A History of Napoleon, Indiana
Chapter title –
A Brief History of Napoleon
On February 9, 1820 the town of Napoleon was laid out by William Wilson from a 160 acre government land grant. The village takes its name from the former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Seven days later he started selling lots. Ten first 32 lots were purchased by George Craig of Vevay, Indiana. Craig went on to build the first Ripley County Court House in Versailles. He later represented Ripley and Switzerland Counties in the Indiana Senate from 1822 – 1824.
The first recorded “road,” leading to the region that would become Napoleon was simply a blazed path called the Chambers Trace, made about 1805. It commenced somewhere near Indian Creek’s junction with the Ohio River in Switzerland County and proceeded towards the site that would eventually become Greensburg in Decatur County. This trace consisted of marks, or blazes, made on tree trunks with an axe.
An oak plank road connected Versailles with Napoleon sometime before the town of Osgood was platted in 1855. John T. Royce, a resident of Brooksburg in Jefferson County, established the first recorded sawmill in Ripley County and cut many of the planks used for this road. This type of road achieved a degree of popularity in the 1840’s. Construction was cheap, however maintenance costs were high. To build this type of road, workers first installed “stringers,” which were thick boards laid parallel to each other about six feet apart. They then laid three inch thick planks cut eight feet long across the stringers and nailed down. Private companies typically build these roads and generally charged tolls for travelers to use them. Apparently a John Glass, who lived north of Napoleon, received authorization to collect tolls on September 6, 1858. Historical lore notes that Indiana’s first telegraph line in 1847 was built along this road using poles cut by Mr. Royce. The telegraph system connected Indianapolis with Madison. The road was converted to stone in 1898. The route eventually became part of US 421.
The Post Office was established on January 19, 1821, William Wilson serving as the first Postmaster. The Post Office is still in operation.
Napoleon was the second town established in Ripley County, Versailles being the first. Napoleon became a center of travel for this area during the 1820 – 1850 periods. The Michigan Road connected it with Madison on the Ohio River. Brownstown Road, which earlier had been known as Berry’s Trace, emanated towards the west. There were also roads to Versailles and Vevay. In 1821, the town had a weekly horseback mail route to Vevay and stage coach service on the route between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Napoleon was home to several inns and other vital businesses.
Sparta and Napoleon Turnpike Company
Napoleon resident Elias Conwell joined with Diab Pratt, Joshua Brown, Stephen S. Harding in Ripley county and John Brumblay, James W. Gaff and Thompson Dean to form the Sparta and Napoleon Turnpike Company. This road, approved by the Indiana Legislature on January 22, 1851, authorized the company to view, mark, locate and construct a turnpike from Napoleon to Sparta, in Dearborn County. The route would include Milan (now Old Milan) and Prattsburg. The road would connect with a previously approved road in Dearborn County, authorized to the Moore’s Hill And Aurora Turnpike Company. The combined roads would connect Napoleon with Aurora, Indiana on the Ohio River.
Approved in 1832, the Napoleon/Brookville Road connected Brookville in Franklin County with Napoleon.
During the period before the Civil War Napoleon was a center of activity for the Underground Railroad which spirited escaped slaves to freedom further north. The building that the restaurant named Bonaparte’s Retreat (Now Love’s Railroad Inn) on US Route 421 has been in existence since Napoleon’s founding. During this period it was known as the Railroad Inn. There was no railroad in Napoleon. The name was an indicator of what the Inn’s side purpose was; assisting in the process of aiding escaped slaves escape servitude using the Underground Railroad. The basement has hidden rooms which are still in existence.
Napoleon is located at the intersection of Indiana State Road 229 and US Route 421. Napoleon Incorporated November 3, 1958.
William Wilson, Ripley Bill (October 11, 1783 – December 20, 1838)
The son of Isaac and Katherine Griner, William was native to South Carolina. The Wilson family migrated into Kentucky, settling near Franklin, Kentucky in south central Kentucky near the Tennessee border, sometime around 1796.
Surveyor of Public Lands
Wilson migrated into the Indiana Territory sometime after that. William Henry Harrison appointed Wilson as Surveyor of Public Lands of St. Clair County on March 2, 1802. St. Clair County, which ran approximately on a line from Vincennes northeast to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Another line ran southwest to the Mississippi River. The county, formed on July 4, 1800, included a portion of Indiana and large regions of what would become Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It no longer exists in Indiana but is still a county in Illinois.
Wilson was appointed Justice of the Peace of Dearborn County, established in 1803, on December 2, 1807. Sometime in this period the family, settled in Franklin County, Indiana. Wilson built a cabin overlooking the west fork of the Whitewater River. William and Frances “Franky” Craig married in 1811. The couple would have four children.
Wilson and his family migrated into Ripley County where Wilson received the first land tract, the site of the present Central House, on September 16, 1819. Wilson platted Napoleon on February 9, 1820. In Napoleon he would serve as the first postmaster when the post office was established on January 19, 1821. Wilson began selling lots for between $10.00 and $12.00 each in the new town after he completed and recorded the plat. He continued developing the town and sometime during its first four years made an unsuccessful bid to be elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. He was also a Justice of the Peace from 1821 through 1822. That year Wilson sold Hiram and David Hendricks the land that became the Enterprise Mill. Wilson migrated away from Ripley County, dying on December 20, 1838 in Morgan County. He is interred in the Hastings Cemetery Martinsville, Morgan County.
Online Sources for Mossy Feet Books
Paul Wonning’s Books on Amazon Page
Paul Wonning’s Books on Scribd Page
Paul Wonning’s Books on Apple
Paul Wonning’s Books on Kobo
Paul Wonning’s Books on Barnes and Noble
Paul Wonning’s Books on 24 Symbols
Paul Wonning’s Books on Google Play
Paul Wonning’s Books on Indigo
Paul Wonning’s Books on Playster
Paul Wonning’s Books on OverDrive
Search Paul Wonning on Ingrams
Table of Contents
© 2021 Paul Wonning