Shelbyville, Indiana

Facts About Shelbyville, Indiana

imagesShelbyville and Shelby County are a part of a huge territory, known as the “New Purchase”, which the Delaware and other tribes of Indians ceded by treaty to the United States, October 3, 1818, at St. Mary’s, Ohio. The area was not opened for settlement until 1820, the Indians having agreed to vacate the ceded lands by that date.

Jacob Whetzel, brother of the famous Indian-hater, Lewis Whetzel, and of Susan(Whetzel) Goodrich, on of Shelby County’s pioneer settlers–who lies buried in the City Cemetery, had obtained from his Indian friend, Chief Anderson of the Delawares, permission to mark a wagon path through the forest from Franklin County in eastern Indiana to the “Bluffs” on White River, south of present day Indianapolis. Within a week after the treaty had been concluded, Whetzel and a few friends began to blaze this wilderness “road”, since known as the “Whetzel Trace.” The route selected by Whetzel crossed Shelby County in a northwesterly direction a short distance north of present Shelbyville.

It was by way of the Whetzel Trace that many of Shelby County’s first settlers came to make new homes. One of them, a squatter by the name of James Wilson, with the help of three of his older sons, erected the county’s first cabin near “little” Marion in late 1818. Early in January, 1819, the Wilson family—eleven in all—moved from Franklin to this new one-room, 16′ by 16′ cabin, and become the county’s first settlers.

In 1820 the “New Purchase” was formally opened for settlement and most of the rich farm land which now comprises Shelby County was speedily claimed by purchasers at the Brookville Government Land Office.

The next year, late in December, the State Legislature at Corydon-then the state capital-authorized the organization of Shelby County and the establishment of a county “capital.” The name Shelby was assigned to the new county in honor of Isaac Shelby, twice governor of Kentucky and a famous Indian Wars soldier under whose leadership many of the pioneer settlers had served before emigrating to Indiana. The State considered four sites for the county seat, finally deciding on the present location in the center of the county. A donation of 70 acres of land–40 acres by John Hendricks, 20 by James Davison and 10 acres by John Walker– was a deciding factor. The decision as to the county seat’s location was revealed on July 4, 1822, at a giant barbecue northeast of the present Fairgrounds, and was made official the next day.

The county was first divided into four civil townships, but since has been made into its present fourteen townships. Shelbyville is in Addison, the central township.

The first house in present Shelbyville was built by Francis Walker on the lot at the northwest corner of Washington and Tompkins Streets.

shelbyville_commercial_historic_districtOn July 4, 1834, Judge William J. Peasley, local railroad enthusiast, built and put into operation at Shelbyville the first “railroad” this side of the Allegheny Mountains. It was an experimental road, horse drawn, ran on wooden tracks, and extended only one and one-fourth miles east from the town to a picnic area on Lewis Creek. Soon it was abandoned. Today the Penn Central Railroad serves Shelbyville.

Shelbyville was incorporated January 21, 1850, by a special act of the Legislature, according to county histories. The city charter received at that time was destroyed in the City Hall fire, January 1, 1928.

For many years, the chief industry of Shelbyville was the manufacture of high-grade furniture, using the fine hardwoods which grew in abundance in the surrounding area. As the forest gave way to farm land, the furniture business–still important–has ceased to dominate the local manufacturing field. Today Shelbyville is a community of successful diversified industries.

Notable people

  • Sandy Allen, listed as tallest living female (7’7″) by Guinness World Records, until her death on August 13, 2008 at age 53
  • James “Bucky” Barnes, fictional character from the Marvel comics universe and former Captain America was born in Shelbyville.
  • William Garrett, He led Shelbyville to the Indiana state championship in 1947, was Indiana Mr. Basketball of 1947 and first African-American basketball player in the Big Ten Conference for Indiana University, played for the Boston Celtics and Harlem Globetrotters
  • Thomas Hendricks, 21st Vice President of the United States under Grover Cleveland for 1 year only in 1885
  • Victor Higgins (1884-1949), painter, studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, moved to Taos, NM; has a painting in the Eiteljorg Museum
  • John W. Hill (1890-1977), founder of PR firm Hill & Knowlton in Cleveland in 1927
  • Charles Major (1856-1913), novelist, in 1953, Major’s debut 1898 novel When Knighthood Was in Flower was remade into a film by Walt Disney Pictures. He also wrote Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall which was made into a 1924 silent historical drama.
  • Edna Parker (b. 1893), the oldest living person from August 13, 2007 until her death on November 26, 2008 at the age of 115 years
  • Mike Phipps, former Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears (1977–1981) quarterback, also played for Purdue
  • James Pierce, actor, movies include silent film Tarzan and the Golden Lion in 1927
  • Wilbur Shaw, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner in 1937, 1939, and 1940.
  • W. Roland Stine, educator and politician
  • Kid Quill, recording artist who has charted Top 40 on iTunes Hip/Hop Charts