of Indiana’s history that are not widely studied, from groups such as the Delaware (Lenape) Native Americans and the Jewish population in Indiana, to women’s roles and health issues in 19th century Indiana and the Midwest. He also served as project director of Conner Prairie’s Distance Learning Initiative.

Despite starting his schooling in West Terre Haute, Crumrin would go on to graduate from Marshall High School in Illinois. He notes that the contrast between the two towns is interesting. Both developed about the same time, in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. And period photos of both communities show vibrant downtowns with similar architecture.

But whereas Marshall continues to be a quaint and well-maintained community with many historic buildings, West Terre Haute has lost many of the brick buildings and older homes that lined Paris Avenue, then the main east-west route through the town west of the Wabash River.

The difference, Crumrin said, is that Marshall had a middle class. West Terre Haute was built on a working class of coal miners and clay mines. When those natural resources ran out, there was no middle class to keep the town going. The wealthy departed for greener pastures. The working poor remained through the Great Depression. And many of today’s residents are descended from those miners of clay and coal. West Terre Haute, first known as Macksville, was ethnically diverse — attracting many immigrants who came from a mining background in their home counties, such as Wales and England.

He decided about five years ago to take on the West Terre Haute history project, as he explains in the first entry in his blog: "This blog will follow the progress of my research into the history of West Terre Haute, Indiana, which will result in a book tentatively titled ‘Til the Coal Train Hauled It Away: West Terre Haute, the Rise and Demise of a Scorned Town.’ As the title indicates, WTH is a town that has ranged from being essentially ignored to being actively derided and scorned as the setting for a perpetual underclass. The people in towns like West Terre Haute have seldom been given a voice by history. They have been ignored, or simply gone unmentioned. They deserve more and my hope for this book is to give both a scholarly view of its history and a compelling portrait of its people."

Among his early blogs is this post from May 5, 2011: "I have read through 5 years of Terre Haute newspapers this week. I have yet to get through more that four days without a story of a death or crippling injury to a miner. These people were literally dying for work. Risking their lives every day to feed their families. That is a story I must tell well. We are lucky my grandfather made it out of the pit alive"

Crumrin told the Tribune-Star that he has been setting up interviews with current day community leaders and officials to get an idea of what the town is like now. He said he has learned that about 80 percent of elementary children in the community are on the free and reduced-cost lunch program due to low family incomes.