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Photos taken November 21, 2001
Physical evidence of the
struggle for the placement of the courthouse and county seat location in
1873 still exists on the front of the remodeled Center Township Library
in Centerville, Indiana.
Above the door on the front of the building you can see holes in the brick from iron scrap fired at the building from a cannon in an effort to block the movement of the county records to the new courthouse in Richmond.
WAR FOR THE COUNTY SEAT
The courthouse fight is one of the most interesting events in the history of Centerville.
The county seat had been located at Centerville because it was the physical center of the county and was more easily reached during the early days of the settlement of Wayne County. (The first county seat was located in Salisbury, to the south of Centerville. Salisbury no longer exists.) No section of the county had a majority of business or population at that time, so that did not factor into the determination of the location of the county seat.
Grows in Population
Jail Begins the Fight
Now, when time came to build a new courthouse a bitter newspaper fight arose over the location of the proposed courthouse. Both sides wrote scathing articles, with some truth on both sides, creating indignant feelings between the two towns.
Fight Begins in the Courts
In the meantime, Centerville filed a petition with the commissioners asking for the erection of fireproof vaults and offices, estimated at $75,000. Richmond thought this was simply a plan to get the money approved piecemeal so that the county seat could never be moved.
The commissioners took the matter under consideration for a time, but the petitioners went to court to compel them to act at once.
Centerville retaliated via circulars to show how great a loss the removal of the county seat would be to the community, how low the appraisal of the county buildings was compared with what was needed to erect a new building at Richmond, praising the convenience and central location of Centerville, and lamenting how property owners would suffer; and numerous other objections.
Centerville fought a losing fight as most voters felt it was in their best interest to have the county seat relocated.
City Voters Are a Factor
After the petition was approved, a site was chose for the courthouse at a cost of $42,000, which was paid for by private subscription. The petition and the report naming the location of the site for the new courthouse was given to the Board of Commissioners in June 1872, fulfilling the requirements of the law. In September of 1872 a deed for the ground was presented by the petitioners to the Board, accepted and approved.
Declared Fixed and Located in Richmond
When the new courthouse was finished and Richmond was ready to move the books and records, new trouble began.
The next night it was rumored that a crowd of Richmond people were coming and the Centerville forces were ready, but no one arrived. On the third day, a guard from Richmond was brought in to protect the records.
To further prevent Richmond from removing the records, Centerville rounded up "Black Betty", the three pound town cannon on wooden wheels used to fire salutes on Independence Day. It was taken to the blacksmith shop and loaded with iron scraps. A crowd was led back to the jail and they demanded that the guards come out.
The next day, soldiers were brought in and the records were removed to Richmond and Centerville ceased to be the county seat.
To get the fence, a wagon and two men were sent for each two sections of fence. They quickly surrounded the courtyard and all at once jumped out of the wagons and with axes, chopped off the braces of the fence, loaded it into the wagons and were gone before Centerville really knew what was happening.
This fence was re-installed at Richmond where it stood for many years. The jail was also torn down and reused in Richmond.
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