MIAMI COUNTY HISTORY
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This page last modified on Thursday, December 09, 2010
The great forests and rich soil drew the first Europeans to northeast Indiana, in what is today Miami County. Here resided the most powerful Indian tribe east of the Mississippi, the Miami, who negotiated away this plot of land in an 1826 treaty. By 1829, Joseph Holman had established a site known as Miamisport, while William Hood bought up 210 acres and called his section Peru. Five years later, the Indiana Legislature approved Peru’s city incorporation status.
The first settlers pitched their homes around Gabriel Godfroy’s trading post, eventually putting down foundations for their own saw mills, carriage factories, wool mills, and taverns. The Catholic, First Presbyterian, and Methodist churches erected buildings by 1837, and the townspeople needed a courthouse and jail as early as 1843.
CIRCUS - Benjamin Wallace, a livery stable owner from Peru, joined with his partner, James Anderson, and bought a circus. They presented their first show in 1884. The show eventually traveled under the name of The Great Wallace Show. In 1890, Wallace bought out his partner, and in 1891 established the Wallace winter quarters on land purchased from Chief Godfroy. In 1907 the Carl Hagenbeck Circus became the property of Wallace and thus came into being the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. After buying out the other partners, John Talbot was Wallace’s only partner. In 1913 (the year of Peru’s largest flood), Wallace suffered greatly financially and otherwise. He sold the show while it was on the road maintaining ownership of all the land and buildings. Members of the syndicate purchasing the circus were C.E. Cory, John O. Talbot and Edward W. Ballard. The American Circus Corporation was formed in 1921 with Jerry Mugivan, Bert Bowers and Ed Ballard as directors. During the 1920s Peru became known on the maps as the “Circus City”. John Ringling purchased the entire A.C.C. holdings, including the Peru quarters and farms in September 1929. In November 1941, 126 circus wagons were burned, effectively ending the old circus era in Miami County. Many famous performers gave their talents to the circuses and called Peru home. Mickey King and husband, Antoinette and Art Concello, Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, Terrell Jacobs, Clyde Beatty, Tom Mix, Ken Manard, The Hodginis, and many others were all a part of Peru’s golden age of the circus. The old winter quarters are now the home of the International Circus Hall of Fame. Circus performances are conducted there throughout the summer months. In July Peru hosts the Circus City Festival, a week of circus performances by the young people of the community. Both of these events keep alive the rich circus heritage of the area.
MIAMI INDIANS -Exhibits on the first floor of the Miami County Museum tell the prehistory of Miami County’s indigenous groups through projectile points and other lithic tools. Also, you will see historical Miami objects that belonged to Frances Slocum, Deaf Man, and Chief La Fontaine. These are part of the museum’s impressive Miami collection. The headquarters of the Miami Indians of Indiana are located in Peru. The Miami have maintained their cultural identity despite the influx of Euro-American settlers in the 1700s and 1800s and the removal of a large portion of the tribe to land in present day Oklahoma. The present day Miami of Indiana maintain a separate identity from the removed group and are working for federal recognition at this time.
COLE PORTER -Composer-songwriter, Cole Porter, (1891-1964) was born in Peru. During his lifetime he wrote over 1500 songs for Broadway productions, movies and television. He wrote his first song at the age of ten and had his first musical produced in 1919. Some of his songs include: “Night and Day”, “Begin the Beguine”, “Anything Goes”, “Be A Clown”, “You’re the Top”, “Let’s Fall in Love”, and “Delovely”. Porter’s life was captured on film in the 2004 film De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. Porter is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Peru. The Miami County Museum has a Cole Porter exhibit, including his 1955 Fleetwood Cadillac. The Historical Society sponsors the Cole Porter Festival the second Saturday in June, which includes live music and driving tours. Memorabilia is available to purchase at the Museum Gift Shop. The home where Cole was born is currently being restored into a bed and breakfast located at Third Street and Huntington in Peru.
FRANCES SLOCUM -Frances Slocum’s parents were early Quaker settlers along the Susquehanna River, near Wilkes-Barre, in Pennsylvania. In November of 1778, Frances Slocum, a five-year-old girl with auburn hair was stolen by Delaware Indians. Search party after search party failed to find any trace of Frances or her captors, and it seemed the forest had swallowed the little girl without leaving a trace. Frances had been taken first by canoe to Tioga, an Iroquois village on the Susquehanna, and then overland to the Niagara River and a Delaware village. It was here that Frances was given over to the Miami Indian couple who had recently lost their own daughter. They adopted Frances as their own, naming her Maconaquah, which means little bear woman. Frances traveled westward with them to their home at Kekionga, now Fort Wayne. Lovingly raised by her adopted parents Strong Bear and Meshinga, Frances grew up in the Miami villages. Late in her life Frances related what little she knew of her birth parents to a trader named George Ewing. Through George Ewing’s efforts, Frances’s brother and sister were finally able to locate her and arrange a reunion. Frances chose to remain with her people, the Miami Indians, where she had become a legend of peace and courage. Over her lifetime she had become known as the “White Rose of the Miami’s”, respected by pioneers and Indians alike. Frances Slocum died on March 9, 1847 at her home on the Mississinewa River and was buried beside her husband and children, on the land she loved and cherished.
The Pan Handle Railroad was the first of the iron horses to criss-cross the area shortly after the Civil War. As early as June 13, 1881, Peru had its first telephone in operation, also keeping this city in touch with the world. Seven of the world’s major circuses before the turn of the century chose Peru for their winter headquarters. Peru was the first city in Indiana to hold a street fair.
PERU AMATEUR CIRCUS -In 1956 the Circus Historical Society chose Peru for their convention. A circus parade and downtown Festivities, which included some circus acts on the Court House lawn was held in 1958 and 1959 and paved the way for our annual Circus City Festival as we know it today. The Circus City Festival incorporated in 1959, with Ollie Miller, Bob Weaver, and Bob Mathes signing the original charter. In 1960 the festival group decided to stage their own amateur circus. They sought out former circus performers, Tom and Betty Hodgini, Harry Parkhurst, Karl “Snowy” Hartisch, Lina and Marvin Johnson, Maria McCloskey and Carl Solt, to work with a group of untrained, but willing youths, ages 14-20 to perform. The performances were held in a tent, which was rented from the Indiana State Fair for $985 and was erected at Thrush Field, between Second and Canal Streets, east of Benton in Peru. Over 2,500 people attended the circus and 50,000 visited Peru. The first three ring circus was held in 1962. The Peru Lumber Company building was purchased in late 1967 and the 1968 performances were held “open air”, as there was no roof on the building. Architects and local artist, Bob Weaver, one of the originators of the Festival, designed a roof that gives the building the look of a huge tent and the building was roofed for the 1969 circus. Each year improvements have been made in the building to bring it to its present state, through generous contributions from organizations and individuals. Many facility improvements have been made, such as air conditioning being installed in the arena. In addition, back lot rooms have been constructed for the performers, new bleachers installed, and the concession stand remodeled. Mrs. Ferol Meeker and her husband, Dr. George Meeker began collecting circus artifacts in 1965; the first step towards the permanent circus museum. These items were displayed in various downtown buildings until they were moved to their present location in the museum located in the circus building in 1972. Hundreds of volunteers serve as the greatest band, wardrobe, back lot helpers, ushers, ticket takers and sellers, riggers, Parents Club, program book members, concession stand members, parade workers, and festival helpers. The Board has 18 voluntary members who devote much time and energy preparing for a bigger and better festival. Of course the Peru Amateur Circus would not be possible without the hundreds of Miami County youth, ages 7-18, who sign up for the acts the want to try out for at “Round Up” each April. After many hours of practice and the desire to be in the circus in July, they put on a two-and-one-half hour spectacular show.
WABASH AND ERIE CANALS -Miami County’s early connection commercially with the rest of the world was the Wabash and Erie Canal, but even as it was being built, the railroad was “a-comin”. The canal was in existence between 1832-1857 when the remaining parts of it were closed. The canal brought families, supplies, and entertainment to the area. There are still visible remains of the canal at various places in Miami County.
RAILROAD HISTORY -The first railroad in Miami County was the Lake Erie and Western. It was projected by W.J. Holman of Peru, as a connecting line between Indianapolis and Peru. Through the efforts of Mr. Holman, the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad Company was incorporated on January 19, 1846. The road was completed in the spring of 1854. Shops and a roundhouse were built in Peru in the fall of 1853. A line called The Pan Handle was an extension of the Pennsylvania Lines west of Pittsburgh, PA. This line was completed in 1867. The Eel River Road from Logansport to Butler, Indiana was completed in 1871-72. This line connected Mexico, Denver, Chili, and Pettysville in Miami County. The Peru and Detroit was completed in 1889 as part of the Wabash Railroad. The Chicago, Indiana and Easter Line was completed in 1893. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, in 1900 was known as the Cincinnati, Richmond, and Muncie, and was completed in 1905. In 1969, connection was made with Michigan City, by means of a road called the Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville which ran from Peru to Laporte. The completed line then took the name of the Indianapolis, Peru, and Chicago Railroad. The Wabash Railroad began in 1852 and was completed in 1856. Today, the old Wabash lines continue to cross Miami County under the name of Norfolk Southern Corporation.
SEVEN PILLARS -The “Seven Pillars” as they are known, is a creation of nature formed many centuries ago in the sandstone along the Mississinewa River, several miles southeast of Peru. On the north side of the river, the Frances Slocum Trail, passes above them. During hundreds of years, the waters of the river at various stages, carved out the formations and inner chambers as they now exist. The pillars appear to rise anywhere from 30 to 50 feet, depending on low water. The chambers or “rooms” contained inside, at one time were used by the Miami Indians for council meetings and other events. It has also been suggested the trading post was at one time located here due to easy access from the river.