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Harrison County lays claim to First State Capitol

Harrison County lays claim to First State Capitol
Harrison County lays claim to First State Capitol
Thousands of visitors come to Corydon each year to see a part of history. One of the most frequently visited sites is the old state capitol, above, which was built between 1814 and 1816.

The Corydon Democrat continues its new feature for this year, ‘Top 26 of 2006,’ that takes a look at 26 people, places or things that our readers suggested make Harrison County a great place to live or work. The remaining 18 stories will be published before the end of the year.
Only one town in Indiana can claim to be the state’s first capitol, and it’s right here in Harrison County.
Fourth graders throughout the state learn about Corydon while studying Indiana history, and many of them take a field trip to the county seat to see the Federal-style limestone building.
Corydon earned its place in history when the Indiana Territory capital was relocated from Vincennes in May of 1813. The Federal-style limestone building that once was the capitol was built between 1814 and 1816. Dennis Pennington, who still has relatives living in Harrison County, had the contract, in the amount of $3,000, which was reportedly six times more expensive than other public buildings at that time.
In June the same year that the two-story building was completed, 43 delegates met there to draft the first state Constitution. But, without the modern conveniences of air conditioning or electric fans, the heat drove the men outside where they could get some relief from a breeze. They also chose to sit in the shade of a huge elm tree. And what’s left of that tree, now known as the Constitution Elm, is also visited by hundreds of tourists annually.
To continue with the history lesson, Jonathan Jennings was elected governor during the first state election on Aug. 5, 1816. He succeeded William Henry Harrison, son of Benjamin Harrison, who signed the Declaration of Independence. William Henry originally owned the land that is now Corydon and went on to be elected the ninth president of the United States.
A native of New Jersey who later settled in Charlestown in the Indiana Territory, Jennings was elected to a second term in 1819.
The first General Assembly met in the capitol in November 1816. The first floor was used by the House of Representatives, while the Senate and Supreme Court met on the upper floor.
Indiana was admitted as the 19th state on Dec. 11, 1816, and Corydon remained the capital until Jan. 10, 1825, when it was moved to Indianapolis. The capitol was then used as the Harrison County Court House through 1929, when the present courthouse was completed, and then was opened as a state memorial in 1930 after undergoing restoration.
The First State Capitol building and the Constitution Elm are just two points of interest in the care of the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, which is a division of the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources. Other points of interest include the Gov. William Hendricks residence, First State Office Building, Thomas Posey House and Coburn-Porter Law Office.
Gov. Hendricks’ house was built in 1817, as was the state office building, which was rented to the state for use by the treasurer and auditor; the state’s money was kept in the cellar of the building. Thomas Posey, who was a merchant, county treasurer and state adjutant general, was the son of the last Indiana Territorial governor.
Just south of downtown Corydon is the Battle of Corydon Memorial Park, the site of the only Civil War battle fought in Indiana. The skirmish, on July 9, 1863, was between Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate Cavalry division and Col. Lewis Jordan’s Sixth Regiment of the Harrison County Home Guard. Besides Gettysburg, Corydon was the only other battle site of the Civil War to take place north of the Mason-Dixon line. The battleground in Harrison County is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
‘History’s our most important product here,’ Fred Griffin once told a visitor from Florida. ‘Teachers today are trying to get kids more into history. Kids don’t realize how hard prior generations worked to pave the way for them, what folks had to overcome. Well, they can still learn something about the past in Corydon … ‘
And about the name Corydon? Well, its origin has been traced back to William Henry Harrison, who was the territorial governor at the time the town was laid out. As told by Griffin, it seems Harrison ‘was taken by a song a friend’s daughter, Jennie Smith, always sang for him when he came here … The song (‘The Pastoral Elegy’) was the maiden Caroline’s lament at the death of the young shepherd Corydon, her lover.’
For more information about the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, call 738-4890 or visit online The Site is closed on Mondays.