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Wayne County Indiana Courthouse War
When Indiana was on the frontier of the United States and its counties were being formed, becoming a county seat was highly coveted. Towns would offer free land and other items to win that designation. Towns near the center of counties would often incorporate "Center" in their name to highlight that fact, since it was a good selling point
Wayne County in Indiana has had courthouses in three different towns. The original county seat was located in Salisbury, a town which no longer exists. The second county seat was located in Centerville, a town located in the center of the county on the National Road. The current county seat is Richmond. Both moves were rather contentious.
Wayne county was created in 1810, six years before Indiana became a state. The original county seat was Salisbury. At a cost of $229.99, a two story wooden courthouse was constructed in 1811. Shortly afterward it was replaced with a brick courthouse. Salisbury grew quickly to a few hundred inhabitants, but Centerville began fighting to become the county seat, pointing out its more central location.
In 1816 the first Indiana legislature passed an act that said the county seat would move to Centerville if the town provided public buildings as large and nice as the current facilities in Salisbury. The act was passed just before Christmas in 1816, and the buildings had to be completed by August 1, 1817. Despite the short time, Centerville accomplished this, much to the chagrin of Salisbury residents.
After the courthouse left, Salisbury began to decline and eventually disappeared. Today the area is farmland. The last remaining structure was a two story home later converted into a barn. It was also the birthplace of Oliver P. Morton, Indiana's governor during the Civil War. Salisbury's brick courthouse was torn down so that that the bricks could be reused. The original log courthouse was eventually moved to Centerville in 1952 and restored.
Centerville won the power struggle with Salisbury, which faded into oblivion, but soon a new and much more powerful rival appeared on the horizon. Richmond, in the eastern part of Wayne county, had become a railroad hub, and grew much faster than Centerville. Soon the bulk of the county population was in or near Richmond. The Indiana legislature had passed a law regarding movement of county seats. If 55% of the voting population signed a petition, the county seat could be moved provided certain conditions were met. The new location had to provide, at no cost to the county, a lot no less than two acres for the courthouse and a second lot of at least one quarter of an acre for a county jail.
In 1872 those who favored moving the county seat to Richmond met all the requirements. Centerville wasn't going to go down without a fight - Literally. When records were being removed from the county jail, someone fired a shot from a small cannon at the men taking the records. Black Betty, as the cannon was known, was normally used for ceremonial firings on Independence Day. On this day it had been loaded with scraps from a blacksmith shop. The damage to the jail, now a library, is still visible today. The National Guard was called in the following day and there was no further violence.
The first courthouse in Richmond was a two story brick building. In 1890 county commissioners decided to replace it with something more grand. James W. McLaughlin of Cincinnati designed a large Romanesque style courthouse. It is believed that the total construction cost was over $400,000. 600 railroad cars of Indiana limestone and three million bricks were used to build it.The interior features a marble staircase and oak woodwork. This courthouse was refurbished in the late 1970s. Now well over 100 years old, the courthouse is still in use.
Visiting Richmond Indiana
If you travel to Richmond and want to stay overnight, there are several bed & breakfasts in town:
- Philip W. Smith B& B: An 1890 Queen Anne style home with six guest rooms. It features beautiful stained glass windows & carvings.
- Martha E. Parry B&B: A 1903 Colonial Revival style home with four rooms. It has stained glass windows and antiques.
- The Potter's Wheel B&B: You won't have to worry about other guests, because there is only one room to rent. One of the innkeepers is an accomplished potter, and her work is on display.
- Seldom Scene Meadow B&B: Here they believe in sustainable living values. Their property has solar panels and a solar water heater, plus they serve locally grown food.