Founding & Early History of Covington
Covington, the county seat of Fountain county, dates its history from 1826, when Isaac Coleman, a Virginia by birth, settled in this county and platted the place with the view of having it become the seat of justice, in which he was successful, though not without many hindrances and objections, mainly upon the part of those who had land on which they sought to have the county seat established. It was not fully determined that Covington should become the county seat until in the summer of 1828. Among the points that sought it were Portland, seven miles northeast, on the river. It presented its strong claims, through its proprietor, Major Whitlock, receiver of public money at the Crawfordsville land office, aided by that excellent Presbyterian, William Miller, who lived east of Portland on his farm. It was claimed to be nearer the geographical center and would accommodate more of the then residents of the county. Other locations were offered, by Mr. Coleman finally won out in the spirited, yet bitter, contest. Again, in 1829-30, another scheme was concocted (laughable, too) by which Covington was to be dethroned and another point chosen as the county seat. Petitions had been freely circulated, but did not contain a sufficient number of names. So, the relocation party got desperately busy and, in addition to the living, secured on the petition the names of many who had been sleeping in their graves for some time. They also, it is said, visited cemeteries over the line in Montgomery county, and there tempted the deceased to sing and offered their children corner lots to "sign this paper." This sort of work raised fears in the minds of those favorable to Covington lest some such scheme might eventually take the county seat away from them. To offset this method, at the timely suggestion of an old settler, long since gathered to his fathers, Captain White, a hero of "Horseshoe Bend" in the War of 1812, brought forth his old muster-roll and, by copying the names of soldiers then living and some dead, obtained a list sufficient to counterbalance those fished up from the silent "cities of the dead," as secured by the non-Covington men. These petitions were sent to the Indiana Legislature, bearing far more signatures than there were citizens within Fountain county. The joke was soon discovered by the Legislature and, after much mirth, it was decided to appoint a commission to investigate and relocate Fountain county's county seat. The commission arrived and made a very long tour through the county, in company with a prominent citizen of Covington, and upon their return held a secret session. Citizens waited with anxiety. Soon, however, the meeting was over and one of the commissioners appointed by the legislative body, taking a stake and axe in hand, proceeded to the center of the public square and drove a stake down hard and deep. The citizens hats came off, the commissioners were banqueted and departed, leaving Covington still the legalized county seat town. At other times, since, this question has exercised the minds of taxpayers and politicians, but all to no practical avail -- Covington still holds the prize! When one comes to candidly reflect upon the day in which this location was made; the ill-shaped county and the fact that the Wabash river was the great thoroughfare by which traveling was done, etc., it is believed that all must agree that the choice was as good as could have been made, prior to the building of railroads such as the county now enjoys.
Pioneer Coleman donated one block from his lots for court house uses, one for a seminary of learning, and also one for church purposes. He also was liberal, or business-sighted, enough to donate four lots for school purposes, a piece of ground for a cemetery, as well as a goodly number of town lots, with the understanding that it should be made the "permanent" seat of justice, otherwise to revert to his heirs and assigns.
As the county now held four out of every five lots already platted, it, through its board, ordered a re-survey of the same that corrections might be made and errors eliminated at the start. This was attended to and the name "Covington" given as the county seat. Already a number of squatters had settled here, awaiting the decision as to the county seat. Among them were John Gillam, in a small log cabin, standing where now the jail is located. He worked by the day at clearing and any work he could secure; he had a large family and was very poor. Also Joseph Griffith and his son Barton, who were really the first actual settlers on the town plat. Griffith removed to Illinois, where he died. The son, Barton, remained and became a manager for Joseph Sloan, and while making a trip to New Orleans, was taken ill and died.
The first merchant was Daniel Landers, who had a store at "log town" in Indianapolis, and he concluded to start a branch at Covington. He sent out Joseph L. Sloan, who made the trip in October, 1826, across the contry, bringing a load of goods with him, and chopped a large part of his way through the dense forests. Upon his arrival, he secured the services of Messrs. Gillam and Barton Griffith, to assist him in making a place in which to store his merchandise. So, aided by Anderson White from Coal creek, seven miles away, with his ox team, Joseph Baum, James Bilsland, Lucas Nebeker, James Whitley, Joseph Shelby, John Steeley and a few others, who lived in the "Bend," came hurrying to the spot to take part in the erection of the first "business house" in the county seat. The building was fourteen by eighteen feet in size, one story high, of unhewed logs, daubed with mud. The shelving was made of riven boards, and nails brought by Sloan, which were very rare in those days. This soon became the center of attraction, and farmers came from far and near to the "store."
The next to make his settlement here was David Rawles, who, with his family, came upon a barge of flat-boat from Terre Haute, and secured about the same men as before mentioned to help him erect his place of business, which was a hotel. It was a sixteen-foot-by-twenty-four, two-story-high log building, with a rail pen, clapboarded, and near by the main building, in which his good wife cooked. The first boarders were Mr. Sloan, the "merchant," and his clerk.
In 1827 there came into the new town Andrew Ingram and Daniel Rogers, both attorneys at law; John McKinney came and started his tannery; Frank Merrill opened the second store, and Doctor Hamilton also arrived with his "pill-box" that year. It is related that the yarns spun at the Hotel de Rawles by the farmers, the merchants, the lawyers and doctor were worth one's hearing for a pleasant pastime. A moot court was organized and was presided over by the landloard, who was ever afterwards called "Judge Rawles."
Doctor Hamilton was born in Saratoga, New York, in 1800, and was educated and talented. He was Covington's first doctor and also ran a small drug establishment; he was county land agent for nearly a score of years. The first steamboat was witnessed by every one within the sound of the shrill whistle. It arrived in 1826 and the people were allowed to go all over the boat and were royally treated by the captain, at last retiring satisfied that they had seen "the wonder of the age."
By 1830 the population of Covington had reached about one hundred and seventy-five people, yet it constituted but few families. the growth was slow, as there was no means of transportation except the river, wagon, and slow stage coach, that later made its appearance.
A postoffice at Covington was secured in 1826. the stage ran from Terre Haute to Lafayette twice each week. The first postmaster was Joseph L. Sloan, the first merchant. He was succeeded by David Rawles, the landlord, and he by Jacob Tice, who gave way to Charles Stafford; then Tice was reinstated and served until he was superseded by R.M. Nebeker, who was postmaster in 1880. Since then the postmasters have included these: Lewis Nebeker, Charles Gwynn, W.F. Vogt, James Simmerman, Fletcher W. Boyd, since 1897.
FROM: Clifton, Thomas A. (ed). Past and Present of Fountain and Warren Counties, Indiana (Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen Co, 1913), pp. 138-42.