The abundance of game and fur-bearing animals plus the fertile soils of the prairies and river valley which attracted early man to the area also attracted the first Miami Indians for whom the county is named. They migrated from the area of Wisconsin and lived in the area over one hundred years before Indiana became a territory in 1800. Sixteen years later Indiana became a state, and about 1830, Miami Chief John B. Richardville sold land to pioneer Joseph Holman for five hundred dollars, “paid partly in trade instead of all cash.” That land became the site of Miamisport. Holman then sold 210 acres for five hundred dollars to William B. Hood, who established Peru shortly after Miami County was organized in 1834. A document describing the work of the surveyor and his assistants as they laid out Peru, states, “…the site was entirely covered with heavy timber and thick impenetrable growth of underbrush. Not a rod square was cleared. I have frequently heard Mr. Fisher say the men had to precede him and clear away the underbrush so he could get a sight through his instrument.”
At the meeting of the commissioners who had been appointed to locate the seat, Hood executed a bond. The bond provided for donation of a public square for a brick courthouse and log jail, on the condition that Peru became the county seat. By 1834 lots in Peru went up for sale. Taverns and hotels usually opened first followed by blacksmiths, carpenters, and dry goods stores. Trading posts sometimes maintained corrals where Indians could leave their ponies while they traded for goods.
When Peru was laid out, free lots, at any location, were offered to the churches. The Catholic Church was the first to take advantage of the offer, locating on two lots on the northwest corner of Fifth and Miami Streets. The Episcopals organized in 1843. The Presbyterian Church organized in Peru on November 26, 1835. The Methodists conducted services in the homes of local residents until a house of worship was finished in 1836. The Evangelical Lutheran held services in Peru as early as 1849.
As more settlers moved in, a series of treaties forced the Miamis to give up more of their land. An 1834 treaty dissolved the Eel River Reserve, forcing bands of Indians to move to other Indiana reserves in the county. The federal government bought the land the Indians vacated so that the Wabash and Erie Canal could be completed through Miami County and other parts of Indiana. More Indiana reserves were given up in an 1838 treaty, and by 1840, a treaty not only forced the Miamis to cede land, but called for their removal from Indiana by 1845. Some Miamis were excluded from removal, such as the family of Frances Slocum, a white woman who had married into the tribe, and the families of chiefs Richardville, Godfroy, and Meshingomesia. The federal government sent soldiers to remove more Miamis in 1846. Eventually, white settlement of America’s western frontier expanded until the Miamis were moved to an Oklahoma reservation.
Fourteen townships organized as more and more settlers arrived, clearing land of good timber which gave rise to numerous sawmills and decades later lured some factories to the county. Many of the settlers came by covered wagon drawn by oxen or on horseback from as far away as Virginia, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Later, as the Wabash and Erie Canal extended farther and farther westward, immigrants arrived in Miami County. They either arrived in the county’s early years to help build the canal or traveled on it to find new homes and set up new businesses. The first canal boat was to arrive in Peru on July 4, 1837, but the county’s first newspaper, the Peru Forester, reported, “Before 12 o’clock that day, the town was filled with people of the county to witness the grand display to be made on that occasion. Unfortunately, the boats did not arrive. The canal banks, being porous, absorbed the water much faster than anticipated.” Two years before, the Science, the first steamboat to arrive in Peru on the Wabash, had come and gone without fanfare.
The first “Iron Horses” smoked and chugged along rails across Indiana before the canal era waned to a close in the 1870’s. Railroads opened the state to even more settlement. One of the first railroads to reach Peru, the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, in 1854, opened up new business opportunities for the county seat. The Eel River Railroad, later called the Vandalia, laid tracks across northern Miami County in the 1870s. Other early railroads were the Indianapolis, Peru and Chicago, the Cincinnati, Chicago and Louisville, more popularly called the “Huckleberry Line,” the Pan Handle and the Lake Erie and Western. The Peru and Detroit Railroad organized in 1889 and leased the line to the Wabash Railroad. They then built a roundhouse, shops and a hospital for railroad employees.
The first interurban service was the Winona Traction Line. Its cars connected Miami County in 1906 with the Chicago, South Bend and Northern Indiana Electric Railway at Goshen in Elkhart County. The Wabash River Traction Company, later called the Fort Wayne and Northern Traction Company, connected Miami County with Lafayette to the west and Fort Wayne to the east about 1903. In 1902 the Indianapolis Northern Traction Company received a right–of-way through southern Miami County.
The village of Ridgeview, described by the Peru Republican in 1898 as possessing “one dozen houses, a railway hospital and a mail box” with a “ridge view” of Peru, adjoined Peru’s north corporate limits. It was sometimes referred to as the “Bearss settlement” because Daniel Bearss settled there over fifty years before and several family members still resided there in the 1890s. Peru annexed the settlement as well as the village of South Peru in 1914.
South Peru, which stands on the south side of the Wabash River, was platted independently of the county seat in 1873. Maris Wheel Factory had located there, but was later converted to a furniture factory. Other industries included a brewery, a packing house, and Cliffton brickyards which produced much of the early brick that paved Peru.
The first high school was built in Peru in 1834 as a log building. Later, high school classes occupied a former livery barn at the southwest corner of Sixth and Broadway before a much larger school was built around 1910 at the northwest corner of Sixth and Miami Streets.
At the first meeting of the Miami County Commissioners, the county was divided into only two townships, Jefferson and Peru. There is no good record as to the specific boundaries and extent. As the population of the county increased, new townships were erected from time to time until now there are fourteen in the county: Allen, Butler, Clay, Deer Creek, Erie, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Perry, Peru, Pipe Creek, Richland, Union and Washington.
Macy, located a little southwest of the center of the township, is the principal town in Allen Township. George Wilkinson moved to Allen Township in 1837 and took up the tract where lies the present town of Macy. One of the earliest industries was the “ashery” started by William Squires in 1840. For a number of years this concern supplied much of the soda used by the pioneers of the area. In 1842 Stewart Bailey began the manufacture of brick on the Sullivan Waite farm, but the first brick house in the township was not built until 1856, when George Harkins erected a brick dwelling.
Before the white man came to Miami County, the territory now comprising Butler Township was the favorite hunting grounds of the Miami Indians. Some of the most picturesque and romantic scenery in Miami County is in Butler Township. The “Seven Pillars” on the Mississinewa River and the rugged bluffs along the stream are among the beauty spots of Indiana. The first white man credited with locating within the limits of the township was Martin Wilhelm. About 1843 Isaac and John Litzenberger built a sawmill near the site of Peoria. Around 1845 Matthew Fenimore built a sawmill near the present town of Santa Fe. In 1847 he built a grist mill nearby and carried on a successful business until the mill was destroyed by fire about 1877.
Clay Township, one of the four townships that form the southern tier, and the last to be settled, was organized on March 3, 1846. Henry Daggy is credited with being the first white man to establish a permanent residence within Clay Township in 1844. Probably the first grist mill was that connected with the sawmill of Yoder & Miller, near Waupecong, which was started in 1849. McGrawsville, on the line between Clay and Harrison Townships, and Loree, about three miles west, were stations on the Pan Handle Railroad.
Deer Creek Township on the southwest corner of the county was established September 1, 1847. Located in the heart of the “Big Reserve” of the Miami Indians, this area was not surveyed and opened to settlement as early as some other portions of the county. Originally covered with a heavy growth of black walnut, hickory, oak, poplar, ash, maple and other varieties of valuable lumber, the trees were mostly destroyed to make way for cultivation of farms. The villages of Bennett’s Switch and Miami were the only post office locations in the township and were on the lines of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad and the Indiana Union Traction Line.
Erie Township is the smallest in Miami County. The honor of being the first belongs to Henry King, who settled near the western boundary in 1835. An earlier trader carried on a successful traffic with the Indians for several years but never established permanent improvements nor did he cultivate the soil. Originally named “Black Hawk Township”, in September, 1847, the name was changed to Erie after the Wabash and Erie Canal. Although there is a crossroad that claims the name of Erie, it has never been an official town, but only a church and an abandoned schoolhouse used as a community center.
On September 8, 1846. Harrison Township was set apart as an independent political division and was named for General William Henry Harrison, the hero of Tippecanoe, who was elected president of the United States in 1840. Harrison Township is level and the soil is exceedingly fertile, but by 1914 nearly 20 miles of ditch and tile drain had been constructed to make agriculture possible. An old village, Snow Hill, was located on Section 3. There a sawmill was built by Jacob Miller. Shortly afterward he sold out to the Niccum brothers and built another mill at the town of North Grove.
About 1842 Thomas Creviston built a cabin in what later became Jackson Township. Later the same year came John Powell, Thomas Addington and Thomas Mason. In January, 1843, Oliver H. P. Macy located a tract of land which now lies within the limits of the town of Converse. Most of the early pioneers located their claims in the southern portion, near the present towns of Amboy and Converse, or along the Big Pipe Creek. In the summer of 1846, after a petition was presented to the County Commissioners asking them to organize a new township which should be known as “Liberty,” but instead the name “Jackson” was given to the township in honor of Andrew Jackson.
The town of Mexico, in Jefferson Township, which was laid out by Simeon Wilkinson in 1830, is the county’s second oldest community. Early businesses included a trading post, blacksmiths, a tannery, a tailor, and a cabinet maker. The River House served as Mexico’s first hotel. Not until August of 1872 was the Town of Denver laid out by Harrison Grimes along the Eel River and along the route of the Eel River Railroad. By 1810 the population of Denver was eight hundred and fifty while the population of Mexico was only five hundred and twenty-one.
Perry Township, located in the far northeast corner of the county, was first settled by James Malcomb in 1833 but the township was not formally established until 1837. In November 1837, the western part of Perry Township was taken to form the township of Union. A township by the name of “Lake” was formed in 1842, which embraced the northern part of Miami County, but the boundaries described by section lines were such that it was impossible to trace them correctly, and then the records were destroyed by the burning of the courthouse in 1843. It is certain that the township was never fully organized as an independent political subdivision of Miami County. Gilead was founded about 1840 by Adam E. Rhodes, who had settled upon the site in 1835.
The history of Peru Township is intricately interwoven with the history of the City of Peru. The first school was taught in the town of Peru, in a little log cabin that had been erected for a dwelling, which the people fitted up for a school house at their own expense. It was erected by William Smith, in the fall of 1834, and was located on Third Street. Someone of the surveying party asked Hood what he was going to call his town and he replied that he didn’t care, so long as it was a short name. A number of names were suggested and they finally agreed on Peru. This explanation of Peru’s name might or might not be true, but this is the explanation most often quoted. Though a proposal to establish a municipal water works first came before the town board in 1871, the board didn’t act upon it until 1878. Meanwhile, H.E. and C.F. Sterne and Company started construction of a gas plant in connection with their woolen mills. Later the Peru-American Gas Company Inc., bought the plant in 1886 and improved it. A year earlier, electric lights had lit up Peru for the first time. However, it wasn’t until after 1900 that the electric plant became one of few municipally owned ones. Peru saw its first telephone exchange in 1881. The Peru Tribune still published today, began publishing in 1921.
When the first white settlers came to Pipe Creek Township they found an Indian village, known as Squirrel Village, situated on the north bank of Pipe Creek, a short distance northwest of the present town of Bunker Hill. The village consisted of about a dozen log huts and the chief was known as “Old Squirrelly,” after whom the village was named. He was a Potawatomi who married a Miami squaw and became chief of the village. Accounts of the first settlers say that Samuel Durand and John Wilson located in Pipe Creek Township in the year 1838, but it is not certain which one of these pioneers came first. Bunker Hill is the only town in Pipe Creek Township. A short distance north of Bunker Hill was once the little village of Leonda, but it has since disappeared from the map.
In the year 1836, David Williams built the first log cabin in what is now Richland Township. Although the population was rather scanty, Richland Township was erected by the county commissioners on November 7, 1837. The first township officers were not elected, though, until in August, 1838. Chili is the principal town of Richland Township. At one time, the Vandalia Railroad and the Winona Interurban provided transportation for the citizens of the township. Anson, Paw Paw, Pettysville, and Wooleytown, once thriving settlements, are among the deserted villages of Miami County.
The territory comprising Union Township was originally part of Jefferson Township, and the first settlers located before the township was cut off as a separate political division on November 7, 1837. In the spring of 1835, Joseph Thornburg, William Cannon and John Plaster selected lands in what is now Union Township and built their cabins on the frontier of civilization. At house raisings in pioneer days, it was customary to provide a supply of whisky for the men. It is related that William Cook decided to raise his house with a “meal that would be remembered for many days” without the aid of liquor. He kept his word and those who partook of that meal thereafter preferred “a meal like Mr. Cool’s” His cabin was a story and a half in height. Passing Indians used to stop and admire the house with such expressions as “Humph! White man heap big wigwam!” A trading post was established at Perrysburg in 1837 and about a year later John A. Taylor built the first saw-mill on Weesau Creek.
The first white man to locate within the present limits of Washington Township was Thomas Henton, who came in the summer of 1838 and built a cabin on a hill overlooking the old Strawtown and Miamisport state road. But it was not until June of 1843 that Washington Township was officially erected and named after General George Washington, “the father of his country” and the first President of the United States. In 1846 six miles were cut off of the south end to form the township of Clay. About a mile south of Peru, in Washington Township, was located the county asylum, or poor farm. South Peru is the only town in the township and some manufacturing has occurred there over the years.