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The Town of Clarksville
Clarksville History

Pre-history and History

The area surrounding Clarksville, Indiana boasts a proud heritage with diverse elements, some dating back 350 million years. This area played a major part in the story of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark and was the gathering point for the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the Louisiana Purchase. Native Americans set up camps near the area that was to become Clarksville because of its proximity to the crossing of the Buffalo Trace across the Ohio River. John James Audubon was one of several naturalists who studied the rich variety of wildlife in the area.

The Falls of the Ohio, a series of rapids along the 350 million-year-old Devonian fossil beds, created a natural stopping point for settlers and commerce moving west along the Ohio River. The rapids also created a natural defense for Gen. George Rogers Clark and the families of the troops he gathered for an assault on the British forces in 1778 and 1779.

Clark's successful campaign against the British in the Northwest Territory was the basis of a continuous connection to the area that would become Clarksville that lasted until his death in 1818.

Immediately after the Revolutionary War, the Virginia legislature rewarded Clark and other veterans for their service with grants of land, including 150,000 acres in the territory north of the Ohio River. top of page

Establishment of the Town of Clarksville

The Town of Clarksville, which bills itself as the "Oldest American Town in the Northwest Territory", was chartered in 1783 by the Virginia legislature. The original town was composed of 1,000 acres set aside from the grant of 150,000 acres the legislature donated to George Rogers Clark and his men.

Ten trustees were named in the charter from Virginia. They were charged with the task of laying off lots of half an acre along with streets and public lots. The trustees could sell the lots and use the proceeds " such a manner as they may judge most beneficial for the inhabitants of the said town..."

The trustees were empowered to elect successors for vacancies due to death or other disability, and the trustees did not have to reside in Clarksville to serve. Although this special status of non-resident trustees was challenged at various times in Clarksville's early history as a town, the practice continued for several decades. The original Indiana State Constitution in 1816 provided a special exception for the Town of Clarksville to the requirement that officials live within the boundaries of the communities in which they hold office.

The challenges of Clarksville residents to the self-perpetuating, non-resident trustee system were resolved in the late 19th century. The ten-member board stopped meeting in 1889. However, the three-member board that replaced it still may have consisted of non-residents, as one was appointed by the Floyd County commissioners, one appointed by the Clark County commissioners and one was elected by the residents of Clarksville.

At some point between 1889 and 1937, the board changed again to five members, all residents of the town elected by its citizens. However, records of this change were lost in the 1937 flood.

Two other changes occurred to bring Clarksville government to its present structure. In 1981, the State of Indiana recodified its statutes regarding local government, including changing the structure of town boards. Boards of trustees were designated town councils with council members rather than trustees. In 1990, the Clarksville Town Council expanded its membership from five to seven. The current council consists of one member elected from each of the five voting districts and two at-large members. top of page


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