Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Locating a Capitol City for Indiana

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Sept. 2016 No 140)
2016 Indiana Bicentennial Commission Legacy Endorsed Project

Locating a Capitol City for Indiana

In 1816, when Indiana entered the Union, Corydon was designated as the first state capital.  In those early Territory days, pioneer settlers had clustered together on the lands in proximity with the Ohio River. An Indiana Assembly had petitioned Congress for statehood in 1811, but its appeal was not approved. The want-to-be state of Indiana registered a meager 24,520 population in the 1810 census. Northwest Territory guidelines required a population of 60,000 before a territory qualified for adopting a constitution and joining the Union

 Jonathan Jennings, the territorial delegate was a central political figure of the Indiana Territory since 1809 and a significant player in the movement for statehood.  He was from Charleston near New Albany, IndianaJennings was the successor of William Henry Harrison, across the state to the west who had set Vincennes as the seat of the Indiana Territory.  Corydon had a geographical advantage being situated at the near center to the south at the bottom of the Territorial border.

A second request for statehood was made in 1815 as Indiana’s population had increased to 63,897 moving Congress to pass an enabling act in April 1816 and called for a constitutional convention.  The convention took place the following June at Corydon conveniently located for those who travelled to the event. Indiana was well on its way to join Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana following the original thirteen United States.

After Indiana was admitted, the governor appointed a ten-member Commission to select and locate a site for a new state capitol.  Among the Commissioners named was John Tipton who later served as the Indian Agent at Fort Wayne.  Several towns petitioned for the honor and each location was visited by the Commissioners.  Some of the sites included Vincennes, Corydon, Madison, Terre Haute, Strawtown and Indianapolis

Locations were narrowed down to the wooded area near the junction of Fall Creek and the White River.  The other finalist according to M.W. Pershing’s biography of John Tipton was Strawtown. The influential William Conner strongly supported Strawtown, however, Tipton was favorable to Indianapolis, “and to head off further discussion and delay, he made a motion that Indianapolis be made the site of the new capital.” When the vote was cast and counted, Indianapolis positioned at the center of the state was selected.

History writer Alan McPherson reminds us that the name Indianapolis is derived from “Indian” attached to “polis” the Greek word for city. The name Marion was chosen for the county to celebrate Brigadier General Francis Marion known as the “Swamp Fox” and hero of the Revolutionary War.  By 1824 the legislature authorized building a temporary structure to serve as a courthouse enabling State Treasurer Samuel Morrill to move the records from Corydon to the new location.  In January 1821, the legislators first met there and by 1835 a new capital building was erected.

Having lived in northern Indiana as a lifelong Hoosier, it is not uncommon to have heard the lamenting that our state capital is at such a distance to travel.  In 1998 while serving on the project team charged with planning a new Indiana State Museum building the question of where it should be located was laid on the table for a vote. Where else should it go? North central at Logansport or Peru is too far north for the people to travel living in Evansville, Tell City or Madison.  Place it in Bloomington or Columbus and it’s too distant from Fort Wayne, South Bend or Gary. Back in 1821, the Commission, charged with locating the seat of government found Indianapolis geographically offers a greater, if not more equitable, access to most Hoosiers. When Indiana gained statehood, her population was concentrated across southern reaches of the state.  As a capital, centrally placed Indianapolis is as practical for today’s Hoosiers as was the southern community of Corydon back in 1816.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com. and “Blogging Hoosier History” at Indiana Historical Bureau’s blog.history.in.gov.


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