Indiana Cities and Towns
This article will focus on an assortment of Indiana's cities, including ones large & small. Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana, is also the largest city in the state. The metropolitan area population was 1.8 million according to the 2010 census. Indianapolis is a relatively new city compared to some other Midwestern cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio. Both cities are approximately the same size now (CIncinnati's 2010 metro population was 2.1 million). but in 1840, Cincinnati had a population of over 50,000 while Indianapolis, which had been founded in 1821, had a population of only 2,700.
Vincennes: Indiana's Oldest City
Vincennes, founded in 1732, is Indiana's oldest city. It was established by the French, who were looking to locate a trading post somewhere between Detroit and St. Louis. The British took over Vincennes after their victory in the French & Indian War, and renamed it Fort Sackville. During the American Revolution George Rogers Clark led an expedition which captured the fort from the British.
After the war, this area became part of the Northwest Territory in 1787. When Ohio was split off and became a state, the remainder was named the Indiana Territory and Vincennes was the capital. In 1809 the rest of the remaining Northwest Territory was split off, putting Vincennes at the western edge of the Indiana Territory. The territorial capital was moved to Corydon in 1813, which was more central to the population at that time, mostly located along the Ohio River.
The Gas Boom
Northeastern Indiana experienced a gas boom during the later part of the nineteenth century. This contributed to the growth of a number of cities in the area, including Anderson, Kokomo, Muncie and numerous smaller cities. Not only did the plentiful gas draw people and businesses to extract the gas, it also brought companies that were dependent on plentiful gas. Chief among these was the glass industry. Some of the products produced by the glass industry during this period can be seen at the Greentown Glass Museum.
Some towns in Indiana have become famous because of the people who were born or lived there. Crawfordsville resident Lew Wallace wrote Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which became the best selling American novel in the nineteenth century. Fairmount is known as the hometown of the iconic actor James Dean. He only made three movies, but he is forever remembered for his role as a troubled teenager in Rebel Without a Cause. Farmland proudly proclaims itself as the home of Ansel Toney. Toney became famous as "The Kite Man" after he was featured by Charles Kuralt on one of his On the Road television shows.
Dana, Indiana is a small farming community of about 600. It's claim to fame is that its the birthplace of Ernie Pyle. Ernie was a very popular war correspondent during World War II. He was known for focusing on the life and hardships of the average soldier. Today Dana is home to the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum.
Some of Indiana's towns are famous because of the products that are or were made there. Some of the best automobiles ever made were manufactured in Auburn, Indiana. These include Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs. Many automotive aficionados consider the Duesenberg Model J to be the finest automobile ever made. These beautiful cars can still be seen today at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn.
Many other Indiana towns have connections to the auto industry. Hagerstown was home to a small company that started by making small pedal powered cars to run on railroad tracks. The owners eventually started making cars, and quickly realized they needed to specialize. They began making engines and later switched to just piston rings. The company had many names during its history. The best known name was Perfect Circle piston rings. It was eventually acquired by the Dana Corporation.
Brookston is a small Indiana town of about 1,500 people. Despite this it is home to a small business called Twinrocker. When it first opened in 1972, Twinrocker was the only company in the United States making paper by hand. Their specialty products are used by fine artists.
Some Hoosier cites and towns are notable because of their history The city of Wabash became famous on March 31, 1880. At 8:00 PM that night it became the first city to be illuminated by electricity. Because of the town's topography, it was an ideal location for the Brush Light Company to demonstrate its product. With four lights at the county courthouse, they were able to light the entire town.
The town of Ligonier in northern Indiana has a unique past. Although it's never been a large town (The population today is only about 4,500), it once had a thriving Jewish community numbering over 200 at its peak in the late 1800s. They also had their own synagogue. Over time, the younger Jewish people left Ligonier for larger cities and there are no longer any Jews in Ligonier. The former synagogue is now a museum dedicated to Ligonier's history.
Lyles Station in southwestern Indiana was founded by African-Americans. Free blacks Joshua and Sanford Lyles started farming there in 1849. After the Civil War, they returned to Tennessee and recruited freed slaves to come to the area. Not much currently remains there, except for the school which has been restored and turned into a museum. At one time there was a community of about 800 residents and several businesses.
The town of New Harmony in southwest Indiana was the site of two communal societies. The first was very successful, while the second was a complete disaster. Today, there are many buildings to visit that date back to these groups who occupied the town in the early 1800s.
Crown Point, in the northwest corner of Indiana, became known as the "Marriage Mill." Between 1915 and 1940, there was no waiting period to get married. Since it is located not far from Chicago, it drew many couples, including some celebrities. After they wed, some of those couples went to the nearby resort of Cedar Lake for their honeymoon.
Metamora is the location of the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site. After the success of the Erie Canal, Indiana went on a canal building binge. These canals were soon put out of business by railroads, and nearly all traces of them disappeared. A few miles of canal have been restored, and visitors can take a boat ride on the canal.