While both Washington and Daviess County celebrates their bicentennial year in 2016, the first residents of the county are known to have arrived as early as 1801.
There is an argument on who first inhabited Daviess County. Some agree that it was William Ballow who first came to a place 16 miles southeast of Washington called Sugar Creek Hills. It is also common for people to say that the first inhabitant was South Carolina resident, Eli Hawkins, as written in “A Historical Sketch of Washington,” written in 1885.
But, in the book “History of Knox and Daviess County, Indiana” prepared by John Wooldridge and published in 1886, he claims it was not likely that Hawkins was the first inhabitant.
“This can hardly be correct, as Mr. John Thompson, who wrote a series of ‘pioneer papers’ for the Age, and who is very generally recognized as a good authority on early historic matters, mentions in those pioneer papers seven others who came to this region before Eli Hawkins,” Wooldridge said.
David Flora, who built the first home in Washington, was recorded as the second resident of Daviess County, according to those documents. Flora’s home was built on the land, which for unknown reasons, was known as Liverpool.
Most of the land in present day Daviess County was inhabited by Native American’s and the United States Congress decreed that no land was to be settled by men until the Native American tribes had yielded possession of it.
In 1803, what is now known as the Midwest was known as the country’s far western frontier. This was until Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, sold the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains during the Louisiana Purchase to help supplement his military campaigns through Western Europe.
Daviess County’s pioneer period began during that same time period and lasted 60 years, growing the tensions between the pioneers and the Native American tribes who inhabited the land.
The settlers who originally moved into the area which is now known as Daviess County were successful farmers until the Delaware tribe Indians became an issue in 1811.
Many of these residents fled to the 10 forts which were built mainly along the southern end of the county. Of the 10 forts that were once erected in during the time, five were built in 1812, along with several block houses used as a defense from attacks.
People from Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina flooded into these forts, eventually filling and overcrowding most of them by the time the War of 1812.
With protection from the forts, block houses and rangers put on guard for protection, only four men and one Native American were said to have died during the earliest years of Washington.
Following the War of 1812, the town of Liverpool decided a name change was in order to sever all ties from the English.
The town of Washington was built on the same plat that was once Liverpool. Originally Daviess County was a part of Knox County and that remained the case until a special law was enacted on Dec. 24, 1816. In that same law it was written by Jonathon Jennings that Washington was to become the county seat.
“After viewing several eligible sites, one or more of which was on the river south, finally selected Liverpool, a small village forming a portion of the present county seat — Washington,” Jennings wrote.
In 1817, Emanuel Van Trees and Peter Wilkins laid out the land for Washington. The coming years the city began to expand with the first home created at Fifth and Walnut streets and the first general store opened by James G. Read in 1818. Many of the original public buildings were created in the same fashion as the homes, constructed and shaped with forest trees rather than brick, stone or tile.
The first three county jails were made of logs, but the first two burnt down and the third was in service until a newer jail and sheriff’s residence was made of brick in 1860. The first brick courthouse wasn’t built until 1819.
For the first 40 years of the town’s existence, there was not much growth, but following the construction of the O & M Railroad was built in 1857, that all changed. Washington became a town that relied less on outside help for storage of merchandise and became to expand to further markets like Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York.
With success of the farming, mining and shipping out of Washington, more and more people began to move here. The population doubled in the first 13 years after the railroad was constructed and by 1885, there was said to be 8,000 people living in the town.