The French explorer Sieur De LaSalle (1643-1687) is believed to have discovered the Wabash River and the first to explore this region of present-day Indiana around 1670 in hopes of developing fur trade with the Indians living here. French colonists soon used the Wabash River and connecting waterways as a means of travel from Quebec, Canada to Louisiana at the Gulf of Mexico.
The French were the first white settlers of Tippecanoe County, having settled throughout the region as early as 1717. They lived in harmony with the native Americans, learned their language and customs, treated them as equal beings and commonly intermarried.
The destruction of Fort Ouiatenon and its neighboring villages in 1791, followed by The Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, destroyed the Indian and French stronghold on the region and opened the way for westward expansion.
In 1824 real estate in the region was made available by the government at the Crawfordsville Land Office for as little as $1.25 an acre.
William Digby was among the first to take advantage of the land sales and purchased 84.23 acres at the south fraction of the southeast quarter of Section 20, Township 23 North, Range 4 West, on the 24th of December 1824 and found the town of LaFayette the following year.
Digby named the town to honor American Revolutionary War hero – French General Marquis de LaFayette (1757-1834) at the time of his last visit to the United States in 1825. Being ideally located, Lafayette was made the county seat of the newly formed county in January of 1826. Twenty years later, August of 1846, Lafayette had grown to a population of 4,146 residents, with 65 brick and 602 frame houses, and one bank.
Lafayette’s first newspaper was published in September of 1829 by John B. Seaman, and in January of 1849 the newly named Lafayette Daily Journal began daily production and distribution of the news.
Cholera epidemics struck Tippecanoe County at various times, the worse “cholera plague” occurred in July of 1849 when 320 lives were reported claimed by the disease, many of whom were residents of Lafayette.
The world’s first airmail service was attempted at Lafayette when mail destined for New York was placed on board a hot air balloon named Jupiter of the 17th of August 1859. Jupiter lifted off from Lafayette’s square amid fanfare. The balloon Jupiter was suddenly caught by unpredictable winds, carried south and set down a few miles south of Crawfordsville, Montgomery County.
Lafayette became a major nineteenth century corridor to the West and was rightfully dubbed “The Star of the West” by a local newspaper. Because of its location, the “Star City” soon became the market and shipping hub for surrounding agriculture regions.
Built in 1884 and situated in a valley at Fourth and Main Streets of downtown Lafayette, the attractive County Courthouse was rejuvenated during the late 1980’s and reopened in 1992.
Lafayette has the professional abilities and sophistication of much larger and more aggressive cities, but maintains the natural charm and rustic atmosphere of an agricultural village.
Lafayette’s industries include aluminum products, an automobile factory, farm machinery, lumber goods, telephone supplies and agriculture. The city has two excellent hospitals, St. Elizabeth and Home Hospital, two newspapers, The Lafayette Journal & Courier and The Leader. It also has a superb public library and historical association.
Did You Know . . .
- Fairfield Township was named for General Fairfield
- Fairfield Township is one of Tippecanoe County’s original three townships that were created by the Board of Justices on July 8, 1826.
- The city of Lafayette was founded on May 23, 1825 by William Digby. Three days later he sold the land for $240.00 to Samuel Sargent.
- The original plan of Lafayette contained 140 lots, each was 62’ by 126’.
- The Pearl River, also called Samplers Run, once an open stream that ran through the middle of the city, is now channeled into underground sewers.
- Due to Lafayette’s rapid growth it was nicknamed ‘Sproutsburgh’.
Historical Landmarks in Fairfield Township
Airmail Flight – The first official U.S. Air Mail flight took place on August 17, 1859, when the balloon “Jupiter” was released from the Court House Square in Lafayette. Destined for New York, southerly winds carried it instead only six miles south of Crawfordsville.
Camp Tippecanoe – “In operation 1861-1865 near present 4th Street and Hickory, the camp served as mustering point for Union troops, among others, the 72nd and 86th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. The 86th saw action at Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, and the Sherman in Georgia.
Civil War Prison – In February 1862, 712 Confederate prisoners (largely from the 32nd and 41st Tennessee Regiments) were deployed to Lafayette from Indiana’s quota of 9,000 and were put under guard in the Old Red Warehouse and Sample Porkhouse near Canal and Green, until illness forced removal of some to a makeshift hospital.
County Court House – This is the third court house to occupy this location. Completed in 1884, its architectural style is a unique Victorian blend of Baroque, Gothic, Greek, Romanesque, and Renaissance, and it is one of the last of its kind still standing. A statue of General de Lafayette is on the he front lawn and a large fountain rests on the site of the former artesian well famous for its medicinal value. In 1971 a major renovation restored its facade to its original appearance and greatly improved the function of it interior spaces.
County Historical Museum – (Fowler House) Built by Moses Fowler in 1851-52, this lovely mansion in the style of Gothic revival now houses the County Historical Museum and is headquarters for the Historical Association. The museum is open daily except Monday 1-5, admission free.
Davis Ferry – John Davis married the art-Indian daughter of William Burnett and prospered by carrying the busy trade across the river. His name has endured on the old bridge and its approach on the 9th Street Road close by the site of the original ferry crossing.
Durkee’s Mill – Described by an early settler as “just a little corn cracker,” it later became a thriving woolen mill but was abandoned when the railroad tracks into the city.
Lafayette – Founded in 1825 by William Digby, the town became the county seat in 1826. Its rapid growth gained it the nickname of Star City of the West. Over the years its limits have included the older communities of Fulton, Linnwood, Omeonta, Oakland, and Elston.
Longlois Trading Post – A French trader, Pierre Langlois, (Peter Longlois) established a trading post on Wildcat Creek about 1800. He married an Indian woman, Topenawkoung, and was influential with both white settlers and the Indians.
State Fair – To honor the Tippecanoe Agricultural Society founded in 1851, the State Board held the 2nd State Fair in Lafayette in October 1853. The grounds were located on the SE corner of Washington and Kossuth, now occupied by Miller School. The 3rd Fair went to Madison, but practice of rotating was abandoned in favor of permanent facilities in Indianapolis.
Wabash & Erie Canal (1832-1874) – A highly important part of the development of pioneer commerce, the Lafayette section was completed in 1840 and scores of boats pulled by mules on the towpaths carried produce and passengers on “the big ditch”. The Canal was doomed by the Wabash and Western Railroad which reached the area in 1856.
Widewater – A turn-around basin on the Canal and probably one of its busiest sections.