Boonville, Warrick County, Indiana *
On May 15, 1818, the official plat of Boonville was recorded by Chester Elliott, county surveyor. The town was given the name of " Boonsville," in honor of Jesse Boon,* father of Ratliff Boon, in acknowledgment of liberal donations of land which he had offered the commissioners when they were prospecting for a site on which to locate the town. The land which Mr. Boon proffered was situated one mile west of where Boonville is now.
It has been asserted and is generally believed by the people that Boonville was named after Ratliff Boon. This is a mistake. The story has obtained credence upon mere supposition, and is wholly unreliable, while, on the other hand, we have plausible reasons from the best authority for the belief that it was named after Jesse Boon. Why the commissioners refused to accept it is a mooted question.
Boonville in embryo was a town of great promise. Being centrally situated the citizens of the county were not slow to perceive its advantages. Darlington was no convenient point for the seat of justice, where it was then located, and, therefore, after the organization of the counties of Spencer on the east and Vanderburgh on the west of the territory of Warrick, the Legislature passed an act in 1818 removing the capitol of the latter county from Darlington to Boonville. This change was more satisfactory to the people and gave to Boonville an impetus which was not likely to result favorably to the progress of other villages in the county.
Darlington, the former capitol, which had risen like Aladdin's palace, now as rapidly declined, and the once promising village was converted into a farm. On the 4th, 5th and 6th of June, 1818, John Hargrave, county agent, made the first sale of town lots at public auction. There was a lively demand for property in the new capital, and consequently the value of it was greatly enhanced. A large number were present at this sale, some from abroad, and, it is said, there was close competition by the purchasers, and a lively interest manifested, though no ill-feeling prevailed. Fifty-six lots were sold at prices ranging from $25 to $141, and the aggregate amount of the sale was $3,057.75. The prices paid for these lots are indicative of the flattering view the purchasers took of the future of Boonville. and notwithstanding its youthfulness, then assumed rank as the leading town in the county. The " town " at this time consisted of a few log cabins situated promiscuously on a hill, the summit of which the court house now stands. The oldest of these cabins stood near what is now the northeast corner of the Public Square. It is said that " the citizens were frequently annoyed at night by the wolves that barked and growled around their residences."
The earliest residents of Boonville were Nathaniel Hart, Adam Young, John Upham, James McCulla, Samuel Steele, Dr. Alva Pasco, and the Graham family, some of whom are familiarly known to the older citizens and have descendants still residing in the county. Dr. Alva Pasco was the first physician to locate in Boonville. He is said to have been one of the best of pioneer doctors, a good man, and to have enjoyed an extensive practice. He died in 1824. In 1818 a small and rudely constructed log cabin was erected near the center of the Public Square, in which the county courts were held, but after court convened in it a few times the building was found to be very incommodious (causing inconvenience or discomfort), and the erection of a brick court house, to be thirty-five feet square, was ordered by the county commissioners. However, the brick court house was never built. The enterprise was abandoned by general consent, and instead a frame building was erected, the architecture of which was, to say the least, very novel. A ditch two feet deep and two feet wide was filled with smoothly hewn logs to a level with the surface of the earth, on which was built a stone wall eighteen inches in height. This constituted the foundation and on it was built the the frame proper. However, this building was never completed. It was weather-boarded and roofed, but was neither lathed nor plastered, and thus it remained until 1836. While it was capable of holding more people than the log cabin it could only be used during the summer months.
On the first Monday in October, 1818, the county agent awarded to John Upham, the lowest bidder, the contract for building a jail in Boonville, of which the following are the specified dimensions : ''The jail is to be eighteen feet square, from outside to outside, to be built with a double wall of well-hewn timber twelve inches square, and to be raised in that manner so as to bring the joints of the outside wall opposite the face of the logs of the inside wall, leaving a space between the two walls of six inches, to be filled up with rock and gravel. The first story is to be seven feet high, and the second to be eight," etc. This jail, which was constructed on the foregoing plan, was situated on the southeast corner of the Public Square, but, becoming incommodious, a new one was built of brick, on Sycamore, between Third and Fourth Streets. It, too, was soon removed, and a third one erected in its place. This jail was two stories in height, built of brick, and was much larger and stronger than the previous one, although prisoners frequently escaped from it. It still stands, though in a very dilapidated condition, and was used as a residence. (It is not currently in use and efforts are underway to rehabilitate the Old Jail building).*
On February 8th, 1819, the board of commissioners granted Benjamin Knapp "a license to retail spirituous liquors and keep a tavern in Boonville; provided, he would limit his rates to 12 cents per pint for whiskey; 50 cents per pint for rum and French brandy; 50 cents for feeding and lodging a horse; meals, 25 cents, and lodging, 12 cents." This tavern is described as having all the characteristics of the old-time" country inn." It was a nucleus for travelers, idlers and lovers of the social glass, and a jolly, gossiping crowd could generally be found at " the tavern." At the April term of the county commissioners' court, 1819, John Upham and Adam Young were granted license to retail spirituous liquors in Boonville.
In 1830, when the first census of Boonville was taken, the population numbered eighty-seven, while that of its rival — Newburgh — was only thirty-seven. At this time the town contained about thirty houses, scattered over considerable ground, and with a partially completed court house squatting on the hill, which the town surrounded. Boonville had begun to assume the aspects of a progressive settlement.
The first church in Boonville was erected by the Congregationalists, and was situated just north of where the Cumberland Presbyterian church now stands. It was a small frame structure, and after its desuetude (discontinuance) as a place of worship was used for a time as a blacksmith shop, but it is now unoccupied.
In 1836 the unfinished court house was removed, and a new brick building, forty feet square and two stories high, was erected in its place. The offices of the county clerk and treasurer were in the second story. Compared with more modern edifices of the kind this court house would have a somewhat antiquated appearance. In a few years this building also became too small to accommodate its litigant patrons and the present court house was erected in its place in 1851.
In 1843 a meeting was called for the purpose of discussing the feasibility of building a railroad from Boonville to Evansville. At the appointed time a large crowd assembled at the court house. Speeches were made by several citizens, all favoring the immediate erection of a railroad, and the audience was becoming very enthusiastic for the proposition, when " Uncle Chester " Elliott, one of the early settlers of the county, was called out to give his views on the matter. He commenced his remarks by stating very emphatically," I am heartily in favor of it." The audience applauded. He then proceeded to speak at some length on the superior resources of the county, and concluded by settling the railroad problem as follows : " If this railroad is built it must be with the strictest economy, and, therefore, I think I can submit a proposition which would prove the most profitable. (Cries of "What is it ?" and "Hear him !") The most economical railroad connection at this time would be a single track and a wheel-barrow." Laughter and applause followed, and the meeting unceremoniously adjourned, without any further appointments for railroad meetings.
The first newspaper published in Boonville was the Boonville Tribune, the printing material of which was removed from Newburgh to Boonville in 1857. The Tribune was owned by a stock company composed of Dr. W. L. Barker and others. Edward White was its editor for a while, but he was soon succeeded in that capacity by Chas. Dalrymple, who, after a short time, sold the Tribune to John Fleming, a printer, and Judge J. W. B. Moore. The name of the paper was changed to the Boonville Enquirer, and Judge Moore assumed editorial control. Politically the Enquirer advocated the principles of the Democratic party, and, being the only paper published in the county, was very prosperous. In December, 1865, John Fleming was succeeded in its publication by E. L. Crawford, the paper being then conducted under the firm name of Moore & Crawford. In January, 1868, Judge Moore, being aged and in feeble health, retired from the editorial management of the Enquirer and sold his interest in it to Thomas H. Martin. Crawford & Martin continued its publication. with Martin as editor. In March, 1870, William Swint purchased the Enquirer from them, and assumed full control as editor and publisher. The paper has continued under his management and is one of the most prosperous rural weeklies in the State.
Up to 1866 educational matters received little attention in Boonville. The only schools known were the subscription schools taught about three months in each year, to which parents would subscribe a stipulated amount as tuition for the instruction of their children in arithmetic, spelling, reading and writing. The youth that knew the " single rule of three " and obtained a smattering of the English language was considered educated. In 1866 the Boonville Graded School was instituted, and the present school house erected, which, however, has since been greatly improved by additions and alterations. Professor Forrest, an efficient instructor was chosen principal of the school, and under his management it was very successful. The school consists of six grades — one German — in which are taught all the primary and common branches, and a few of the higher. The attendance at present is between four and five hundred pupils, and through the efficient services of a good corps of instructors it has attained the rank of a first class public school.
Monday night, April 1, 1867, the County Treasurer's office, in the court house, was forcibly entered and robbed of $8,000 — $6,000 in greenbacks, and $2,000 in county orders. When the robbery was discovered and made known the town was thrown into the most intense excitement. Groups of astonished men would gather on the streets and discuss it, and the news of the daring outrage was a shock to the entire county. James H. Masters, County Treasurer, offered a reward of $500 for the recovery of the money, and $500 for the apprehension of the robbers — $1,000 for both — but no clue to the thieves or money was obtained. Following this event came a series of similar occurrences. Several houses fell prey to the incendiary and stores were burglarized. - The town seemed infested by a band of daring villains, and the people were now thoroughly aroused to vigilance. Watchmen patrolled the streets night after night for several weeks, and every person was on the alert. However, beyond the hanging of a supposed incendiary until almost dead in trying to extort a confession of guilt from him, this detective force failed to bring to justice any of the criminals, but their vigilance had the effect of preventing further depredations.
In 1868 the proposed North and South railroad, which was to pass through Boonville, was voted assistance in the sum solicited. However, the project was abandoned and tax refunded. Finale of Boonville's R. R. No. 2.
In July, 1873, the publication of the Boonville Republican, D. D. Doughty, editor and publisher, was commenced. The paper was a six column folio, advocated Republican principles, and enjoyed an average circulation. After a laborious existence of a little over two years the Republican " succumbed to a natural fate."
After much talk and a mature " boom " the Lake Erie, Evansville & Southwestern railway was completed to Boonville, a distance of seventeen miles, on Monday, August 4, 1873. The last rail was laid at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and at 3 o'clock the first locomotive — the wonder of the town — arrived in Boonville with a large delegation from Evansville. There was rejoicing, in which all classes participated alike, with a grand dance and feast, prepared especially for the occasion, and bumpers were drank freely to the success of Boonville's new railroad. The road was originally intended to run from Evansville to Bellefontaine, Ohio, but until the year 1880 was not extended beyond Boonville. In 1879 the name was changed to the Evansville & Eastern R. R.
In the fall of 1880 the Local Trade railroad was built from Boonville to Gentryville, where it connects with the Rockport & Jasper road. The Evansville & Eastern and Local Trade railroad companies were consolidated on November 15, 1880. This railroad has been very beneficial to Boonville in more fully developing her resources, and it is at present in a very prosperous condition.
In November, 1874, the Boonville National Bank was organized with a capital of $50,000.
In November, 1875, appeared the first number of the Boonville Standard, M. B. Crawford, editor, and the Boonville Standard Publishing Company, publishers. The Standard is the organ of the Republican party in this county, and was originally owned by a-stock company. During a period of three years — from 1876to 1879 — it was owned and edited successively by Crawford & Berkshire, J. B. Berkshire, Wertz & Wagstaff, Wertz & Stinson, and C. F. Wertz. In July, 1879, C. F. Wertz sold the paper to I. E. Youngblood. During the first nine months of the tatter's proprietorship it was edited by W. W. Admire, who was succeeded in that capacity by Mr. Youngblood himself. In establishing the Standard many difficulties, to which all new enterprises are subject, were encountered, and for a time it was in an unhealthy state, but it has run the gauntlet of these trials, and is now on a sound financial foundation. In July, 1881, Mr. Young- blood was succeeded in the management of the Standard by R. M. Graham.
In 1876 the General Baptist Herald, the organ of the General Baptist denomination in the United States, was removed from Oakland City, Indiana, to Boonville. The Herald was published weekly by the General Baptist Board of Publication, and edited by Jesse G. Lane. In 1878 Mr. Lane was succeeded in the editorial management of the paper by Dr. T. J. Hargan. The Herald suspended publication in 1878. In March, of the same year, W. W. Admire commenced the publication of a five-column folio newspaper named the Warrick Chronicle. After an existence of three months it was consolidated with the Boonville Standard, Admire becoming editor and I. E Youngblood, proprietor. We have endeavored to chronologically trace down to the present some of the most important events and enterprises in the history of Boonville, and thereby can best be judged the progress of the town.
Socially and educationally Boonville has, of course, materially improved during the last decade. Religiously, it has deteriorated, but the numerous organizations and societies instituted have all been more or less successful in the development of the people socially and intellectually. Thus far in the history of Boonville, religion was at its zenith ten years ago. There are at present six churches in town. Of these six two are German — the Evangelical Lutheran and Methodist — one Catholic, one Baptist (colored), Cumberland Presbyterian and Methodist Episcopal. The Catholic church is not yet completed, and is without a pastor.
Among the many prominent societies and organizations are three lodges of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, two of Free and Accepted Masons, one Knights of Pythias, the Ancient Order of United Workingmen, the Boonville Building and Loan Fund Association, the Warrick Building and Loan Association, etc. The latter are saving institutions, and in that way have been the means of some benefit to the citizens and the upbuilding of the town. During the last ten years the growth of Boonville has been rapid for an interior town. New business establishments have sprung up here and there, dwelling houses have been erected on all hands, and the population has increased nearly double what it was twenty years ago. Boonville is the central business point of the county and surrounding neighborhood, and its shipments of produce are becoming larger each year. In short, Boonville is a prosperous town, and the indications are that it will continue to be such.
* statements marked with an asterisk have been edited for clarity. It is not know when this narrative was originally written, but based on the dates, it would have been sometime around the turn of the 20th century (1900).