News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

September 1, 2013

Historical Perspective: A St. Louis Globe reporter’s trip to Terre Haute in 1873

TERRE HAUTE — In late 1873, a correspondent for the St. Louis Globe, identified only as “D,” published an account of a trip to Terre Haute in the company of Daniel W. Voorhees.

It was a unique interlude in Voorhees’ life. After serving three consecutive terms as congressman from the Sixth Indiana District, “The Tall Sycamore of the Wabash” was defeated in 1872 by Republican Morton C. Hunter.

Upon the death of Sen. Oliver P. Morton in 1877, Voorhees was appointed to replace him in the U.S. Senate and served 20 consecutive years.

It is not clear where the rail trip initiated. However, the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad, which was commonly referred to as “the Vandalia line,” operated primarily between Indianapolis and St. Louis.

Though the reporter was exhilarated by the chance to converse with Congressman Voorhees, his report encompassed much more, including a stop in Terre Haute 140 years ago to visit acquaintances Dr. Ezra Read, Chauncey Rose and Hannah Booth, mother of California Gov. Newton Booth and grandmother of author Booth Tarkington.

Here are his words:

“On that admirably managed line, the Vandalia, seated in a magnificent saloon car, as luxurious as an Oriental palace, I found myself seated next to D.W. Voorhees on his way home to Terre Haute, somewhat elated as he had the right to be by his success in a most important case, which greatly interested him not merely as a lawyer but as a man with heart and soul.

“He says to me: ‘Done with politics; henceforth, my profession is my mistress. I return to my first love.’

“Our surroundings led us to talk of modern civilization, its elements, progress, the diffusion of its blessings, etc. [I] Found him well read, thoroughly progressive and philosophic and, of course, eloquent and striking in the expression of his views.

“He told me he had an address, partly blocked out, embracing the topics of our conversation. I said to him, ‘Finish it; we must hear it in Missouri.’

“The upshot of our conversation was an agreement on his part to deliver such an address at the next commencement of the State University at Columbia, if the opportunity should be offered.

“Soon, (we) were at Terre Haute and at Dr. Ezra Reed’s (sic), whose library to the lover of rare books is worth a journey of a thousand miles to see and look over.

“The celebrities of the town are Chauncey Rose – I put him first always; Richard W. Thompson, elegant and eloquent; Voorhees; Bayless W. Hanna; Beebe Booth, father of the California senator; General Charles Cruft; Thomas H. Nelson, late minister to Mexico and just home; Preston Hussey, the banker said to one of the first financiers of the country; and last, not least, the president of the Vandalia railroad, Riley McKeen, as they call him at home.

“The father of McKeen was the owner of a fine farm, adjoining Terre Haute, and was in the habit of saying, ‘Riley can furrow the straightest row of any man on the farm.’

As a banker and railroad manager, he has always made straight rows and, though young, has become a power in the business world.

“Terre Haute has always been the residence of leading businessmen. William D. Griswold, late president of the Ohio & Mississippi railroad, and John Palmer Usher, late secretary of interior under Lincoln, have but recently left it as their home.

“In former times it was the residence of Thomas H. Blake, Commissioner of the  Land Office; Gov. and Sen. James Whitcomb and federal judge Elisha M. Huntington.

“I soon called upon Chauncey Rose, as I always do when in Terre Haute. He is now over 75 years of age and has, of all western men, dispensed the most princely bounties to the great objects of humanity. He is in fact the Peabody of the West.

“Mr. Rose has already given away a full million and a half. . . . [I]t is said that he has no agent or employee who has not prospered from the relationship. As a specimen of his charity, he has given to the Children’s Aid Society of New York $215,000, to the ruptured and crippled $90,000, to the home of the friendless $85,000, for the benefit of incurables $70,000, eye and ear infirmary $60,000, [and] juvenile asylum $40,000.

“He has given to Wabash College $85,000, and to a female society to help the needy and distressed in Terre Haute, $90,000.

“I made an early call upon Mr. and Mrs. Booth, former acquaintances, to congratulate them on the election of their son to the U.S. Senate and the distinguished position he had attained as a leader of reform and honest government administration.

“Mr. Booth was not at home but I was cordially received by Mrs. Booth, a lady of most imposing dress, address and bearing . . . She is an elegant lady of fine powers of conversation, of Quaker origin, stately in appearance and, notwithstanding her age, would preside with the same grace and dignity in the White House as she has done in the gubernatorial mansion of her bachelor son in California.

“After congratulations, etc., I inquired the age of Governor Booth. ‘He will be,’ says Mrs. Booth, ‘48 on the 30th day of this December.’

“‘Not married?,’ I inquired. ‘No, he is not,’ Hannah Booth replied.

“That is a serious objection, I said. ‘But it can be amended,’ says she. ‘And he is honest if upon earth there is an honest and true man.’

“‘That is a great quality,’ I said, ‘but not well appreciated in these times.’

“Mrs. Booth read with much gusto a grand utterance of her son. I know no equal in our language to justify passing beyond the lines of one’s political party. Mrs. Booth is evidently pondering what these things mean and has a firm faith that her son is equal in honesty and capacity to any emergency which may arise.  

“Of good parentage, Gov. Booth is a graduate of the college at Greencastle, studied law with W.D. Griswold, then practiced in Terre Haute [with Harvey D. Scott]. He is a very careful pains-taking man, of elegant literary taste, a reader and a thinker.

“What his future is depends upon himself and the course of events. A great opportunity is before him.”

Booth never became President but was nominated by the national Greenback Party as its vice presidential candidate in 1876. However, he declined the nomination. After serving one term as U.S. Senator, he did not seek re-election. He died in 1892.

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