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The History of Putnamville

The history of Putnamville is so vast, I would not be able to do it justice in the small space we have here. Therefore, I will hit the high points and include many photos and newspaper articles. Malcolm Romine plans to prepare a comprehensive history of Putnamville soon, and one can obtain more information at the recently completed Townsend/Layman museum at Putnamville, a restoration of the summer kitchen/freed slaves’ quarters associated with the Whitehall Inn, sometimes called the Townsend Inn. Refer to an article in the Banner-Graphic September 25, 2018 and be sure to attend the historical events in Putnamville scheduled for Saturday afternoon, October 20 at 2:00.

Early History

The early histories of the county indicate Putnamville was laid out by James Townsend in 1830 on land purchased from Edward Heath. Townsend was said to have operated the first store there and constructed the Townsend Inn, also called the Whitehall Inn. Townsend is an interesting individual himself. It was said that he had inherited a large number of slaves, which he was apparently not comfortable with. He had moved to Morganfield, Kentucky, then on to the free state of Indiana. It was said that he offered his slaves their freedom. Any that wished to accompany him to his new home could do so on their own free will, and those that chose not to do so would receive $50. Apparently, a fair number of them chose the $50 but some came with him to Putnamville, taking the Townsend name as their own as was the custom of the day. A substantial brick building was constructed about 1828 when the Inn was built, which has been referred to as a servant quarters or a summer kitchen. As noted, this building has been recently removed and rebuilt closer to downtown Putnamville. A more in-depth study of James Townsend and the early years of Putnamville may be obtained from various historical records.

Almost the County Seat?

Many of the historical records indicate that Putnamville was in the early running to be the seat of government of the newly formed county, even laying out a public square in the downtown area when the town was platted. I have to say I do find this a bit odd, as various records clearly indicate Greencastle had been firmly established as the county seat years before Putnamville was platted or the National Road had come through that town. The matter of Greencastle being the county seat was settled in 1823 when the commissioners designated by the Legislature for that purpose met at the house of John Butcher and agreed upon a hill overlooking Walnut creek and almost in the exact geographical center of the county. As an inducement towards the location there and in consideration thereof, Ephraim Dukes and his wife Rebecca conveyed to Amos Robertson, designated as "agent for Putnam county," seventy acres on September 2, 1823 with that land being donated in consideration that the county seat be located at the "town of Greencastle." On June 7, 1825, Duke's son-in-law, John Wesley Clark, and his wife Elizabeth, for the same consideration mentioned in Duke's deed, conveyed to John Baird, "agent for Putnam county," eighty acres adjoining the tract Dukes had donated two years before.

An entry in the records of the proceedings of the county commissioners' court dated July 7, 1828 ordered that John Baird, agent of Putnam county, compensate John Allen for services rendered in locating the seat of justice for Putnam county at the ‘town of Bedford.’ Nobody has ever been able to find the location of this mysterious “Bedford” or whether it was merely a typo in the records. Almost a decade after the county seat question had been settled in favor of Greencastle, and after the National Road had been constructed, Putnamville began to agitate the question of the removal of the seat of justice from Greencastle, arguing that as Putnamville was more favorably located on the great new highway, it was the natural and logical location for the county seat. An irritating rivalry was said to have grown between the two towns which continued for years, but no sort of organized action was ever taken. From what I can tell, this so-called rivalry was more of an issue with Putnamville than with Greencastle, which may have become even more of a sore point when Greencastle won out over Putnamville and other communities as the site of a new university in 1836.


As noted at the Heritage Wall in downtown Greencastle, the Indiana Conference of Methodist Episcopal Church decided that the time had arrived to establish an institution of higher learning in Indiana. In competition with Indianapolis, Lafayette, Madison, Rockville and Putnamville, the small town of Greencastle, with its several hundred inhabitants, won the right to be the home of this new University. A pledge of $25,000 to help establish the new school was made by Greencastle citizens, and on January 10, 1837, a charter was granted by the Indiana General Assembly to establish Indiana Asbury University in Greencastle. This name was chosen to honor Francis Asbury, the first American bishop of the Methodist Church, and to indicate that the new institution was a Methodist institution.

I was able to locate an article from the Western Plough Boy of Greencastle, which was repeated in the Bloomington Post on November 25, 1836, highlighting the conference of the church when the site of the university was decided. This meeting was presided by Bishop Roberts, who is buried by the way, on the DePauw campus along with his wife and rumor indicates possibly his horse. In this conference, the representatives from the communities vying for the site of the yet to be named university gave passionate oratory as to why their community should be selected. James Townsend from Putnamville highlighted that community’s ideal location on the recently constructed National Road, while Dr. Tarvin W. Cowgill gave a very handsome speech setting forth the claims of Greencastle, doing himself and the place he represented much credit. After hearing from General Howard from Rockville, the Rev. Mr. Talbott of Lafayette and Mr. Fletcher of Indianapolis, the members of the conference cast their ballots with Greencastle receiving 22 votes, Indianapolis, 19, Rockville 11, Putnamville 2 and Lafayette 1. A second ballot was cast with Greencastle receiving 33 votes, Indianapolis 21, with Rockville and Putnamville receiving 1 vote each. The conference then selected Greencastle as the location of the new university. It was said that Putnamville, which had greatly desired the university and even included a College Street when the town was platted, was bitter for a time in their loss of the university, feeling their ideal location and what was said to be a pledge of $20,000 should have been sufficient to support its claim. Never mind that Greencastle had pledged $5,000 more and had received far more votes by the conference. By the way, I tried to determine what $25,000 would have been worth in 1836 in relation to today’s dollar. This is difficult as one might expect as the price index generally goes back only to 1913 and 1836 preceded the Great Panic of 1837. Depending on which source one might use, $25,000 in 1836 would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.M to $2M today, as best as I can estimate.


As noted in the Greencastle Banner on May 30, 1878, a major fire destroyed a good portion of the business district of Putnamville in the early morning hours of the previous Sunday, May 22, 1878. It was said that the citizens of the community were jarred from their slumber by an explosion from a keg of gunpowder, apparently located in the store of Holloway and Lancett. The citizens tried in vain to control the fire, which was said to have burned 300 volumes in the township library, instruments of the Putnamville brass band, the post office, the hotel (likely the Eagle Hotel), and several other business buildings. It was said that Holloway and Lancett, where the fire apparently began, was the only one insured. A stranger was seen suspiciously leaving the area immediately after the fire started, and there was other evidence that robbery was the motive. It was also stated that the explosion had to have been deliberately set, as there had been no fire in the Holloway and Lancett building for at least a week prior to the explosion.


In addition to the Whitehall Inn built in 1828 by James Townsend, I also saw an advertisement the Eagle Hotel at Putnamville in the Wabash Courier on January 27, 1841. The hotel had by then been in existence for a time, as the ad stated that C. J. Hand had taken over the establishment and ‘no pains shall be spared to render general satisfaction to accommodate the travelling public.’ A drawing in that ad seems to boast the hotel as a large three-story building, but I can find no actual photos of this hotel. It was said to have been a stage coach stop in the early days of the National Road, and of course, Abraham Lincoln was believed to have stayed there. Martin Van Buren did indeed stay at the Eagle Inn in 1842 as documented in several newspaper accounts. As noted in a May 30, 1878 article in the Greencastle Banner, the Eagle Hotel, owned at that time by Joseph Clapsaddle, apparently was one of the buildings lost in the great fire that swept through the business district of Putnamville on May 22, 1878.

The Grant Hotel was built in 1920 just east of Putnamville by Albert Iselin of Indianapolis, on land which was said to have been owned by the Allee family. An article in the August 29, 1973 Banner-Graphic indicated that Iselin operated the hotel for a few years then sold out. Apparently, during prohibition the hotel became to be a bit of a den of inequity, with gambling, drinking and who knows what else being carried on. It was said that it was raided and closed until purchased by Marion Wilson in 1947, who began calling it the Old Trail Inn. Also housing the gift shop of Pearl O’Hair, the Old Trail Inn not only offered accommodations for travelers on what was now U. S. 40 but was also a well-noted dining establishment. The Putnam County Museum recently obtained the menus for the Old Trail Inn and has been hosting recreated dinners at the museum periodically. I can attest that the dining was indeed delicious, be sure to check with the museum for their next Old Trail Inn dinner. Marion Wilson closed the Old Trail Inn as an eating place in December of 1965. The building was vacant a few years before it was purchased by David and Ann Sigler who owned it when sadly, it was lost in a fire on Saturday, August 25, 1973.

Covered Bridge

In June of 1880 the county commissioners decided to build a bridge over Deer Creek south of Putnamville. In 1881, bids were let for construction with N. T. Lewman being awarded the bid for the superstructure and Lewman & Moriarty for the substructure. Construction was completed for this new covered bridge, which was accepted by the county commissioners in April of 1882. After the state incorporated this stretch of road into the state highway system in the 1960’s, it was determined a more modern bridge was needed. This covered bridge was closed in 1965 and demolished in 1966, being replaced by a new concrete bridge. (Courtesy Jim Cooper, who is the bridge expert for Putnam County)

Early Doctors

The 1879 Atlas states that Dr. D. W. [Daniel Wunderlick] Layman settled in Putnamville in 1831, being the first practitioner in the town or the township, and so successful was his practice that no other physician had remained in Putnamville for any great length of time. Layman married Mary Townsend [daughter of James] in 1832 and died August 10, 1887. Dr. H. E. Cowgill was running advertisements for his services in Putnamville in the Western Plough Boy of Greencastle, for instance the one included in the August 24, 1837 edition which he had dated December 14, 1836. His wife’s obituary in 1889 indicated Dr. and Mrs. Cowgill had moved to Kansas City soon after the end of the Civil War. Dr. Harvey W. Stewart was advertising his services to Putnamville July 6, 1865. Dr. Lewis C. Cline was practicing medicine in Putnamville when Dr. George Thomas McNutt succeeded him. Dr. McNutt, who was listed in the 1880 census in Warren Township as a physician, died December 18, 1898 from injuries received in a tragic gas explosion at Henry Luking’s Boot and Shoe Store in Connersville. He had been called in to treat Luking, who had been overcome by gas. While treating Luking, someone lit a match and the store blew up killing Luking and injuring Dr. McNutt, who died four days later. Dr. Amos H. Horn purchased Dr. McNutt’s office as noted in the Greencastle Times on April 9, 1885. Dr. Horn died on December 6, 1925.

Dr. Joseph H. Herriman (Harryman) is listed in the 1850 census in Putnamville as a physician. (Some of this information was provided by former County Historian Susan Huber.)

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