News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 11, 2014

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Community activities in November 1856

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Newspapers were a popular information source available during the 1850s. Here are notes taken from the Wabash Courier of November 1856, published by Jesse Conard.

Terre Haute gas works

During the autumn of 1856, buildings erected by the Terre Haute Gas Company — situated on North Sixth Street at its junction with the Wabash & Erie Canal — were completed enough to permit the manufacture of gas.

“They consist mainly of the Retort House, Purifying House and a large Gasometer,” according to the Courier. “The process of manufacturing Gas from Coal is quite interesting, requiring much skill and science in the operation.

“In the abundance of coal beds around us, there is little of the best quality for Gas. The company has already laid three and one-seventh miles of large pipe. The enterprise is likely to be successful as our citizens use Gas lights beyond what was first anticipated.”

Plank and gravel roads

“We now have one plank and two gravel roads (besides the new bottom road) leading many miles into the country from Terre Haute,” the Courier boasted in November 1856.

“It is almost impossible to calculate the benefit . . . from these improvements. The farmer is the gainer and so is the store and housekeeper of the city.”

Vigo County Jail

A “heavy stone addition” was affixed to the Vigo County Jail in 1856. “The walls are of massive limestone — about two feet in thickness — making a barrier, impregnable from without or within,” the Courier trumpeted.

“Inside this heavy wall is another set of walls, enclosing and embracing twelve cells.

“A quantity of rock lying near the present gaol will be used to build a one-story addition for 12 more cells in the Spring.”


“There is an immense amount of business done on our railroads, to and from Terre Haute,” the Courier asserted. “Long trains of passenger cars are filled, East, South and West. The bustle about our several depots is quite exciting.

“As for freight trains, it is said that cars cannot be had sufficient to keep the business up. The whistle is sounding for arrivals and departures about our various depots at all hours, night and day.”

The Terre Haute & Alton Railroad was erecting a large brick engine house while the rails to Alton were being laid.

Town clock

“A public clock, well constituted, is a good thing,” editor Conard asserted, “a thing when properly regulated, goes a great ways to regulate the business of a place.

“There is an opinion abroad that our Clock in the steeple of the Congregational Church neither runs nor strikes with a proper degree of certainty. Something should be done about it.”

Griswold Mansion

Many fine residences were under construction during the antebellum, but the “new mansion” of railroad magnate William Dickinson Griswold and his wife Maria on South Fifth Street attracted particular attention.

“The building is of handsome architecture,” wrote the Wabash Courier in 1856, “giving externally a very imposing appearance. Some forest trees immediately around the residence contribute to heighten the effect as you gaze on the building.”

The beauty of Farrington’s Grove

The term, “Farrington’s Grove,” rarely was used to describe the 20 acres immediately south of the Terre Haute city limits.

Employing this rarely used term in 1856, publisher Conard observed: “There are just enough stately forest trees cleverly interspersed upon fine green sward to make the place absolutely beautiful.

“We don’t see why a Fourth of July dinner, a mass meeting for Col. John Fremont, a mass meeting for Millard Fillmore, an Old Line mass meeting and a County Fair should not go a good way towards consecrating the grounds on which they were held.”

Dr. Septer Patrick Patrick

The residence at Second and Mulberry streets where Dr. Septer Patrick, one of Terre Haute’s pioneer physicians, his wife Sally and their family lived before departing for California during the 1849 Gold Rush, was razed during 1856.

Ephraim S. Wolfe was erecting a large two-story brick building on the site in 1856.

The Patrick residence, with its choice fruit trees and grape vines, brought back fond memories for Conard of parties and dances in the company of Col. Thomas H. Blake, Gov. James Whitcomb, Capt. Cornelius Ogden, Judge Elisha Huntington, Demas Deming, James Farrington, James and Harry Ross, James and Sam Crawford and a host of others.

Merrick Augustus Jewett’s Church

The new building at the southeast corner of Sixth and Cherry streets “is now roofed and covered.” The brick portion of the steeple, which rose 160 feet from the ground, also was finished.

“This will be a building (to be known as the First Congregational Church),” wrote Judge Conard, “of splendid appearance — and is so nearly complete as to admit of service in the basement for the coming winter, commencing in a short time.”

Canal bridges

A bridge was being built over the Wabash & Erie Canal (at what is now Ninth and One-half Street) near the Railroad depots on Wabash Avenue.

“The new structure will be a permanent improvement,” the Courier declared, “with separate sidewalks for foot passengers.”

Former Mayor Britton Moore Harrison complained that the bridge over the canal on Third Street is “a nuisance, unsafe for funerals, etc.”

Neither the canal trustees nor the city or county councils are willing to make repairs. “What can we do?” he asked.

Terre Haute House

“This large and spacious building, formerly the Prairie House, assumes an imposing appearance under its new coat of cream colored paint.”

New hotel

“John Ludowici’s new building at the corner of Sixth and National Road streets is receiving its last touches,” asserted the Wabash Courier in November, “and should be open for travellers by Christmas.”

U.S. Senator Douglas

Stephen Douglas was a guest at the residence of Dr. Ezra Read on S. Seventh St. for more than a week in late 1856.

Judge Conard accepted Dr. Read’s invitation to meet and interview the distinguished statesman from Illinois.