Fayette County Historical Museum
Day out with Thomas the Train
On a mid-summer day in 1808, a group of people and a number of pack horses loaded with Indian trade goods forded the Whitewater River and moved north along the high bluff on the western side. Included in the entourage were two white men, John Conner and Michel Peletier, their wives and children, and several Delaware Indians.
They were leaving their store near Cedar Grove and looking for a new location in the Indian Territory and nearer the villages of the Delaware Indians. The group moved up the west bank to a bluff over-looking the river where they made camp. For the next several days they worked on the construction of a large, two-story log cabin. Based on the research of J.L. Heineman, this cabin was probably in the middle of present day Eastern Avenue at the west end of Charles Street. This cabin was to be the center of Conner’s fur trading business for several years.
This Was The Beggining
Since the retreat of the last glacier some 10,000 to 12,000 year ago, what is now Indiana had been inhabited by nomadic bands of Indians; they hunted, fished, and farmed this area. These people have been classified as Eastern Woodland Indians, and by the time the white man entered the region the Miami, the Shawnee, and the Pottawatomi were the dominant tribes. During, and after the Revolutionary War several clans of the Delaware settled along the West Fork of White River; Muncie, Anderson, and Daleville were all Delaware villages. Other peoples of a somewhat higher civilization also lived in the area.
They used metal, made fine pottery, were excellent farmers, and carried on extensive trade. Because they built large mounds for a variety of reasons, we call them the Mound Builders. They were gone from Indiana by the time the first white men arrived. The first white men to reach what is now Indiana were French coureurs de bois, “runners of the woods”.
They brought a variety of trade goods with them from Montreal and Detroit to exchange with the Indians for furs. Fur was very valuable on the European market, and trade with the Indians for these pelts was a lucrative business. French Jesuit persists, “black robes” could be found at French fur trading posts such as Ouiatenon and Vincennes at a somewhat later date.
John Conner was born on August 27, 1775, at the village of Schoenbrun, in what is now the State of Ohio. Schoenbrun was a community founded by Moravian missionaries in an attempt to bring Christianity to the Delaware Indians. In 1781, the Indians and the Moravians, including the Conners, moved to the Detroit area.
John and brother, William, left the Conner farm near Detroit and settled among the Delaware along the West Fork of White River in the newly-created Delaware dialects, and both were married to Delaware women. They went into the fur trading business in the Indian villages along the West Fork. Partly as a result of a visit to Washington, D.C. in 1802, John moved to the Whitewater Valley, establishing a post near present day Cedar Grove.
Furs would be shipped from William Conner’s post among the Delaware to Cedar Grove and on down the Indian Trail to the Ohio River; trade goods were shipped down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh and north to the post at Cedar Grove, a very profitable arrangement for the Conner brothers. The Grouseland Treaty of 1805 reduced the hunting grounds of the Indians to some extent. As a result, John Conner, in 1808, moved his trading post about 20 miles north to a location along the west side of the West Fork of the Whitewater River, the present site of Connersville.
The War of 1812 brought increased Indiana tensions to the frontier, and also served as a transition period in the life of John Conner. The Twelve Mile Purchase of 1809, the beginning of the exodus of the Delaware from the Indiana Territory, and the War of 1812 caused Conner to realize that his future was no longer in the Indian trade. His Indian wife had died, and in 1813 he married Lavina Winship of Cedar Grove. In 1813 he platted a small village; the original plat of 62 lots included two north-south streets and four or five east-west streets. About this time he also left his log trading post and built a store on the southwest corner of Main and Harrison streets in the newly-platted village.He soon had a grist mill, a saw mill, and a distillery in operation. Settlers were following the old Indiana train north from the Ohio River and buying land in the vicinity of Conner’s post. Small businesses were starting; blacksmiths, tanners, wagon makers, taverns, and stores.
In 1816, John served in the newly elected State Senate meeting at the State Capital in Corydon. In 1819 Fayette County was created by the General Assembly and Connersville was chosen as the county seat. In 1820, Conner was appointed one of the commissioners to select a site for the new state capital. In 1822, John Conner decided to move his business interests to a location south of Noblesville, near his brother. Near horseshoe Prairie he erected a saw mill, a grist mill, and a carding mill. He was elected to the State House of Representatives; he had served in the first legislature at Corydon, and now he served in the first one at the new capitol in Indianapolis.
John also owned a store in Indianapolis. John Conner died in Indianapolis on April 19, 1826, and was buried in Greenlawn Cemetery. When the White River began to destroy Greenlawn, the graves were moved to Crown Hill Cemetery. No trace was found of Conner’s remains.
In the first half century of its existence Connersville grew from a log trading post to a flourishing town of 2,119 with another 8,000 people in the county. Growth had been slow but steady, with the canal responsible for a rapid increase in population and industry. There were 13 turnpikes in operation in the county by 1856, and two newspapers were published. A large number of churches were thriving, and the city purchased 14 acres on the north side of town for a “town cemetery.”
John J. McFarlan arrived in 1856 and established the McFarlan Buggy Company and the Roots Brothers began the manufacture of rotary positive blowers in 1859. The Bank of Connersville, first set up in the back of Frybarger’s store on the southwest corner of Fifth and Central, erected a new, three-story brick building on Central, between Fourth and Fifth. The Fayette Bank opened for business in 1853 on the southeast corner of Fourth and Central; James Mount and William Merrill established the Farmers Bank in 1857.
The town and county built two new public buildings in the late forties. In 1849 the second courthouse was constructed and the same year the community built a “town hall” on the public square behind the courthouse. The town of Connersville purchased the old seminary building from the county, razed it, and in 1858 opened a new, modern school facility on the site. With all the changes taking place, the pioneer period was rapidly drawing to a close. The coming of the railroads in the 1860’s would bring that era to an end.
The fifties had been a momentous decade nationally and the consequences of these events certainly filtered down to Connersville and Fayette County Adherents of the Democrat and Whig Parties carried on spirited campaigns, and the newly organized Republican Party was growing rapidly. The slavery question was a growing cloud on the horizon and the citizens of the town were divided over the course of action to be taken. Certainly the next decade would be a critical one for the community as well as the nation. A storm was brewing.
- 1861 – Fort Sumter fired on – Fayette County boys begin to volunteer
- 1862 – First railroad reaches Connersville
- 1865 – The “Boys in Blue” return home
- 1866 – Street names changed to present ones
- 1867 – Whitewater Valley “Towpath Line” railroad reaches town
- 1869 – Town of Connersville chartered as “City of Connersville”
- 1870 – Population 2,496 1870 – First Connersville waterworks organized
- 1874 – Manufacture of furniture becomes important local industry
- 1875 – First streetlights installed
- 1878 – First high school graduation – nine class members
- 1880 – Population 3,223
- 1887 – Kennedy’s build covered bridge across river at Fifth Street
- 1887 – Connersville Times becomes Connersville’s first daily newspaper
- 1888 – Police Department organized
- 1890 – Population 4,548 – County 12,630 – East Connersville 458
- 1890 – Streets were lighted by electricity 1895 – McFarland Hotel opens for business
- 1895 – First sewers installed
- 1895 – Andrew Frazee organizes the Connersville Telephone Company
- 1896 – John B. McFarlan establishes an Industrial Park
- 1898 – Rex Buggy Company starts business on Western Avenue
- 1898 – Central Manufacturing Company opens on West Seventh Street
- 1900 – Population 6,836 – County 13,495