Clark County Indiana

Clarke County - Historical and Descriptive


In 1784, the legislature of the State of Virginia, in consideration of the important and valuable services rendered to that commonwealth by General George Rogers Clarke, donated to him large tracts of laud in that part of the Indian territory which he had nominally placed under its government. Among these lands was a tract comprising a portion of the site of the present city of Jeffersonville, and including also the lands upon which the struggling village of Clarkesville is located. At the latter point old " Fort Clarke" was located, and around it many of the most thrilling scenes and incidents in the early history of Indiana were enacted. Many of the deeds of the brave Clarke, center to this old landmark of his remarkable career. He, with his brave Virginians, fought his way along the ever-bending banks of the Ohio, not only contending with Indians, but Englishmen, and through repeated triumphs, which shed an enchanting lustre upon the annals of border warfare, he unfurled the flag of a free people and a republican government over the soil now included within the limits of the State of Indiana. But as we have given an account of most of General Clarke's services in behalf of Indiana, in the first part of this work, we shall have to pass over his operations around Fort Clarke, at this time, and deal with more recent events. It should be remarked, however, that the early settlement, or attempted, at Clarkesville, was not successful. However, in the year 1802, Jeffersonville was located, near this point, by John Gwathmey. This new seat of civilization was named in honor of the illustrious author of the declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson. The town was  incorporated in 1816, and the city was incorporated in 1839. These two events mark its progress, which has been steady, but not rapid.

Omitting, for want of space, the hundreds of incidents in the early history of Clarke county, we will observe only some of its most noticeable present features.

The surface of the county along the Ohio river, and from three to five miles in the interior, is rolling, and the remainder mostly level, except a chain of "knobs," which form a semi - circle along the northwestern boundary of the county, and strike the Ohio river just below New Albany, in Floyd county. Only about half of these " knobs " are cultivated, but they are covered with a good quality of timber, chestnut, oak and pine being the distinguishing classes. Aside from the " knobs," the lands in the county are susceptible of cultivation. The strip along the river, about thirty-five miles in length, and from five to ten in width, has a limestone soil, and, though mostly rolling, is, when well tilled, as productive as any of the celebrated bottom lands. There are no prairies in the county. The farms are generally well improved, and are graced with good buildings. Iron ore, marble, excellent building rock, and hydraulic cement are found in abundance.

Most of the lands within the present limits of the county are embraced in what was known as the " Illinois grant" This was made, as before intimated, by the legislature of Virginia in 1790, and conveyed to certain commissioners one hundred and forty-nine thousand acres of land, in trust, to be apportioned, according to their rank, to General Clarke, and the officers and men of-the regiment which he commanded in the expedition to Vincennes and Kaskaskia. It was divided into five hundred acre tracts and apportioned according to the terms of the grant. One thousand acres more, lying along the falls of the Ohio, were also granted at the same time for the location of a town to be called Clarkesville. This was intended as a monument to the memory of General Clarke, and it was hoped that the town would develop into a great commercial centre, but these hopes were futile. It flourished for a short time, but soon sunk into decay. It is now only a small village, with  no prospects of reaching metropolitan pre-eminence. The first settlements in the place were made from 1790 along up to 1800. The early settlers located along the banks of the Ohio river, so as to be able to escape into Kentucky at the approach of the hostile natives.

Jeffersonville, the principal town, has grown to be a handsome and important city, with a population of over eight thousand, and excellent free school facilities. The city is handsomely laid out The streets are broad, crossing each other at right angles. The buildings are nearly all substantial and present something worthy of notice in the way of architecture. Many neat cottages beautify the streets and give the town a picturesque and rural appearance.

" The chief manufactures of Jeffersonville are railway cars, steamboats, and machinery of various kinds. The Jeffersonville,  Madison and Indianapolis Railroad Company's machine shops and car works give employment to a considerable number  of mechanics, and besides these there are two ship-yards which afford, in active business times, regular employment to about two hundred skilled artisans. It is claimed that there are more steamboats built here annually than at any other point between Pittsburgh and New Orleans, and that they rank among the best steamers that navigate the western waters. Just beyond the city limits, ' the Ohio Falls Car Company' conduct a large establishment, with a capacity for the employment of eight hundred workmen, and near by is its competitor, ' the Southwestern Car Company,' the principal work for which is done by the convicts (three hundred and fifty in number), of the Indiana State Prison South, whose white front is in sad contrast with the gloom that dwells within. Beside these, there are two iron-foundries, an oilstone factory, an extensive coopering establishment, and just at this time more noticeable than any of them, in consequence of the horrid screams of its steam-whistle every morning, the large pork-house on the river bank, where two hundred men are employed in killing twelve hundred hogs daily. The locomotive whistle, too, is heard nearly every hour of the day and night in Jeffersonville, whose heart is pierced by the iron bands of the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis, and the Ohio and Mississippi, besides those of other minor local roads.

" The local government is presided over by Mayor Pile, a venerable gentleman of three score years and ten, who, being to ' the manor born,' has grown up with the growth of Jeffersonville, and is a fair specimen of the plain, frank, honest, hardy western pioneers who lived in this section of country when it was an unbroken wilderness, and have been spared to see it blossom like the rose. But the crowning glory of Jeffersonville, and that which imparts to it much of its business life and vitality, is the extensive depot of the Quartermaster's Department. Some idea of the magnitude of this structure may be formed when it is stated that the series of fire-proof warehouses, built in the shape of a hollow square, contain one hundred and fifty thousand square feet, or three and one-half acres of flooring, with a storage capacity of two million seven hundred thousand cubic feet. The ground upon which the depot is located, covering about fifteen acres, was donated for the purpose by the city of Jeffersonville. The building has a frontage of over three thousand two hundred feet, and the principal offices are above the main entrance. In the centre of the court yard is a tower one hundred feet high, in which, at an elevation of seventy feet, is a watchman's room, from which every one of the numerous warehouse doors are visible. On the summit of this tower there is also a large tank, of the capacity of six thousand gallons, from which copious streams of water can be thrown to any part of the building. In the court-yard there are also two reservoirs, of the capacity of three hundred thousand gallons each. This immense structure was erected at the cost limited by the appropriation of  congress, viz.: one hundred and fifty thousand dollars—a rare fact in the financial history of public buildings.

" The public property now stored in this depot is estimated to be worth about twenty-two million dollars. From it are now supplied with clothing, camp and garrison equipage, and all kinds of Quartermaster's stores, the military posts in the South and West, and most of the troops operating in chose sections. The depot is so capacious and so well arranged, that if all the old material now stored in it were disposed of, and new and serviceable material stored in its place, enough could be kept on hand to supply the entire army of the United States. There are now nearly one hundred male employees on the rolls of the depot, exclusive of about seven hundred women, who are engaged in making shirts, drawers, stable frocks, and bed-quilts to meet the demands of the service. This work is a god-send to the poor sewing-women of Jeffersonville. ' Ladies' pay-day,' at the depot, is always an eventful and memorable occasion. It is full of sunshine and joy, and the source of a general diffusion of comfort and happiness throughout the community.   Hundreds of poor women, with smiling faces, light hearts, and lighter steps, may be seen on that day returning from the depot, the cheerful possessors of their monthly earnings, which are destined to make so many homes look brighter and more happy. Seven thousand dollars distributed every month among the poorer classes in a community of eight thousand, carry with them many comforts and delights, and the baker and the butcher, the grocer and the dry-goods dealer — indeed all classes of the populace — feel the happy influences of the welcome pay-day.

" The Jeffersonville Depot is the conception and design of Major-General M. C. Meigs, Quartermaster-General, and may justly be ranked among the proudest monuments of his enlightened and efficient administration of the Quartermaster's Department."

Charlestown, situated near the center of the county, and twelve miles north of Jeffersonville, on the Ohio and  Mississippi railroad, is the county seat. It is a smart, thriving town, of about three thousand inhabitants, and is, in every way, an honor to the county.
Source: The History of the State Of Indiana by DeWitt C. Goodrich and Prof. Charles R.Tuttle 1875


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