Corydon is a town in Harrison Township, Harrison County, Indiana, United States, founded in 1808. After Vincennes, Corydon was the second capital of the Indiana Territory from May 1, 1813, until the establishment of the state of Indiana. After statehood, the town was the capital of Indiana until January 10, 1825, when it moved to Indianapolis. The town remains the county seat of Harrison County and had a population of 3,122 at the 2010 census.
In the early 1800s Edward Smith brought his family to settle the edge of a fertile valley near a large spring, the site of the present-day county fairgrounds. William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, often stopped to rest at their home while travelling to and from Vincennes. Harrison chanced on the spot where Big Indian Creek and Little Indian Creek join to become the Indian Creek. Tradition says he decided to build a town there and asked Edward Smith's daughter, Jenny, to name it. She chose the name Corydon from Harrison's favorite hymn, the Pastoral Elegy.
Harrison sold the town site to Harvey Heth in 1808, a government surveyor and large landowner. The official founding date of 1808 commemorates when Heth platted the town. Heth donated the town square for public use, and sold individual lots to settlers and the territorial government. In 1809 Corydon was connected by road to Doup's Ferry, fifteen miles (24 km) to the south in Mauck's Port, providing access to the Ohio River for trade. Corydon sent a mounted militia company nicknamed the Yellow Jackets to support the territorial army in the War of 1812. They fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe, suffering higher casualties than any other unit engaged on there.
In 1811 Dennis Pennington began construction on the first state capitol, with the intent of using it as an assembly building for the territorial legislature. Pennington, a Corydon resident, was the speaker of the territorial legislature. Corydon was competing with Madison and Jeffersonville to become the new capital of the territory. Construction, using limestone from a nearby quarry, was completed in 1813. The Governor's Mansion and First State Office Building were built in 1817. The home of Colonel Thomas Posey was also built during this time. Colonel Posey was the son of Thomas Posey, Governor of Indiana Territory from 1813 until 1816. The Grand Masonic Lodge, the first in the state, was built in 1819. Corydon became the second capital of the Indiana Territory on May 1, 1813, when it was moved there from Vincennes to be more centralized with the population of the newly reorganized Indiana Territory.
The state's first constitution was drawn up in Corydon during June 1816. The forty-three delegates representing Indiana Territory's counties were charged with the writing of the state's constitution and met inside the Harrison County Courthouse. Because of cramped conditions inside the courthouse and the summer heat, the delegates often sought refuge outside under a giant elm tree next to Big Indian Creek. This tree is now known as the Constitution Elm, and its trunk is still preserved. The preamble of the constitution began:
We the Representatives of the people of the Territory of Indiana, in Convention met, at Corydon, on Monday the tenth day of June in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixteen
After statehood, Corydon served as the first state capital of Indiana. During the eleven years that Corydon served as a capital it was the center of politics in the state, and its residents included Davis Floyd, Governors of Indiana Jonathan Jennings and Ratliff Boon (the first and second, respectively), first Speaker of the Senate Dennis Pennington, and William Hendricks, who was the first Congressman, third governor and Senator.
Dennis Pennington and other representatives from Harrison County in the Indiana General Assembly resisted attempts to move the capital from Corydon; they succeeded in part by adding a clause to the state constitution during the convention preventing the capital from leaving the town before 1825. Ultimately, as the population center of the state shifted northward, it was no longer convenient to have a state capital at the southern extremity of the state. The capital was finally moved to Indianapolis on January 10, 1825.
On September 11–14, 1860, the first annual county fair was held on Corydon's fairgrounds. The fair has been an annual event since then and is the longest continuously running fair in the state. The fairgrounds, built in the southwest corner of Corydon, are bordered on the south and west by a large ridge; this ridge served as a natural grandstand until the first grandstand was built around 1910.
The railroad reached Corydon in 1882. Corydon was connected by Southern Railways to the main line running across northern Harrison County at Crandall. The line remained open to passenger traffic until 1996. In 2008, the line was owned by Lucas Oil.
The town of Corydon was shocked by an attempted murder in 1889, the first in the town's history. The two alleged murderers, named Devin and Tennyson, were taken from the county jail by an angry lynch mob and hung from the old Western Bridge. Although their identities were known, the members of the lynch mob were never prosecuted.
In 1929, a new county courthouse was completed. Previously, the county government had used the old state capitol building. The old statehouse was converted into an historical memorial.
A fire in 1960 destroyed much of County Fairgrounds, including the grandstand. A grandstand was purchased from the minor league baseball team from Parkway Field in Louisville, Kentucky and is still in use. In 1969, Samuel P. Hays donated the Hayswood Nature Reserve to the county. Known as Hayswood Park, it is the second largest nature reserve in Harrison County.
The Old Capitol Building is now a state historic site, and the downtown area was designated a National Historic District in 1973. The Governor's Headquarters, Constitution Elm, First State Office Building and Posey House are included. The O'Bannon Publishing Company prints the Corydon Democrat, a weekly newspaper. Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon owned the publishing company, and his wife still lives nearby.
Because of its historic nature, Corydon is a well-known regional tourist destination. The town hosts weekly events from early spring until late fall, usually centered around the historic town square. Some of the better-attended events include the annual Halloween Parade, the Harrison County Fair, summer Friday night band concerts, an annual reenactment of the Battle of Corydon and a long string of country and bluegrass performances. The week-long county fair, held the last week of July at the Harrison County Fairgrounds, is one of the more popular events, with attendance usually over 3,000 per night. The fair includes 4-H exhibits, a midway, demolition derbies, harness racing, and musical entertainment and has been run consecutively since its inception in 1859, making it the longest, consecutive-running fair in Indiana.
In 2008 Corydon began celebrating its bicentennial anniversary with a year of events and the unveiling of a $200,000 bronze statue of the late governor and citizen of Corydon, the Honorable Frank O'Bannon.
The current town board President is Fred Cammack. He has served in this position since 1975.