An Early History Written in 1884

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A History of Knightstown, Indiana written in 1884

This was written in 1884 and describes the Knightstown of about 1840. It was reprinted in the Banner in January, 1941

This beautiful and prosperous town is situated on the west bank of the Blue River, near the southern line of Wayne township. The country surrounding it is rich and well improved. The National Road and the main line of the Chicago, St. Louis & Pittsburgh Railroad pass through the town, and Knightstown is an important trading point and its citizens are enterprising, energetic, and many of them wealthy. For substantial and elegant business houses, tasty private residences, good schools and churches, few towns of equal population can surpass Knightstown.

Main Street mid 1800s

This is the southwest corner of Main and Jefferson Street in about 1860. This is one of two of the earliest pictures I’ve seen of Knightstown. Note the log sidewalk being constructed along Jefferson.

The town was platted in 1827, just after the National Road was located, and named in honor of Jonathan Knight, an engineer employed by the government upon the road. Waitsell M. Cary was the first settler and the proprietor of the town. He moved, from Springfield, Ohio, to the old village of West Liberty about 1825 and there followed the hatters trade for two years. He purchased the greater portion of the tract now the site of the town and when the National Road was surveyed, had the land laid off in town lots.

About 1830 he began to furnish entertainment for travelers and in 1832 opened a licensed tavern. The next house erected after Cary’s was built by Dawson Sanford. Sanford died two years after coming here, his death being the first in the town. George Martz built the third house in town. A man named Isham. in 1829 or 1830 erected the house now owned by Howell Swain, which is one of the oldest buildings now standing. The first birth in the town was that of a child to the wife of George Martz. The first marriage was solemnized in February, 1830, by Judge Anderson of Raysville, Ind., uniting Asa Heaton and Mary, daughter of W. M. Cary. The first store was opened in 1829 by Isaac James and Levi Griffith in partnership. Other early merchants were: J. P. Low and James Wood.
The first physician was Dr. Hiatt who was also an early teacher in the town. He remained here about two years. He was a Quaker from Richmond, to which place he returned.
Dr Joseph M. Whitesell, now the oldest physician in Henry county settled in Knightstown in 1831.
The Knightstown Post Office was established in 1832. James McColly was the first postmaster. His successors in the office have been: John Mayes, Asa Heaton, Fielding L. Goble, George Davis, A. B. Fithian, J. W. White, Edward B. Niles, Valentine Steiner, John Bell and others.

The town grew slowly. Its aspect remained wild and primitive. Even after 1830 bears were sometimes seen in the streets of the town, and one well-known citizen had a memorable adventure with one. The morals of the village were not exactly correct, according to modern standards (the standards of 1884). The amount of fighting and whiskey drinking was large in proportion to the population. These features passed away most gradually.

An old resident who came to Knightstown in 1837, ten years after the town was founded, thus describes the place at that time: “The population did not exceed 500. Most of the houses were on Main street or the National Road, though there were some buildings on the town streets parallel with Main; the houses were small and all of wood.
Fielding L. Goble put up the first brick house during the year 1837. The principal merchants were: Hart & Tate. Low & McCain. and Woods & Johnson. The principal tavern, which was also the Stage Office was kept by H. Dillon.
Another description of Knightstown was given in The Indiana Sun. editorially. under the heading “Our Town” in 1839: “What beauties are presented in the town? Alas! They are few, The site is level and extended; the streets are wide, but how they look – un-shaded, muddy, unpaved, and without sidewalks. The public square is in part a mud hole, strewed with wood and chips and fragments of old timber; the market house until recently a hog shelter, the alleys are blocked with heaps of offal.
(Note how frank were those editors in ye olden days, yet the beauty of the present public parks. the shade of the present tree lined avenues, and other man made beauties in evidence in the Knightstown of today, stand out as a comparison most striking, and are testimony to the spirit of those who followed this account, and who corrected the condition thus reported, and as to the alley ways, many of them today, well lined with lilac bushes, often 8 to 12 feet high, likewise attest a most tremendous change. Still the old description is most valuable in showing the work accomplished by the pioneers who followed those early days).

Continuing the editorial of 1839 we discover: “The houses are, many of them unsightly, being low, ill-shaped and some of them not painted at all. Here and there is a good looking building with handsome shade around, but too many are entirely out of taste. This, however is incidental to all new towns, that spring up in the West, and arises from poverty of the first settlers and the unskillfulness of artists. Our town surpasses many others in appearance of its buildings already and is gradually improving. As the wealth of its citizens increases, which will be proportionate to the growth of the country around, mean homes will give place to better ones. The unfinished state of the National Road is a great hindrance to the improvement of this town. Its speedy completion would give the place a new start, and encourage the citizens to bestow pains upon the buildings and streets; but they need not put off everything ’till our fickle-minded and dilatory government shall finish the road! It is in their power to improve now. Small houses may be made to look neat. There are a few examples of such scattered through the village.”

In 1840 the entire population of Wayne township, including Knightstown, was 2,480.

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