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Brief History of the City of Wabash, Indiana

Prepared by TJ Honeycutt, Museum Archivist

Before the founding of Wabash as a city in 1866, the land itself had seen much come to pass.  The site which would become the city of Wabash spent thousands of years under warm salt water.  Many forms of sea life flourished in that time, forming the foundation of limestone upon which most of the city of Wabash rests, and which built the large reef structure which runs the breadth of Paradise Spring. The wa

ter eventually receded, and glaciers came from the North and scraped all of the interceding history away.  After the glaciers receded, the land which would become the city of Wabash was left with some of the most fertile soil on the planet.

Many of the first Europeans in Indiana were French explorers and fur traders who set up a series of trading posts all along the Wabash River.  They named the Wabash River Ouabache.  The word is derived from the Miami word for "water over white rocks" referencing the limestone formations that surround the Wabash River,  waapaahšiiki, which has become Wabash in English.  


People first used Wabash for commerce.  A major trading trail ran almost exactly along what is today Hill Street and had been in use by Native Americans and French Voyageurs for decades.  In time a settlement was constructed within the present city limits named Ketongah by the Miami Indians.  A treaty was held at Paradise Spring to allow for the creation and extension of the Wabash-Erie Canal.  In the wake of the treaty, Hugh Hanna and David Burr laid out the plat for the town of Wabash.  The town grew slowly, but steadily.  The canal arrived in Wabash in 1837, and the population of the town and county rose rapidly.  Wabash was selected as the county seat in 1835, in part because of a promise by Hugh Hanna to construct a courthouse in Wabash at his own expense.  


In the wake of the United States Civil War, Wabash was formally made a city.  The city rapidly became an industrial center hosting hundreds of manufacturers, factories, and workshops as well as many highly regarded retail firms.  In 1870, the town lost over twenty structures to fire, including the original courthouse.  The new courthouse was finished in 1879.  In 1880 the city of Wabash, seeking a solution for municipal lighting, was selected by Dr. Charles Brush to demonstrate to the world the viability of electrical lighting.  Wabash was from then on known as the first electrically lighted city in the world.  


Wabash has since that time produced many unique and talented individuals and hosted many vibrant and significant businesses.  Industrialists, inventors, and philanthropists such as Mark C. Honeywell, whose name is still found on thermostats and other electronic household devices around the world, and Edwin Ford, the inventor of the Ford Meter Box have called Wabash home.   Noted artists and entertainers have called Wabash home too, such as Charles Showalter who helped make Santa Clause and Coca-Cola synonymous, and Crystal Gayle who has reached the #1 position on the country music charts eighteen times.  

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