A History of Dearborn County, Indiana
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1798 – Israel Ludlow Surveys True Meridian That Became Indiana/Ohio State Line
By October 1798 Ludlow had completed surveying the Greenville Treaty line and was ready to begin surveying the Symmes tract in the region of the Great Miami River. Before he could begin surveying this, he needed to have a true north/south meridian from which he could base the remainder of the survey. The Northwest Territory Act had mandated that 5, and not more than 7, states be created from the vast territory. It had stated that the border between an “eastern state,” and a “middle,” state consist of a true meridian that proceeded due north from a point where the Great Miami River enters the Ohio River. thus, Ludlow began surveying the true meridian that would become the line between the new Indiana Territory and the old Northwest Territory in 1800. In 1803 Ohio would become a state. The meridian survives today as the border between Ohio and Indiana.
The first reported settlers began filtering into what is now Dearborn County along the Ohio River in 1794. Local lore suggests George Groves built the first log cabin on the banks of Laughery Creek. Another early settler, Nicholas Cheek, settled along Wilson Creek. Other accounts hold that Adam Flade was the first settler on land along South Hogan Creek in January 1796. Revolutionary War Veteran Ephraim Morrison followed, building the first log cabin and clearing the first trees along Hogan Creek somewhere in present day Aurora. Other settlers followed these first pioneers. These first settlers were squatters who did not have clear title to the land they occupied.
April 06, 1801 – Land Office in Cincinnati Began Selling Land
Settlers had already “squatted,” on much of the land that was now on the market. The Whitewater and Laughery Creek valleys already contained cabins, farms and small settlements. The people that lived on these tracts did not own title to the lands, rather they possibly hoped to purchase their selections when the land office opened. Nonetheless, when the land office opened in Cincinnati people did not flock to the land office. The first purchases in what is now Dearborn County did not occur until April 9.
The opening of the land office gave people their first chance at purchasing the lands in southeastern Indiana. Joseph Hayes made the first recorded land purchase in Dearborn County on April 9, 1801. Many of the early squatters had to leave their land, as most could not afford the $2.00 per acre. In 1796 the minimum tract of land that the government would sell was 640 acres, which put the price of land far above what the average pioneer could afford. The Harrison Land Act of 1800 reduced this amount to 320 acres, which was still more than most cash strapped pioneers could pay. Thus, many of those moving into the area before 1801 had to leave their homesteads when others purchased the land.
When the Indiana Territory formed in 1800, the region that is now Dearborn County remained part of the Northwest Territory which had Cincinnati as its capitol. It lay west of the Prime Meridian surveyed by Israel Ludlow in 1798. The triangular area of land west of this line included all of what is now Dearborn and Ohio Counties, was called the Gore. Parts of Switzerland, Ripley, Franklin, Wayne, Union and Randolph Counties were also in the Gore. When Congress passed the enabling act on April 2, 1802, that allowed Ohio to begin the statehood process, they detached the Gore from the Northwest Territory and attached it to the Indiana Territory. The Prime Meridian surveyed by Ludlow in 1798 became the line separating Ohio from the Indiana Territory.
Formation of Dearborn County
Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison attached the region that became Dearborn County to Wayne County on January 24, 1803. Before this the region had no governmental organization. Harrison organized Dearborn County on March 7, 1803, naming it after Dr. Henry Dearborn who served as President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of War at the time Harrison formed the county. The first court took place in September 1803. One of the earliest offenders was found guilty of striking a judge with a clap board. His sentence included confinement in a pen constructed of logs and rails. His neck was placed in a stock made from two wooden rails. The first Dearborn County jail was built in 1804. The county line followed the Greenville Treaty line, which separated it from Jefferson County. The original Dearborn County included current Ohio and Franklin Counties.
Lawrenceburg County Seat
Harrison deemed Lawrenceburg, platted in 1802, as the county seat. Lawrenceburg would remain the county seat until 1835, when it moved to Wilmington. The county seat remained in Wilmington for eight years.
Franklin County was separated from Dearborn County in 1811, establishing the current northern boundary. Ripley County separated from Dearborn County 1818Disputes between Rising Sun and Lawrenceburg over the location of the county seat caused the county seat to be moved from Lawrenceburg to Wilmington in 1835, as that town was closer to the center of the county. A new brick court house was constructed in Wilmington. Ohio County was created and separated from Dearborn County in 1844 and the Dearborn County seat shifted back to Lawrenceburg.