History of Terre Haute, Vigo Co., IN - 1880
This history is not complete - will be finished soon.
The rapid growth of American cities during the past thirty years, especially in the great valley of the Mississippi, which seemingly have sprang like magic from the ground, equipped with all the resources wealth and population, the "push" and energy which so unmistakably characterize commercial cities of greater age and slower development, is the wonder and marvel of the age.
Among the cities of Indiana which have grown into prominence within the past twenty-five years, and whose advance in trade and commerce challenge the admiration of her rivals and has excited the jeolousy of some, is Terre Haute, beautifully situated on the east bank of the Wabash river, in Vigo county, on a high, level plateau about fifty feet above the river surface.
Its name is derived from the French "terre," land, and "haute," high, signifying "high land." This name was bestowed by the early explorers not so much on account of its elevation above the surrounding country as from the fact that this is the only high ground approaching the river for a distance of several miles. For this reason the first royageurs, in ascending the Wabash and preceiving the bold outline of the bank, named it "Terre Haute."
In attempting to write the history of this small area called Terre Haute, we find it nearly impossible to seperate the general history of the wide region around from the local interest attaching to the spot under consideration.
The trials and dangers incident to the early settlement of this section do not differ materially from the experiences of settlers in other sections of our common country. Not much more than a half century has passed since the history of this locality, so far as real progress is concerned, began; but what wonderful changes have occurred. Then the few people in this region lived in log cabins, utterly devoid of any adornment, and in many cases wanting in the common necessaries of life. One side of the only room was taken up by the huge fire-place, before which the simple fare of "corn bread" and venison was cooked, and around which in the evening the family, and perchance the "stranger," congregated. This one room was the parlor, kitchen, dining-room and bed-room. The furniture consisted of a few splint-bottomed chairs of the simplest kind, made with such tools as axe, auger and heavy pocket or hunting knife; bedsteads and table of the same kind, and a scanty supply of cooking utensils, among which the skillet and "Dutch oven" were indispensible. The "puncheon" floors were uncarpeted, and the walls were festooned with bunches of herbs, ears of corn "traced" up, and the rifle and powder-horn. Often the only glass in the windows (of which there were sometimes two) was oiled or greased paper, and the entire library consisted of a bible and almanac. A tallow dip - an article now almost wholly unknown - furnished the only artificial light.
Terre Haute was laid out and platted in the fall of 1816, by the "Terre Haute Land Company." The company consisted of Cuthbert and Thomas BULLETT, of Louisville, Kentucky; Abraham MARKLE, of Fort Harrison; Hyacinth La SALLE, of Vincennes, and Jonathan LINDLEY, of Orange county, Indiana. The articles of organization bear date September 19, 1816. This company held patents from the United States to "thirteen tracts of land on the Wabash river in the vicinity of Fort Harrison." All titles to lots in this purchase are derived from these men as original proprietors. These lands were divided into twelve shares, of which LINDLEY had four, MARKLE had three, La SALLE had three, and the BULLETTs had two. The first sale of lots took place on October 31, 1816, and the settlement commenced immediately. The original site for the town was a spot some three miles below the present location, but it was soon abandoned for the present more desirable one. Probably one of the principal reasons for making this change was that the national road, already projected, would cross the Wabash at this point.
In 1817 the new town presented a truly pioneer appearance. There were only a few log cabins scattered along the river, and these were of the rudest description. But in 1818, when the county seat was established here, new life was infused into the inhabitants, and the settlement at once began to improve. In January, 1818, Vigo county was organized, and as an inducement to locate the county seat at Terre Haute the proprietors deeded to the county some eighty lots, besides the public square, and paid into the county treasury $4,000. In this intelligent action of these proprietors we see the character of the men who founded the town, and the immediate result of this sagacity was the impulse given toward that prosperity which has since continued to be manifested in an increasing ratio.
The original site extended from the river east to the west side of Fifth street, and from the north side of Oak on the south to the south side of Eagle street on the north. The lots were numbered from 1 to 308. The street usually called "Third" is named "Market" on the plat. "Main" street was named "Wabash." A piece of land at the southwest corner of Fourth and Mulberry streets, of the area of two lots, is not numbered on the original plat, but marked "Seminary lots." All east and west streets are sixty-five feet wide except Wabash, which is eighty-one and a half feet. The streets extending north and south are the same width as Wabash, except Market, which is ninety-nine feet wide. Fifth, Sixth and Seventh streets are sixty-five feet in width. These streets bounded the out-lots, of which there were seventy-two. What was called the "county road" was identical with Eighth street.
The "highland" on which Terre Haute is situated is not in outline a bluff, but a gently undulating plateau, the surface sloping somewhat upward from the river as far as Sixth street, where it very gently descends until about Ninth street, from which line it seems to maintain a general level for some distance in the same direction. The surface also descends both northwesterly and southwesterly. The ground upon which the Normal-school building stands is one of the highest points in the city. On the south, at a distance of nearly a mile from Main street, is a beautiful elevation called "Strawberry Hill," covered with a grove of natural and transplanted trees. From this elevation the surface gradually descends in an easterly and southerly direction into what was once the valley of Lost creek. Certainly no more beautiful location could have been chosen for the "Prairie City." Originally, a belt of heavy timber and a tangled growth of underbrush and vines extended along the river bank, reaching westward as far as Sixth street, where it met the prairie, which in turn extended to the "Bluff." The stranger who now traverses the thronged streets of this busy city would hardly suspect that men are now living who assisted in clearing away this natural growth; yet Mr. Henry ROSS says that on one occasion, in endeavoring to make his way homeward on a dark evening, about where market street now runs, he lost his way in the tangled undergrowth, and could not find the path he had followed until a friendly lantern, carried by a neighbor, made its appearance, shedding its welcome light on the surrounding gloom. Many of the older citizens have vivid recollections of squirrel shooting in the woods where Sixth street now runs. Mrs. Chauncey WARREN distinctly remembers the beautiful bank bordering the river, with its grass and flowers and large trees. Where busy streets and magnificent business blocks are now seen, once waved the tall prairie grass, in which a horse could be hidden.
The soil is dry and porous, sufficiently rolling to secure good drainage, and is not easily worked into mud, even after long-continued rains. No city in the state has a more desirable location, both as to beauty and healthfulness, yet this healthful condition was not fully secured until the morasses on the east and south, known as Lost creek, had been thoroughly drained. The venerable Mr. SPARKS says that when he first came to Terre Haute he could almost swim his horse across the lower ground southeast of Strawberry Hill.
The earliest reliable and detailed knowledge of the section of the country we are considering is derived chiefly from the reports of Gen. HARRISON and the officers and men serving under him, in their operations against the Indians previous to 1815. Dillian's History of Indiana says: "The army under command of Gen. Harrison moved from Vincennes September 26, 1811, and on the 3d of October * * * encamped at the place where Fort Harrison was afterward built. This place of encampment was selected on the eastern bank of the Wabash, at a point about two miles above an old Wea village that stood on a prairie where Terre Haute now stands." We thus discover that some of the reasons that induced settlement at this point were such as could be appreciated by savages, who had selected the place as a site for one of their villages long years before the advent of the white man.
Perhaps these and other reasons cannot be more concisely set forth than by quoting from Rev. Blackford Condit (Historical discourse delivered December 27, 1873): "The town of Terre Haute was organized in 1816, the same year the state was received into the Federal Union. The life of the town began, therefore, with the life of the state. Situated a thousand miles from the sea-coast, with no highway of intercourse, and no approach even, excepting by the back door of Vincennes, by way of Cincinnati, in a region of interminable forests - in a region subject to the incursions of the Indians - little could have been expected by those who located in the town. Yet, from the very beginning, there was much that was encouraging. In 1815, the year previous to the laying out of the town, a settled peace had been concluded with the Indians. At this time permanent settlers, attracted by the richness of the soil, were pouring into the state with unexampled rapidity. And then the town, on account of the beauty of its location, had its attractions. Situated on the east side of the Wabash, sixty feet from the level of the river, on a rolling prairie of some nine miles in length and three miles in breadth, the river furnishing an outlet for trade; and then the location was geographically on the direct line of travel from the east to the far unexplored west, which very soon appeared where the great national road was projected. So that, from the beginning, our town had its geographical advantages and local attractions. And not the least among the latter was the character of the first inhabitants of the place, for while the early settlements on the frontier at that time were characterized by ignorance and rowdyism, comparatively the early settlement of Terre Haute was characterized by its intelligence, good order, and by a certain gentility that has always marked the place. And then for years afterward the internal improvements, such as the National road, of which mention has been made, and the Wabash and Erie canal, made Terre Haute a center of attraction for enterprising men." The first settlement on Fort Harrison prairie we find were made about the fort, chiefly for the protection afforded by the presence of United States troops. These settlements gradually extended as the fear of the Indians decreased.
The first person to turn a furrow on this prairie, and to raise a crop of corn, was Joseph LISTON. Mr. LISTON says, "In the year 1811 I turned the first furrow that was plowed in what is now called Vigo county, on the road leading from Terre Haute to Lockport, on what is represented as the DEAN farm. I, with my father, Edmund LISTON, William G. ADAMS, William DRAKE, Reuben MOORE and Martin ADAMS broke, fenced and planted seventy-five acres of corn, and sold the corn raised to HARRISON's army while building the fort near the Wabash. Since that time I have not been absent from Vigo county to exceed four months at any one time. During that time I was engaged through the war in pursuing Indians who were committing depredations on the settlement below, and in burying the dead, who were killed by them. Isaac LAMBERT, John DICKSON, a Mr. HUDSON, CHATRY and MALLORY, all cultivated the lands under protection of the fort." Some, at least, of those named by Mr. LISTON, had been, or were at the time mentioned, soldiers, who, after their discharge, settled upon these fertile lands.
Among the first settlers in Terre Haute were Dr. CHARLES B. MODESITT, Lewis HODGE, Henry REDFORD, Robert CARR, John EARLE, Abner SCOTT, Ezekiel BUXTON, and perhaps a few others, all of whom came in 1816. Dr. MODESITT built the first log house, which also was the first house of any kind erected in Terre Haute. This house stood on the southwest corner of Water and Ohio streets; the logs were not hewed.
Dr. MODESITT came from Virginia with his wife and child on horseback. This child, then about four years of age, afterward married Mr. Chauncey WARREN. The only road was an Indian trail. Dr. MODESITT has been educated for a physician. He was a man of medium size, imposing presence and courteous manners, and was said to be a fine speciman of the old Virginia gentleman; his wife was also of an old Virginia family. At the close of the war of 1812, general attention was directed to the Far West, then known as the "Wabash" country, and Dr. MODESITT was one of those who turned his steps in that direction. He came to Terre Haute and made extensive purchases of lots at the time of the first sale. The only inhabitants were Indians and soldiers at Fort Harrison. Having made these purchases he returned for his family. Dr. MODESITT was the first physician located in Terre Haute, and practiced his profession over a wide region, frequently riding fifty miles to visit the sick. He built a two-story hewed log house on the corner of Third and Poplar streets. His son James was born in 1821. Mr. MODESITT established a ferry across the Wabash in 1818. The ferry-boat was an ordinary flat-boat, propelled by poles when the water was low, and by oars when necessary. Mr. MODESITT was a man of great energy and perseverance. He died in 1847.
In the absence of mills, he constructed a mortar for pounding corn. This primitive mill was resorted to by many, and was in constant use until better facilities were obtained.
Earlier than any yet mentioned who came to Terre Haute was CURTIS GILBERT. He emigrated to Indiana when nineteen years old, landing at the present site of the town on December 24, 1814, two years before the town was laid out. Mr. GILBERT built the first frame house erected in Terre Haute. This house is still standing on its original site, the northwest corner of Ohio and Water streets. He was a residence of Terre Haute for sixty-three years. He died October 30, 1877. Mr. GILBERT was the first clerk of Vigo county, and he was elected for three successive terms, thus serving in this office for twenty-one years. The duties of the office at that time included also those of auditor and recorder, and the records of the county during that time are as precise and beautiful as copper-plate; they form a very valuable part of the county archives. His long and active life is without a stain. He was prominent in the organization of the branch of the state bank of Indiana, established in this city in 1832, and was for many years its president. In 1852 the branch of the Bank of the State of Indiana was organized, of which at one time he was president. His name is associated very prominently with the early history of Vigo county.
The others whose names have been mentioned erected houses, generally of logs. John EARLE built a story-and-a-half house, part logs and part frame, on the corner of Water and Poplar streets. He opened the first store in Terre Haute on Poplar street.
Lewis HODGE built a log house on the corner of Fourth and Oak streets.
In 1817 Henry REDFORD erected a building on the southeast corner of First and Wabash (now called Main) streets. This building afterward became famous as the "Eagle and Lion" tavern. It is described as having a front porch extending the entire length of the building. It was at first a two-story hewed-log house; afterward a frame addition was made, when the old part was weather-boarded. This tavern was an "imposing" affair, and a place of great resort. All kinds of gatherings, political, social and religious, were held there. The first court convened in Vigo county was held in the bar-room. All the early associations of Terre Haute cluster around its "classic presincts." It was headquarters for all the notable characters of the times. The "sign" consisted of an eagle and a lion, hence the name. It stood as late as 1860. McQUILKIN's (who built subsequently) was called the "Light Horse" tavern, also named for its sign. It was a rival of the Eagle and Lion.
At that time tavern keepers were obliged to take out a regular license, application to be made to the board of county commissioners. The board at this time (1818) consisted of John HAMILTON, Isaac LAMBERT and Ezra JONES. By direction of the board, tavern keepers were permitted to make the following charges: "For a meal of victuals, twenty-five cents; for a night's lodging, twelve and a half cents; for one-half pint of whiskey, twelve and a half cents; for one-half pint of rum, thirty-seven and a half cents; for one-half pint of brandy or wine, fifty cents; for one-half pint of gin, eighteen and three-quarter cents; for boarding, per week, $2.50; for horse-feed, hay, per night, twenty-five cents; for oats per gallon, twenty-five cents; for corn, twelve and a half cents." We also give in this connection the rate of taxation assessed by this board: "On first rate land, per 100 acres, fifty cents; on second rate, forty-three and three-quarter cents; on third rate, thirteen and one-quarter cents; on every horse, mule, mare or ass, over three years old, thirty-seven and a half cents; for every tavern, $20; for every ferry, $5." Town lots were assessed fifty cents on each hundred dollars valuation. L.H. SCOTT was appointed the first county agent, under bond of $25,000.
Other early settlers, who came in 1818, or previous to that date, were Robert S. McCABE, John BAILY, Adam WEAVER, Nicholas YEAGER, Samuel McQUILKIN, John HARRIS, Malcomb McFADDEN, Wm. HAYNES, Richard JACQUESS, Robert BRASHER, Nathan KIRK, Robert KERR, Gideon SLEEPER, Ichabod WOOD, John BRITTON, Lucius H. SCOTT and John OSBORN. Also in 1818 we find the names of Dr. E. ASPINWALL, Dr. DAVENPORT, Lewis B. LAWRENCE and Chauncey ROSE. There must have been others, as David BARNES and Judge Randolph H. WEDDING, Demas DEMING, Nathaniel HUNTINGTON and Isaac LAMBERT, but it is impossible at this day to fix all these dates accurately.
We cannot, however, omit to mention the names of two gentlemen who settled at Fort Harrison in 1816 - Joseph RICHARDSON and Abraham MARKLE.
In 1820 we find among the arrivals at the new city the names of Francis CUNNINGHAM, Levi G. and Chauncey WARREN. Earlier than these were Caleb CRAWFORD, John M. COLMAN, Ezra JONES, Capt. Daniel STRINGHAM and Maj. John BOND.
Mr. COLMAN was the first postmaster. He lived out of town, at Colman's Grove, and walked in and out every day, a distance of two miles. Tradition does not inform us whether he carried the office in his hat or not.
Among the earliest acts of the county commissioners, after the organization of the county early in 1818, was the construction of a court-house on the public square, in the town of Terre Haute. We learn from the county records of that date who were the contractors. We find such enteries as this: "May 13, 1818. Nathaniel HUNTINGTON was allowed $10 for drawing bonds." "Wm. DURHAM was allowed $400 in part payment for building walls for court-house." "Elihu HOVEY and John BROCKLEBANK, $300 in part payment for building court-house;" also, "John M. COLEMAN, $350 in part payment for building foundation, walls and piers of court-house." In short, we find that John M. COLMAN built the foundations, Wm. DURHAM built the walls, and HOVEY and BROCKLEBANK did the woodwork. It is exceedingly interesting to read of the doings of those who were so prominent in the "olden time," and as showing the contrast in amount of fees charged then and now, we see that "Lucius H. SCOTT was allowed $3 for three days' service as deputy sheriff and bailiff" at the July term of the circuit court, 1818. For two days' service John BRITTON received $2; so that the court officers were paid at the rate of $1 per day, while the county commissioners received $2 per day for actual service. The associate justices of the circuit court also received $2 per day. Jonathan DOTY received the sum of $66.66 for services as prosecuting attorney. John EARLE, who, it seems, dealt in liquors as well as general merchandise, was allowed $3.25 for liquors furnished county officers at sale of lots in Terre Haute. This sale of lots referred to was doubtless the second sale that took place in May, 1818. The lots sold were those that had been donated to the county by the Terre Haute Land Company. This sale was a successful one, but soon after the value of lots began to decline, and in 1821, when a final sale of the company's property took place, it had declined full fifty per cent, and severely affected those who had previously made large purchases.
We will give but two more quotations from the old record. "November 10, 1818. Henry REDFORD was allowed $60 part payment for building a jail in Terre Haute," and "Charles B. MODESITT was allowed $25 for clearing off the public square." The jail spoken of was the first jail built in Vigo county, and stood on the south side of Swan street, between First and Second.
It may be remarked in passing, that the court-house built in 1818-22 stood until about 1868, when, becoming unfit for further use, it was torn down. The present county building, on the northeast corner of Third and Ohio streets, was erected in 1866.
Perhaps no clearer idea of the character of these times can be conveyed to the minds of the present generation than to briefly record the utterances of those who were themselves actors in those stirring times. James LEE said, at the old settlers' meeting, September 11, 1877, that he came to Vigo county in 1818, and helped clear the public square, cutting trees measuring three feet at the butt. He also says that he was the first person who received a marriage license in this county. He says further, "The 'redmen' stole our stock and we had many a scrimmage with them around Terre Haute. Vincennes was the nearest point where we could obtain groceries, and we ground our wheat and corn in mortars. I helped make the first road to Connersville, then a howling wilderness."
In a letter written years afterward, Lucius H. SCOTT says: "June 6, 1817, in company with John W. OSBORN, I arrived at Vincennes, after a journey of nearly two months, from St. Lawrence county, N.Y. OSBORN being a printer, readily obtained work in Elihu STOUT's printing office, in Vincennes, but after spending three weeks vainly looking for something to do, I determined to seek my fortune higher up the Wabash valley, and set out on foot for the newly laid out town of Terre Haute. In Vincennes I had met and formed acquaintance with John BRITTON, who had been to Terre Haute, and was then making his temporary home at the house of Daniel BARNES, a small log cabin situated on Sec. 16, at the edge of the prairie not far from the present cemetery. Having to walk the whole distance from Vincennes, and carrying my bundle, I made slow progress, and was nearly three days upon the journey. I found my new friend BRITTON as I expected, and was kindly received by him and his family; but as the cabin was small, and I found the family were not in a condition to receive an additional boarder, I determined to make my stay as brief as possible. I had introductory letters from Vincennes to Maj. CHUNN and his officers at Fort Harrison, and to Maj. MARKLE at Otter creek, which I determined to lose no time in delivering. Accordingly, the second day after my arrival I visited the fort and found the officers at their quarters. Nothing could exceed the kindness and hospitality with which they received me, the major insisting upon my making my home at the fort until I found some kind of employment. Situated as I was, I most gratefully accepted his hospitality, and removed my scanty baggage to the fort. In a day or two I set out in the early summer morning to cross the prairie to deliver my letters to Maj. MARKLE. I missed the track, and went to Otter creek bridge. I was conscious of my error, but the beauty of the morning led me on until I found myself standing on an eminence in the midst of Otter creek prairie. On casting my eye over the broad expanse, not a tree or fence or other indication of home or civilization presented itself to view, but all was one boundless, magnificent bed of beautifully variegated flowers.
"I stood and gazed until my reason failed, and when about to retrace my steps my eye caught the glimpse of a thin column of smoke curling up among the trees in a distant corner of the prairie. I made my way to it and found a family in a small log cabin, which they had as yet occupied too short a time to have made any improvements around them. I obtained directions which enabled me, without further difficulty, to find my destination. The major was at home and received me with that frank and graceful hospitality for which he was so widely celebrated. * * * I thought him the most magnificent specimen of manhood I had ever seen."
From the remainder of Mr. SCOTT's letter it would seem that a question had arisen who built the first tavern in Terre Haute. Mr. SCOTT says that Henry REDFORD had just erected his house, and that this was the first tavern ever opened in Terre Haute. The house was afterward kept by Robert HARRISON, and still later by Capt. WASSON, and known as the Eagle and Lion.
The following is a vivid sketch of the manner in which the Fourth of July, 1817 (the first recurrence of this day since the founding of Terre Haute), was celebrated. * * * This was about the 28th of June, 1817. Henry REDFORD was finishing a large hewn log house, which afterward constituted a part of the far-famed Eagle and Lion tavern. The roof was on and the floors laid, and great efforts were making to prepare it for the reception of the large company expected there to participate in the festivities of our national holiday, on the ensuing Fourth. The Fourth arrived, and so did the company; and a gay and merry time was had. Major CHUNN, with his officers, Lieuts. STURGIS and FLOYD, Drs. CLARK and McCULLOUGH, with several other gentlemen,--and ladies, too,--residing at the fort, with the few scattered families of the neighborhood, made up a party of fifty or sixty gentlemen and more than half that number of ladies. Some young people came from Shaker Prairie; the military band was on hand from the fort, including 'Billy' HOGUE, with his fiddle. The 'medicine chest' had yielded certain necessary stores. The 'Declaration' was read, speeches were made, a good dinner was eaten, followed by a ball at night, prolonged until the beautiful, unbroken prairie began to glimmer in the bright beams of the morning sun.
"Thus passed the first Fourth of July ever celebrated in Terre Haute." The above is probably taken from a letter of L.H. SCOTT, who, in speaking of this early time, says for want of something to do he opened a school at Honey creek, the settlers building a small log cabin for that purpose; but sickness defeated all his plans, and he was finally obliged to go to Vincennes to recruit his wasted health. As soon as his health was restored, he was waited on by Mr. George A. WASSON, of the firm of Wasson & Sayre, who desired him to go to Terre Haute and take charge of a lot of goods which they would send, rent and fit up a room, etc. He did so. The goods were to be sent by water from Vincennes. SCOTT rented a room of Dr. MODESITT, the goods were opened, and sales commenced on the 1st day of January, 1818. These were the first goods ever opened for sale in Terre Haute. John EARLE did not arrive until the following autumn. Mr. SCOTT claims to have established himself in Terre Haute in November, 1817, and this he considered his permanent home, although for business purposes he spent nearly four years at Roseville, and, with the exception of the sons of Dr. MODESITT, and their sister, Mrs. Chauncey WARREN,--who were small children at that time,--he knows of no living person living (1858) who was as early a resident as himself. He was afterward elected sheriff of Vigo county, and claims to be the first who ever held that office by election by the people. After his return from Roseville, in the spring of 1826, he, in 1827, erected the brick house southwest corner of Ohio and Market streets, which was the first brick dwelling ever erected in Terre Haute. This building is still standing, and known as "Scott's old corner."
The frame house built by Mr. GILBERT in 1818 was on lot 256. It was raised a short time before Lewis B. LAWRENCE and SCOTT put up their offices on lot 224, corner of Ohio and First, but theirs was first finished; and the first lath (sic) and plastering ever done in Terre Haute was done on that building. In 1820 Mr. ROSE was building his mill on Raccoon creek at Roseville. Mr. Chauncey WARREN was living in that neighborhood, engaged in distilling. In speaking of the first steamboat, the Florence, that landed at Terre Haute, he says that she was chartered and loaded by Wm. C. LINTON, as was also the Ploughboy the following year.
It may be mentioned here that Mr. SCOTT was elected in 1822 a member of the Indiana legislature.
HISTORY OF VIGO AND PARKE COUNTIES, Together With Historic Notes on the Wabash Valley
H.W. Beckwith - 1880
Terre Haute, pp. 30-41
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Terre Haute & Harrison Twp. biographies.
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