The Boneyard

The Creation of Tell City, Indiana

By Kenneth P. McCutchan

Produced by John Baburnich

The Evansville Boneyard - Winter 2013

Tell City, Indiana, had an unusual beginning. In November 1856, an organization called the Swiss Colonization Society was formed in Cincinnati to furnish mutual aid in founding homes and businesess in the West.

Shares in the society were sold, and by the following April more than $35,000 had been collected.

In July, 1857, three men were sent down the Ohio River to find a suitable location for a colony.

They examined tracts of land near Rome and Cannelton, Indiana, ane near Hawesville on the Kentucky side of the river, but either the price was too high or the tracts were too small.

Finally, the men purchased for the society a vast acreage along the Ohio River in Perry County, Indiana. Much of the site was covered with heavy forest , and portions of it were cut up with gullies and ravines.

An experienced surveyor, August Pfaefflin, was hired to lay out a town on 392 blocks containing 7,328 lots. The place was named Tell City in honor of William Tell, the legendary Swiss hero.

A drawing for the lots was held, and the first settlers began to arrive in March 1858.Many of them paid for their land in gold.

By April the population numbered about 300. A month later, it was 616. By that time 86 crude houses had been put up.

Tell City, like many of the Old West's mining towns, sprang up almost overnight. Soon there was a sawmill, a brickyard, stores and all sorts of pioneer enterprises.

By the Fourth of July there were 120 houses and 985 people. A giant celebration was arranged and it is said that around 600 people came down the river from Cincinnati to inspect the new town, visit old friends, and attend a big picnic in the woods on Schoolhouse Hill.

The Cannelton Reporter of Oct 2, 1858 , said: "Tell City is a marvel. There is nothing like its history and progress, and it has no precedent. It now has 11 miles of streets cut 70 feet wide through the forest;has 1500 people, and 300 houses. All of this has been doen since the 15th of April last. The shareholders are coming in daily, and as soon as they find their lots. commence their improvements. By this time next year we expect 5000 here, and the establishment of sufficient branches of industry to give all full employment."

A newspaper called The Helvatia, founded by the colonization society in Cincinnati, was moved to Tell City. The first issue was printed there on march 19, 1859.

The following September the town was incorporated.

Often times after a boom, the bubble burst. By the time the last two lots were sold and all the gold had been drained away into the channels of commerce, The Civil War broke out. Hard times followed.

The population of the town decreased almost as rapidly as it had grown. There were business failures and sellouts. Some folks abandoned their property,

It was only through the persistent thrift, industry and frugaltiy of the remaining people that the town survived.

Click Image to Enlarge - Courtesy of Library of Congress

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