Andersontown Grows Along Conner Trail
We know it as Anderson. The early settlers called it Andersontown, and before them, the traders in the area called it Anderson's Town. But the first inhabitants, the Delaware Indians, called it Wapeminskink. It was the home of the Delaware Indian Chief, William Anderson; hence the name Anderson.
The name Wapeminskink(Wap' e ' min' skink) means Chestnut Tree Place. The Delaware named their village for the magnificent trees that once populated this area but fell victim to Chestnut Blight. The fungus was accidentall introduced to North America around 1900-1908, and by 1940 mature trees were virtually wiped out by the disease including those in our area. The village was described as being surrounded by dense forests, dark and shadowy, unbroken except by Indian trails; through these tangled woods ranged bears, deer, wolves and panthers. Civilization had not yet left its imprint upon the landscape.
The Delaware were among many tribes forced to leave the Ohio Territory by the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The treaty provided land for all the displaced tribes in the Indiana Territory. The Delaware were given permission to settle along the west fork of White River by the Miami who claimed the land by virtue of their occupation many years earlier. The government had no objection.
Protection, Water and Soil
Located on the left bank of White River, Wapeminskink was first settled by no more than fifteen or sixteen families. The site was selected in keeping with three criteria important to the Delaware. It must be elevated which allowed them to see an approaching enemy; have an abundant water supply nearby, and have fertile soil for growing food.
The site afforded all three as the village was situated on bluffs 75 feet above White River. Scattered throughout the site were numerous springs flowing with fresh water. To the north of the village was a flat fertile area where corn and other vegetables were planted. The surrounding forests were teeming with game and numerous blackberries, and the river had an abundant supply of food.
At its largest size, the village was spread over an area that today would include St. Mary's Church on the south to the Madison County Jail on the north. The river was its eastern boundary with possibly some habitation on the east side of the river. Its western boundary would have included the area where the Madison County Court House now stands. Altogether, this area encompassed approximately 30 acres. It was marked with gullies and ravines that led to White River. The deepest ravine was near the present corner of Eleventh and Main Streets. A stream that rose in the southwest part of present day Anderson flowed through here on its way to the river.
We know the Indians maintained a large field in the rich bottom lands on the south side of the river, stretching from about the intersection of Fifth and Main Streets westward along the river. In the beginning it was not this large but, as the population of the village grew to about 1,000 in 1818, more food was needed and the planting ground was expanded westward to almost Madison Avenue.
Situated about where St. Mary's Church is located was the Long-House or Council House. John Conner, brother of William Conner and a frequent visitor to Wapeminskink, left an excellent description of the place where the Indians held their sacrifices and dances.
"It was built of split logs set together between dug-in posts, with a roof, consisting of tree-bark or clap-boards, resting on strong pillars dug into the earth. The two entrances were located at both gable-ends, and there was neither floor nor ceiling. Near both ends and in the middle, there were fires over which hung large kettles in which corn and meat were boiled for the guests and always kept in readiness for them to eat, when finished with the dance. In the roof, there were openings over every fire, so that the smoke could escape.
Along the inside of the house there were seats or elevations from the ground about a foot high and five feet wide. These were first covered with the bark of trees and then with long grass. On them the guests sat, or, if they felt like it, lay down and smoked their pipes, while the others were engaged in dancing."
The village was situated along the bluff which was much more pronounced than it is today. Over the years the sharpness of the bluff was reduced when the streets were put in and graded. The area was dotted with both wigwams and log houses. Wigwams were round or oval shaped huts, formed of poles overlaid with bark, mats or skins.
A Trail For Trade
We also know that part of the village was along the river as houses located there had three to four feet of flood water standing in them after White River flooded on March 9, 1805. The Delaware burial ground was located where the Anderson City Building stands today. The area was roughly bounded by Eighth Street to near the Gruenewald House, and Central Avenue to Main Street.
There was another important consideration in the chief's mind when he selected the village site. Two forks of a famous trail that was vital to travel through the wilderness converged here. The trail was called the Conner Trail and it followed an already historic Indian trail which started at the mouth of the Miami River near Cincinnati, wending its way past John Conner's trading post southeast of Brookville.
It ran north through Connersville and then followed a northerly direction passing New Castle. Two miles north of New Castle, the trail forked. The east fork proceeded to Old Town Hill, southeast of Muncie. The west fork turned slightly northwest until it reached Wapeminkink.
After leaving Muncie, the east fork traversed the countryside north of White River, and roughly paralleling it, until it crossed to the south side of the river at Wapeminkink. After crossing the river, the fork ascended the river bank and, at the tip of the bank, it joined the west fork and became one trail again.
The junction today is at or within a few feet of the intersection of Wheeler and Cincinnati Avenues in Anderson as the later avenue closely follows the old west fork of the Conner Trail as it entered the southeast edge of Wapeminkink.
The Conner Trail then passed through the village and exited on its west side following closely what are today west Eighth Street and Eighth Street Road almost to Strawtown in Hamilton County. Here it crossed to the north side of the river to intersect with an Indian village east of Strawtown. After leaving the village, the trail again crossed to the south side of the river and continued southwest, passing through Noblesville until it reached William Conner's trading post at what is today Conner Prairie Farm.
Not only did this important trail allow the flow of goods between John and William Conner's trading posts and points east, it was the major route traversed by the Indians when visiting the villages along the river. Chief Anderson chose wisely when he placed his village at the junction of the forks of this historic trail.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian
Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765) email@example.com