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County Description

General Information


Dearborn County, located along the Ohio River in Southeastern Indiana, is the third oldest county of the Indiana Territory and thus contains some of Indiana’s earliest and most significant architecture. The county’s northern boundary is Franklin County, and the eastern is Hamilton County, Ohio. The Ohio River and Laughery Creek form the southern boundary, and the western boundary is Ripley County--the county line being the Greenville Treaty line arranged by General Anthony Wayne in 1795.

Geographically, Dearborn County is a mixture of flatlands in the northwest and rolling hills divided by several creeks forming long valleys throughout the county. The principle waterways are the Whitewater River in the northwest corner of the county, the east and west forks of Tanners Creek, North and South Hogan Creeks, and Laughery Creek.

Early History


Dearborn County was organized in 1803 by Governor William Henry Harrison, who named it after General Henry Dearborn, at that time the Secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson. All or part of six other counties were carved from the original Dearborn County with the present boundaries being established in 1845. Official organization of most of the fourteen townships of Dearborn County occurred in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The last township, Washington, was organized in 1852.

The town of Lawrenceburg was established as the county seat in 1803, a year after its original plat was laid out by Samuel Vance, James Hamilton, and Benjamin Chambers. In 1810 a two-story frame courthouse was built. Destroyed by fire in 1826, it was replaced by a new building which served until 1836 when the county seat was moved to the town of Wilmington where a new brick courthouse was erected. Wilmington remained the county seat for only eight years with Lawrenceburg permanently retaining its position in 1844. The present County Courthouse was built in 1870.

Settlers began entering Washington, Center, and Lawrenceburg Townships in the late 1790’s. Most of them moved down the Ohio River from homes in the eastern United States. There were numerous land entries through the Federal Land Office in Cincinnati beginning in 1801, occurring primarily in the lower creek valleys and along the Ohio River bottomland.

In 1820 the Manchester Pike was established as part of Indiana’s Internal Improvements Program, and in 1823 a road was constructed from Madison through Vevay, Rising Sun, and Aurora, to Lawrenceburg. From 1836 to 1843 the Whitewater Canal was built through Dearborn County. River and canal trade dominated the county’s commerce until the construction of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in the 1850’s.

From the 1820’s to the 1870’s there was a steady immigration of European settlers into Dearborn County. German Catholics and Lutherans settled in the St. Leon and New Alsace areas of Kelso Township as well as in portions of Jackson and Caesar Creek Townships. English immigrants settled in Caesar Creek, York, Harrison, Logan, and Lawrenceburg Townships, and Irish immigrants moved to Sparta, Clay, Washington, and Manchester Townships. Many of them came from such eastern states as Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The mixture of European settlers provided an interesting source of town names such as Wilmington, Yorkville, Guilford, and New Alsace. Examples of early immigrant commercial efforts remaining in the county include the Zix Brewery near New Alsace, Miller’s Mills in Sparta Township on South Hogan Creek, and the Hayes Branch Saw and Grist Mill located in Clay Township.

The population of Dearborn County grew from 4,424 in 1815 to 23,000 by 1890. Early in its history the county had a strong agricultural base; in 1910 there were more than 2,200 farms with an average of 83 acres each. Many industries were built throughout the Nineteenth Century including distilleries, furniture, glass, pump, and coffin companies, as well as a boat building company.

The Civil War affected Dearborn County in the 1860’s when John Morgan Hunt’s soldiers marched through Manchester, Jackson, Kelso, Logan, and Harrison Townships, destroying several railroad bridges. The period following the War was one of great stability and manufacturing expanded with new plants being built, including the distilleries now owned by Joseph E. Seagram and Sons and Schenley, the Aurora Casket Company founded in 1890, the A.D. Cook Pump Company, founded in 1870, and the Cochran Chair Company founded in 1879.

Both Aurora and Lawrenceburg were devastated by severe floods in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. One of the most severe occurred in 1937, after which massive lock and dam construction was undertaken. Lawrenceburg reacted by building a high earthen levee surrounding the town.

Dearborn County Today


Dearborn County today retains a diverse mixture of agriculture and industrial enterprises. Its architecture is equally diverse with styles ranging from the Federal and Greek Revival of the early decades of the Nineteenth Century to the Queen Anne and Bungalow of the early Twentieth. Many structures are architecturally and historically significant to Dearborn County and the State of Indiana, and while some are being saved and restored, many still provide great potential for preservation and reuse.

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