History of Versailles
history that saw the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee Indians
hunting the area, on top of a bluff overlooking Laughery Creek, Ripley County became a part of the State of Indiana
after a proposal in 1816 that a new county be formed . This county was
named for General Eleazer Wheelock Ripley, a hero of the War of 1812.
On January 7, 1818, by an act of the General Assembly, John DePauw from Washington County, Charles Beggs of Franklin County, and W. H. Eades of Jennings County, were appointed to select a site for the new county seat. Earning three dollars a day for this task, the first three Commissioners settled on a hundred acre tract donated by John Paul of Madison (Jefferson County), a land speculator and founder of the town of Madison and Xenia, Ohio. The county seat was named Versailles in honor of DePauw’s native city in France and was laid out as a town of 186 lots by John Ritchie.
Ripley County, located in the southeastern part of Indiana, has 450 square miles or 288,000 acres. It is 27 miles north to south and 19 miles east to west with an elevation ranging from 600 feet to 100 feet above sea level. Laughery Creek, named for Colonel Archibold Lochry who fought in the Revolutionary War, flows through the county. http://ripleycounty.com/history.asp
In 1821, a contract was let for the first courthouse. It was built in the center of the square, where the current courthouse stands. More space was needed and an additional building was built for the Clerk's offices on the southwest corner of the courtyard.
By 1860 a larger building was required and construction began on a new brick building. The Civil War slowed progress and the building was not complete until 1863. This building is still in use today. In 1991 the old white paint was removed and other renovations were made.
The courthouse had a clock tower added in 1932 with money donated by Florence Grether in memory of her late husband. Its chimes ring out every quarter of an hour and can be heard throughout most of the town. A cannon was later moved to the southwest corner of the courtyard after the Clerk's office building was razed. It stands as a memorial to Ripley County citizens who served the country in times of war.
The courtyard was the scene of a dramatic episode in Ripley County history in early June of 1863. General John Hunt Morgan of the Confederate Army led approximately 2,000 cavalry troops into southern Indiana in an attempt to draw Union forces north of the Ohio River.
As he neared Versailles, a militia organized to right but disbanded when the Confederate force came into the town from the southwest. General Morgan aimed a cannon at the newly built courthouse and threatened to fire if his troops were met with any armed resistance. Guns were confiscated and broken over a corner of the courthouse.
The county treasury, Mason jewels, food, possessions and livestock were confiscated by Morgan's raiding cavalry. When Morgan discovered that his men had taken the Mason jewels, he ordered them returned because he was a Mason himself. They can still be seen at the Lodge Hall.
Land for the Cliff Hill Cemetery, so named because of its location, was donated by John Paul in 1827. Legend tells of a Dr. Jonathan Gordon and two medical students from Napoleon, John Glass and Bernard Mullen, who came to the cemetery one night in 1846 to dig up the corpse of a patient who had died of an unknown cause while under Gordon's care. The three men were curious to find out the reason for the patient's demise.
When a guard sounded the alarm and a mob of angry citizens entered the cemetery, Glass, unfamiliar with the landscape, ran through the brush, falling off the steep cliff. Gordon fled the state and the injured Glass and Mullen were indicted never went to trial. Even though Glass fell over the embankment, the overlook in the Cliff Hill Cemetery has since been known as "Gordon's Leap".
The cemetery was also near the site of the famous hanging tree. In 1897 a group of young men were terrorizing the county by committing theft, arson, battery and murder. Five members of the gang were caught and put in the county jail at the edge of Cliff Hill Cemetery.
On the night of September 14, a mob of several hundred men met in Napoleon to decide what was to be done. The men reportedly drew straws to decide which of them was to actually carry out the raid on the jail. At twenty minutes past midnight on September 15, several men wearing handkerchiefs over their faces burst into the jail. They took the keys and locked the jailers into a cell. They then beat and dragged the five men in the gang out of the jail two blocks to an elm tree on the edge of the cliff.
All five men were hanged on the same tree. Only one was found to have actually died of strangulation. Governor James Mount, upset over the incident, sent a special investigator to find those responsible.
After much interrogation of witnesses, all supplying alibis for the other, the case was officially closed with the state Attorney General making an official summation that the leader of the gang broke out of jail, stole a gun, shot his friends and hanged them, then shot himself and hanged himself.
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