Here is the Introduction to “Wicked Columbus, Indiana:”
Situated where the Flat Rock and Driftwood Rivers merge to become the East Fork of the White River in south central Indiana, the city of Columbus has a long, proud history.
Known nationwide as one of the smaller cities to boast a vast array of modern architecture, the county seat of Bartholomew County is called home by roughly forty-six thousand residents today. Columbus sits approximately forty miles south of Indianapolis; eighty miles north of Louisville, Kentucky; and ninety miles west of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The high number of notable public buildings and public art in the Columbus area, designed by such well-known and respected individuals as Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, César Pelli, Harry Weese and Richard Meier, have led to Columbus earning the nickname “Athens of the Prairie.”
Two hundred years ago, however, this area was definitely no prairie; it was teeming with lush, green forests, swamps and Delaware Indians.
In its infancy, the locale wasn’t even called Columbus. It was called Tiptona after General John Tipton, a famed Indian fighter and prominent land owner who was one of two men to donate thirty acres for the fledgling town; pioneer Luke Bonesteel was the other. Five weeks after being platted, however, the name of the town was changed to Columbus.
Nobody seems to know for sure why Tiptona was scrapped for Columbus. Historians have speculated that Tipton, a Democrat, had an argument with local Whigs, although evidence of that is scarce. It is possible that the new name was used so that pioneers concerned about poor health would associate this community with the hardy explorer of the New World and/or the well-established Columbus, Ohio.
In 1816, Indiana advanced from a territory to statehood, the nineteenth to join the union. Three years later, Bartholomew County was carved out of part of the original Delaware County. Columbus was platted in 1821, becoming the seat of county government immediately. It was incorporated as a town in 1837 and as a city in 1864; residents elected Smith Jones as their first mayor.
Prosperity came to town with the introduction of the railroads in 1844, when the line being laid from Madison to Indianapolis made it to Columbus. That line was followed by connecting routes to the Indiana cities of Jeffersonville, Shelbyville, Hope and Greensburg, as well as to St. Louis and Chicago.
Business boomed during the Civil War, as a local bakery supplied the Union army. Banks were established, which brought stability. Between 1850 and 1900, Columbus’s population increased seven-fold, rising from just over one thousand to more than eight thousand.
World War II brought another surge of prosperity, as small, home-owned businesses fulfilled government contracts, and manufacturers such as Cummins, Arvin Industries and Hamilton Cosco all grew during this era. The number of Columbus residents nearly doubled between 1940 and 1960, from 11,738 to 20,778. And the population has more than doubled since then.
Throughout its history, Columbus has maintained a reputation as a safe place to raise a family with a decent standard of living, good schools and wholesome entertainment options.
However, all cities (even ones known as the Athens of anywhere) have had their ups and downs, their unsavory citizens and challenging issues—or just their share of plain old bad luck. The tales told in this book should not be construed as a condemnation of the city as it is today in any way, shape or form. All of the events described in this book are more than thirty-five years old, and many of them are more than a century past.
Many other cities across the country have suffered similar, and even more severe, consequences due to their bad times and people. To their credit, the residents and elected officials of Columbus have more often than not found a way to solve their problems.
With that in mind, I hope you enjoy reading about the unsavory, the unlucky, the challenging and the wicked that have added intrigue to Columbus.