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The 812 List, | May 16, 2016

Eight moments that shaped our region


In honor of Indiana's 200th birthday, we look at some of our regions most historical moments


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Governor McNutt and President Franklin Roosevelt at the 1936 Indiana State Fair. /Photo Courtesy of INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY P0490

Indiana celebrates its bicentennial this December, and a lot has happened in the last 200 years. So 812 talked to the experts to identify eight of Southern Indiana’s most historic moments.

1. Indiana becomes a state

On December 11, 1816, Indiana became America’s 19th state. “It could be argued that Indiana’s first important moment was when humans arrived and settled there thousands of years ago,” says James Madison, a history professor at Indiana University and author of Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana. “But when the state was founded in 1816, that really laid the foundation for everything else that would follow.”

2. An infamous amendment is approved and later repealed

Once it became a state, Indiana’s population ballooned from 64,000 in 1816 to 988,000 1850, according to the Indiana Historical Bureau. Consequently, Indiana’s constitution was amended in 1851. Perhaps the most infamous modification was Article 13, which stated that “no negro or mulatto” was allowed to settle in the state. “This made Indiana a homogeneous state of mainly white Protestants at the time,” says Chandler Lighty, the director at the bureau. Lawmakers repealed Article 13 in 1881.

3. Education is reformed

“Indiana’s constitution promised education as soon as possible,” Lighty says. However, the 1840 census disclosed that one in seven adult Hoosiers were illiterate. All of this changed when Caleb Mills, a New England Presbyterian missionary, wrote letters to the state legislature, encouraging reform. Eventually, Mills’ push led to the 1852 Free School Law, requiring each county to provide at least three months of free education and set up a system to administer it.

4. Hoosiers answer the call to battle

When Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, more than 197,000 Hoosiers joined the Union and another 100,000 men participated in the Indiana militia, according to the Indiana Historical Society. “The Civil War was important to Indiana’s history,” Madison says. “They chose to fight for the Union, and they fought very effectively.”

5. An era of art and literature begins

In the late 1800s, the state experienced what would later be considered its “golden age” of literature, including Southern Indiana writers like Theodore Dreiser, Lew Wallace and Frank McKinney Hubbard. “Several influential Hoosiers were being published causing a cultural development in Indiana,” Lighty says. This was also a time of artistic growth as painters like T.C. Steele and J. Ottis Adams gained popularity and formed the Hoosier Group in Brown County.

6. Gentlemen start their engines.

The Indianapolis Speedway hosted its first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911. “This was the genesis of racing in Indiana,” Lighty says. Even though the Indianapolis 500 is run in Speedway, the race spawned smaller tracks and generations of drivers in Southern Indiana.

7. The first state park opens

Indiana got its first state park in 1916 when Richard Leiber led the drive to establish McCormick's Creek State Park in Owen County. The park is named after pioneer John McCormick, who settled there in 1816. The park will celebrate its 100th birthday this July. “Now there are parks all over the state,” Lighty says. “McCormick's really shows the power of nature.”

8. The Great Depression arrives

When the Great Depression brought America to its knees in 1929, Indiana was hit hard. However, Paul McNutt of Franklin was elected governor in 1932, and things turned around. With programs similar to those used by President Franklin Roosevelt, McNutt legalized income taxes and allowed the state to participate in Social Security and other welfare programs. “The programs were very controversial,” Madison says. “There were a lot of people who thought that wasn’t the government’s business.”

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