An Early History - Putnam

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An Early History

History of Putnam County, Indiana

Source: Weik, Jesse William. Weik's History of Putnam County, Indiana.
Indianapolis, Ind: Bowen, 1910. (main source)

Putnam County was created through an act of the Indiana State Legislature four days before Christmas in 1821. Jonathan Jennings, Governor signed the document. It was taken from the larger Southern counties of Vigo and Owen and was named for the famous Israel Putnam. The first commissioners were: John Bartholomew; Aaron Redus; Jonathan Wells; John Allen and Peter Allen. These commissioners were to superintend the beginning of the county, particularly to create a "seat of justice" for the county. James Athey's log cabin, probably the first to be erected in the county served was to be the meeting place; however, the commissioners failed their duties. New commissioners were reappointed to meet at the home of John Butcher on the 2nd Monday in April. Butcher's home was a large log cabin overlook Big Walnut Creek a little northwest of what is Greencastle today. Land entries for the newly formed county had originally been made in Vincennes, then Terre Haute then from 1823 until April 7, 1853 (when original land was fairly well taken up and the office closed) in Crawfordsville.
John M. Coleman received the first land grant in Putnam County, Sect 10, Twp 12, Rg 5 West. James Athey entered his land about the same time. Both were in what is now Washington Township "on the forks of Eel." The first uppermost land was entered by Felix Clodfelter, in what is now Russell Township NW quarter of Sec 18, Twp 16, Rg 5W. The last original land entered was done in Indianapolis because the Crawfordsville office had closed. This was on October 10, 1854 and was purchased by Solon Turman for a portion of Section 7, Twp 12 North, Rg 4 West in Cloverdale Township. Other early settlers of the county were: Benjamin Croy; Otwell Thomas and Reuben Ragan, along with John Sigler (March 1821) who was accompanied by Thomas Johnson. Their land was where Greencastle is today. Others in the area the first year or two were Jefferson Thomas, Abraham Coffman, Samuel Rogers, Jubal DeWeese, Isaac Matkin, Abraham Lewis and along with them, the first preacher Rev. Reuben Clearwater. Almost all the early settlers were from Kentucky or North Carolina.

Putnam County is 486 square miles and had 311,040 acres. On the north is Montgomery County; the east is Hendricks and Morgon; south -- Owen & Clay and west, Clay & Parke. In the northern part of the township the land is mostly flat and owns good crop soil whereas in the center and southwest, it is rolly. In early years, there was dense and beautiful timber, most of which has been used or plundered to date. Poplar, Oak, Walnut, Maple, Beech and Hickory were abundant. In the southern portion, the Walnut Fork of the Eel River with tributaries of Little Walnut, Warford Branch and Deer Creek. The northern area has Raccoon Creek and Mill Creek. Soil consists of clay, sand, rocks, gravel, shale, coal, and limestone which is still being excavated today, 2012. A large iron ore vein was discovered about six miles southwest of Cloverdale in the 1860s.

When the county was organized, there were six townships (Deer Creek, Hart, Sparts, Tipton, Walnut & Wasington). By 1828, the commissioners saw fit to divide the county into 13 townships : Russell; Franklin; Jackson across the top -- below them: Clinton; Monroe and Floyd. Below them: Madison, Greencastle and Marion and Jefferson below Marion. Warren is below Greencastle with Washington beside (on the West) Warren and Cloverdale underneath Warren & Jefferson. It was not until 1861 that Mill Creek was annexed from Morgan County, but later incorporated into Jefferson, making the county almost a perfect rectangle, except Jefferson juts out to the east. Of course, farming has been the major occupation for many of not only the early settlers but of those living in Putnam today. The first County Agricultural Society was organized in 1850, in order to "organize the third annual fair." Speaking of which, the Putnam County 4-H fair is one of the big draws in late summer every year.

Today, according to the 2010 census, there are about 38,000 people living in Putnam County, Indiana. A total of 482.69 square miles are within her borders. Incorporated towns are listed as: Bainbridge, Cloverdale, Fillmore, Greencastle, Roachdale, Russellville and unincorporated ones are: Barnard, Belle Union, Mount Meridian, New Maysville, Parkersburg, Putnamville and Reelsville (see towns below -- there are many more existing and have existed in Putnam). Although neighboring Parke County is the "Covered Bridge Capital of the World," there are 7 in Putnam County, the Dunbar bridge matching almost any around. The Banner-Graphic has been in existence for decades and brings current news to the county residents. Greencastle continues to have new businesses added and old business stay. On a whole, anywhere in Putnam County is a happy place to live.


The first election was held at the home of Moses Hart in August of 1823 while at the same time, one was held at James Kelso's Mill and yet another at the mill of Jacob Beck's. The first trial was of Charles Wright who assaulted James Frazier. The first physician, definitely in Greencastle, and probably in the county was Dr. Enos Lowe, arriving in 1823 and serving the people all around the area. Three years later, Kentuckians, Dr. L.M. Knight and Dr. A.C. Stevenson joined him to help the demand. The first blacksmith was Jesse Twigg and the first carpenter/cabinet maker was John S. Jennings, a Tennesseean. A horse-powered wool carding machine was set up in Greencastle in 1826 by General John Standeford. Much bartering and trading (little $) went for payment to these first business people. By 1840 there were many businesses in the town of Greencastle and the county of Putnam, as many as 40 dry goods merchants alone.
The first white child born in the county was Mary Jane McGaughey, daughter of Arthur McGaughey who was the first county clerk. This event was Feb 10, 1822. John Rawley was the first born in Greencastle in the same year, a few weeks later (March 25). A Mr. Dennis was the first death which occurred at Trotter's Mill north of Greencastle. He was a millwright and died later in 1821. An unknown man, passing through was the first Greencastle death. Although it is not known for certain who the first teacher was it is known that among the very first was Hiram Stavens, as well as Alfred Burton. The first marriage -- Thomas Jackson and Sarah Wood July 15, 1822. First inn - Jubal DeWeese. Although Jubal had the first inn/tavern several were on the square by 1826 (Pleasant Wilson's; Joseph Lucas; Hudson Brackney; Elisha King; Thomas Hammond; John Lynch; James Ricketts...). Few were called taverns, but had fancier names such as Social Hall, Franklin House, Washington Hotel... These inns only held about 10-12 people for the evening, thus more than one was welcome. Only some lawyers had a home base in that time and travelling ones such as Tilghman A. Howard, William P. Bryant, Joseph G. Marshall, Samuel Gookins were visitors to the fair city.
First newspaper is not known for sure but is generally accepted as John C. Child's 1830 The Hoosier which he sold in 1834 to John W. Osborn. Many little papers cropped up, flourished and died throughout the county, not just in the major city. The Banner-Graphic of today has existed in some form for about 150 years.
First bank was basically Augusta Wood's brokerage and was established in 1854. Major W.D. Allen joined him and opened a business called the Exchange Bank which had a capital of $50,000. Most of the small towns had banks, as well up until about 1990 or so, although a couple of them still do in 2012.
First judge -- Jacob Call. First attorneys licensed to practice in the county -- Thomas H. Blake and James Farrington. Blake a native of Maryland emigrated West soon after the War of 1812 coming to Terre Haute where he was a prosecuting attorney, circuit judge, member of the Legislature and representative to Congress. President Tyler appointed him land office commissioner but he soon became president of the Wabash & Erie Canal Company and died too early to see what he might have done for our county -- his death occuring November 28, 1829. On the same day Blake was sworn in, James Farrington, who was born in Boston was as well. We know more about what Farrington did here. Farrington had lived in Vincennes, then Terre Haute where he was a in both branches of the Legislature and assessor of US Internal Revenue for the 7th Indiana District from 1862 until his death Oct 8, 1869. Luckily for the history of the county, he left painstaking records. First known jury (only 11 known members) -- Abraham Lewis; Noble J. Meyers; David Hurst; John Rawley; Benjamin Bell; Richard Moore; David McCoy; Elisha Mullinix; Isaac Matkins; William Craig and Israel Linder. This was held in the home of James Athey who received a $1 a day for the use of his home. First courthouse is unknown but it seems there was one by May of 1826. First county clerk was Arthur McGaughey. He kept that office from the organization of the county until April 1843. The first auditor of the county was Joseph F. Farley whose term expired in 1855 -- he took over duties in 1851 -- this is because before that time the clerk and auditor duties were performed by the same person. First sheriff -- William W. McIntosh. County Treasurer James Talbott. Recorder -- William E. Talbott. Surveyor -- Joseph S. Patterson along with Robert Glidewell serving until 1832.
The present-day court house was erected by Caldwell & Drake of Columbus Indiana and costs $144,977.13 with heating & sewer an additional $17,385.69. Furnishing totalled $13,366.60 totalling $175,729.68. The corner stone was laid on October 29, 1903 and the completed building was appropriately dedicated on July 4, 1905.

EDUCATION -- was clearly important at the start of the county. Lot #30 in 1830 was set up for the Greencastle Seminary (north side of Washington between Madison and Jefferson Street). Often called, the County Seminary, it was a one-story brick building containing two rooms. Readin', writin' and cipherin' consisted of the curriculum.Indiana Asbury University (DePauw) was given the right to use the school if they furnished money for furniture, books and such. First school board -- John Hanna mayor of Greencastle in 1853 set-up a commission to be trustees for the schools in the town of Greencastle. Delana Eckels; Russell Hathaway and Daniel Sigler were appointed. These folks helped improve the system, adding four primary schools, a high school and a County Seminary. The school year was from June 1 for two months with a vacation of six weeks commencing again the 15th of Sept with a summer session beginning the 1st of April each year. The principal for the males received $30/month; where as the female princpal (HS) received $20 -- teachers were paid $15 per month. 468 students attended the commons schools and 92 in the high school in 1855. The first county superintendent was John R. Gordon (1872-1875). In 1910, each township had at least one high school. There were several early Academies in Putnam County. By 1850, Cloverdale, Russellville and Bainbridge as well as Greencastle had Academies, the Russellville one being particularly suited for for preperation for advanced learning. DePauw information can be seen at this website, while current Putnam County schools can be viewed at these three sites. North Putnam -- Greencastle -- South Putnam

RELIGION -- The main denominations of early settlers were: Baptist; Methodist; New Light and Presbyterian.

Baptist- Elder J.R. Billings from Labm's Bottom Church, Elder Samuel Arthur from White River with J.R. Robinson and Thomas Johnson, Elders brought forth the May 1822 organization of the Baptist Church (Greencastle). The first members were: John Sherrell; Sister Sherrell; Samuel Arthur; John Smith; Charlotte Smith; John Leatherman; Polly Leatherman; Jeremiah DeVore and Nancy DeVore; Jeremiah Skelton; Polly Skelton; John W and Alsy Jones. Those out in the county purported to be Baptists who mainly held church in their homes with John Leatherman and Richard Denman. Some of the early Greencastle Baptists were Jubal Deweese, Thomas Johnson and John Miller. James Bird had area Baptists to his home early on which was on Walnut Creek about seven miles northeast of Greencastle. See also: St. Paul's under "Methodist."

Methodist -- In the fall of 1822 Samuel Hamilton was the presiding elder over the Owen, Putnam & Parke "Eel River" Circuit. Most credit Daniel Anderson, "a man described of iron frame who traveled the district from Bloomington to Crawfordsville, who swam rivers and climbed mountains to reach his appointment and who died as he had lived, full of faith and the Holy Ghost." The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1876 -- they met in a store room on the square but about 1890 built a small church on Locust Street. Hinton Chapel and St. Paul's Baptist were two other churches frequented by the "colored" people of the community.

New Light - several in number, this group was finally absorbed into the Christian Church, spear-headed by Alexander Campbell. The first camp meeting was conducted by the New Lights at John Sigler's place, a "few miles northeast of Greenastle."

Presbyterian -- A graduate from Middlebury College in Vermont, ordained in Mercer County, Kentucky in 1818, Isaac Reed ventured to Indiana in 1818 and was the organizer of the Presbyterian Church in Putnam County, Indiana. The "New School Presbyterian Church," organized in Greencastle in July 1833 with 18 members was the one that prospered.

In 1830 the Christian Church (New Lights) began with membership of R.S. Tennant and daughter; Peter W. Applegate nad wife and Samuel Taylor and wife. These few were joined by many others and eventually a building was erected on Sunday, June 8, 1856. The first pastor there was Oliver Badger who was a long standing Greencastle minister "with great piety!"

Catholic -- St. Paul the Apostle dates back to 1848 when Rev. Simon LaLumiere, of Terre Haute journeyed to Greencastle and read the first mass in an old log school house, owned by Clinton Walls, a short distances NE of the village of Limedale.

Greencastle Union Sabbath School -- the teaching of the young started very early -- April 13, 1834. Matthew 18 verse 21-35 was the first lesson under the tutleage of Myra Jewett (later Mrs. John S. Jennings).


The Masons were the first organization in the county, beginning in May of 1842. Officers were: Samuel Taylor; John Sala; William Hart; Lewis Sands; Samuel Dicks; CG Ballard; Jesse Dicks; Hiram Walker; CJ Hand and W.C. Larrabee. The Knights Templar began some 25 years later. Almost each small town had a lodge of both Masons and Templars. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows began in Greencastle on July 10, 1847 with W. McClure; Elisha Adamson, Isaac Dunn and Samuel Noel as officers. Roachdale, Russellville, Fillmore, CLoverdale and Mt. Meridian also had lodges. Order of Ben Hur in 1910 had over 200 members. The Elks began in Greencastle with several charter members on June 27, 1907, James L. Hamilton being the first exalted ruler. Knights of Pythias Lodge No 16 started on January 24, 1872 in Greencastle with 17 members. Seven camps of Modern Woodman existed in 1910, being at Russellville; Roachdale; Bainbridge; Cloverdale; Fincastle; Portland Mills and of course Greencastle. Greencastle was the only one with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, organized March 12, 1907. The Greencastle Moose is still active, as well as the American Legion; Elks; Masons; IOOF; and several other non-for-profit organizations.

Putnam seemed to lead the ranks in regards to literary and social clubs, these not including those associated with DePauw. The local DAR branch (Washburn Chapter) is one of the oldest in the state having organized Dec 13, 1902, with Lelia W. DeMotte the first regent.

I think the Grand Army of the Republic in Indiana is nonexistent in 2012, but there may be organizations after that in relationship to this one in existance. This organization was for those who had fought in the Civil War, originally but branched out to include wives, sons and daughters, etc. The first commander of the GAR in Greencastle was George J. Langsdale, Commander.

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