History of Clay City, Clay County, Indiana
From: A History of Clay County, Indiana
By: William Travis (of Middlebury)
The Lewis Publishing Company
New York - Chicago 1909


CLAY CITY, the principal center of population and trade in the south end of the county, in Harrison township, eighteen miles south of Brazil by railroad. This place was founded in 1873, by Barbara Storm, at the terminus of the Terre Haute & Southeastern Railroad, twenty six miles southeast of Terre Haute. The location of Clay City was more an accident, or circumstance, than a forethought. While the Terre Haute & Cincinnati Railroad (as it was then named) was in process of building no one thought of a town site at this point. A stake had been driven, by agreement, at a point on the Henry Cooprider land, between the Storm place and Middlebury, to which the road was to be built and a station maintained. The Terre Haute City Council had made an appropriation of $100,000 to aid in the building of the road, which, by the terms of the donation, was to be expended on the first twenty six miles of construction, the distance, as then thought, from Main street, Terre Haute, to Middlebury, or the point at which the stake had been driven, marking the ground for the station. But the terminus of the twenty six miles as measured by the company's survey was at the road crossing by the "old red mill." Here track laying ceased. The end of the run was on the Storm place, but no town plat was laid out until nearly a year later. For nearly eight years this was the terminus of the road, the town meanwhile building up, which was originally platted and known as Markland. For a time, however, it was better known as "The Y," the railroad company having laid switch capacity of this figure for reaching the Woodruff & Trunky coal mine and for the turning of trains. Colonel Markland, in whose honor the town site had been named, was an Indianaian who rendered his country service both in the military and the civil capacity. When application was made to the department for a postoffice another had, meanwhile, been established within the state bearing the name of. Markland. Morton C. Hunter, who then represented this district in Congress, assumed to name the office Huntersville, and to have his brother's wife, Mrs. Charles Hunter, appointed postmistress. This act on the part of Representative Hunter, who was not in very savory odor with his constituency hereabout, proved very dissatisfactory and was resented by the calling of an indignation meeting, held at Burger's store, which was largely attended, when a committee was appointed to select a suitable name for the office, who reported "Clay City," which was approved, and subsequently the name of the town made to conform thereto. Though the name was seemingly appropriate, it proved a source of confusion and vexation in the service for months thereafter, owing to an office of the same name in Clay county, Illinois. Mail addressed to either office was liable to be sent to the other, giving rise to annoyance and delay in delivery. But the change was made by the department and Pius M. Long appointed postmaster.

The people at "The Y" continued to get their mail at Martz until the latter part of the year 1876, as the "Guntersville" office was not commissioned until that time. Pius M. Long served until the first of April, 1879, when he was gucceeded by Ivan B. Harris, who was followed by Eli Cooprider, July 1, 1885, Virgil Brown succeeding him in the month of January, 1889, who served until the latter part of November, 1891, when he was succeeded by John M. Long, followed by George Oberholtzer, January, 1893, who served until the first of July, 1897, when John M. Long was again commissioned, serving until the latter part of July, 1899, when he was succeeded by C. C. Fesler, who is the present incumbent. Clay City was a money order office, it may be said, from the time of its founding, and was made a presidential office July 1, 1896. There were two appointees to the position who did not come into possession - Mrs. Mary Wilbur and James M. Travis.

There is disagreement among those surviving who were witnesses to the founding of the town and the postoffice as to the location of the office when first established. During the brief period of time that Mrs. Hunter handled the mails she had the office at the family residence in a small frame house, which is still standing in rear of the Duncan marble shop, on what was known for many years as the Woollen property. The mail was delivered through a broken pane of glass in the window. But there are those who maintain that the first postoffice was at Baker & Row's store, which was kept in the first house built upon the ground which a little later on became the plat of the future town, a one story frame of two rooms, erected by E. F. Cooprider, which, at the time, he intended to occupy as a dwelling and grocery store. This building stands close to the railroad track, west side, the middle one of the three across the street in front of the old "Commercial" hotel, near the stock pens. However, he did not occupy it, having changed his notion. But Eli Cooptider did occurs it with the first store of the town, at some time within the year 1873, who was succeeded the latter part of the same year, about the first of December, by Harrison J. Long, and he, at some time within the next year (1874), by Baker & Row. During the time that Cooprider and Long did business here, there was an arrangement by mutual understanding with the postmaster at Martz that mail for people at "The Y" should be delivered to Willis Pierson, on call, who delivered the same at the store, where it was handed out as called for. Pierson was the drayman who hauled goods from the point of unloading at "The Y" to the Middlebury merchants, and made round trips every day. This private delivery of mail, doubtless, was kept up after Baker & Row became proprietors of the store at 'The Y," leaving the impression, after the lapse of years, that there was a postoffice there. This was the only store before the coming of the Burger Brothers.

The first school at Clay City, or "The Y," was taught in the winter of 1874-5, by Miss Nellie Elkin. For the year 1874 the school population of this place had been enumerate in the Middlebury district, which overtaxed the facilities of the old town. Trustee Jett rented a small frame house standing near the railroad track, across the road from the "Commercial House," the first hotel, and near the Baker & Row store house, which, as remembered, had been built for a business room by Eli Miller or his son, Stewart Miller, which was temporarily fitted for the purpose and Miss Elkin employed as teacher. In the year 1875 the first school house was built, a little distance northwest of the Jett residence, in which John W. O'Brien taught in the winter of 1875-6. Three years later, owing to the increase in school population, the district was divided and another house built, on the south side of the town, in which Maurice Markle taught the first school in the winter of 1879-80. In 1882, to further enlarge and improve the school facilities of the town, Trustee John W. White built the two story brick house on the elevated ground in the northeast part of the place, on the northeast corner of Seventh and White streets. The first corps of teachers in this house (in the winter of 1882-3) were Maurice Markle, Simon B. Everhart and Homer Harris. On the 2d day of September, 1882, Trustee White sold at public auction the two frame school houses, which were numbers nine (9) and fifteen (15) of the Harrison township schools, both of which were purchased by Matthias Bitzegeio, who converted them into dwellings and is still owner of them. The one on the north side is at this time occupied by Deck Dickerson, and the one on the south side, by S. P. Vanhorn.

The first sermon at "The Y" was preached in a grain house alongside the railroad track, by Rev. Boaz, of the M. E. church, Bowling Green, where nail kegs and boxes were used as seats. The little frame which had been rented for school purposes was also used occasionally for preaching. Meetings were held, too, at private houses. The original frame M. E. church was built in the summer and fall of 1876, on the lot on which stands the present brick structure, corner of Seventh and Washington streets, which was dedicated by Rev. John L. Pitner, of Bowling Green, who was the first pastor. This house, when abandoned, twenty years later, was sold to Harry Hyatt and moved over onto the east side and is now a part of the barn on the Irwin Oberholtzér place.

The United Brethren church, on the corner of Eighth and White streets, was built in 1888-9 and dedicated in the month of June of the latter year, by Bishop Weaver. The trustees at the time were William H. Cook, Henry Clymer, William Steiner, J. T. Jones and Henry Correll; the first pastor, Rev. William R. Muncie. The present membership is about two hundred.

The Presbyterian church, on North Main street, was erected in 189596, August Oberholtzer, contractor, dedicated May 3, of the latter year, sermon by Rev. D. Vandyke, the contributions amounting to $441, of which D. C. Middlemas gave $100, who had previously donated the site for the building

The Free Methodists also maintain a church organization, and a house of worship, on the corner of Ninth and White streets, built in the year 1888 and dedicated at an early date in the succeeding year, before the close of the winter.

The physicians of the town from the time of its founding to the present have been: R. A. Baldridge, W. S. Duncan, C. H. Wolfe, Dr. McNutt, D. I. Zook, J. F. Smith, S. P. Burns, S. L. Brouillette, W. H. Butler, R. C. Black, Dr. Young, M. A. Freed, Dr. Foreman, O. G. Cruikshank, H. R. Vandevier, B. F. Yocum, J. A. Modesitt, Charles Collins, John Tanhorn, W. H. H. Asbury. Dr. C. H. Wolfe is the oldest physician in points of residence and practice here.

The attorneys at law who have been located and have practiced here may be enumerated as follows: John T. Gardner, William V. Burns, Frank A. Homer, Watt C. Elkin, Alexander McGregor, W. S. Zenor, W. W. McGregor, Henry Hochstetler, S. W. Jarvis, George W. Wiltse, G. S. Payne, William C. Wiltse, Zeph Keller, B. V. Goshorn, Herbert Reynolds, O. H. Hayden. John T. Gardner is now the oldest attorney in points of residence and practice here.

The individuals and firms who have done businesss at this place in the various channels of "trade and commerce" during the practically thirty seven years of its history Ľnumber many more than any one would be ready to believe at first mention and thought along this line. About all branches of mercantile pursuits have been represented dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, clothing, hardware implements, notions, drugs and medicines, confections, millinery, etc., etc. The following enumeration (which is not given in regular order) comprises all that can be recalled from recollection: Eli Cooprider, Harrison J. Long, Hale & Co., Baker & Row, Burger Brothers, John Long & Son, H. Grismer & Co., Ackelmire & Co., Storm Brothers, John Fleshman, James F. Hyatt, D. C. Middlemas, J. W. Danhour, Geo. J. Kayser, L. G. Castang, M. L. Jett, Graber Brothers, William I. Warner, Black Brothers, James H. Witty, Kilmer & Son, F. M. Dorothy, John W. Hays, A. L. Witty, D. T. Cromwell, Smith & Rader, William Barker, Kayser & Black, Cooprider & Fulkerson, W. H. Long, Joseph C. Wilbur, C. A. Whitesell, Mrs. Reed & Long, S. C. Sadler, R. Bryson, Marshall Zenor, John T. Wiley, Martin Jensen, John B. Vial, Samuel White, W. C. Duncan, Hyatt & Long, Joseph Lieber, Joseph White, Dellafield & Son, Griffith Brothers, John W. Brenton, Charles Knox, Travis & Oberholtzer, A. J. Fulkerson, Ovid Pinney, Cook & Holland, George Markle, F. C. Watts, Ingrain & Johnson, Burger & Terry, John Woollen, Charles Seigel, Cummins Brothers, Charles Nattkemper, John Grafe, H. H. Hyatt, Miss Angie Barcus and Mrs. Clementine Allee, Fred Yung, McConnell & Conley, Travis & Travis, The Brosius Co., N. A. Harris, Miss Lou Weaver, Muehler & Notter, Frank & William Brothers, William C. Wiltse, Smith F. Auld, - Barcus, J. H. Bence, Bence & Brown, The Cooperative Co., Schauwecker & Crabtree, Wilson & Morris, C. C. Fesler, Win. F. Baumgartner, Damer Brothers, Mrs. Natalena Dorothy, John W. Kester, Smith & Schaefer, The Farmers Hardware Company (incorporated), Bonham, Goshorn & Row, M. S. Burger, Schauwecker & Son (The Exchange), The Ideal Stores.

There were five coal shafts, or mines, on the immediate borders of the town: The Markland, on the Henry Cooprider place, operated by Woodruff & Trunkey, which began hoisting in the fall of 1873; Keelerrs Diamond Mine; The Brier Hill; The Company Shaft, on the Church land, put down and operated by John Woollen, John W. Hays, Silas Kauble and others, and the "Apple Butter," put down by James Burnham, with whom M. S. Burger was associated, who were succeeded in the operation of the industry by Peter Andrew. The first three named were on the west side of the E. & I. Railroad, and the other two on the east side. Not any one of them is any longer operated. Clay City was also the shipping point for the product of the Lancaster and the Harrison mines, along the county line, three miles east. Aside from the numerous slopes and banks, there have been fourteen coal shafts in Harrison township, from only one of which coal is now being produced.

At the time of putting down the Brier Hill shaft, which was done in 1889, Barton A. Cusick, who superintended the work, lost his life, on the 31st day of October, by accidental precipitation to the bottom of the excavation. He was a resident of Clay City, where the surviving family still reside, and was 41 years of age. As superintendent he was ever vigilant and watchful for the safety of his men, but himself fell an untimely victim to the dangers against which he guarded them. In the year 1884 the clay plant for the manufacture of brick and tile, on the south side of the town, was established by William Graber. Building brick had been previously produced on the site of the town by the Conley Brothers; and about the year 1890 James Burnham began the brick manufacturing industry on a yard located on the north side, near the Andrews coal shaft. Succeeding the death of William Graber, three years later, this plant was operated for a time by James T. Bucks, then by Frank Adams until purchased by William Watts, from whom it was bought by the present proprietor, George G. Kaiser, in 1896, who continues to operate it, manufacturing only drain tile at this time. About the year 1895, the "Clay City Brick Company" established kilns and engaged in manufacturing building brick on the site now occupied by the "Clay City Brick and Clay Company," which was carried on for the period of several years.

The "Clay City Brick and Clay Company" was organized in 1902 by Lafferty, Willen and Simons, Willen president, Lafferty secretary. This plant manufactures building brick and farm drain tile, having a capacity of twenty thousand brick a day, with an abundance of raw material of superior quality underlying the grounds occupied and those immediately surrounding. An exhibit of the workable mineral strata underlying the surface covering at this point is as follows: 12 feet of red clay for brick, including 3 feet of potter's clay; 16 feet of shale; 3 feet of coal; 8 feet of fire clay; 4o feet of shale, a total depth of 79 feet. The output of this manufacturing plant, unexcelled in quality, does not come up to the market demand for its products.

The first flouring mill here was that which Oberholtzer & Silvius brought down from Bowling Green in 1878-79, rebuilt and put in operation at some time in the latter year. When built at Bowling Green it was the first steam power mill in the county. A year or two later they sold this mill to Daniel Champer. This mill house burned while occupied by Philip Leberer as a poultry market.

In 1881 Motter & Klingler moved their flouring mill from near Middlebury and located it on about the site now occupied by the three story brick mill, which they repaired and operated for some months, when Klingler sold his interest to Fred Burger, who, in turn, sold to Daniel Harris, when Motter sold to T. W. Toney, who also bought out Harris. The Ames Brothers and O. H. Markle, having come into possession of the property by purchase at commissioner's sale, remodeled it, putting in the roller process, and operated it until the 19th day of May, 1887, when it was wholly destroyed by fire. Two years later, the Black Brothers and Bryson built what is known as the Peerless Mill, which began work on the 19th day of December, 1889. It was afterward purchased by Moyer & Willen, then Willen & Son became proprietors, and it is at this time being operated under lease by Davis & Taylor. The Hoosier Mill, in the northwest part of the town, which was built by Henry C. Fravert, after having passed through several hands, was moved by H. O. Markle to Saline City, where he rebuilt and has been running it since 1905.

The first lumber mill was that of T. W. Toney, which was located near the railroad, north of the stock pens, at some time in the seventies; then, in 1879, John W. White moved his mills down from Middlebury. Soon thereafter White transferred to Warner & Klingler, and they to Modrell and Johns, who operated the plant, saw and planing mill, until burned out in 1895. Modrell and Johns had previously operated their timber and lumber industry on the Kress place, a half mile south of Middlebury, for five years, from 1879 to 1884.

The firm of Johns, Benham & Long then operated a plant near the site of the former mills, on the southwest border of town, for two years from 1895 until the death of Frank L. Johns, the senior partner, in 1897. In 1891, the Guirl Brothers acquired a body of timber land in Eel river bottom and located mills of large capacity here, which were operated continuously for nine or ten years, producing, in the aggregate, something more than thirty three million feet of lumber, for which the timber was all cut within wagoning distance of the mill yards. This industry began operations in the month of September, 1891.

There have been three stave factories here, successively, the first by Gristlier, Russell & Brinkman, which began work at an early date in the history of the town, perhaps in the year 1875, which was moved away at the expiration of five or six years, succeeded by James Clutter, of Terre Haute, whose plant, after having been operated for several years, burned out. The Clay City Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1893, composed of W. H. Guirl, C. W. Stover, W. H. Coleman, C. S. Millhouse and B. M. Guirl, with a capital stock of $25,000, for the manufacture of staves, conducted under the management of B. M. Guirl, for the period of nine or ten years, consuming seventeen million feet of timber and producing something more than forty million staves. In 1902 this industry was discontinued here and the plant located at Beech Ridge, Illinois, where it is still operated.

The Clay City Packing Company was incorporated and factory built in 1897, by W. H. Guirl, H. H. Hyatt, F. C. Watts, Louis Schauwecker, John Conley and B. M. Guirl, with a capital stock of $10,000. Five years later, W. H. Guirl acquired, in part at least, the interests of Watts, Hyatt and Conley, when B. F. Pratt also purchased an interest and superintended the operations of the plant for a couple of years. Later, W. H. Guirl was in control, with C. A. Pierce, manager. In 1908 the property went into the hands of a receiver, Edward Bonham, who, under the order of the court, sold it in the month of May, 1909, to a party of Brazil and Clay City people, who transferred it about the first of June to the Ladoga Canning Company, now the proprietors.

The pioneer banking institution of Clay City was that of M. L. Jett, with whom, very soon after his starting in the business in his store room, now occupied by the son, P. T. Jett, were associated George W. Wiltse and Clinton M. Thompson, when the firm proceeded, in the spring of 1882, to build the two story brick on West Fifth street which has all along been known as "the bank building." Within three years thereafter this firm suspended business. At some time in the year 1890 (about the first of September) the Clay County Bank was instituted in the same building by nonresident capitalists, with W. H. Starbuck, president; J. M. Bowen, cashier. At the expiration of less than two years, say the first of June, 1892, a reorganization was effected, a state bank incorporated under the same name, with a capital stock of $25,000, the stockholders home people - W. H. Guirl, R. Bryson, W. D. Black, E. C. Black, D. C. Middlemas, N. W. Marshall, A. Oberholtzer, T. C. Watts, L. Schauwecker, A. J. Fulkerson, W. H. Cook, J. W. Danhour, J. M. Bowen. The directors chosen were: W. C. Black, W. H. Guirl, J. W. Danhour, A. J. Fulkerson, J. M. Bowen, with W. D. Black, president; W. H. Guirl, vice president; J. M. Bowen, cashier. This corporation retired at some time within the succeeding year, perhaps in the month of July, and after an interval of two years was succeeded by the Farmers and Merchants bank, conducted by J. S. Goshorn, now the Goshorn Brothers, which began business on the 13th day of May, 1895. The safe in this bank was blown and wrecked on the night of April 20, 1904, and looted of several thousand dollars in cash. Three years later, Joseph L. White was tried in the Vigo Circuit Court on charge of having committed the crime, but was acquitted.

Of the fraternal organizations maintained here are:

Martz Lodge, No. 360, I. O. O. F., originally instituted at Middlebury, January 27, 1871, moved to Clay City in 1881.

Clay City Lodge, No. 562, A. F. & A. M., instituted in 1880.

Clay City Lodge, No. 2240, Knights of Honor, instituted in 1880. Uncas Tribe, No. 68, Improved Order of Red Men, organized April 4, 1882.

Mutual Love Lodge, No. 221, Daughters of Rebekah, organized November 1, 1882.

Knights of Pythias; Eastern Star, and Pocahontas.

A private census of Clay City, taken in the summer of 1884, as reported to the Independent in the month of August, by P. T. Jett, showed the following enumeration, classified according to age:

Under 21 years of age


Over 21 and under 6o years


Over 60 and under 65 years


Over 65 and under 70 years


Over 70 and under 75 years


Over 75 and tinder 85 years


Over 85 and under 90 years




Total population


This was three more than the enumeration of Brazil as taken in 1866 with the view to incorporation. A year later (1885) it was 864. Early in the year 1888 a petition was filed with the board of commissioners asking an election to be ordered to vote on the proposition to incorporate, which was held on the 16th day of July, 1888, when 169 votes were polled -92 for and 77 against it. The board of commissioners, in recognition of the action taken, declared the prescribed territory incorporated, when, on the first Monday of September following, the first election of officers took place, resulting as follows: Trustees, N. B. Markle, J. M. Travis, J. W. White; Marshal, Jas. T. Buck; Clerk and Treasurer, D. C. Middiemas, Jr. There was no contest, but one ticket, composed about equally of Democrats and Republicans, and only 139 votes were polled.

The period of greatest activity in substantial building improvements in the progress and history of Clay City was the three years from 1889 to 1892, during which period more than $100,000 is said to have been expended in the erection of brick business blocks and residences. Within this time were built the Peerless flouring mill, the Middlemas, Burger, Moody, Fulkerson, Danhour, Travis & Oberholtzer and other business blocks.

The telephone found its way into Clay City with the beginning of the century, closely following the subsidence of the smallpox epidemic and sensation. A professional promoter of the new system of intercommunication, who made it a business to plant the service in towns of sufficient size to justify the venture, came upon the ground from Paris, Illinois, and having established the plant, disposed of it to resident parties as an investment, then sought other fields of operations. His name was P. G. Farrow, known as "P. G." for short, the man who sported dazzling diamonds of the first water and lighted his cigars by the use of twisted ten-dollar bills as tapers.

The financial affairs of the incorporation have been well managed, having been conducted on the cash system. No bonds have been issued for any purpose, nor has there been at any time any outstanding indebtedness because of no funds for its liquidation. There have been no defalcations, embezzlements, nor misapplication of funds on the part of those into whose hands they have been committed for safe keeping and proper disbursement.

Any history of Clay City would be inexcusably incomplete without mention of the smallpox epidemic of the winter of 1900 and the sensations attending its prevalence. The home physicians were disagreed in their diagnoses of the disease, some regarding and treating it as chicken-pox. Dr. Hurty, secretary State Board of Health, came upon the scene and pronounced it smallpox, ordering a quarantine of all the homes affected and of all persons who had been exposed to it, and suspending all the schools of the towns and township. All public assemblages were declared off and not a church nor school bell was heard for more than a month. The schools were resumed the last week in February. The railroad quarantine was not lifted until the 12th of March. To get out of town by railroad a passenger had to get a permit issued by the secretary of the local Board of Health. Dr. C. H. Wolfe and Dr. F. B. McCullough, secretary County Board of Health, continued to call the disease chickenpox, Dr. John Williams named it pemphigus, others called it Cuban itch. Of the scores of cases, in and about the town, there were two deaths - a woman and child. Population, 1,800.

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