Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Where's our courthouse?

There are several references to the ill-fated courthouse for Fairfield, all of which suggest the town got cheated because of some political shenanigans. It makes for a good story.

It's probably less accurate than entertaining.

In 1811, when Franklin County was created out of Dearborn and Clark counties, Fairfield enjoyed a location essentially in the center of the county, one that would normally be considered ideal for a county seat.

Four years after the county was created, Fairfield was platted, and a town square was set up with the apparent intentions of building a courthouse.

Trouble was, Brookville had already been established as the county seat and that wasn't likely to change. The thinking was, evidently, that the new town of Fairfield would be able to lure the courthouse away from Brookville. That was the story that came down over the years.

August Reifel, in his 1915 history, suggests there was little evidence Brookville was going to yield its clout and that there was almost no organized attempt to address it.

What changed for Fairfield was that in about 1819, Jonathan McCarty, one of a long line of illustrious McCartys in the Whitewater Valley, was prominent in helping create Fayette County, whereupon he immediately became a principal political leader in Connersville.

A year or so later, Union County was created for reasons that are more vague, though the standard story is that residents there wanted their own government. They set up a courthouse in Brownsville initially and moved it to Liberty during a bit of a range war.

A range war that did not happen in Franklin County.

By the time the lines were drawn, Fairfield was on the northern edge of Franklin County, and had its town square and a beleaguered notion that it could someday be a town of prominence.

It never happened. 

An 1882 Atlas describes the events that allegedly occurred.

Fairfield was once a rival for county-seat honors in Franklin-Union counties. Before the division of the counties, Hon. Mr. McCarthy was elected as representative to the Legislature, and during his term of office the matter of creating a new county came up and, and finding that the bill was to pass, making what is now known as Franklin county, saw more money for himself in aiding Brookville to secure the county seat. 

He had friends purchase a large amount of lands in and near Brookville, and thus what had been planned from the early date, namely, to make Fairfield the seat of justice, fell through and Brookville was awarded the honors, so state the citizens of Fairfield. Before the division of the county, Fairfield was nearer the center of the territory than was Brookville.

When Fairfield was laid out, the proprietors donated a public square in the center of the plat, and this is still used for such, minus the coveted court house which it was intended should at no distant day be erected theron. Some good hitching posts and a town pump are all that now mark the "Square" as being public property.

There's little doubt McCarty was a shrewd businessman and an opportunist.

The hitching posts disappeared soon after the 20th century came around. The square itself served no particular purpose though, for a time, a large screen was set up to allow the public to watch free movies. That practice ended in the middle 1950s.

The so-called Eads addition, which was added in 1817, also included a "public square" that adds more fuel to the story. William H. Eads was, along with McCarty, a powerful political figure of the time and both were part of the first Indiana General Assembly. It is possible that Eads saw Fairfield as a center of county government. Could be, he had his own plan. Could be, McCarty beat him to the punch.

The Eads addition eventually was used for the township school. 

-- John

Photo: From 1961, Merle Updike (my grandfather) in front of the Fairfield town square. In the background, remnants of what was the Loper buggy business.

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