The Early History of Knightstown

The amount of material I have been able to accumulate about early Knightstown keeps growing so I have made several pages dedicated to the subject instead of putting everything on one very long page. I will put links on every page in the section to facilitate easy navigation.
Just click on one of the headings below:

A History of Knightstown, Indiana

(This was sent to me by Lois Thompson Roland. It was written in 1976 at the direction of the Town Board)
In the preparation of this material for future generations of townspeople or others whom might be interested in the official actions of the Town of Knightstown by its Trustees, this work is set forth. The information contained herein was for the most part, taken directly from the Official Records of the Town.
Obviously, each and every Town meeting together with its agenda, discussions and eventual disposition was not and could not be completely covered in this brief history. Thus only the highlights have been made use of.
It is believed that this material together with private and personal data and information elsewhere available, will amplify and collaborate this document. The information was made available through the courtesy and co-operation of Mrs. Robert (Shirley) Thompson, Clerk-Treasurer of the Town of Knightstown, Wayne Township, Henry County, Indiana.

Main Street mid 1800s

This is the southeast corner of Main and Jefferson Street in about 1860. This is one of two of the earliest pictures I’ve seen of Knightstown.

The little settlement on the west bank of Big Blue River was just that, until and when, through common consent of its inhabitants, it took the name of Knightstown, in 1827. As is well known, the town was named in honor of one of the surveyor who laid out the original route of The National Road, Mr. Jonathan Knight. Probably a few cabins and a trading post comprised the first settlement. Seemingly and by virtue of its high location, the river, its timber, foreseeable agricultural and its location midway between Indianapolis and Richmond prompted its settlers to desire town status. This evidently being true, an interested group of men were selected as Trustees for the purpose of organizing the hamlet as a chartered town. Pursuant to the law and the custom, the following seven men made application for a charter for the town: Elias Evans, Paul Harris, Asa Heaton, George Davis, Robert Woods, Issac Hule, and Joseph Whitsell.

In March of 1837 the formal incorporation charter was granted to these seven men as trustee-incorporators and Knightstown officially became a Town by Act of the Indiana Legislature. A town election was held and the following Board Members were elected by the citizens- George Davis, Edward K Hart, Elias Evans, John Bales, Robert D Johnson, Asa Heaton and David Fraily. In the immediate Board organization process, George Davis was elected Presiding officer, and Henry Carroll was appointed Clerk-Treasurer. The next action was the appointment of M.F. Edwards as Town Marshall.

A Town Plat was approved by the Board to include four original Wards. Their boundaries are herein below described: Ward #1, The real estate bounded on the east by Blue River, Adams Street on the west, Clay Street on the south (now known as Main Street- Old U.S. 40) and on the north by Brown Street. Ward #2, the real estate bounded by Adams on the east, Clay on the south, Washington on the west and Brown on the north. Ward #3, Blue River on the east, Clay on the north, Adams on the west and Jackson on the south. Ward #4 bounded by Adams on the east, Washington on the west, Clay on the north and Jackson on the south.

K-town Plat

Old map of Knightstown showing the original plat, (in blue).

Later Wards five, six and seven were added west and north of the original plat. In 1921 the plat and the town was re-zoned to have but five wards.
With the arrival of a few additional settlers, many with skills of coopers, millrights, blacksmiths, tinners; etc. the town slowly grew. Log cabins were replaced by homes and businesses constructed of stone, obtained north of town on the banks of Blue River; bricks burned in local kilns and those of frame, in planed lumber. A grist mill, and a sawmill was built, using the water power of Blue River and Montgomery Creek.

Naturally the War between the states had its impact on this struggling little coach stop on the National Road. Having among its populace but few people of southern sympathy, most of the younger men to go to service joined the Union Army. After the conflict the returning veterans formed the Jerry B. Mason Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a patriotic organization that carried on until the early nineteen-twenties, at which time death and age ravaged the ranks of this once powerful national group, known as the G.A.R.

With some additional growth after the Civil War, the need for a local money and a credit supply was evidenced. Men interested in farming wanted to expand and clear more land.
Business men needed a cash flow for inventory increase, and building new structures for stores, small factory enterprises, as well for personal needs. So, in 1865 Robert Woods, one of the early settlers, organized and obtained a charter for a banking house. Since its inception that same bank has been operated, helping to meet the financial needs of this and other nearby communities. It is known today as the First National Bank of Knightstown. Again in 1905 with growth and the need for more capital, Leonidas P. Newby, a wealthy and influential young lawyer, together with other local business men and affluent farmers organized the Citizens National Bank, which exists today as a sound and progressive financial institution. Both banks came under the purview and by legal consent through ordinance of the Town Board.

The drilling and successful use of natural gas in the eastern part of Indiana was eminent in 1887, when a far-sighted Town Board granted by ordinance, the Knightstown Natural Gas Company a fifty year lease to install lines and equipment in order that the town and its citizens might have the use of this natural heating and lighting element. Later on another Gas Utility was formed and like privilege was extended by the Board.

Additional growth of the Town made consideration of a public water supply inevitable. In 1894 the Town Fathers passed an Ordinance for the construction of a Town Water Works.
Accordingly, wells were drilled, a pumping station was erected (which still stands and is in use today) and lines were lain for the town supply. A bond issue for $20,000.00 was made for this utility.

As in every pioneer settlement, disaster and property loss by fire was a constant threat and serious danger. Remembering that most of the construction was, in the early days of the town, wood construction, bucket brigades, however ableand willing, faced for the most part defeat, when the Town Fire Bell rang. With the recent advent of a Town Water Supply, and its accompanying water lines over the growing village, the organization and sponsorship by the town officially of a fire department came about.

With town funds, equipment was purchased and a volunteer fire department as such, was instituted. These loyal volunteer firemen have faithfully and certainly most ably carried on their efforts from that early day until the present. Every man who has served or is presently serving as a volunteer fireman in Knightstown merits the deepest gratitude from every citizen for their outstanding prevention and control of fires in the community.
Nothing had ever been effectively done about sewage disposal on a town wide basis until 1898, at which time the Town Board passed an ordinance authorizing the construction
of a sewer, running east and west on Warrick Street and emptying into Blue River on the west bank. Property connections were permitted and, in fact, encouraged but the enforcement appeared not to be too drastic, as many properties continued the use of out-houses, even beyond the turn of the century and later. The original sewer was extended as the growth of the subdivisions of the town increased, and as a result, outlets were made in Montgomery Creek west of town. The system became inadequate and in 1974 a Town Ordinance was passed authorizing the construction of a completely new sewage system for the town corporation and a disposal plant that would meet federal and state sanitary and environmental laws, rules, and regulations. The cost was $4,700,000 The final completion of the total installation is scheduled to be late in 1976.

As time advanced, communication between Knightstown and other cities, towns and villages became necessary and important. Small towns were not to be isolated for this lack, due to the invention of the telephone and telegraph. As of consequence, in 1897 the Town officially granted permission to Harry Watts, Sr. and W.S. Garritson to install the necessary lines, poles, and equipment to provide interested subscribers telephone service. In like manner, the Western Union Telegraph Company was given proper authority to bring in wire service to the community. Thus by 1892 Knightstown had communication with the outside world, other than that provided by the postal service.

The coming of the first railroad through Knightstown was indeed a propitious event. It made travel possible, other than on horseback or by wagon, between the Town and other villages. The granting by ordinance to the first and subsequent rail lines was a part of the action of the Board. This was necessary because both the Pittsburg and Eastern (now the Penn.Central) and the Big Four (now a branch line of the NY Central) passed through the corporate limits of the Town. In 1900, like authority was granted to the Indiana Railroad Company to build a track east and west on Main Street for the use of Electric Interurban Cars. This line connected Indianapolis and Richmond and followed east to west Richmond and Indianapolis. Later on a spur line was built from Dunreith north to connect to New Castle.

The bringing of people together in the semi-close confinement of a town brings with it hazards concerning public health. From the records it is believed that no real serious community wide illness or epidemic occurred, other than the seasonal individual bouts with recognizable communicable diseases. But in 1902 this was immediately changed. An epidemic of small pox of town-wide proportions quickly occurred. There is some confusion as to exactly who brought this scourge to the Town. But it did come and effected the majority of the families in the town, one way or the other.

The Town Board in emergency session, began at once to deal with the situation. Dr Olin E Holloway, a young physician, who had been trained in medical school in the use of antitoxins, was placed in authority by the Board. All other physicians of the town were members of his staff and all endeavored to treat and control this disastrous out-break. The Town purchased a large, brick house southeast of Knightstown from Charles Owens for the sum of $2900.00 and allocated it as an isolation and treatment hospital. It was locally known as the Pest House. Many deaths resulted from this epidemic and the strictest of rules was promulgated by the Town Board to conquer small pox here. Finally, it was conquered, the antitoxins were effective in most cases, and within a year the health situation was back to normal.

Town records disclose that by authority of Ordinance #203 as of the date of December 30, 1907, the sum of $12,000.00 was raised by bond sale to fund an electric light plant,poles, lines, and general equipment for the system. This additional utility service was born of the need for electricity in the homes of the community, as well as business and the small industries that existed. A goodly number of light standards were erected on Main Street to effectually light the thoroughfare, and aid citizens in store buying and travel after dark. Later on street lighting was substantially increased. As a matter of interest, when electricity was made available to the private homes, each person could have a porch light free of charge, provided they allowed it to burn from sunset to sun rise. Thus, the age of candles, kerosene lamps, and gas lighting for homes and businesses began its disappearance.

Throughout the history of the many and varied actions of the Knightstown Board of Trustees, it is quite obvious from a study of their official records that these men made every effort to perform their responsibilities with honesty ad integrity. Without a doubt they were, by and large, dedicated to the proposition that the good, the growth, and the progress of the community was in their trust. They must have been, and this to their credit, conservative men in granting rights and privileges and spending the tax money of the Town. Most were self made and had come up the hard way, experiencing wars, panics, and depressions. A few could not stand the pressures and as consequence, resigned without fulfilling their terms of office. Most stood the test. For the large majority who stood firm on controversial issues, public criticism, changes in federal, state and county regulations laws, Knightstown today, in 1976 is a solvent, solid, clean well ordered town.

In this Bi-centennial year of 1976 the Town is indeed fortunate to have its present leadership in the persons of the Town Trustees. They are named as follows:
CLARENCE POST, President of the Board;
Mrs. Shirley Thompson is the Clerk-Treasurer.
Other personnel making up the Town’s supervisory staff of project units are as follows:
Arnold Butler,Marshall And Town Works Manager With Six Deputies.
Phillip Rose, City Judge
Richard Richey, Fire Chief, And 20 Active Volunteer Firemen.
City Water Service Foreman: Gilbert Orrell
City Sewage Plant Manager, Thomas Palmer.
Electric Service Foreman, Gerald Mayberry
The Town Office clerical staff is composed of Mrs.Lillian Williams and Mrs.Juanita Messick;
Willard M Avery is Town Attorney.
In its beginnings the Town Board met in stated and emergency sessions in various locations in the Town. Early in the nineteen-hundreds the Town erected a brick building on North Franklin Street, one-half square north of Main Street. Atop was placed a belfry, in which hung the town fire bell,used to alert the people of a fire.

In 1960 ground was purchased one half square south of Main Street on Washington Street, and a new building was erected as a Town Hall. Contained therein are appropriate offices for the utilities, a vault for the safe keeping of all records, a conference room, jail cells, and police headquarters. Immediately adjacent to the south is the Fire Station wherein all mobile fire equipment is housed. All this is considered to be convenient and adequate for the services that are available for the citizens of Knightstown.
Prepared June 10, 1976 by H.C.GORDON.

To go to any of the pages in this section just click on one of the headings below:

Support Historic Knightstown

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You must be logged in to post a comment.