A Thumbnail History of Ohio County, Indiana
From the Book:
A History of Ohio County, Indiana
This episode covers the early history of Ohio County, Indiana, which is included in my newest book release, A History of Ohio County, Indiana.
Ohio County had its beginnings with the formation of Dearborn County by Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison in 1803, thirteen years before Indiana became a state. The new county included territory now comprising Ripley, Franklin and Ohio Counties. Harrison made Lawrenceburg the county seat at that time. In 1811 Harrison separated Franklin County from Dearborn County. The Indiana General Assembly detached and created Ripley County in 1818.
During these early years squabbles between towns for the honor of serving as the county seat was not uncommon. A town chosen as the county seat had a distinct economic advantage over other towns in the county. Most citizens had to visit the county seat at least once a year to pay their property taxes. A visit to the county seat was also in order if a person bought or sold land, obtained a marriage license or to record a death or birth. Because of this, traffic into a county seat was higher, which helped businesses located there. Property values in the county seat were usually higher than other towns. Rivalry over the county seat even lead to cannon fire in Wayne County as residents of Centerville tried to prevent county records from transferring to the new seat in Richmond.
Squabbles began to arise between Lawrenceburg and Rising Sun in the early 1830’s as Rising Sun residents began lobbying the legislature to move the seat there. Eventually the legislature moved it to Wilmington, which was nearer the center of the county. This solution proved only to create pressure from both Lawrenceburg to move it back and Rising Sun to capture the prize for itself.
At last, in 1844 the legislature, tired of the conflict, created Ohio County and installed the county seat in Rising Sun. They moved the Dearborn County seat back to Lawrenceburg. On July 4, 1844, county officials laid the cornerstone of the Ohio County Courthouse, which still serves the county’s needs. It is the oldest continuously used courthouse in Indiana.
Settlement of the region that would become Ohio County began well before the formation of Dearborn County. Samuel Fulton and his family became the first known settlers to inhabit the site that would become Rising Sun in 1798. I will relate more about Mr. Fulton in a later podcast. John and Pickney James surveyed the town on May 30, 1814. By 1820 the town had a floating gristmill, anchored just off shore on the river, 30 – 40 houses, a post office and a variety of businesses common to a Nineteenth Century town. A road had been constructed connecting the growing town with Madison and to Vincennes far to the west.
Rising Sun’s economic life centered on the Ohio River as it developed into an important riverport. Farmers shipped their crops on flatboats down the river to faraway New Orleans on the Mississippi River. One barge could carry between 50 and 100 tons of freight. In an average year about 100 barges departed from the docks at Rising Sun. The first steamboat reached Rising Sun in 1814, however it would be the 1830’s before riverboats superseded flatboats and barges as the primary means of transportation.
James Alexander Wilson established a ferry service in 1842 that connected Rising Sun in Indiana with Rabbit Hash, Kentucky across the Ohio River. The ferry would continue in operation with various owners until 1945.
A tornado devastated Rising Sun on March 25th, 1948. The storm struck at 1:05 PM and caused over one million dollars of damage. Luckily, no one was hurt in the disaster.
Visitors to Rising Sun today will find a thriving, pretty town which features a wonderful river front park, a museum and several shops and restaurants.
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