Corydon’s original plat had 2 squares
Karen Schwartz, Special to The Corydon Democrat
Did you know that the public square in downtown Corydon used to be twice as large and was earmarked as public ground by founders William Henry Harrison and Harvey Heth from the town’s earliest days?
The original plat of Corydon developed by Harvey Heth featured two large public squares. These squares were bounded by Cherry Street on the north, Beaver Street on the south, Oak Street on the west and Elm Street on the east.
The two public squares were divided by Market Street (now Capitol Avenue) which sliced the property into equal sized public squares. These were known as the East Square and the West Square.
The East Square is the half that contains the First State Capitol Building. The former Harrison County Jail is contained in the West Square.
Harvey Heth and William Henry Harrison appeared at the Court of Common Pleas on March 9, 1809, and agreed to sell two lots for ‘publick ground’ in their platted town. Each lot contained a little more than one acre, and the county was to receive a deed on or before June 1812. Actually, Heth and his wife, Rebecca, presented the deed to Harrison County.
The day after the county agreed to purchase the lots for public ground, the Harrison County Court ordered Sheriff Spier Spencer to take bids for clearing the public square. Additionally, the court ordered a stray pen to be built in the public square where all unclaimed livestock, both horses and cows, could be contained until the owner was found. The planned pen was to be 24 feet square and six feet high, made of hewed logs that could contain a door that could be padlocked. The west side was selected since it had a higher elevation than the east side.
The trees and brush were removed from inside the public square in 1809. The county judges issued an order that a fence should be constructed around the East Public Square (currently bordered by Beaver to the south, Elm to the east, sidewalk where Cherry ran to the north and Market ‘ now North Capitol ‘ to the west.)
In 1809, there were no livestock laws so people just let their animals run free. Naturally, the animals found their way into the courthouse lawn and created a muddy mess. A rail fence was erected to keep out cattle rather than keep them in.
Livestock ownership was documented with specific markings either through branding or makings by bits, crops, forks or holes notched into their ears. These markings were registered in the court records, so each owner could prove which livestock belonged to him.
After the stray pen, the next necessity was construction of the Harrison County Jail. Sheriff Spier Spencer and George F. Pope were named superintendents for the jail project. Plans specified that the jail should be a one-story, 20-foot-by-12-foot log building made of 15-inch square timber. Acceptable trees were beech, honey locust or oak. Inside, the jail was divided into two rooms. Two doors were required: one between the partition and one in the end of the building. Neither windows nor heating system were included in the plans.
While the jail was being constructed, prisoners were held in a makeshift three-sided structure. A guard was stationed in the open end to keep an eye on the prisoners.
The next year, on July 11, 1810, Pope and Spencer reported, ‘Jail built agreeable to contract, except for doors and locks.’
The county also erected a whipping post to punish offenders in front of the jail.
In actuality, there was more action in the stray pen than at the jail. Prisoners were few and were trusted to stay within prison boundaries during the day and then had to return to sleep in the jail.
Sheriff Spencer kept busy with other duties, serving as the county treasurer and assessor, and leading the Harrison County Yellow Jackets.
After Spencer’s death at the Battle of Tippecanoe, Gov. Harrison called for a Jan. 15, 1812, election to choose a new sheriff. Five voting townships were set up, one in each of the existing townships. When the results were announced, on Jan. 25, John Hurst was elected as Harrison County sheriff with 80 votes. John Tipton came in a close second with 79 votes, and Joseph Paddocks was third with 77 votes. Thomas Evans garnered 23 votes. Hurst was declared sheriff and hand delivered the returns to the secretary of the Indiana Territory at Vincennes.
Early records demonstrate the deficiencies of the early log jail. Sheriff Hurst corresponded with Territorial Gov. Posey on Feb. 9, 1814. His complaint was:
‘On yesterday, a man of the name of Isaac Wood, charged with arson, was committed to the jail of Harrison County. The situation of the jail is such as to endanger the health of the man in case he is continued a prisoner until a General Courts sits. If I furnish him a fire it must be done in a kettle and then I must have a guard (which will be expensive to the county) for fear he might burn out.’
Indiana’s early criminal code specified 45 misdemeanors and felonies and specified penalties for each. Four crimes were classified as capital crimes and punishable by hanging. Only one recorded public hanging, Mary Bugher, was held in the Corydon public square on May 21, 1816. Sixteen were given fines, 16 by incarceration and 13 by public whipping.
As mentioned, the whipping post was an option which was legally acceptable at the time. Many were opposed to public whippings at the post, but some felt the punishment was justified to save the county the expense of housing and feeding criminals.
Public whippings continued as late as September 1822 as it is recorded that James Scott was whipped twice for counterfeiting. He was whipped 20 stripes, fined $5 and imprisoned for 48 hours. On the next day, he was whipped 10 additional stripes and fined $20.
The Harrison Jail was continuously located on the same southwest corner of Cherry and Market (Capitol) Streets for many years.
Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. In preparation of Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016, she is providing a monthly column ‘ focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County’s history ‘ that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 812-736-2373 or 812-738-2828, by e-mail at [email protected] or by regular mail at 5850 Devil’s Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.