This information is provided by The Bartholomew County Historical Society
City of Columbus Bartholomew County General John Tipton had been working with state commissioners appointed to select a site for the state capitol of Indiana. When he passed through this particularly beautiful area of southeastern Indiana, he was so impressed that he purchased from the government several tracts of choice land, near the confluence of the Flatrock and Driftwood Rivers. At the urging of General Tipton and General Joseph Bartholomew, the state legislature, on January 12, 1821, enacted legislation establishing a new county in this area to be named Bartholomew County.
The site of the new county seat was located on the land of General Tipton and Luke Bonsteel. The new village was named Tiptona, after General Tipton, who had donated 30 acres of land for the village. Within a short time, however, political differences between Tipton and the newly elected County Commissioners resulted in a new name for the village. In March of 1821, the village name was changed to Columbus. Angered, Tipton left Columbus, never to return.
The rich lands of Bartholomew County attracted settlers, many from the south, looking for an opportunity to possess good land. Those who purchased land during the “Opening Period” of 1820-21 had a choice selection of fertile lands along the streams of Driftwood, Flatrock, Hawcreek, the “Hawpatch” and the second bottoms along the main streams. Although the first settlers had little means, they were quite industrious.
Almost immediately, grist mills, saw mills, woolen mills and distilleries were established along the main streams, utilizing the abundant water power to process the produce of the county. The produce of these early industries was loaded into flatboats and floated out of the wilderness to markets as far south as New Orleans. Hogs were driven on foot over the Madison State Road. to the pork-packing houses in Madison.
The citizens of Columbus first petitioned for incorporation of the town in 1835. That effort failed. Undaunted, a petition was resubmitted and in 1837, Columbus was incorporated as a town. Trustees were elected by the 34 citizens who had turned out to vote: It wasn’t until 1864 that Columbus was incorporated as a city. Smith Jones was the first elected mayor.
There were no public schools in the early history of the county. Education was provided by groups of neighbors, who would hire a teacher and provide the necessary space. Organized education began with the Liberty School and Meeting House. Built in 1829, it was used for educational and religious purposes. The Old Seminary was built in 1838.
The Constitution of Indiana established a public schools system in 1851. Following the lead another building for the education of students of all grades was erected in 1859, on the site where the current Central School now stands. Higher education in the county was available at Hartsville College and the Moravian Center for Young Ladies at Hope, which became the Hope Normal School. The Bates Conservatory of Music was located right in Columbus.
On July 4, 1844, the whistle of the first railroad train arriving in Columbus from Madison sounded the death knell of the flatboat era. The Madison & Indianapolis Railroad was followed by a line from Jeffersonville in 1852, another to Shelbyville in 1853, and one to Greensburg in 1855. With the markets of the east and south now easily accessible, Bartholomew County continued to prosper. Columbus changed from a frontier village to a regional marketing center. Local capital became more readily available with the establishment of the Kentucky Stock Bank in 1853, the successor to B.F. Jones & Co. founded the previous year.
During the Civil War, economic and industrial development in the area continued, due in large part to Camp Rendezvous. The Camp was an assembly point for troops and supplies, located on the outskirts of Columbus. Mooney’s Tannery was relocated in Columbus from the town of Nineveh in 1863. in order to be on a railroad line. Griffith’s Bank was established in 1863 as a depository for the plentiful federal funds disbursed in the area. Griffith was succeeded in 1865 by the First National Bank.
The early 1870s was a turning point in the economic development of the county. The McEwan & Sons Bank, successor to the Kentucky Stock Bank. failed in 1871. The bank’s failure was finally settled for six cents on the dollar, precipitating the most severe economic crisis ever to face the county. However, a still favorable business climate saw the establishment of many industries in the following decade. Irwin’s Bank, predecessor to the Irwin Union Trust Company, was established at this time.
[3rd street 1879 – Crump theater is on the left]
In 1875, The Reeves brothers moved to Columbus and established the Hoosier Boy Plow Company. This was the forerunner of Reeves and Company, manufacturer of agricultural machinery and the Reeves Pulley Company, manufacturers of pulleys and variable speed transmissions. Other industries established in this period included American Starch Company, Ceraline Mills, F.T. Crump Brick.yard, Saxony Woolens and the Orinoco Furniture Company, to name just a few. Columbus now had an industrial base to add to its tradition of rich agriculture and natural resources.
Heavier industries moved into the area in the early and mid-20th Century. These included Cummins Diesel Engines. founded by Clessie Cummins and W.G. Irwin in 1919; Arvin Industries, founded by Q.C. Noblitt and Frank Sparks in 1927; and Cosco, Inc. founded by B.F. Hamilton and Sons in 1935. These industries. and others. were the foundation for the area’s greatest period of industrial growth, from 1940 to 1960.
Farming, industry, business, and natural beauty are all a part of the heritage of the city of Columbus and Bartholomew County. Add to this the traditional community values and easy going climate of southeastern Indiana and you have a recipe of success for all to enjoy!