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Column: For one night, Azalia was state capital


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Small family farms owned by members of the Newsom family were scattered throughout Sandcreek Township in the 19th century. The one above originally pictured in the 1879 Illustrated Bartholomew County Atlas was owned by Nathan Newsom. It was at another Newsom farm, one owned by David Newsom, where all of the records of the state of Indiana were housed for an overnight stay in 1824, giving the nearby town of Azalia claim to the title of state capital.
FILE PHOTO
Small family farms owned by members of the Newsom family were scattered throughout Sandcreek Township in the 19th century. The one above originally pictured in the 1879 Illustrated Bartholomew County Atlas was owned by Nathan Newsom. It was at another Newsom farm, one owned by David Newsom, where all of the records of the state of Indiana were housed for an overnight stay in 1824, giving the nearby town of Azalia claim to the title of state capital. FILE PHOTO


Azalia is a pretty small town, even for Sandcreek Township. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, which is probably just fine with the people who call it home.

It certainly doesn’t take up a lot of space in the Bartholomew County History — 10 paragraphs in the original Volume I and 13 in the revised Volume II, published in 2000.

It was well-known for many years as a Quaker settlement, and its residents didn’t look kindly on drinking establishments. One adage written on an original town plat proclaimed, “Arise! Azalia arise! May thy walks be unknown to the sluggard, the gambler and the drunken sot.”

Brief though its history might be, Azalia does have a pretty big claim to fame, one that Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop believes should get more attention. He suggested that the newspaper needed to look into a rumor that Azalia once was the state capital of Indiana.

I did, and it’s not a rumor. Little Azalia was indeed the state capital of Indiana ... for one night.

So were quite a few other places on the path between Corydon and Indianapolis.

Azalia’s place in this particular history is rooted in the early 19th century, when most of the state — including the area that would become Azalia — was frontier.

In 1824 Corydon was the site of the first state capital, but even by then its days were numbered. In 1821 members of the state’s General Assembly decided a more centralized location was desirable and settled on Indianapolis.

But moving a state capital, even only 60 miles, was a pretty demanding project in the early 19th century. It took three years before the move could get under way, and even then the trip had to be over rugged terrain. There were no roads, and the timing of the trip — the winter of 1824 — was ill-considered.

According to the “History of Sandcreek Township” compiled by May Adams Arbuckle in the 1940s, “Samuel Merrill was the state treasurer. He took his family, the money and records of the state in a wagon train with bells on the horses and started on this historic journey.”

A citation in Wikipedia dedicated to the history of Indiana’s capital provides an idea on the difficulties faced by the travelers.

“At the time it was an eleven-day journey by horseback from Corydon to the new capital. To complicate matters, no road existed and a path for the wagons had to be cut through the dense forests during the winter transit as the long caravan moved north. The caravan was large because it contained the state treasury, state library, state records, the furniture of the General Assembly, Supreme Court, and Executive Offices, along with a whole host of other implements to aid the caravan on its long journey. Ultimately, it took more than a month to relocate the government to Indianapolis.”

In Arbuckle’s account, “the part in our neighborhood was called the Brownstown Road and it is on the east side of the White River. It took several days to make the journey.

“One evening they stopped at the home of David Newsom in Sandcreek Township and were invited to spend the night ... just north of where Azalia now stands.”

Today the site is on the east side of County Road 340E.

There is no historical marker to designate Azalia’s moment in history, and I suppose some could argue that Azalia wasn’t even Azalia when the state capital moved through. It was first platted in 1831, seven years later.

Newsom’s original cabin is long gone and, so far as I can tell, there are no images of what it might have looked like.

There are images of other Newsom properties in Sandcreek Township in the 1879 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Bartholomew County — four of them, but none linked to David. For now, all we have to rely on is May Adams Arbuckle’s account of the rugged journey of Samuel Merrill and the state capital.

Perhaps the folks in Azalia can take matters into their own hands and post a sign at the outskirts of town advertising it as the former state capital of Indiana.

Below it, they could even add the adage that sluggards, gamblers and drunken sots weren’t welcome.

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