News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 3, 2013

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Chauncey Rose, a leader in railroad expansion

Jan Buffington
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Few people arriving in the newly platted town of Terre Haute left as big a mark on its history as Chauncey Rose. At age 23, Rose headed west from his home in Connecticut. In 1817, he passed through the states of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. The only way people could get to Terre Haute was either by foot, horseback or boat. Rose arrived by horseback and spent a few days in Terre Haute. He was impressed with the area enough that he returned to set up residence in April 1818. After engaging in several business ventures, he became one of the most popular and successful men in the area. He invested much of his profits in land. After purchasing 320 acres of prairie east of the river, he ignored those with less vision for the city, and built a large hotel. Those 320 acres later were sold and became today’s downtown Terre Haute.

As Terre Haute began to grow, the routes to Terre Haute remained the same as when Rose arrived. He soon became a leader of those trying to bring the railroad to connect the city to the outside world and expand trade options beyond the river. Even though a charter for the Terre Haute and Richmond (later Terre Haute and Indianapolis) Railroad had been obtained, funding became a problem. A convention took place in Indianapolis where a proposal to get a grant of lands from the United States government was discussed.

Rose was against the proposition and convinced those assembled to abandon the idea. From there, he took upon himself to raise the capital by individual subscriptions but the majority of the capital came from his own fortune. This venture was so successful that people began to call him “Railroad King.”

Rose became a large contributor to the railroads from Evansville to Terre Haute, from Terre Haute to Crawfordsville, and from Terre Haute to Danville, Ill. He not only was a major monetary contributor, he also served on the board of directors of those railroads.

The first exhibit at the Vigo County Historical Museum this year is called “The River, The Rails, and The Road.” This exhibit would not be complete unless the work to bring the railroads to Terre Haute done by Rose was included.