Saturday, June 26, 2010

West Lafayette History

West Lafayette
James Suit was probably the first settler in Wabash Township where West Lafayette is located. He came about 1822 and would load keel boats with honey and pelts, then float to Vincennes and trade for supplies needed by other early settlers. One of the earliest settlements in the West Lafayette village area was Jacktown. It was designated as such because of a blacksmith shop owned and operated by Captain Samuel Benjamin Jackson Castor.

The first platted West Lafayette was laid out in 1836, close to the fording area near where the railroad bridge presently crosses the Wabash. At least one house was built before it became obvious that flooding was going to be a serious problem. Therefore, the town was never really developed, and people decided to move up the hill and out of the "bottoms".

Jane and Jesse Lutz platted the town of Kingston in 1855. The boundaries by present day standards are Northwestern, Salisbury, North and South Streets. The present site of the Morton Community Center was designated a school site at that time and since then has been used continuously for educational purposes.

The Chauncey family, land speculators from Philadelphia, platted their town just a little to the east in 1860. Present day boundaries of Chauncey are Salisbury, State, Robinson, and the North River Road. Chauncey and Kinston were reorganized in 1866 as Chauncey. The citizens probably decided to organize at this time so they could levy taxes, provide better security, improve roads and become eligible for state and county assistance. Homes were being built during this time period but most of the area south of State Street and east of Salisbury was still woodlands.
Purdue University vintage illustration

Purdue University opened for classes in 1874. It had, at that time, a faculty of six, 46 students, a 100-acre farm and five buildings. The buildings were Ladies Hall and Purdue Hall, both dormitories, a small brick building used for engineering and technical classes, power plant, a frame gymnasium and armory. University Hall was dedicated in 1877.
Purdue is a land grant college that was created under the Morrill Act. However, John Purdue was able to secure the site of the college after he pledged $150,000 of his own money, obtained another $50,000 in pledges from other prominent citizens and donated 100 acres of land. The university was then named in his honor.

The people of Chauncey voted to change the name of their town to West Lafayette on May 21, 1888. A few businesses had been established in The Village by the late 1880s. However, even then, many of the West Lafayette residents traveled across the river to shop. West Lafayette and Lafayette citizens continue to share the many attractions of the two towns. These include social organizations, arts and cultural groups, restaurants, shopping area, churches, and museums. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce recently designated Lafayette - West Lafayette as their "Community of the Year". West Lafayette has also recently received several Tree City U.S.A. awards and a Main Street Award for the development of Wabash Landing.

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