Warsaw Came Near Losing the County-Seat in the Latter Thirties

In the early period of its history, Warsaw had much to contend with, and for many years its prosperity was greatly retarded by unfortunate occurrences. It was laid out in the year of 1836, when money was plentiful and all Western towns [were] improving at a rapid rate.

John B. Chapman, on behalf of himself and other land owners of the place held the first sale of lands in June, 1836. The lots were bid off at good prices-higher than they sold for at any time in the succeeding twenty years. But the other land owners all of whom lived at a distance, and were engaged in other and more interesting speculations, thought the prices too low and refused to ratify the sales, save of a few lots which sold at high prices. The remainder were withdrawn from the market and for several years it was with great difficulty that a person wanting a lot could find a lot owner to sell him one.

Affected By Financial Crash
The next year, 1837, came the great financial crash, the most disastrous in the history of the nation, which brought down the price of all real estate and caused a very general suspension of western improvements for several years. And as if Warsaw's cup of misery was not yet full, about this time came the "unkindest cut" of all, the so called clipping question, which began to assume formidable proportions. It served to render any investment in Warsaw property extremely hazardous and likely to prove a total loss.

The "clipping question" was a project by interested parties to effect a removal of the county seat from Warsaw, by clipping or detaching some six miles from the southern end of the county, and thus throw the center north of Warsaw and nearer to the more dense settlements of the prairie region.

Leesburg came close
It is true that the early settlers were imbued with the belief that Leesburg was the most suitable place for the seat of justice; and as early as December 1835, a petition was forwarded from that place to Indianapolis, to the care of Hon. E. M. Chamberlain, then the representative from this district, praying that body to lessen its area by detaching territory six miles wide from its southern extremity. This it was desired to do in anticipation of the appointment, at that session, of the commissioners to locate the seat of justice, who would then find, on their arrival, the geographical center to be nearer Leesburg. But no effort was made beyond forwarding the petition by mail to their representative, who presented the same, had it referred, and that was the last of it. Had a lobby of two or three gone with it, the effort could not have but succeeded, for Chamberlain was friendly to the project. Warsaw had then no existence, and there was not twenty voters in the central part of the county, nor in fact, in all the county south of the Tippecanoe River. The true reason for an absence of effort at this time was a confident feeling at Leesburg that its superior claims for the county seat could not well be ignored in any event.

Warsaw the county's center
But events shaped themselves differently; the seat of justice was located at Warsaw, or in the center of the county, and the plat of Warsaw was laid out and recorded. The selection was acquiesced in with scarcely a murmur, and the feeling prevailed for a time that being in the center of a large county of excellent land and, it must become a thriving and growing place. The sale of lots before referred to was largely attended, the bidding was brisk and most of the business men of the other villages announced a determination to remove to Warsaw. But all its prospects were blighted by the difference among the proprietors, resulting as they did in the withdrawal of the lots from market and the failure of the owners to take any further interest in the place. John B. Chapman, the only land or lot owner who resided in a county, when he found the other owners would not ratify his sale, sold out to them all his interests and withdrew from the concern or "lot-pool" and the other owners scarcely ever returned to the place.

Oswego came close
This sudden stoppage each of improvements at Warsaw revived the talk in favor of some other point for the county seat and the question of removal began to be agitated. Soon a powerful opposition to Warsaw manifested itself, which established the "clipping question" upon a formidable basis. A firm of wealthy men, Messrs. Barbee, Willard and French, laid out the village of Oswego on Tippecanoe lake, with the publicly expressed intention of affecting a removal of the seat of justice to that point. They erected mills and other improvements and by the liberal use of money, Oswego soon became a popular and thriving village. The Oswego interest effected a combination with some land owners in the south part of the county, which had the effect of arraying the settlers in the south against Warsaw. These land holders had in view the formation of a new county out of parts of Kosciusko, Wabash and Miami counties, and the securing of the seat of justice in Clay township. This solid combination was formed against Warsaw by the people of the south as well as northeast of Warsaw, to a greater distance than three miles. Beyond that distance in those directions Warsaw had but few friends. The center, only was a unit for Warsaw and that was numerically weak. The citizens of Milford, of Leesburg, and to the west of the latter place were for Warsaw. But there was an evident majority of the voters favorably disposed toward the "Clippers" principally actuated by motive of self-interest, and the project of clipping could not have failed of success if the local question could have been brought to a square test. But all the complications incident to national politics could not be avoided, and somehow or other they would sadly interfere with the arrangements of the "Clippers" just when success seemed ready to crown their efforts.

Another Close Shave
Messrs. Barbee, Willard and French were Whigs, but several others of the more prominent "Clippers" were of Democratic persuasion, and were enabled to enlist influential Democratic voters elsewhere in their behalf. By means of this influence, they nearly succeeded in accomplishing their designs in the year of 1839. In that year the Democracy was generally successful at the polls throughout the state. Kosciusko county gave a Democratic majority of 93 for congress. A. L. Wheeler, Esq. of Plymouth, was elected to the Legislature from Marshall and Kosciusko, receiving a decided majority in each county. This senatorial district however composed of the same counties, with the addition of the county of St. Joseph, was represented in that body by a Whig, elected in 1838, the Hon. Thomas D. Baird, a very able and popular man.

When the legislature met in December 1839, Wheeler, with the able assistance of Judge Long of Franklin County, championed the cause of the "Clippers" in the House and after a stormy contest, succeeded in passing through that body the bill to divide the county. Baird, however in the Senate, espoused the cause of Warsaw and made a series of brilliant speeches in the denunciation of the scheme and finally succeeded in defeating the bill by a small majority.

How it worked out
Having been so nearly successful, the "Clippers" now felt sure of ultimate triumph, and prepared for another and more vigorous attempt. But the year of 1840, unluckily for them, brought around that most remarkable political campaign in our national history, the "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" contest, which was destined during its continuance to overshadow and dwarf all other questions. In vain did French, who by the way, had remarkable talent as an organizer, endeavor to rally his Democratic and Whig "Clippers" in a common cause and induce them to support "Clippers "for office, without regard to political consideration. Dearly as they loved the "Clipper" cause they would drift into political currents. Whigs would support Whigs, and Democrats would support Democrats without regard to their status on the local question. The Whigs of Warsaw wanted Peter L. Runyan Sr. of Warsaw for representative on both political and local grounds, and the Whigs of Leesburg, feeling no interest in common with Oswego stood by the Whigs of Warsaw. A convention to nominate Whig candidates for senator and representative was held in March of that year in Plymouth. The Whigs in St. Joseph and Marshall were enthusiastically for Baird for senator on political and personal grounds. This suited the Whigs of Warsaw and Leesburg and he was unanimously re-nominated. In return the Whigs of Marshall county went for Runyan who received the nomination for representative. French and some of his friends were present and protested against both nominations but it was wholly useless. The battle cry was "Harrison and Tyler" and naught else could received a hearing. Warsaw was so fortunate as to be able to suit herself with candidates both locally and politically, and Whig nomination then was equivalent to an election. This virtually settled the "clipping" question for that year. The formality was gone through with, as usual, of presenting to the legislature petitions with a formidable array of signers, but they received little attention.

Foiled by politics
In 1841 to political excitement had abated and the people were again into mood to pay attention to local questions. The "Clippers" became more active in confidence of success. But as the sequel shows they were again to be foiled by political interference. The county had now been joined by Whitley county for representative purposes. The Whigs of Warsaw and Leesburg with the aid of those of Whitley again succeeded in nominating Runyan. French now determined that he should be beaten, and though a Whig himself, announced himself as candidate in which he had promised support of most of the Democratic leaders. But to others also announce themselves as candidates- John R. Blain of Leesburg, a Whig, and Joseph Hale of Prairie township, a Democrat. At the election French lead the others, receiving solid support at Warsaw of both parties, a fair share of the Whig support at Leesburg, and some scattering Whig votes throughout the county. In the county he fell some 30 votes behind Runyan. Blain received a respectable vote, drawing his support mostly from those who would otherwise have supported French. Hale received but a small vote in the county, all the influential Democrats supporting French. Whitley county decided the contest. The Democrats supported Hale on political grounds and the great majority of the Whigs supported Runyan because he was of the regular Whig nomination. In two counties, Runyan had some 30 majority over French, and Warsaw was again victorious.

French laid his defeat to Blain, who drew his votes from French's district east of Leesburg. It was certain that if Hale had not been a candidate, French would have received the Democratic vote of Whitley, because Runyan was known as the regularly candidate.

Contract for frame court house
The successive defeats, owing mainly to the interference of national politics, serve to greatly discourage the "Clippers", as it left them without friends in the legislature. They made, however a very vigorous effort, the ensuing winter, by means of delegates to the lobby, armed with long petitions and greatly worried the poor inhabitants of Warsaw who had to counteract them in the same manner and at great expense. The petitioning was kept up for still another year, but the efforts gradually weakened and died out. In 1843 the county commissioners became satisfied that the question was settled, and erected the old frame court house under contract.

Warsaw an ideal residence City
The excitement lasted about four years and at times ran so high that the people of the neighboring counties became interested, and took sides in the argument. Warsaw was greatly injured in character at a distance, because the grossest falsehoods were circulated as to the health of the place, and people abroad came to believe that it was beyond comparison, the most unhealthy location in the western country. It was asserted and believed by many that one reason why the place did not improve more than it did was that few people could live there long enough to build a house.

Warsaw slowly recovered from this prejudice and today is regarded as one of the ideal cities in which to reside in this section of the Middle West.

Warsaw Daily Times October 10, 1923

Back to YesterYear in Print