Indiana: Commentary

Indiana Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

John H. Long, Editor; Peggy Tuck Sinko, Associate Editor and Historical Compiler; Douglas Knox, Book Digitizing Director; Emily Kelley, Research Associate and Digital Compiler; Laura Rico-Beck, GIS Specialist and Digital Compiler; Peter Siczewicz, ArcIMS Interactive Map Designer; Robert Will, Cartographic Assistant

Copyright The Newberry Library 2009

The early development of Indiana's county boundaries was heavily influenced by the initial presence and subsequent removal of the Indians. The federal Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 required territorial governments to respect Indian title to the land. Settlers were not to extend their settlements, or their counties, into Indian territory. Nevertheless, the Northwest Territory and Indiana Territory created counties that encroached on Indian tribal lands. The situation had changed by the time of statehood in 1816, and the issue of Indian land ownership severely constrained county development in the state, where Indian treaty lines often became county boundaries.

In the early years, each new land cession from the Indians was organized into a separate, fully operational county (Ripley County was the one exception, remaining unorganized for over a year). This pattern changed in 1820 when two pseudo-counties were created for the New Purchase, a tract of 5,800 square miles in central Indiana that had been acquired from the Miami and Potawatomi in 1818 by the Treaty of St. Mary's. These counties were designated Delaware New Purchase (renamed Adams New Purchase in 1827) and Wabash New Purchase. At no time did they exist as independent, fully organized counties and, although little is known about the thinking behind their establishment, it appears that the state legislature never intended to let them develop in the usual manner. They were almost immediately subdivided into various parts that were attached to fully organized counties. These attachments shifted frequently, creating a crazy-quilt pattern of jurisdictions, until by 1845 all of the New Purchase had been absorbed into organized counties.

All Indiana counties but one were established by statute or by proclamation of the territorial governor; the exception is Newton County. Newton was originally created by statute on 7 February 1835 and attached to Jasper County, but it failed to attract enough settlers and was incorporated into Jasper in 1839. Taking advantage of an 1857 act (repealed 1861) "to authorize the formation of new counties" outside the control of the state legislature, residents of the western half of Jasper started a movement for a new county. On 27 February 1858, the Jasper County Board of Commissioners accepted a recommendation to re-establish Newton County. Litigation ensued, and the effective date of Newton's establishment was delayed until 8 December 1859 when the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the action of the commissioners.

Another attempt to put control of county changes in local hands is Public Law number 212, passed 27 February 1980 and still in effect, which established a procedure for altering county boundaries without going through the state legislature. County surveyors were required to file with the Indiana Secretary of State accurate legal descriptions of their counties as of 31 August 1981 and to report any later alterations within 30 days of the effective date of change. Apparently the county lines have remained stable because no changes were reported to the Secretary of State's office between 31 August 1981 and 1990.

One clarification emerged from those 1981 county surveyors' reports. The surveyors of St. Joseph, Marshall, and Fulton Counties all incorporated the Michigan Road Lands into their boundary descriptions. Earlier descriptions in the revised statutes and state codes referred only to the township, range, and section lines of the federal land survey and completely ignored these lands, but it appears the layout of the Michigan Road Lands had a slight effect on the northern and southern boundaries of Marshall and, therefore, on its abutters, St. Joseph and Fulton. The Michigan Road was to run from Lake Michigan to the Wabash River, and land for it was acquired in 1826 by treaty with the Potawatomi. The land between South Bend and Logansport was surveyed, but the lines of the road survey never matched the township, range, and section lines of the federal land survey in the surrounding area. In 1831 the surveys and plats of the Michigan Road Lands were completed, the first land sales were held, and road construction began. As Marshall's northern and southern lines were being marked, when the surveyors crossed the Michigan Road they did not make extensions of the federal land survey lines but instead changed course slightly and followed the existing lines of the 1831 road survey. The boundaries of these counties were mapped according to the 1831 road survey.