The National Road, and County Seats

The oldest Federal Road in the United States, one that was known as the National Road, cuts its way across Indiana in a fairly straight path. The idea was, when the roads goals were expanded from the original idea of connecting Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River at Wheeling, (West) Virginia, to connect the capitol cities of the new states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In Indiana, that meant connecting through the middle of the state from Columbus, Ohio, in the east, then turning west-southwest to end up in Vandalia, Illinois, in the west. This road would prove to be very important to the settlement through the areas where it was built. But in Indiana, it would bypass some of what was, at the time, important towns along the way…the county seats.

Counties through which the National Road would be built had already been put in place between mostly 1820 and 1822. The amendment routing the road through the capitols of the new states was approved in 1825. Prior to this, the National Road would have been between 10 and 15 miles south of Indianapolis as originally planned. The road would be built through eight counties in Indiana. Along the way, it connected five county seats: Terre Haute, Richmond, Indianapolis (the state capital), Greenfield (created after the survey was done for the National Road) and Brazil (the county seat was moved there in 1877).

It should be noted here that while there were two counties called Wabash and Delaware at that time, they were unorganized territory given the names of counties until it could be organized into other counties. As a matter of fact, both of the future counties of those names actually were created from the unorganized Delaware County.

Vigo County: This county was created by law on 21 January 1818, to be effective 15 February 1818. It was taken from part of Sullivan County. The county seat was located on 21 March 1818 at Terre Haute. Terre Haute happened to be on a direct line from Indianapolis to Vandalia. Although the county changed its borders five times over the years (January 1819, January 1821, December 1821, December 1822, and April 1825) after creation, the county seat stayed in Terre Haute.

Clay County: Creation of this county was effective 1 April 1825, by statute of 12 February 1825, and was taken from Owen, Putnam, Vigo, and Sullivan Counties. In May 1825, the county seat was chosen to be the town of Bowling Green. Petitions to move the seat were advanced in 1843 and 1853, both failing. Another petition, in 1871, succeeded in moving the county seat to Brazil. The move wasn’t official until all the records were, after the completion of a new courthouse building, moved to Brazil in 1877. The location of Brazil had been on the National Road since it was built in the 1830’s.

Putnam County: Created from Owen, Vigo and Wabash Counties effective 1 April 1822, from a law passed 31 December 1821. Commissioners had failed to act the first time when it came to the county seat. A second set of commissioners, in April 1823, located the county seat at a survey location, not a town. Greencastle was platted at that location. It has been the county seat since. The National Road passed south of this location.

Hendricks County: Created by statute of 20 December 1823, effective 1 April 1824, Hendricks County was taken from both the unorganized Wabash and Delaware Counties. On 12 July of the same year, Danville was chosen as the county seat. The National Road passes south of this town. However, it should be noted that might not have been the case…had things in Illinois came together a few years earlier. Rumblings in Illinois, helped along by a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, moved the capital of that state to Springfield, from Vandalia, in 1839. It could have been possible that the National Road could have run due west from Indianapolis to Springfield along the Rockville Road.

Marion County: Created from Delaware County effective 1 April 1822, on a law passed on 21 December 1821. This was to be the county that contained the new Indiana capital city platted by Alexander Ralston earlier in 1821. Due to its status as Indiana’s capital, the 1825 extension would connect to this county seat no matter what. It was routed through the new city along its main street (see Indianapolis Washington Street), which is why Washington Street, through downtown, actaully is angled just south of due east, then turns to north of due east. It should be noted that Indianapolis is technically not the county seat of Marion County. By law, Marion County’s seat of government is “square 58 in the town of Indianapolis.” That would put it on the National Road, as that is where the City-County Building now stands…and the county courthouse before that.

Hancock County: This county was created by statute on Christmas Eve, 1827, effective 1 March 1828. 41 days later, commissioners chose a spot along the new National Road survey to be the county seat. That town would become Greenfield. It would never lose its place as county seat.

Henry County: Passed on 31 December 1821, effective 1 Jun 1822, the law creating Henry County would take area from Delaware County. The town of New Castle was chose immediately as the county seat, a spot it has never relinquished. The future National Road would run south of New Castle.

Wayne County: This was actually the second such named county in the region of Indiana. The first was Wayne County of the Northwest Territories. While it encompassed a lot of the Indiana territory, it ended up in Michigan Territory when it was created. (With its seat of justice being Detroit.) The current Wayne County got its start when, effective 1 January 1811, parts of Clark and Dearborn Counties were taken away. The county seat was chosen on 5 December 1811 as Salisbury. When Wayne County’s borders were changed on 10 August 1818, the county seat was moved to Centerville. The National Road would connect to this town…and its successor, Richmond. That move happened on 15 August 1873.

I know this post is more history than transportation history. But I feel it is important to give some context behind the transportation at times.

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