On December 21, 1813, the state legislature of Indiana passed the act creating Washington County. This act took effect on January 17, 1814, making this date the official birth date of the county. The governor commissioned Isaac Blackbird as the first clerk and recorder. Other commissions were sent to William Hoggart for sheriff; William Lindley, surveyor; Jeremiah Lamb, coroner; and to Johnathon Lindley, Moses Hoggart, and Simeon Lamb as judges of the Washington County Circuit Court.
The commissioners appointed by the state to select a site for the county seat were Joseph Paddox, Peter McIntosh, and Ignatius Abel of Harrison County and Marston G. Clark and Joseph Bartholomew of Clark County. They were directed to meet on January 17,1814, at the home of William Lindley who lived near the geographical center of the new county. Only Ignatius Abel did not attend. The men examined Royse’s Lick, Beck’s Mill, Camp Spring, Mill Creek, Fort Hill, and other prospective sites. Mr. Lindley, their host and the county surveyor, accompanied the men on their journeys and never failed to point out the suitability of the site near his home at the fork of Blue River and Brock Creek. This site was finally chosen and 174 acres purchased to be laid out in lots. After long discussion about what the name of the town should be, Mrs. Lindley suggested Salem, in memory of her home town in North Carolina, All this was accomplished by February 2, 1814. John DePauw was appointed agent to lay out the town, advertise, and sell the lots. On February 14, the work was completed, the plat filed, and the sale of lots began the second Tuesday in April of 1814.
The town of Pekin, second largest in the county, was laid out by Christian Bixler November 15,1831, but it was not surveyed until 1837 by John I. Morrison. When the New Albany and Salem Railroad was built, the station for Pekin was built across Blue River from the town. A new town built up around the train station and was officially registered with the state government as New Pekin. At some point in time, the Pekin postmaster moved the post office across the river without officially changing the name. While it is all one town today, as far as the state of Indiana is concerned the name is New Pekin, but the U.S. Post Office and common usage is still Pekin. The town is known nationally as a site of the oldest consecutive Fourth of July celebration in the country! Campbellsburg, first known as Buena Vista, was started by John Pollard and named after the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War. It was surveyed and platted on August 31, 1849, by John I. Morrison. In January 1838 Aaron Hardin planned a town in Posey Township and named it Hardinsburg. Fredricksburg was laid out in the year 1815 by Frederick Royse and named in his honor, Little York, so named because the families who lived there were from New York, was laid out by George Davison on August 3, 1831. There are other towns and villages in Washington County. but these are the ones still offering U.S. postal services.
Washington County has the distinction of participating in one of the only two forays by the Confederate troops into northern territory during the Civil War. General John Hunt Morgan, in his raid across southern Indiana, captured Salem and a fine meal was prepared by Salem ladies for Union troops who were due later. Some historians say that if Morgan and his men had not dallied in Salem a whole day to eat that meal, they might never have been caught. Morgan and his men were unsuccessful in their attempt to capture Thomas Rodman, a citizen of Washington County and inventor of the gun which bore his name. Rodman guns were considered the best field artillery pieces of the Civil War, and the South didn’t have any.
The most prominent native son of Washington County is John Milton Hay. He was the private secretary and the biographer of President Abraham Lincoln. He served Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt as Secretary of State, being responsible for the open door policy with China and the purchasing of the Panama Canal. He later served as ambassador to the Court of St James in London, England. His birthplace has been preserved by the Washington County Historical Society and is part of the John Hay Center. The center also contains the Stevens Memorial Museum, a pioneer village, and a national award-winning genealogy library.
Other men who have lived in Washington County and attained prominence outside the county include Christopher Harrison, first Lieutenant Governor of Indiana; Indiana Governor Winfield T. Durbin, who grew up in New Philadelphia; Major General Jack Elrod, who was also Adjutant General of the State of Indiana; Washington C. DePauw, founder of DePauw University; Dr. Wilmer Souder, handwriting expert for the FBI on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case; and Everett Dean, coach of NCAA champions and author of ‘the book” on basketball.
Washington County, Indiana, has always been noted for its many churches and the high standards of its schools. Its citizens just dedicated an addition to the hospital making it a fine facility with state-of-the-art equipment and offering a wide variety of medical services. With its fertile cropland and the scenic beauty of its rolling hills, Washington County‘s location in the heartland of America is ideal.
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Warder W. Stevens, Centennial History of Washington County, (lndianapolis: B. F. Bowen & CO., 1916).
History of Lawrence, Orange, and Washington Counties Indiana, (Chicago: Goodspeed Brothers & Co., 1884).
Carl Henn, Jr. ed., Here Is Your Indiana Government, (lndianapolis: Indiana State Chamber of Commerce, 1981).
by Marjorie Ann Martin Souder
(Mrs. Dawson C. Souder)