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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

History of Attica

We are very proud of our heritage and the advantages we see in a small town setting. We are proud of our businesses, our industries, our churches, our schools, and our people. Even a short stay will convince you of the reasons for that pride.

Attica is the birthplace of George Dewey Hay, founder of the Grand Ole Opry. “The Solemn Old Judge”, as he became known, always made two suggestions for those who appeared on the Opry stage. It was a philosophy inherent in his hometown people and he grew up with. “Keep it down to earth,” he would say. “Make it from the Heart.” It is as if he spoke to those generations who followed, because in coming to this city that gave him birth, you will find our citizens a pleasant and sincere people, as though they took his suggestions as their own.

History of Attica, Indiana

In 1825, George Hollingsworth platted Attica and built a few log cabins in the hazelbrush at the edge of the Wabash River, and from these beginnings the town has grown to a fair city. Mr. Hollingsworth also built a ferry propelled by poles. This was the only means of crossing the Wabash River until Prescott and Conant Green built a horse ferry in 1843. In 1825, there was an inn at the foot of Main Street and the first general store and post office were in a building on the southeast corner of Perry and Mill Street. William Crumpton owned these buildings. Dr. Lacy had a small drug store one block north on the southeast corner of Perry and Main in a building owned by Isaac Coleman. There was one mail delivery a week brought in on horseback from Indianapolis through Covington to Attica. Isaac Coleman, veteran of the War of 1812, was Justice of the Peace. He was a life-long Attica resident and was buried in the Old Attica Cemetery.

In 1835, a steam saw mill and gristmill were built and from this time to 1869, manufacturing steadily increased. Also, in 1835, the first water system was developed. Sparkling water from the springs in the Ravine was piped through logs, hollowed out by hand, made its way to the Southeast corner of Mill and Perry Streets. Later, this was enlarged but failed to give satisfaction and in 1875, a new system was constructed to furnish the entire city with water.

In 1861, a covered wagon bridge was built over the Wabash followed by an iron bridge after the wooden bridge was destroyed in the cyclone of 1886. The present structure was dedicated on 23 June, 1983 and is called the Paul Dresser Bridge, as was the 1922 bridge, which had deteriorated and had to be closed. This bridge is the main connecting link between Fountain and Warren counties.

Attica was incorporated as a town in June 1849. In 1850, the first order for street improvements was levied and in 1865, one hundred and fifty dollars ($150.00) was appropriated to cover, in part, the expense of a grand celebration “in honor of Union victories and the downfall of the Rebellion.” The next morning, joy turned to sorrow at the news of Lincoln’s assassination.

In 1866, Attica elected its first mayor, John Gass, originally a citizen of neighboring Warren County. He had been elected to the office of Trustee there. Highly respected when he moved to Attica, his reputation remained untarnished as mayor. In the same year, the city charter was obtained, and in 1966, a week-long centennial recognizing the 100th birthday of the City was celebrated.

In January 1887, Attica received its first electric service in business houses, a few residences and streetlights. A privately owned company at the request of the city councilmen was providing this service. In 1902, this system was sold to the City of Attica and was the oldest private system in the state at the time of the sale.

The first telephone service in Attica was provided by the Milford-Whitehall Telephone Company, which started in 1895. The office was located on the second story of 213 South Perry Street. After several owners, the name was changed to the Attica Telephone Company, and in 1919, a semiautomatic system was installed.

Harry L. Kramer incorporated the Sterling Remedy Company in 1896. He built up such a large business with advertising matter and circular letters for the company that volume grew to the point where over thirty thousand dollars ($30,000.00) in postage stamps was purchased in one year. That achievement made the Attica Post Office advance to one of second class with city mail delivery starting February 14, 1898. With a population of less than three thousand (3,000), Attica then bore the distinction of being the smallest city in the United States enjoying such postal facilities.

An act passed in 1901 made a city library possible. It was located in a frame building on the triangular lot bounded by Brady, Mill and Main Streets. It officially opened in 1902 with eleven thousand, six hundred and twenty eight (11,628) books loaned the first year. The yearly membership fee of two dollars ($2.00) was later reduced to one dollar ($1.00). The building of the Carnegie Library in Attica was made possible by a gift of ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It was opened to the public in 1904. After almost sixty (60) years of use, there was need for new flooring and modern equipment which was made possible in 1964 by a gift from former Attica resident, Wilber Allen. The site of the library is in the former Washington Park and is still in the same location. Under the leadership of progressive library boards, an extensive remodeling and expansion was instituted. Funding was secured and internal and external refinements by the Board made the library one of the premier buildings in the city, if not the entire area. Not only is there expanded space for library media of all kinds, the facility now can accommodate groups for meeting purposes and possesses the latest in library techniques.

An Opera House was erected in 1884. It was used for a short time as a roller skating rink while the stage and dressing rooms were being completed. The acoustics were perfect and the Musical Art Society produced amateur theatricals, lecture courses, concerts and opera. Today the Attica Musical Arts organization brings concert quality musicians to the community. The presentations are open to the public.

The first efforts at teaching in the tiny village of Attica were probably carried on in private homes, but a one-room, log schoolhouse with puncheon seats was soon erected within its bounds on the northwest corner of what is now the library yard (Washington Park). Here, in 1832, Thomas McFerren became the first school master of the community. In 1839, a frame schoolhouse was built on a lot at 303 South Brady Street. A one-story brick schoolhouse was erected in 1849 at 502 South Perry Street. The lower story of the brick house now standing there is the schoolhouse remodeled. This building came to be called the South Brick to distinguish it from the Canada Brick, which was put up in 1851. The older children, called the high, were placed upstairs in this building, but a nearby frame building located at 210 Avenue One was known as the McDonald Academy.

None of these educational ventures already named were supported by public taxation, hence it came about that the three-story brick building known as The Old School Building, erected in 1867-1869 was put up far from the other building. It originally contained rooms and a chapel, or community hall, at the top. Wood stoves were used for a number of years.

The first public school commencement was held amidst the great excitement of the community in 1873, when a single graduate, Alice Rogers, received the first Attica High School diploma. By 1907, the growth of the school warranted a second building, but this, twenty (20) years later, was incapable of holding an educational plant of about one thousand (1,000) students. In 1909, a combination grade and high school was built and in 1926 a new high school was erected to take the place of the 1867 building.

Logan, Davis, and Shawnee Townships consolidated with Attica Schools in 1962 for their schooling. In 1968, the first school build expressly for elementary school children was begun, and in the winter of 1970, the present grade school opened its doors for all elementary children in the three (3) townships. In December, 1973, the building housing the high school burned and a new structure was built at the south edge of the city on property given to the system by the Harrison Steel Castings Company. It accepted its first students in August, 1978.

The first industrial business in Attica was a combined gristmill and still house built in 1830 by Joseph Collyer. The mill was of crude construction and operations were primitive. Before that date, a cabinet shop and tannery were in operation and Joseph Peacock operated a blacksmith shop near the river. In 1827, Orin Arms made a fanning machine to separate grain from chaff. In 1844, a millrace was constructed to supply waterpower for a new industry, the Yount Woolen Mill. The progress that Attica was making as a community soon brought other industries to the town. The period of pioneer development had ended.

The second phase of industrial progress centered on the Wabash & Erie Canal that ran along the riverfront and was opened for traffic in 1847. The canal gave new transportation to markets and was an important commercial development. The result was a business and industrial boom for Attica. Six large warehouses were filled with all kinds of merchandise for shipment by canal boats. The boats were towed up or down the canal by teams of horses or mules. Packing houses, docks and stables were built. I. Bettice & Bros. had a harness, saddle, collar and whip factory.

This colorful era had many significant industries, including the production of extra fine carriages by Fisher-Arbogast & Co. Also, the Shipp’s Wagon & Carriage Shop, that later became Leif, Johnson & Linn, and then the Leif Buggy Company. There were half a dozen wagon, plow and farm implement factories including Hess & Harvey Wagon Works and Smith and Peterson’s Wagon & Plow Works. Then there was the Sylvester Pump Factory, John Schuessler & Bros. Foundry and Boiler Shop and the Trullinger & Company Drain Tile plant. The McDonald Pork Packing Company developed into one of the main industries. The Attica Mills Company was an important flourmill along the canal. It was located just below the Attica Locks and utilized the waterpower for operation. Later, a boiler and engine were installed for steam power along with new mill machinery. In 1877, Jonas C. Aylsworth became president of the mill and through his management it was considered one of the best in the state. Jones Brothers Elevator, located just across Washington Street from the Attica Mills, and could give direct loading of their grain through a long shoot to canal boats. Other elevators were James Martin & Company and the one Nave & Son built that later became the Stafford Elevator. The Nixon & VanDeventer Elevator was built in 1876.

As business flourished during the canal days, the face of Perry Street was changed from small log or frame buildings to two and three story brick buildings. Pretentious homes were built in the city. Today, a large number of the buildings and homes are still in use. A view from across the Wabash River, during the busy days, must have presented a spectacular picture of tall mills, big warehouses and factories stretching along the river from which high chimneys belching smoke and canal boats waiting to be loaded.

In 1858, the Wabash & Western Railroad was built through Attica and was followed in later years by two (2) short lines that ran north and south. The railroads gave additional shipping facilities and competition for the canal. When the railroad track was laid across the Wabash River, the company of Ahrens & Bernart built the stone piers, bridges, foundations and carried on construction projects with an employment of around sixty (60) men during the busy season. With the railroads in operation, there was a gradual decline in the usefulness of the canal. By 1875 the canal was obsolete.

The early part of this century found only a small number of the busy industries of the canal days in operation, with exception of the elevators that handled the farmer’s grain. New industries were soon to take their place. Products made in Attica are now used in heavy earth moving equipment, road and building construction and electronic products. Packaged electric power is offered and drying and air pollution equipment is manufactured. Such products have received national and international recognition, even in outer space.

In 1906 the Attica Land & Improvement Company made up of prominent businessmen of Attica made arrangements with Joseph W. Harrison to move the National Car Coupler Company, of Converse, Indiana, to Attica and built a new factory here. The plant has been enlarged many times. As a manufacturer of high-grade steel castings, the largest industry in Attica, it has given employment to many of this locality. In 1917, the name of the original company was changed to The Harrison Steel Casting Company. Both the company and Harrison family have been deeply involved in local affairs and added to the economic development and progress of the city. Industry has played an important economic role in the city. Today the principal industries are Harrison Steel Casting Company, C & D Batteries, Myers Steel Fabrication Company, and Radio Materials Corporation.