Terre Haute is a city in and the county seat of Vigo County, Indiana, United States, near the state's western border with Illinois. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 60,785 and its metropolitan area had a population of 170,943. The city is the self-proclaimed capital of the Wabash Valley. With numerous higher education institutions located in Terre Haute, the city has embraced its college town persona. Terre Haute was named the 'Community of the Year' in 2010 by the Indiana Chamber.
Terre Haute's name was derived from the French phrase terre haute (pronounced in French), meaning "Highland". It was likely named by French explorers in the area in the early 18th century to describe the unique location above the Wabash River (see French colonization of the Americas). At the time the area was claimed by the French and English, these highlands were considered the border between Canada and Louisiana.
The construction of Fort Harrison in 1811 marked the known beginning of a permanent population of European-Americans. A Wea Indian village already existed near the fort, and the orchards and meadows they kept a few miles south of the fort became the site of the present–day city. The village of Terre Haute, then a part of Knox County, Indiana, was platted in 1816.
Growth really began when the village founders won the bid to make it the county seat when Vigo County was formed in March 1818. When the village's 1,000 residents voted to incorporate in 1832, Terre Haute became a town, and subsequently in 1853 it officially became a city.
Early Terre Haute was a center of farming, milling and pork processing. However the business and industrial expansion of the city prior to 1860 developed largely thanks to transportation - the Wabash River, the building of the National Road (now U.S. 40) and the Wabash and Erie Canal linked Terre Haute to the world and broadened the city's range of influence. The economy was based on iron and steel mills, hominy plants and, late in the 19th century, distilleries, breweries and bottle makers. Coal mines and coal operating companies developed to support the railroads, yet agriculture remained predominant, largely due to the role of corn in making alcoholic beverages and food items.
With steady growth and development in the later part of the 19th Century, the vibrant neighborhoods of the city benefited from improved fire protection, the founding of two hospitals, dozen of churches and a number of outlets for amusement. Terre Haute's position as an educational hub was fostered as several institutions of higher education were established. The city developed a reputation for its arts and entertainment offerings. Grand opera houses were built that hosted hundreds of operas and theatrical performances. It became a stop on the popular vaudeville circuit. The development of the streetcar system and later the electric-powered trolleys in the 1890s made it possible for residents to travel with ease to enjoy baseball games, picnics, river excursions, amusement parks and even racing. The famous "Four-Cornered" Racetrack, now the site of Memorial Stadium, was laid out in 1886 and drew the best of the country's trotters and drivers.
On the evening of Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913, a major tornado struck Terre Haute at approximately 9:45 p.m. It demolished more than 300 homes, killed twenty-one people and injured 250. Damage to local businesses and industries was estimated at $1 million to $2 million (in 1913 dollars). Up to that time it was the deadliest tornado to hit Indiana. Heavy rains followed the tornado, causing the Wabash River to rise. By midday on Tuesday, March 25, West Terre Haute (Taylorville) was three-quarters submerged.
Like all U.S. communities, Terre Haute experienced economic swings as the country's economic base has evolved. Before the Great Depression brought the U.S. economy to a halt, outside influences such as Prohibition and the decline of the country's railroads had a negative effect on two of Terre Haute's major industries - distilleries/breweries and the railroad repair works. However in 1940 it was selected for a new United States penitentiary built on 1,126 acres south of the city.
World War II brought an economic upswing with the development of three ordnance plants in the county and the revitalization of the coal, railroad and agriculture industries. Terre Haute remained dependent on consumer manufacturers such as Quaker Maid, the world's largest food processing factory under one roof. The city was an enthusiastic participant in the war effort with troop send-offs, victory gardens, bond sales, civil defense drills, parades and ceremonies. 1943 saw the opening of the country’s 100th United Service Organizations (USO) facility in Terre Haute.
Following the war, Terre Haute gained several new factories: Pfizer Chemical (1948), Allis-Chalmers (1951), Columbia Records (1954), and Anaconda Aluminum (1959). Yet, the face of downtown Terre Haute began to change in the late 1960s when Interstate 70 was built, passing through Vigo County about five miles south of the path of U.S. 40 (downtown’s Wabash Ave. at the time). As traffic began to concentrate at the U.S. 41 interchange, many downtown businesses relocated to Honey Creek Mall shopping center, built in 1968.
Throughout the period, civic groups developed to work toward boosting the economy. The Terre Haute Committee for Area Progress developed the Fort Harrison Industrial Park in the 1970s. Grow Terre Haute in the mid-1980s urged on the establishment of new stores, factories, and high-tech industrial parks that helped to stabilize the economy and enhance community life. Most encouraging were the arrival of the Digital Audio Disc Corporation (DADC), a subsidiary of the global company, Sony, as the first and only American factory designed exclusively to make compact discs. In other developments over these years, railroad overpasses eased traffic congestion, law enforcement strengthened, and several national and state awards for volunteerism and citizen participation boosted local pride.
Like other Midwest manufacturing cities, Terre Haute faced daunting challenges as it neared the end of the 20th century. Outmigration of the population and the closure of long-time manufacturing operations were economic challenges that community leaders met with a combination of hard work and ingenuity.
The revialization of the downtown area can be traced to the construction of First Financial Bank’s new headquarters building in the late 1980s and creation of the city's first tax increment financing (TIF) district, which funded the first downtown parking structure. Over the years, more initiatives followed, including construction of several new office buildings and a second downtown parking structure.
With the efforts of nonprofit groups such as Downtown Terre Haute and the expansion of the campus of Indiana State University, many positive changes have once again spurred growth downtown. Several new hotels and businesses have been added to the "Crossroads of America" near 7th & Wabash, outdoor events and festivals attract crowds nearly every weekend during the summer months and the 7th Street Arts Corridor and Terre Haute Children’s Museum, completed in 2010 enhance the appeal of the downtown area. Property owners throughout downtown were inspired to rehab and renovate their buildings, including Hulman & Company and many individual owners.
In addition to significant, recent advancements in manufacturing, downtown revitalization and higher education, Terre Haute continues to be a major regional center for health care, retail shopping, recreation, entertainment and the arts.