14 Dec Bicentennial Kick-Off
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
Last Friday, December 11, the Indiana State Bicentennial was officially kicked off with the raising of the Bicentennial flag at the Hamilton County Judicial Center. The celebration will run until next December 11 – Statehood Day – which is the anniversary of the signing of the first Indiana Constitution. (A second Constitution would be written in 1851 to account for drastic changes in the state.)
200 years ago, in 1815, the events that would have held the world’s attention would have been Napoleon’s escape from Elba, the re-establishment of his empire, his final defeat at Waterloo, and his exile to Saint Helena.
In December of 1815, things were quiet here. The land still belonged to the Native Americans. The treaty ending the War of 1812 had been had been ratified in February, although it took some time for people deep in the wilderness to become aware of it. This area had been the site of clashes between soldiers and Native Americans during the war and some villages had been destroyed. The Delaware Indians had left their homes along the White River to escape the conflict and had just started returning.
William Conner had returned from his service during the war and was reunited with his wife and children. He would re-establish his trading post at the site of what is now Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. There were probably other trappers and traders who had traveled here using the Lafayette Trace going from the Ohio River to Tippecanoe on the Wabash River, and the road running north to the Miami town of Kekionga, the site of Fort Wayne. The roads intersected at Strawtown, which was an important crossroads.
The geography of the county was largely thick forests with few trails running through them. However, this would soon change. One year from then, the state of Indiana would be formed, and two years after that, in 1818, the Treaty of St. Mary’s would be signed, opening this area for settlement. Five years after that, in 1823, the population would have grown to the extent that a county could be officially established.
Hamilton County has been making busy making plans for the celebration of the Bicentennial and has a local organizing committee putting events together. Hamilton County Tourism has been leading the county effort. This is in contrast to the county’s participation in the 1916 Centennial, which was little to none. There were some sharp editorials in the newspapers of the time about that.
Interestingly, one important contribution in 1916 was made by a Hamilton County person – illustrator Franklin Booth. Although Booth was nationally known for his work by that time and lived in New York, he still considered Indiana to be his home. So when Charity Dye, the woman organizing the state celebration, wanted to create a children’s history of the state, she turned to Booth to do the illustrations. The book “Once Upon a Time in Indiana” is hardly a classic of literature, but it served its purpose and the illustrations are quite good. There are new histories that are being written for the Bicentennial and HEPL is acquiring them as they become available.
HEPL is planning events and programs relating to the Bicentennial, so watch for those announcements. The State Bicentennial Commission website will also have information. Right now, they are very interested in nominations for participants in the Bicentennial Torch relay.
There is a great deal that will be happening in the next 12 months. You can expect to have fun and learn a lot about the history of the state of Indiana.