Lawrence County Museum of History

Lawrence County Museum of History & Edward L. Hutton Research Library

County History

General historical information about Lawrence County.  This page will be updated as information is transcribed.

County Seat History
Transcribed by Joyce Shepherd from the 1902
“Directory of the City of Bedford, Indiana” compiled and published by E. M. Hardesty and Frank Ellis

Bedford owes its existence to the fact that the first county seat of Lawrence County was unhealthy, so much so, that the inhabitants put in one half the time shaking, the other half with fever.   The first seat of justice was named Palestine and was located on both sides of the second principal meridian four miles south of the now city of Bedford on the banks of the White River near the present B. & O. S. W. Ry [Railway] bridge on land now owned by Thomas Dodd.  The location was so unhealthy that in 1825 the legislature was petitioned for leave to move the town to some other locality at a distance from the river that would be more salubrious. 

Accordingly the legislature of 1825 passed the following act viz: 

SECTION I. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana. That Amasa Joselyn, of Owen County; John Ketchem, of Monroe County; Jonathan Lyons, of Washington County; Ezekiel S. Riley, of Orange County; and William Marshall, of Jackson County, be and are hereby appointed commissioners to relocate the seat of justice of the county of Lawrence.   The commissioners aforesaid, or a majority of them, shall meet at Palestine, in said county on the second Monday of March next, and after being duly sworn shall proceed to the discharge of their duties and shall procure by donations or by purchase a quantity of land sufficient to lay out a town of an equal number of lots with the town of Palestine on an eligible and healthy situation.

They shall receive the same pay and be governed in all respects by the provisions of an act entitled ‘An Act to Establish Seats of Justice in new Counties.  Approved January 14th, 1821."

SECTION II.  When the commissioners aforesaid shall have relocated said county seat it shall be the duty of the agent of said county to lay off the said town on a plan as nearly similar as may be, with the town of Palestine, and with a corresponding number of lots, and any and every person who shall or may have purchased and paid for any lot or lots, in whole or in part, on completing the payment for the same in the town of Palestine, shall have the privilege of exchanging the same for other lot or lots corresponding situated in the new town that may be laid off by the said commissioners, by filing and acknowledging before the Recorder of said county, an application for such exchange, and the same shall be entered on record by the said Recorder at the expense of the county, which shall pay to the Recorder therefore 50 cents, and the same shall have the effect of an absolute release of all the right, title and interest of such applicant in and to such lot or lots; and it shall be the duty of the Agent on being presented with the Recorder’s certificate of such relinquishment and application, to give the applicant a good and sufficient warranty deed of the lot or lots in the new town which shall be in a corresponding number with the lot or lots relinquished in Palestine, provided, that the applications for such exchanges shall be made within twelve months after the relocation of said county seat.

 SECTION III.  The Commissioners aforesaid shall also value the donation which was given to the said county of Lawrence for the county seat at Palestine, not taking into consideration any improvements made thereon, and the value thereof shall be refunded to the persons who donated the same, or their legal representatives out of the moneys arising from the sale of such town lots or other public property as may belong to said county.

SECTION IV.  The sheriff of the county of Lawrence shall notify the Commissioners aforesaid of their appointment by this act, and the time and place of meeting for which he shall receive such compensation as by the Board of Justices of said county shall be deemed just and reasonable, to be paid out of the county treasury of said county.

SECTION V.  Any person owning any lot or lots in the town of Palestine on which any buildings are erected and who shall feel himself aggrieved by the relocation of said county seat may at any time within twelve months after the passage of this Act make application to the Board of Justices of said county to have the said lot and buildings valued and it shall be the duty of the Board of Justices thereupon to appoint one Commissioner the applicant, another and the two commissioners a third, neither of whom shall be a resident of said county, of any kin to the applicant or the owners of any real estate therein, who shall meet at Palestine on some day to be agreed upon by themselves within thirty days after their appointment, of which timely notice shall be given by the applicant and after taking an oath faithfully and impartially to discharge their duty, shall view and value the lot or lots and buildings so improved in Palestine, and the lot or lots correspondingly situated in the new town, and they shall certify the difference in value thereof to the clerk of said county, to be by him laid before the Board of Justices and if the difference should be in favor of the lot in Palestine to be allowed and paid as required in the third section of this Act.  The Commissioners appointed under this section shall be allowed the sum of one dollar per day each, for their services to be paid by the county, provided, however, that the applicant for such valuation shall first file in the Recorder’s office of said county an application and relinquishment of the same nature, and to have the same effect as is provided for in the second section of this Act.

SECTION VI.  The agent of said county shall reserve ten per cent out of the proceeds of the sale of such lots as may be sold, for the use of said county in the said relocated county seat, for the use of a county library which shall be paid over in the same manner as is now provided by law.

SECTION VII.  The Board of Justices of the said county of Lawrence shall, as soon as practicable, commence the erection of the necessary public buildings at said new county seat and the circuit and other courts of said county shall be holden at Palestine until said buildings shall be ready for their reception.  This Act to take effect and be in force from and after its publication in the Indiana Journal.

Approved February 9, 1825.

One month later, in March 1825, the commissioners appointed by this Act to relocate the county seat, met at Palestine, and made their selection of the location for the new town and made the following report to the County Board of Justices, at this time the affairs of the county being administered by a Board of Justices instead of commissioners as now. 

To the Board of Justices of the County of Lawrence, State of Indiana:

The subscribers being the Commissioners appointed by an act of the General Assembly of said state, entitled:  “An Act Appointing Commissioners to relocate the seat of justice of Lawrence county approved February 9, 1825, make the following report to-wit:

“That we all met at Palestine of said county of Lawrence on the second Monday of March instant, and were duly sworn as the law provides, for the faithful discharge of our duties, and immediately proceeded to the discharge of the same, and have continued from day to day, until the present time, and have obtained by donation the following described tract or parcel of land, for the permanent seat of justice of said county to wit:  Beginning on the dividing lines of sections 23 and 24 in township 5 north, range 1 west 100 poles south of the corner of sections 23, 24, 13 and 14; thence west 160 poles to a stake, thence north 200 poles; thence east 160 poles to a stake on the line dividing sections 13 and 14; thence south 200 poles to the beginning containing 200 acres of land for which said tract we have taken a bond for the conveyance to the Board of Justices of said county, as the law provides, within twelve months from the date hereof in the penal sum of $20,000 conditioned also that the donors, shall within six months from the relocation or survey of said town plat, dig and stone on the public square of said town a well of living and durable water, and within the same time erect and finish in a suitable manner a temporary court house of hewn logs to be at least of equal dimensions with the old temporary court house in Palestine, which bond is executed by Samuel F. Irwin, Joseph Glover, John Owens, Reuben Kilgore, Moses Woodruff, and Isaac Stewart as principals, and Moses Fell, Joseph Rawlins, Robert M. Carlton, Marquis D. Knight, John D. Laughlin, and John Lowry as surities, and which we now give to the board as part of our report.

We have therefore agreed on the tract of land before mentioned and selected the same for the permanent seat of justice of said county.  We have also valued the donation, which was given to the said county of Lawrence for the county seat at Palestine, agreeable to the provisions of the Act first above mentioned, and appraised the value thereof at the sum of $3 per acre.  In witness thereof we have hereunto set our hands this 9th day of March A. D. 1825.

Jonathan Lyon,
Amassa Joselyn,
John Ketchem,
William Marshal,
E. S. Riley.

Immediate arrangements were made to erect the necessary buildings at the new county seat, and to dispose of the public property of the county at Palestine, such as could not be removed.

There was considerable wrangling about a name for the new town almost every inhabitant of Palestine having a name that he or she thought most appropriate, or musical, as the case might be.  As a final compromise and at the suggestion of the late Joseph Rawlins the name of “Bedford” was adopted, Mr. Rawlins having emigrated from Bedford County, Tennessee, in 1812 when a boy of some twelve or fourteen years of age.

The land on which the town of Bedford was finally located was donated to the county.   “In consideration of having the seat of justice located thereon” by the late Samuel F. Irwin, Joseph Glover, John Owens, Reuben Kilgore, Moses Woodruff, and Isaac Stewart the last named being a resident of New Albany, Ind., and one of its prosperous merchants.

The commencement of the survey of the town took place upon the 30th day of March 1825, and was in charge and under the direction of Robert M. Carlton, who was also the agent of the county.  It took several days to complete the work but when it was done, the plat was a facsimile of the town of Palestine, except that what was the south side of Palestine, and laying along the river bluff is now the east side of the original plat of Bedford.  Just why the plat of Bedford was turned one-fourth round from the plat of Palestine, especially when the act for the removal provided that the new town should correspond with the old, is not now known, but it was the occasion of many long, tedious and expensive law suits, as an examination of the court records of seventy five years ago will demonstrate.

The public square was let to the lowest bidder to be cleared, and one Abraham Music received the contract and in September 1825 was paid the sum of $29.50 for the work.  Richard Evans hauled the county records from Palestine to Bedford.  In September, 1825, the well on the public square was reported finished and was received by the Board of Justices.  This well was used continually by the public until the erection of the present court house in 1871.  It is located in the basement of the present court house near the south east corner, under what is now part of the auditor’s office.  It has long since ceased to be used but is still open.

The first court house was erected on lot No. 3 on the east side of the square on the ground now occupied by the Chicago Bargain Store, and was of logs 22 x 26 feet two stories high, the county offices being located in the upper story, and cost $500. The front of this building was weatherboarded in 1827 at a cost of $34.66 the work being done by Samuel D. Bishop.  This house was used for many purposes for many years.  Religious meetings, public gatherings and school etc.  In 1831 a new court house was ordered built similar to the one in Salem and Robert Mitchell was sent to Salem to procure the plans of the court house there.  In May 1831 he reported that he had secured complete plans of the court house at Salem, and the contract for a new court house situated in the public square was let to John Lowrey for the sum of $5,000 to be paid in installments $1,000 in advance, $1,333.33-1/3 in May 1832, 1,333.33-1/3 in January 1833 and the remainder on completion of the building which was to be in May 1834.  Lowrey’s bond was signed by Moses Fell and Winthrope Foot as sureties and bears [?] date of May 3rd 1831.  The building was completed and accepted in May 1834.  In 1833 the old court house lot on the east side of the square was sold.

The first jail of the county stood on part of lot No. 22 just west of the present store room of K. D. Owens, and on the part now occupied by the residence of the late Judge Pearson.   The house was of logs and was erected by Samuel D. Bishop and cost the sum of $660.  It was town down about the year of 1858 and the present residence erected thereon by Samuel F. Irwin.  The present jail was built in 1858, by John X. Miller and cost $9,900.

In the summer of 1869 bids were called for the erection of a new court house, and in July a contract was let for a building to cost $12,700, but at this juncture an effort was made to have the building erected on some lot off the public square and the contract was not consumated.

The County Board bought lot No. 27 opposite the present Presbyterian church and afterwards bought the adjoining lot No. 28, intending to erect the court house thereon, and indeed did put in a foundation at a cost of $8,000 the late Davis Harrison and Nathan Hall doing the work.  Thus the matter stood until April 1870 when the Board was petitioned to erect the court house on the public square and a donation of $1,500 was offered as an inducement to change the location.  This offer was accepted, and arrangements were made to erect the building on the spot now occupied by the present building and new plans were adopted, and the contract was let to Thomas Stevens for the sum of $75,000 and lots 27 and 28 were included.

The old court house was sold to Davis Harrison for $1,100.  The new, or present court house, was completed in 1872.  The address was made at the dedication by Hon. John M. Wilson, of New Albany, who represented Judge Bicknell, who at that time and for many years before and after said date was the judge of the Lawrence circuit court.

The late Judge Emerson, of Brownstown, Indiana, also made an address on this occasion.  The first court was held in Bedford on the 6th day of February 1826.  It was a special term.

The first railroad to reach Bedford was the New Albany & Salem Railway now the C. I. & L.  It was incorporated in 1851 and the first train reached Bedford on the 12th day of April 1854.  The depot was a long low brick structure on the public square situated on the plat of ground now known as “Lawrence Park.”  It was built by contract by Eli Dale, and cost $5,000.  The original survey of the route of this road was along what is now M street, but most of the citizens of the town thought that the location was too far from the business portion of the city, and accordingly they went to work to have the road run through the public square, and succeeded as they afterwards learned to their sorrow.

The next railroad, the Bedford, Springville, Owensburg & Bloomfield (narrow gauge) was projected and built in 1874 and 1875.

A tax was voted in aid of this enterprise and it occasioned years of litigation, but was finally settled in favor of the railroad company.  This road was finally bought by the Monon company and the gauge changed to Standard.

From the opening of this road Bedford dates her new birth.  It opened the vast quarries of limestone that have since made the name of Bedford famous, and brought millions of capital to her and the county, and changed the sleepy village of the Bedford of 1875 to the teeming and industrious city of Bedford with its 9,000 inhabitants in 1902.

The first years of Bedford like all country towns, was of slow growth, but after the discovery was made that the hills about the town contained the finest building stone in the United States, capital came and the vast quarries were opened and artizens, mechanics and laboring men flocked to her, and we find the town to be in this year of grace, one of the best and most substantial cities of the southern portion of the state.

The city is adorned with many fine stone churches, a public library (in course of erection) to cost $20,000.  Elegant and costly school buildings, numerous macadam and brick paved streets, miles of limestone walks, many new, elegant and costly residences, gas, hot water and electric light plants, a splendid system of water works, a new and complete system of sewerage is now being constructed, 10,000 people within her limits, and the half is not told. Come and see for yourself, and you will be sure to abide with us ever more.

929 15th Street, Bedford, IN 47421  |  (812) 278-8575  | | Tues-Fri: 9-4, Sat: 9-3