Museum Corner—February 2018
Palestine was county's first seat of justice…
Published in Times Mail newspaper Feb. 14, 2018
By Becky Buher, Guest columnist
The lands that make up Lawrence County were once Native American lands. European immigrants came to the colonies, and pioneer settlers moved westward into Indiana Territory. Indiana became a state in 1816, and Lawrence County was created in 1818.
The Guthrie and Flinn families arrived in Indiana Territory in 1810, the town of Bono was settled in 1816, and by 1818, brothers John and Daniel Guthrie had laid out the town of Leesville, but these early communities did not become Lawrence County’s first county seat.
The first seat of justice was Palestine, located on a hill near White River. Ezekiel Blackwell was one of four men who in 1818 donated 200 acres of land. Blackwell was an early resident and operated a ferry on the river.
The advertisement below appeared for six weeks in the following newspapers: the Argus of Frankfort, Kentucky, the Western Sun of Vincennes and the Tocsin of Salem.
“May 23, 1818: NOTICE that on the 25th day of May next, the sale of Lots will commence in the town of PALESTINE, the seat of Justice of Lawrence County, State of Indiana. The terms will be one-fifth prompt payment, one-fifth at the expiration of six months, and so on in succession until the whole is paid. The town being situated on the east fork of White River, a beautiful stream, it will be worth the attention of enterprising men. Also, there will be let to the lowest bidder, the building of a jail in said town, on the 17th of May next. — ROBERT CARLTON, Agent for the county of Lawrence, State of Indiana, March the 24th, 1818.”
A two-story log courthouse was built in 1818. Early resident, Winston Cruise, dug the well on the public square. Carlton became the county agent, and Samuel F. Irwin and Isaac Stewart opened the first general merchandise store. In 1819, John Brown became the first postmaster, and Joseph and Wier Glover built a tanyard. Joseph Glover brought the first clock into the county, and he was the first county sheriff. In 1819 for the convenience of travelers, Nathaniel Vaughn, because of his good moral character, was licensed to sell liquors and keep a house for public entertainment.
A brick and stone courthouse was completed in 1822 at a total cost of $5,500. Carpenter Samuel D. Bishop was hired to complete the courthouse and other private and public buildings.
But Palestine proved to be unhealthy.
No one knows what the illness at Palestine may have been — a plague, ague, fever, milk sickness, malaria. Whatever the illness, the fever-ridden population considered Palestine unhealthy and petitioned the state legislature to move the town away from the river.
In 1825, the Indiana Legislature agreed. Amasa Joselyn of Owen County; John Ketchem of Monroe County; Jonathan Lyons of Washington County; Ezekiel S. Riley of Orange County; and William Marshall of Jackson County were appointed commissioners to relocate the town.
They met to find a healthy location and create a new town with an equal number of lots and a town plan similar to Palestine’s. Within 12 months, everyone who owned lots in Palestine could exchange their property for similar lots located in the new town.
The value of the lots did not take into consideration any improvements. Anyone who owned lots in Palestine on which buildings had been erected and who felt aggrieved by the relocation of the town could make application to the Board of Justices and have the lot and building valued.
A commissioner, who lived outside the county and who was not any kin to the lot owner, was appointed to set a value for the lot and structure in Palestine compared to the value of the empty lot in the new town. When appropriate, the value difference was to be paid to the aggrieved landowner.
Some buildings were moved or salvaged, and Palestine was abandoned.
During the Lawrence County Sesquicentennial in 1968, a stone marker was placed at the location of the Palestine courthouse where the abandoned town once stood. At that time, Garris and Sue Hillenburg owned the site. Their family had owned the land for nearly 150 years.
Where was the new town created? Tune in next month to discover a hilly, forested location abounding in springs of pure water.
Sources: Museum records, “Abandoned Towns” by Claude Parsons, October 1997, Special to the Times-Mail, http://www.ingenweb.org/inlawrence/towns.htm, 1825 legislative record: http://lawrencecountyhistory.org/county-history/