Published June 4, 2018

Corydon Capitol State Historic Site showcases story of statehood beginnings

By Renee Bruck 

Indiana’s capital may be located in the center of the Hoosier State today, but it wasn’t always that way.

In fact, an area just north of the Ohio River became the site where statesmen transformed Indiana from a territory into a state in the early 1800s. But the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site is much more than a historic town square. It’s a place where you can learn the story of Indiana’s early beginnings and also experience what daily life was like during that time.

Corydon was selected as the new capital in 1813 due to its location in the center of the Indiana Territory’s population at the time. The first capital, Vincennes, was on the western edge of the territory following the creation of the Illinois Territory.

“Everybody is always surprised to find that the capital was so far south,” Bec Riley, site manager of Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, said.

But in the 1800s, the area was bustling with nearby river trading and travel from other states and territories.

“We were the middle of the state,” she said.

The journey to statehood had always been part of the plan when federal officials began dividing the Northwest Territories, Bec said, but it often took years to accomplish.

In fact, the United States Congress had three requirements for statehood: the territory needed to select a name, have a population of at least 60,000 people and draft a constitution.

The territory already had a name – Indiana.

But it took a little more work to count the thousands of people living in the 13 counties that made up the territory. Officials found through a census completed in 1815 that the territory had more than 60,000 residents – 63,897 to be exact.

A copy of the 1815 census detailing the exact number of people living in each county and signed by Dennis Pennington, who was speaker of the House of Representatives, is just one of the documents visitors can learn about during their visit to Corydon.

Territory officials also hired Pennington to construct a courthouse building in Corydon. Work began on what would become Indiana’s first Capitol building in 1814 and was completed in 1816.

Pennington received $3,000 to construct the 40-foot square building, which was made from limestone quarried locally and logs cut from nearby forests. Pennington’s payment would have equaled two years’ salary for a U.S. senator following the compensation act of March 1816.

Even though the building is more than 200 years old and some restoration work has been completed over the years, the original Capitol still stands for visitors to get a first-hand look at where the first bodies of government – the state’s House of Representatives and Senate plus the Indiana Supreme Court – were located.

“They built it to last,” Bec said. “There’s never been any structural issues with it at all.”

State government moved from Corydon to Indianapolis in 1825. But today, visitors to the site can still explore several of the historic buildings for themselves.

The Governor’s Mansion served as the home to the second elected governor of the state and gives visitors the chance to explore examples of what life was like in the 1820s.

Tours of the six-room residence begin in the office where visitors can learn about Gov. William Hendricks’ political life. Stepping through to the parlor gives a more personal view of an early political family’s life.

The first State Office Building, which was home to Indiana’s first auditor and treasurer, still serves the public – even though the building’s purpose has changed a little over the years. The building that was believed to have secured all of the money for the young state in its cellar vault is now open to the public as a gathering space and during site programs.

Be sure to follow the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram throughout the month of June as we share more fun facts and stories about the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site – and be sure to plan a visit in person next time you’re in southern Indiana.