200 years ago yesterday, Centerville, Indiana was born. The town was laid out on October 20, 1814, making it the oldest surviving town in Wayne County. Centerville has a storied history. Most interestingly, Centerville was at the center of a sometimes violent battle over the county courthouse in the 1870s. Centerville was also the childhood home of Indiana’s famous Civil War governor, Oliver P. Morton. Steve Martin has written an article tracing these and other stories of Centerville in today’s Palladium-Item.
Two sets of my great grandmother’s great grandparents came to Centerville in its earliest days. In 1817, Daniel Crowe and his wife Elizabeth (Cranford) Crowe left North Carolina in a cart pulled by a horse. When Daniel arrived in Wayne County, Indiana, he had only $2.50 in money, which he used to buy shoes. Daniel later traded his horse and harness for a tract of land near Centerville.
For a time, Daniel worked for a local mill owner, David Commons. Commons was an important man in the community, serving as a significant stockholder of the local bank, a county commissioner for three terms and a state senator for two terms. Daniel and his wife Elizabeth were farmers, members of the local Christian church and the parents of thirteen children.
My great grandmother’s other great grandparents, John Boggs and his wife Sally (Jones) Boggs, were also early settlers of Centerville. Nothing is known of John Boggs’ birth or parents, but he was in Centerville at least by the 1820s. John served as a constable of the town prior to his death in 1843 at the age of 36.
Sally (Jones) Boggs moved to the area of Centerville with her parents, Levi M. Jones and Mary (Thomas) Jones. Levi and Mary left Virginia in March of 1815 and journeyed down the Ohio River on a flatboat to Cincinnati. From there, they drove through the countryside to Wayne County, Indiana. They settled in the small town of Salisbury, and then a year later bought 160 acres (a quarter section) in Center Township. Two years after that they sold that property and bought lots in the town of Centerville, where they built a hotel. In 1819, Levi became the first person to build a brick home in the town.
In 1822, Levi received the first contract to carry mail from Centerville to Indianapolis. His son (my great grandmother’s great granduncle) Lewis was the carrier, and he would make the sixty-five mile trip without stopping. Levi was not only a man of much business enterprise, but of generosity and confidence in his fellow man. He died in Centerville, an honored and respected man, on October 5, 1823.
Decades later, my great grandmother, Esther (Crowe) Semler, was born in Lynn, Indiana and married and settled in Richmond, where I was eventually born. Although our family moved (following the path of the much-disputed county courthouse) from Centerville to Richmond, we still have much to celebrate on this 200th birthday of Centerville.
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To read more about the county courthouse dispute, see the recent book by Carolyn LeFever, Wayne County Indiana: The Battles for the Courthouse.
To see more about the Centerville Bicentennial Celebration, see the Promote Centerville website.
To learn more about Oliver P. Morton, begin with his wikipedia entry.