Warren County lies in western Indiana between the Illinois state line and the Wabash River in the United States. Before the arrival of non-indigenous settlers in the early 19th century, the area was inhabited by several Native American tribes. The county was officially established in 1827 and was the 55th county to be formed in Indiana. The county seat is Williamsport.
According to the 2000 census, the county was home to 8,419 people in 3,219 households; the 2010 population was 8,508. It is one of the most rural counties in the state, with the third-smallest population and the lowest population density at about . The county has four incorporated towns with a total population of about 3,100, as well as many small unincorporated communities. The county is divided into 12 townships which provide local services.
Much of the land in the county is given over to agriculture, especially on the open prairie in the northern and western parts; the county's farmland is among the most productive in the state. Nearer the river along the southeastern border, the land has many hills, valleys, and tributary streams and is more heavily wooded. Agriculture, manufacturing, government, education, and health care each provide substantial portions of the jobs in the county. Four Indiana state roads cross the county, as do two U.S. Routes and one major railroad line.
In the centuries before the arrival of European settlers, the area that became Warren County was on the boundary between the Miami and Kickapoo tribes. By the late 18th century, many Miami had moved further south; most of Indiana north of the Wabash was then occupied by the Potawatomi people. The first non-indigenous settler in the area was probably Zachariah Cicott, a French-Canadian who first traded with the Kickapoo and Potawatomi people around 1802. When General William Henry Harrison took an army from Vincennes to the Battle of Tippecanoe in late 1811, Cicott served as a scout; the trail taken by Harrison's army passed through the area that later became Warren County on its way to and from the battle site in Tippecanoe County. Following the War of 1812, Cicott resumed his trading on the Wabash; the state of Indiana was established in 1816, and Cicott built a log house in 1817 at the location where he later founded the town of Independence. Other settlers came to the area, but probably not until around 1822.
The county was established on March 1, 1827, by the Indiana General Assembly. It was named for Dr. Joseph Warren, who was killed in 1775 at the Battle of Bunker Hill, in which he fought as a private because his commission as a general had not yet taken effect. The short-lived town of Warrenton was the original Warren County seat, chosen by commissioners in March 1828; the next year an act was passed calling for the seat to be relocated, and in June 1829 it was moved to Williamsport.
The first county courthouse was a log house in Warrenton that belonged to (and was occupied by) Enoch Farmer, one of the county's earliest settlers. When the county seat moved to Williamsport, a log house belonging to the town's founder, William Harrison, served this purpose for several years. The first purpose-built courthouse was completed in 1835 at a cost of $2,000; in 1872, it was replaced with a new building that cost $48,000. The third courthouse was built in 1886, in a new section of town that grew around the newly constructed railroad. That building burned in 1907, and the fourth and current Warren County courthouse was completed on the same site in 1908 at a cost of $115,000.
As the 19th century progressed, the United States government's Indian removal policy pushed Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River. In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law, and though that act did not directly address the Potawatomi people of Indiana, it led to several additional treaties that resulted in their removal. In what came to be known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death, about 860 Potawatomi Indians who had refused to leave were forced to move from Indiana to Kansas. On September 14, 1838, the group camped near Williamsport, and on September 15 they camped in the southwestern part of the county before moving into Illinois. Before reaching their destination in Kansas, over 40 of them had died, many of them children; two children died and were buried at the second Warren County campsite.
When the county was established, the Wabash River was vital to transportation and shipping. Zachariah Cicott traded up and down the river, and cities like Attica, Perrysville, Baltimore and Williamsport were founded near the river's banks and flourished because of it. In the 1840s, the Wabash and Erie Canal began to operate and provided even broader shipping opportunities, but the canal favored towns which were on the "right side" of the river; the canal was on the Fountain County side, and towns like Baltimore dwindled as a result. Some towns, such as Williamsport and Perrysville, managed to participate in canal traffic through the use of side-cuts that brought traffic from the canal across the river. When railroads were constructed starting in the 1850s, they in turn began to render the canals obsolete and allowed trade to reach towns that lacked water connections. The canal continued to be used through the early 1870s.
The Wabash Cannonball was a passenger train that ran on the Wabash Railroad between Detroit, Michigan and Saint Louis, Missouri, starting in 1949. On September 19, 1964, the southbound Cannonball struck a truck loaded with concrete blocks at a crossing in Johnsonville. The driver of the truck was killed instantly, but although the train derailed, no other lives were lost. On the train, the driver and fireman were severely injured when the engine caught fire, and about half of the 50 passengers were injured. Over of track was torn out, and the damage was estimated at over $500,000. The last run of the Cannonball was in 1969.
After peaking in the late 19th century, the county's population declined during the 20th, in common with much of the rural Midwest. The widespread adoption of the automobile in the 1920s undercut small-town businesses, which were threatened further by the Great Depression of the 1930s. World War II and the economic revival of the late 1940s and 1950s drew people to better jobs in growing regional cities, and this further diminished small towns. The population shrank again in the 1980s due largely to the effects of the "farm crisis" of low crop prices, high farmer debt and other economic causes.
The first county fair involved both Fountain and Warren counties and was held in Independence on September 6 and 7, 1853. In following years, the fair was held in Fountain County, and participation by Warren County farmers diminished. In 1856, farmers in the northern part of the county held a fair just east of Pine Village, and this continued each year through 1864. West Lebanon became the next site of the county fair, and it ran successfully through 1883; the fairgrounds just to the northwest of town were well-developed. Later, the fair was held at the county seat of Williamsport, and this continues through the present day; it is now a 4H fair.
One location in the county, near the small town of Kramer, once had an international reputation: the Hotel Mudlavia. Built in 1890 at a cost of $250,000, it drew guests from around the world to nearby natural springs that were said to have healing qualities. People such as James Whitcomb Riley, John L. Sullivan and Harry Lauder are known to have stayed at the hotel, which burned down in 1920. Later, water from the springs was bottled and sold by Indianapolis-based Cameron Springs company, which was acquired by the Perrier Group of America in 2000 for about $10.5 million. As of 2008 the water was still being sold and was marketed under a variety of names.