Museum Corner—March 2018
Bedford was the second County Seat…
Published in Times Mail newspaper March 7, 2018
By Becky Buher, Guest columnist
During Lawrence County’s bicentennial celebration, it’s fun to think about how the county became what it is today. Bedford was not the first choice for Lawrence County’s seat of government, and in fact, Bedford did not exist when the first county seat was established. In 1818, the promising town of Palestine near White River was the first choice, but illness developed there, and its population requested the Indiana State Legislature allow moving the county seat to a new location.
After all, rumor had it, Hindostan, a Martin County community, had been wiped out by illness, and in 1820 a tornado swept through the Palestine region, and many people in Palestine were sick.
In 1825, the Legislature agreed to a change, and five commissioners chose a new site about four miles from Palestine. Landowners Samuel F. Irwin, Joseph Glover, John Owens, Reuben Kilgore, Moses Woodruff and Isaac Stewart donated a hilly, forested 200-acre site abounding in pure spring water. The proposed new town was to duplicate Palestine as much as possible with a public square and 276 lots.
Robert Carlton laid out the new town. Lot holders could trade their Palestine lot for a similar location at the new town.
Prominent pioneer citizen, Joseph Rawlins (father of Mrs. A. C. Voris) christened the new town “Bedford” after Bedford County, Tennessee.
As soon as lot surveys were made, the property exchanges from Palestine to Bedford began.
In 1825, a carpenter named Samuel D. Bishop, his wife Hulda and their family became the first residents in Bedford. Their small log house was located on lot No. 74. He would later build a brick house next door. Both houses were located near the site of the current Bedford Public Library.
Within six months after Bedford was named and platted, Samuel S. Francis was paid $55 for a pump to use at the recently dug stone-lined public well situated on the new town square. Abraham Music cleared and grubbed the public square and was paid $29.50.
At a cost of about $500, a temporary log courthouse building was erected. This temporary building was to be the same or larger than the dimensions of Palestine’s log courthouse. The result was a 22-foot by 26-foot, two-story log courthouse building. In 1825 there were 16 voters polled in Lawrence County.
The first public sale of the town lots not covered by the exchanges was held June 12, 1826.
In 1827, Samuel D. Bishop received $35 to weatherboard the log courthouse. A hand-drawn map representing Bedford in 1829, indicates the log courthouse was not located inside the square where today’s courthouse is found, but was built on the east side of the street across from the public square. The map shows the temporary courthouse to be on the southeast corner of 15th and I Streets (using current street names).
William Benefield was a hotel keeper and opened the first tavern in 1825. Winthrop Foote, a physician and lawyer in Palestine, continued his practice in a log building at the northwest corner of today’s 15th and I Streets.
Previously located in Palestine, Samuel F. Irwin and his non-resident partner, Isaac Stewart opened Bedford’s first mercantile house. With a stock valued at $4,000, the store was the first frame building in Bedford. Alexander H. Dunihue clerked in their store in 1826.
Among the other businesses in 1826 were: Henry Lowrey, a merchant located on the north side of the town square, Andrew Hattabaugh operated the first “wet grocery” (liquor store) in a log building on the east side of the square. David Borland was a tanner. John Brown was postmaster. Godlieb Byrer was a hatter, Joseph Cowan a stone mason.
Rollin C. Dewey was a lawyer and Richard Evans a miller. Henry Hendricks was a saddler and Jacob Huff a wagoner. Henry Parsell and Samuel Wilson were laborers, John Quackenbush a carpenter, and William Sullivan a blacksmith.
Joseph Athon was the proprietor of a log hotel building. Athon’s log house was nearby, east of Bedford’s log courthouse. John Lowery was the county clerk and recorder, and William Kelsey, deputy sheriff and constable. Jacob Mosier was a Methodist minister located near today’s 14th and K Streets.
To see where these early businesses were located, see the map representing Bedford in 1829 on display in the museum gallery.
Source: Commissioners Record Book B, Aug. 11, 1823 to March 3, 1835, transcribed by Helen Burchard, Souvenir Booklet, Bedford Lawrence County Centennial, Nov.15-18, 1925, pg. 49-51, History of Lawrence County, 1884, taken from the 1965 reproduction, pg. 133, Spring 2012 Seedling Patch