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History

In 1829, the first settlers arrived in Monticello and located on the west bank of the Tippecanoe River. Friendly Potawatomie Indians greeted the settlers. These Native Americans raised corn, pumpkins, squash and potatoes.

It was rich soil that originally drew settlers who came mostly from Virginia, New York, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In addition to Native American crops, they added oats, wheat and clover to the agricultural mix.

In 1834, the Indiana legislature created a new county named for Colonel Isaac White, a hero in the Battle of Tippecanoe. White County Commissioners selected a location for the county seat on the west bank of the Tippecanoe River. They named the city Monticello in honor of President Thomas Jefferson’s home.

In 1849, the Monticello Hydraulic Company was formed. It built a dam across the Tippecanoe River and the first industrial effort was the construction of a gristmill. A sawmill, a woolen mill and furniture factory soon added to the economic landscape.

In 1854, the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago Railway laid track in White County and the population grew. New settlers came from Germany, Ireland and Scotland, seeking the promise of freedom and a new life in this rich agricultural and industrial environment.

In 1894, the cornerstone for a third White County Courthouse was laid. A year later, a new Bedford Limestone building dominated the center of Monticello. The courthouse had a clock tower that reached skyward for at least eight stories. This lovely landmark stood center stage for nearly 80 years. In 1909, Monticello became an incorporated city. Its first mayor was Thomas O’Connor, who built the historic stone mansion on Bluff Street.

In the 1920s two events occurred that changed the character of Monticello. In 1923, Norway Dam, north of Monticello, was completed creating Lake Shafer. Two years later, Oakdale Dam, a few miles south of the city, was built and created Lake Freeman. These two meandering lakes established Monticello as a major tourism area.

On Wednesday, April 3, 1974, a devastating tornado swept through Monticello. The tornado destroyed everything in its path, including schools, homes, many downtown buildings and the beloved historic courthouse.

In 2014, city and county officials remodeled areas around the courthouse, focusing on Constitution Plaza. Memorial brick pavers and a county map are two of the features on the new plaza.

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