Digital Collections


A study of transportation in early Terre Haute is likewise a study of the people who used the transportation. For example, Terre Hauteans marveled at the spectacle of steamboats but were unsure of its usefulness as H.C. Bradsby recounted in his 1891 history of Vigo County. That could explain why the flat boat trade was so slow to die out. Ten years after the arrival of the first steamboat, agents Thompson and Condit were still seeking men to enter a contract to deliver 4,300 bushels of coal on two flat boats to New Orleans. The trip was grueling and the work back breaking but the work still profitable.

As much profit and pleasure as there could be garnered from transportation, the citizens understood its many perils as well. Ordinances passed in 1832 forbid boats to carry passengers with infectious diseases. The board of health understood the severity of infectious diseases, most of them being doctors themselves who knew they could not afford to handle such an influx of patients. The sickness went on for some time as witnessed firsthand by F.R. Bennett. In a letter dated October 15, 1834, he wrote to his son George Bennett that “at present there has been a great deal of Sickness in our county this season and several deaths.”

Transportation by the mid-1850s reached a major milestone in Terre Haute. One of the major news events for the city occurred when the 73 mile stretch of the railroad from Terre Haute to Indianapolis was concluded. A trip across the steel ribbon was taken by Chauncey Rose, mechanic Charles Peddle, and engineer William Baugh on February 14, 1852. The business relationship between Chauncey Rose and Charles R. Peddle began in March 1851 when Rose offered Peddle a salary of $900 a year as a “Master Mechanic,” and if that was not “as high as the Madison and other companies in the West…” Mr. Rose promised an increase of a thousand dollars more if Peddle requested it. The transcribed letters between Rose and Peddle are housed in the VCPL Community Archives.


Many exciting advancements were made early on in Terre Haute which were unfortunately not seen to fruition or dramatically interrupted. For example, while a public library had opened in 1822 its need was soon overridden by the reign of township and subscription libraries. It would not be until the 1880s before a public library could be realized again, even though the petitioning had begun as early as 1857.

The United States underwent two major wars between 1846 and 1865. During the Mexican-American War, many men from the Wabash Valley volunteered. Included among them were Josephus Collins of Terre Haute who joined the 4th Indiana Volunteers. In a letter dated March 24, 1848, Collins provided his sister, Hannah, a glimpse of life for a common soldier at his camp in Puebla, Mexico. After the outbreak of the Civil War, it would not be long until Terre Hauteans were called to arms and men like Henry Warren answered that call. After Henry joined the 8th Indiana Artillery, he found himself a year later in the heat of the Civil War. In a letter to his mother from March 16, 1862, he described the conditions of camp, including that the owner of the land was a slave owner who owned “1000 acres…and 40 Negroes.”

Many other things happened in the mid-1800s in Terre Haute: the town being officially named a city, the election of the first mayor and city council, milestones in entertainment, flooding, and the founding of the Vigo County Orphan Home. Through donations left by the late Chauncey Rose amounting to $300,000, the Vigo County Orphan Home was made possible. The Orphan Home was situated on “twenty acres on the Northeast corner of what is now known as South Twenty-Fifth and Wabash Avenue.” Construction started in 1883 and the first orphans were received on September 4, 1884. According to newspaper accounts, the home exceeded all expectations. The Board of Managers changed the name to the Rose Orphan Home in 1930. By 1964, the Rose Home was closed. It had been in existence for 80 years, “serving as an orphanage, later a school and eventually a home for the aged.”


There were many influential people who were great leaders in Terre Haute before the Civil War who would set the standard for the leaders afterwards. Men like William C. Linton who served in the Indiana Senate in the late 1820s and early 1830s and was involved in the construction efforts of the National Road and the establishment of the State Bank of Indiana. Some political men were reflective of the overall direction of the nation away from the Whig Party. Among this group were men like Chambers Patterson, a Democrat, who was elected mayor in 1856 during the same year James Buchanan defeated Millard Fillmore in the Presidential election. There were also those who proved that local men could serve gallantly in times of war. Among this group were men like Charles Cruft and John P. Baird who halted their law practice to lead troops during the Civil War. Cruft would lead his regiment in many famous Civil War battles, including the Battle of Shiloh. For his gallantry at Shiloh, Cruft was promoted to General, an honor personally conferred “upon him by President Lincoln, on the occasion of his visit to Washington in March, 1865.”

Over time, many of Terre Haute’s greatest leaders passed away but left a wonderful legacy to follow. The city lost two of its earliest and most prominent benefactors in 1877. Chauncey Rose died in August and Curtis Gilbert died in October. Chauncey Rose was born on December 24, 1794 in Wethersfield, Connecticut. He was successful in real estate and eventually established the Prairie House, later the Terre Haute House as a local tavern and hotel. Rose was also a major investor in railroads and amassed a fortune through his investments. His namesake lived on through the Rose Orphan Home, Rose Dispensary, Rose Ladies’ Aid Society, and Rose Polytechnic School. Curtis Gilbert was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on June 8, 1795 and came to Terre Haute in 1814. He served as postmaster at Fort Harrison which preceded Terre Haute. He also served as county clerk and president of the Terre Haute branch of the State Bank.


Before the founding of Indiana State Normal School, opportunities in higher education were still not limited. Those opportunities just lay in a state in which they would later be able to flourish. Several adventurous and courageous individuals believed Terre Haute to be the perfect place for scholarship to thrive. In 1840, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin who had overcome many adversities in her native France still had the courage to come to America and found a school for young women in the woods of Sugar Creek Township of Vigo County, a feat that ultimately proved successful. In 1848, E.T. Baird took a chance on the yet undeveloped Vigo Collegiate Institute and attracted the talents of J.B.L. Soule, Professor of Belles-lettres, and J.G. Stevenson, a mathematics professor who later became Librarian of Congress. The use of the Institute’s grounds paved the way for what would become Terre Haute High School. Lastly the Ulyssean Debating Club, graced in its meetings by the presence of many famed lecturers, was used by James B. Harris as a means to advocate for an institute of higher learning.

These beginning years of Terre Haute saw increased interest in higher education. The Terre Haute Female College, later known as Covert College and Western Female College, was dedicated in September 1858. Founded by the Rev. John Covert, the school, which consisted of three buildings on 8 1/2 acres, attracted 232 students in its first year. The school later became the center of Saint Anthony's Hospital. Indiana State Normal School, later Indiana State Teacher’s College and then Indiana State University, received its first students on January 6, 1870 with the intention of preparing its students for the teaching profession.

Business & Industry

Business and industry in Terre Haute has always been driven by a few highly influential people who used capital and leadership experience to build the local economy. A prime example was Chauncey Rose who in 1829 furnished an additional $10,000 of capital into his goods store and entered a partnership with Chauncey Warren. When the partnership was dissolved, Rose had sold his stock to Warren who continued to make the business a success until his failing health forced him to sell the business to his brothers. Rose, despite warnings of almost certain failure, took a risk in 1839 with the founding of the Prairie House. Seemingly prophetically, the hotel’s location would later become the “Crossroads of America.” Other risk-takers included Thomas H. Blake and William J. Ball. Blake’s efforts and political influence brought the Wabash and Eerie Canal to Terre Haute but he built his reputation as a reputable merchant first. William J. Ball earned his fame as the chief engineer of the Evansville & Crawfordsville Railroad in 1850, and later with the Terre Haute, Alton & St. Louis Railroad.

The latter half of the 19th century brought immigrants from Germany to Terre Haute who were very successful in business. These men included Adolph Herz, born in Wurtemburg, Germany in 1843. Herz came to Terre Haute in 1867 to work for the tailor Joseph Erlanger. He entered into the retail clothing business when he and David Arnold purchased Benjamin Weisz’ hoop skirt factory on South Fourth Street in February 1869. His business served the community for almost half a century and his namesake to the store lived on even with changes in management and ownership. Herman Hulman was born in 1831 in Lingen, Germany and came to Terre Haute at the request of his brother, Francis. This eventually led to his proprietorship of the Hulman family grocery which was the predecessor to Hulman and Company, later the Clabber Girl Baking Company.