Union City History

The History of Union City

Founding of Union City

In 1848 five railroads were planned to meet at the state line on the location where Union City now stands.

The New York Central was then known as the Bee Line. The direction it should take caused quite a discussion. The question was settled at a meeting held in the woods where Union City was later built. After several speeches, made from a box, the question was put to a vote. It was decided to run the new railroad from Indianapolis to Bellefontaine. At the same meeting O. H. Smith was made president. Thus the Bee Line was born, and the grand system of railroads for the Great Northwest was begun.

The Bee Line was to be built by two companies. One company was building from Indianapolis to this spot in the wilderness. Another company was to build from Bellefontaine to this same place. The Pennsylvania railroad, under other names, was being planned by two companies. One road was to come from Columbus, Ohio, and the other from Logansport to here. There was a railroad from Dayton to Greenville; and when that company was assured of four railroads meeting twelve miles west of Greenville, they decided to extend"their road to the same place.

It is difficult for us today to understand what an epoch-making event it was to bring five railroads to one focal point. At that time, there was only one railroad in all of Indiana. It went from Indianapolis to Madison, on the Ohio river; but it was isolated and comparatively unimportant.

It was necessary in those days to trans-ship all goods at the termination of a railroad. And so it seemed that this place where five railroads were eventually to meet was an ideal place for a town.

Jeremiah Smith was one of the promoters of the Bee Line from Indianapolis to this spot in the woods. Accordingly, on December 19, 1848, he bought 160 acres from Augustus Loveland for $1500. This tract was virgin forest, with the exception of one small clearing, which is now 207 N. Howard street, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Glunt. In this clearing stood the Loveland log cabin and log barn.

Until Howard Street was improved, a heap of cobble stones east of the house and near the sidewalk marked the site of the Loveland well.

Miss Fiorella Roe, a descendant of original settlers, tells that when Jeremiah Smith planned his new town, there were many who discouraged him, because, they said that Hillgrove was too good a town and too close to make another settlement at the state line possible.

But Mr. Smith was ready with an answer. "Well," he said, “l'll just tack a meat rind on Hillgrove and let the dogs pull it over to our new town."

Mr. Smith planned his town and the plat was recorded December 17, 1849. This original plat contained 160 acres, was half a mile square and was divided into 252 lots.

It was soon found that the plat needed changing, so it was corrected and enlarged. Lots were made smaller and more numerous. There were 483 lots in this new plat which was recorded February 6, 1854. This plat with numerous additions is still in use today.

The streets in this new town were to be eighty feet wide with the exception of Broadway and Smith streets which were to be one hundred feet wide, and Division street and the state line, which were to be much narrower than eighty feet. The alleys were to be thirty feet wide. Broadway was to extend from Pearl street south across the railroad tracks to Chestnut street. Smith street went east and west and was to be the heart of the projected town, down the center of which was to run the railroad. With the growth of the railroads, and the passing of the years, the railroads have completely absorbed Smith street.

Mr. Smith gave the right of way to the Bee Line railroad company, and they in turn promised that all trains would always stop in his town. That was true for many years; then well within the memory of many Union City adults, certain trains failed to stop. Gradually more and more trains went thundering through, and today we are no different from other towns of equal size. The document containing the promise of the railroad is still on file in the county courthouse, but it has been outlawed because of the time element.

 

Five Railroads

The Dayton and Union railroad, coming from the east, reached its destination Christmas day 1852, and was the very first railroad to reach this location in the wilderness. A few days later, the Bee Line from Indianapolis reached the state line from the west, and the two tracks were so joined that on January 24, 1853, the first through passenger train went from Dayton via Union (as Union City was first called) to Indianapolis. The east part of the Bee Line coming from Bellefontaine, reached here in perhaps July, 1853.

The Panhandle (now Pennsylvania Railroad) from Columbus to the state line was finished in 1856. The part from here to Logansport was begun and partially graded in 1854 under the name of Monroe and Mississinawa. It lay dormant until 1866 and was pushed to completion in 1867 under the title of Union and Logansport.

With the completion of these five railroads, Union City became "the most important railroad center in the state or even in the country." Railroad employees numbered 150 or more, and 16 passenger and 22 freight trains arrived and departed every 24 hours. The business transacted by the different roads was almost unbelievable.

James Whitcomb Riley wrote that Union City was that "fussy old-hen-of-a-town forever clucking over its little brood of railroads, as though worried to see them running over the line, and bristling with the importance of its charge."

In the winter and spring of 1850, immediately following the surveying and platting, lots in the new town were offered for sale. Among other purchasers was David Teeter, who in March or April, 1850, began to build on the southeast corner of Oak and Howard streets. This was the first building erected in Union City. Mr. Teeter, who had been in ill health, died in May, 1850, and the house was sold to Benjamin Hawkins, who completed it. This was the well-known Star House.

Only two buildings were put up in 1851, but by 1852 there was real activity in the new setttlement. News of the railroads had filtered out through the country; and people, realizing the opportunities of the location, began to arrive.

Due to some perversity of human nature, some of the new arrivals fancied a place about half a mile east, where the railroad would cross the Deerfield road and where there had been a settlement from probably as early as 1838. But Jeremiah Smith was a Hoosier and he had no notion of allowing his infant town to stray over into Ohio. So in 1852, he bought forty acres adjacent to the state line on the east and between the two settlements. He held this tract unplatted and unimproved until 1870, at which time he felt the supremacy of the west side was well established. Eventually the two settlements grew together.

The first hotel on the Indiana side was the Forest House, built July 2, 1852, and kept by Mr. Miller. This building stood where the Grand Theatre is today and part of the old hotel has been moved to 911 Pearl street, and is now Vernon's grocery.

An interesting story is told by Mrs. Nettie White. Her grandfather was Alfred Lenox, who came to this community the day Forest House was raised, July 2, 1852, and was one of the early operators of the hotel. One day his little daughter (Mrs. White's mother) was playing in the woods about the hotel and found a purse containing $3,000. They made inquiries here and no one claimed the purse. So Mr. Lenox rode his horse to Greenville and put an advertisement in the Greenville paper. Eventually there came a person who was able to identify the purse. And what reward did he give in return for the conscientious effort to return the lost money? He gave the little girl twenty-five cents.

 

Firsts in Union City

  • On the Indiana side the first store was that of Benjamin Hawkins. Jesse Paxon who set up the first boot and shoe store in 1856 says that Mr. Hawkins hauled his goods from Greenville and opened his store before the railroad reached this place.
  • The first grain house was established by Hawkins and Searl in 1853.
  • The first railroad agent was R. A. Willson, who opened the first set of railroad books.
  • William Anderson set up the first blacksmith shop in August, 1852.
  • The first livery stable was owned by Alfred Lenox in 1855.
  • The Branham Hotel was built in 1855-56 and opened in 1856. It was the first brick building in town. The Branham is in operation today and is the oldest, continuous business in town.
  • The first school was taught in the fall of 1853 by Miss Mary Ensminger in her father's house on North Howard street, just south of the Star House. She had perhaps half a dozen pupils.
  • The first public school was taught in 1853-1854, in a little frame building on the site of Anderson's, 105 N. Columbia street. (Specifically-on the site of the old Branham restaurant).
  • The first public school building was erected in 1858 on the site of the present school building.
  • The first preaching place was Henry Debolt's house.
  • The first church organization was the Methodist Episcopal in 1852. There were four members, two on probation.
  • The first church building was the Disciples of Christ, 1853­1858.
  • The first bank was the First National Bank, Edward Starbuck, President, 1865.

 

Continuous Growth of Union City

This was a fertile region in which the new town was located, and grain, stock and trade in general began to pour in from far and near, especially from the great region to the north. In three or four years, there were no fewer than six dry goods stores in the new town in the woods. Other establishments, too--groceries, hardware stores, tin shops, hotels, doctors' offices, smith shops-all were here.

The grain business rose almost at a bound, to immense proportions. Hundreds of wagon loads were waiting at a time and the grain men had to work day and night to keep up with the business. Grain was hauled from Ft. Recovery, New Corydon and even from within six miles of Richmond.

 

Due to the extensive facilities, in less than twenty-five years, Union City had grown to a population of 5,000.