The first settlement made in Vigo county was around Fort Harrison. The march of Harrison's army to the Upper Wabash, the battle of Tippecanoe and the establishment of Fort Harrison, seemed to impress the people of the "West with the importance of this region of country, and soon after the close of the war of 1812, public attention was drawn toward it. The Indians of the Wabash, who had been mainly hostile during the war, were far from being reconciled to peace, and the surveys of the land in that section were not only opposed by them, but frequently interrupted; and in the spring of 1815 a company of Rangers, on Busseron creek, were defeated and dispersed by Indians, and a number of children taken prisoners, who were never recovered.
At the close of the war, in 1814, an act was passed by Congress granting lands to certain Canadian volunteers, who had been citizens of the United States, but who had during the war joined our forces, and whose property in Canada had been confiscated in consequence. This act permitted these lands to be located in the Land District which included Vigo county, even before the public sale. The sale was announced to take place in June, 1816, and in anticipation of this many settlers, in the early spring of that year, had resorted hither and selected favorite spots, with the intention of purchasing at the sale, and several had erected log houses thereon; but previous to the sale, their lands so selected, together with a large proportion of the most valuable of the county, were located by the claims referred to. This so disheartened and discouraged the early settlers that many left and located on the eastern border of the Great Prairie, in Illinois. This, together with the unconcilatory bearing of many of the prominent Canadian settlers, engendered hostile feeling, which, for years, it seemed impossible to allay, and which tended greatly to retard the settlement of the country.
In 1815, Fort Harrison was garrisoned by a rifle regiment under the command of Major W. Morgan. In this year he rebuilt the fort. In the following year this regiment was ordered west, and the garrison succeeded by a company from Fort Knox, under command of Major John T. Chunn, who had command of the fort up to the summer of 1817, when he was ordered to Detroit and the post finally abandoned as a military fortification.
The early settlers at the fort, in 1815, were Isaac Lambort, John Dickson, Joseph Dickson and John Handy. These then were the only reputed settlers north of Turman's creek, or Fort Turman, as it was then called. The Indian traders at the fort in 1815, were John A. LaFonde, John Eolland, A. Dashney and Pierro Laplant. Mitchell Bronillet was the Indian agent and also the interpreter.
The early settlers around Fort Harrison prairie, were Mr. Lane, at Strawberry Hill; R. Blackman, Thos. Packet, and some others, at the ravine near Hiram Smith's place; a Mr. Austin, on the hill now occupied by Joseph Gilbert; John M. Coleman, at the Early Grove; Capt. John Hamilton, at the old Dawson place; Peter Allen, two miles east of the fort; Maj. Markle, at the mill; Truman Blackman, also east of the fort; Caleb Crawford, Ecbert Graham and Solomon Taverbaugh, at Otter creek; Alexander Chamberlin and Elisha U. Brown, on the bluff north of the Hovey Creek Locks; Isaac Lambert, John Dickson, George Clem, Moses Hoggatt, Ecbert Hopkins, William Walker, and others, on Hovey creek, and Ezra Jones, at the Wallace farm.
In the fall of 1816 the town of Terre Haute was laid out, and the first sale of lots took place on the thirty first of October, of that year, and its settlement commenced immediately thereafter. Dr. Charles B. Modesitt, who had lately come on from Virginia, and who then resided near the fort, was perhaps the first to settle at Terre Haute. He built a log cabin on the alley, on lot No. 257, at the mouth of Ohio street. Soon thereafter followed Lewis Hodge, Robert S. McCabe, John Bailey, Adam Weaver, Nicholas Yeager, Samuel McQuilkin, Henry Redford, John Harris, Malcom McFadden, Wm. Haynes, Richard Jaques, Robert Brasher, Nathan Kirk, Robert Kerr, Gideon Sleeper, Ichabod Wood, John Britton and Lucius H. Scott, and in 1818, came Dr. E. Aspinwall, Dr. Davenport, Lewis B. Lawrence, Demas Dening and Chauncy Rose, who had the year previous been at the fort. These persons, with but two exceptions, have finished their labors and gone to rest.
The second sale of lots took place in May, 1818. It was made by the county, of lots donated by the original proprietors, on account of the seat of justice being established there. The sale was, in all respects, a good success, but from this period the value of lots began to decline, and in 1821, when a final sale of the company's property took place, it had declined more than fifty per cent., and had severely affected those who had made large purchases.
In 1820, the river became remarkably low, the wells were all dried up, and general sickness prevailed, and not a family escaped. Many deaths occurred, taking oft" some of the most prominent citizens, including Dr. Aspinwall, Dr. Davenport, Lewis B. Lawrence, Samuel Hill, a Miss Collett, and Mrs. Hussey. This seemed to strike a fatal blow to the health of Terre Haute, which was felt for years, and from which it did not fully recover until after the draining of Lost creek, in 1837. This creek, previous to being drained, had washed down the prairie east and south of the city, creating an immense morass of several hundred acres, without any outlet except by absorption and evaporation.
As already mentioned, nearly all of the first settlers of Vigo county have passed away. The first white male child born in the county was William Earl, who became a successful navigator in foreign seas. He was born in Terre Haute, September 22, 1818. The first female child born here was Mary McFadden, now Widow Markle, of Terre Haute.
Vigo county was organized in 1818, and the first county officers were: Curtis Gilbert, clerk and recorder; Truman Blackman, sheriff; Alexander Barnes, coroner; Moses Haggett and James Barnes, associate judges; John Hamilton, Isaac Lambert and Ezra Jones, county commissioners.
The first session of the circuit court held in the county, was commenced April twenty seventh, 1818, and was conducted by the associate judges, at the house of Truman Blackman. The county was then attached to the first judicial circuit. The first attorneys were George E. 0. Sullivan, Samuel Whittlesey, Jonathan Doty, and Wm. P. Bennett. The regular term of court in 1819 was held at the house of Richard Bedford, in Terre Haute, by Hon. Thomas H. Blake, presiding judge.
The first court house was erected on the public square in Terre Haute, in 1821-2. It was built for the county by Mr. John Brocklebank. In 1868, becoming unfit for use, it was torn down. The present building occupied by the county offices, was erected in 1866. The following persons have been judges of the circuit court of Vigo county since its organization, in the order named: Thomas H. Blake, Gen. W. Johnson, John E. Potter, David McDonald, John Law, Elisha H. Huntington, Amory Kinney, Delaney E. Eckels, Wm. P. Bryant, James Hughes, Solomon Claypool, E. W. Thompson, and C. Y. Patterson.
The old judicial system required associate judges
to set in the circuit courts, and also probate judges, without
separate jurisdiction; but in 1851 the system was changed by a
revision of the constitution of the State into circuit courts and
courts of common pleas. This system continued until 1872, when the
legislature dispensed with the courts of common pleas, since which
time all business has been done by the circuit courts.
The City of Terre Haute, one of the largest and most flourishing business centres in the State, is beautifully situated, and, with the possible exception of Evansville, is the handsomest city in Indiana. It is situated on the eastern banks of the Wabash river, and is, of course, the county seat of Vigo county. It derived its name (which signifies high land), from the site on which it is located, being elevated about fifty feet above the level of the river, on a rolling table land, which extends back to the adjoining prairie. Terre Haute is admirably laid out, and has quite a metropolitan appearance. Many of the business houses are among the largest in the State, and the principal thoroughfares will compare favorably with those of any city in the west.
The town of Terre Haute was laid out in 1816, by a company styled the Terre Haute Company. The company consisted of Cuthbert and Thomas Bullitt, of Louisville, Kentucky; Abraham Markle, of Fort Harrison ; Hyacinth LaSalle, of Vincennes; and Jonathan Lindley, of Orange county, Indiana. The articles of association of the company bear date of September nineteenth, 1816. The company held patents from the United States to lands described in their articles as " thirteen tracts of land on the river Wabash, in the vicinity of Fort Harrison." These lands were divided into twelve shares, of which Lindley had four, Markle three, LaSalle three, and the Bullitts two. They were the original proprietors, from whom the first title to lots were derived.
The original site selected for the town was a spot some three miles below the present location, but it was soon abandoned for the more desirable situation now occupied. One of the principal objects, however, in moving was that the national road crossed the Wabash at the latter point. In 1817, this town presented a truly pioneer appearance. There were only a few log cabins, situated along the river, and these were of the rudest style of architecture. But in 1818, when the town was made the county seat, there was a new life diffused among the somewhat dull inhabitants, and the village settlement improved. The company referred to, that laid out the town, deeded to the county eighty lots, besides the public square, and paid into the county treasurer four thousand dollars in cash and mortgage bonds. These liberal inducements secured the location of the county seat at Terre Haute. The spirit of liberality, as well as the location of the county seat at Terre Haute, was instrumental in creating a new feeling of enterprise.
The first settlers of Terre Haute were Dr. C. B. Modesitt, Lewis Hodge, Henry Reedford, Robert Carr, John Earle, Abner Scott, Ezekiel Buxton, and William Ramage. These pioneers settled in 1816, and built the first cabins in the town. The settlement grew very slow, at first, from the causes noted in the previous chapter; but, in 1823-4, it took a new start, and has prospered until the present.
Terre Haute was incorporated as a town in 1832. The town was divided into five wards, and one trustee elected from each. These trustees elected the first municipal officers of the town as follows : James B. McCall, president; James T. Moffat, clerk; Charles B. Taylor, assessor; Samuel Crawford, treasurer William Mars, constable and collector.
In 1838, a new charter was granted to the town by the Legislature,
which provided for the election of a mayor and ten councilmen. This
charter was adopted by the inhabitants in March, 1838, and, in the May
following, an election was held, which resulted in the election of
Elijah Tillotson as the first mayor of the town.
In 1853, Terre Haute was incorporated as a city under the general laws of the State, and the first city election was held in May, 1853, at which William K. Edwards was chosen the first mayor.
Present Condition. A popular city directory, of recent date, gives the population of Terre Haute at 28,000. This is, probably, a little too high. It is about 23,500, or, perhaps, 24,000. The census of 1870 places it at a little more than 16,000 at that date. The growth since then, however, has been marvelous. No city in Indiana has made greater progress in all material interests. Only ten years ago Terre Haute was but an agricultural town, " and had," says a recent writer, " reached about the height in population and business usually attained by towns whose chief dependence is on the farming interests immediately around them; but, by a system of expansion through railroads, manufacturing interests, and wholesale business, the area of its influence and resources has been greatly extended, so that now Terre Haute draws its sustenance and wealth from a wide extent of country, and from many cities connected with it by its numerous railroads. As the country itself is inexhaustible, and the channels of trade and communication are already fixed, like the veins and arteries which circulate the blood through the human system, we may expect no premature decay or death of a city which has become the vital center of so extensive a commercial and business system". The business interests of the city are increasing every year. Some of the largest wholesale houses are located there. The manufacturing interest of the city is represented by blast furnaces, with a capacity of fifty tons of iron daily; nail works, 3,000 kegs, weekly; waterworks, 3,000,000 gallons, daily; a successful rolling mill, and other very extensive establishments. Terre Haute is fast becoming one of the leading manufacturing cities of the west.
The schools and churches of Terre Haute, and, indeed, the whole of Vigo county, are in a high and efficient condition. In the various professions are found men of superior talent and education, under whose care the schools and churches have attained the highest degree of usefulness.
The State Normal School is located there. The building is one of the finest in the United States, having a capacity of accommodating over a thousand pupils. This institution has already achieved a national good name, and is fast becoming the pride of Indiana.
Another educational institution is now being
established in Terre Haute, which has already elicited the attention
of the philanthropic citizens of half the world. We refer to the "
Terre Haute School of Industrial Sciences," in support of which the
Hon. Chauncey Rose is devoting his immense fortune. In
short, Terre Haute lacks none of those higher phases of material and
intellectual enterprise that characterize the modern American city,
while, on the other hand, it excels in many of them.