Come enjoy the History & Heritage of Richmond/Wayne County!
As you explore Richmond/Wayne County's history and heritage, echoes of the past will encompass you. We invite you to travel the historic National Road, today U.S. 40, the trail pioneers used as they made their westward trek. Immerse yourself in the many historical museums depicting the way of life of Hoosier families and pioneers during the westward migration.Levi & Catharine Coffin House and Interpative Center, the Underground Railroad, where over 2,000 escaped slaves were ushered to freedom. One of the many freedom seekers who hid in the Coffin home was "Eliza," whose story is told in "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
Richmond was settled in 1806 by North Carolina Quakers and is one of the older cities in Indiana. Quakers (called Friends) were drawn to the Northwest Territory by its cheap, fertile land and its prohibition on slavery. By 1809, nearly three hundred Friends, almost all from North and South Carolina had settled here. They formed the Whitewater Monthly Meeting of Friends (now Richmond's First Friends Meeting), the oldest Quaker congregation in the state of Indiana. Quakers founded not only Richmond but other communities, such as Economy, Dublin, Milton and Fountain City. Quaker meeting houses became part of the landscape all over the county.
Historic districts and buildings are a reminder of the hard work and success of the past. Wayne County has preserved its extraordinary collection of early 19th to early 20th century architecture. Richmond has one of the finest early Victorian neighborhoods in the nation. The area also consists of late Federal and Greek Revival townhouses and cottages, early 19th century farm homes and sturdy barns, ornate churches, mansions, and the majestic county courthouse.Centerville, dotted with historic early 19th century row houses with magnificent archways. With this architectural treasure not found elsewhere in Indiana, Centerville is truly an architectural gem.
Jazz Heritage - Back in 1916, the Gennett Record Company of Richmond, Indiana began making records in a primitive little studio. Over the next 30 years Gennett became the place in the country to record Jazz, Blues, Ragtime, Country and more. Jazz artists of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, including Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Thomas A. Dorsey, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Patton and Gene Autry flocked to Richmond to record their music.
The Historic National Road
Trails of Days Long Past
History of the National Road
The construction of the nation's first highway, built with federal funds in the early nineteenth century, was not without government mandates. For citizens' own protection, legislators prohibited any tree stump in the National Road to exceed 15 " in height.
Carved through dense forest, the National Road preceded most Indiana cities, and was, literally, the road to civilization.
Before the National Road made its way westward from Maryland in 1811, Centerville was the only town besides Indianapolis between Richmond and Terre Haute. The crude highway completed its journey in 1832, with its last stop in western Illinois. As many as 200 wagons a day passed through towns along the route.
The nickname "Main Street of America" was honestly earned as towns such as Centerville sprang up from enterprising pioneers who recognized the need for inns, blacksmith shops and grocers. In fact, settlers keen on cashing in on National Road traffic often offered their land to the government for free.
To maximize National Road frontage, Centerville folks, whose homes or businesses lined the 100' Main Street, narrowed the road to its present 65' by building onto the fronts of their buildings. Archways between Federal style rowhouses allowed access to the rear of buildings and backyards. New homes were built almost flush with the sidewalk, and porches were built on the side of homes instead of in front so that residents could sit out without being smothered in dust (the first section of Indiana's National Road to be paved, however, was Centerville's Main Street). Today, more than 100 buildings in Centerville's Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Madonna of the Trail
The Madonna of the Trail is a monument to Americans who traveled the bitter road. One of only 12 statues marking the pioneers' trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Richmond's Madonna of the Trail was dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution October 28. 1928. The featured speaker was a little known Missouri judge, Harry S. Truman.
The figure of the mother is of heroic proportions, 10 feet high with a weight of 5 tons. The base on which the figure sands is 6 feet high and weights 12 tons. This base rests on a foundation which stands 2 feet above the ground level which makes the monument 18 feet tall. The Madonna is located in Glen Miller Park at the corner of 22nd and National Road.
Historic Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum
The history of the National Road can also be found at the Wayne County Historical Museum. Established in 1930 by Quaker Julia Meek Gaar, the museum first housed her substantial personal collection. Heir to an industrial fortune (she was, in 1882, one of Richmond's 47 millionaires), Gaar traveled extensively and amassed, according to a Smithsonian director, "the largest and most valuable historical collection of any woman in America." Today, the museum boasts a turn-of-the-century general store, a fully operational 1880's blacksmith shop, an Egyptian mummy, and displays many of the 13 automobiles manufactured in Richmond.
Indiana's National Road designated as a National Scenic Byway
The Historic National Road through Indiana has been named a National Scenic Byway one of the nation's most prestigious highway designations. This honor recognizes the Road's historic significance as America's first and most important national highway. For more than 150 years, the National Road, which stretches from Cumberland, MD to Vandalia, IL, provided the east-west pathway for the expansion of America.
The idea for the National Road originated with George Washington. Funded by Congress under the Jefferson administration in 1806, the Road was the nation's first federal highway project. Construction of the Road, driven by pioneer spirit, economic development needs and national security interests, took place in sections over several decades. In the 1920's, the Road became U.S. Highway 40 and became the premier transcontinental highway.
A traveler along Indiana's National Road will find echoes of the past from historic pike towns with traditional main streets, single pump gas stations, to American architecture spanning fifteen decades, historic landmarks, and tranquil, rural countryside. The national Road is focused on telling a story. It is our nation's first highway! It is a story of westward migration and settlement in six states. It is a story of one of our first automobile routes west. We invite you to drive Indiana's National Road, the Road that helped shape lives.
Stories about the Old National Road
What's in a Name?
Names of Wayne County towns along the National Road are richly historical in themselves. In Western Wayne County travelers pass through East Germantown/Pershing. Some folks, it seems, preferred patriotism to heritage when they chose to honor John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. Then, again, Irish heritage has nothing to do with the town of Dublin. That name comes from a hill on the National Road that was difficult to climb, especially in mud. Doublin' up of horses was sometimes required.
Centerville's glorious reign was short-lived, however. In 1873, Richmond vied for the county seat in what was to become the famous Courthouse Fight. Reluctant to give up their holding, Centerville officials barricaded themselves inside the courthouse. A group of angry Centerville citizens, in an attempt to block Richmond's efforts in taking county records, fired a cannon at their eastern neighbors standing at the courthouse door. In a figurative backfire, the cannon blast blew the door from its hinges and the records were seized. Today, the former courthouse is the site of Centerville's Library and the hole made by "Black Betty" is clearly visible above the doorway.