History of Greensburg

In 1818, the federal government acquired large tracts of land from the Delaware Indian Tribe via the signing of a treaty known as the New Purchase. Colonel Thomas Hendricks was among the first to purchase some of this land and acquired four eighty-acre tracts in 1820. The following year, Decatur County was created by the General Assembly and named after Commodore Stephen Decatur, a naval hero from the War of 1812. Hendricks used one hundred acres of this land to plat the town of Greensburg.

As local lore tells, the name of the town came from Mrs. Thomas Hendricks. She desired the town should be called “Greensburg,” in memory of her hometown in Pennsylvania. When the Board of Commissioners was appointed by the legislature to select the location for a new county seat, the question of the name of the town came up. Mrs. Hendricks made known her desire. It was proposed to leave the question to a vote of the seventeen young men who came to this locality with Thomas Hendricks from Pennsylvania. The decision was made (possibly through influence from Mrs. Hendricks and her four pleasant daughters), and on June 14, 1822, the official name of the county seat was chosen and would forevermore be known as Greensburg, Indiana.

The Board of Commissioners met regularly at the home of Thomas Hendricks and platted the layout of the community.  On September 1, 1822, lots were officially for sale and development began.  All government buildings, stores, and homes were constructed of logs. The first public building erected in Greensburg was the county jail.  The jail sat on the west side of the courthouse lawn from 1823 – 1832.  The original two-story brick courthouse was constructed in the center of the courthouse lawn in 1827.  By 1837, there were enough people to incorporate Greensburg as a town. For the next sixteen years, Greensburg grew slowly due to the poor condition of Michigan Road, which was the primary means of transportation to the larger world.

Following the pattern of many Indiana towns, development within the community boomed after the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis Railroad was completed in 1853. The railroad connected Greensburg and Decatur County to distant markets and downtown establishments such as hotels, restaurants, dry goods, textiles, and professional practices thrived.

In 1854, the citizens decided to incorporate as a city and construct a new, grander courthouse. That same year, the courthouse was torn down and Indianapolis architect Edwin G. May was awarded the contract to construct the Romanesque Revival building that we know today. It was completed in 1860, just as the Civil War was commencing. Since approximately 1870, a Mulberry tree has thrived atop the clock tower, giving Greensburg world-wide recognition and the name “Tree City.”

In the years between 1860 and 1900, Greensburg prospered as the center for commerce, political and cultural activity. Abraham Lincoln chose Greensburg as one of his few stops en route to his inauguration in 1861. The courthouse lawn in particular was often a scene for community gatherings. Prior to the Civil War, the lawn was used for soldiers from the county entering the Union Army to practice drills and remained a place for veterans after the war ended to sing war songs, listen to patriotic speeches and reminisce with one another. It was also during this period, in 1874, that Greensburg constructed its first City Hall. Fraternal organizations, such as Elks, Odd Fellows, and Knights of Pythias, were popular and would construct commercial blocks downtown. Lower stories of these buildings would be rented to merchants and the upper stories would be used for their meeting spaces. However, it was also during this time that the industry began to move to the outskirts of town or along the railroad tracks. 

Although Greensburg went through many changes between 1900 and 1945, the downtown reached its maturity during this time period. Interurban service began in 1907 and linked Greensburg to Indianapolis. Interurban was used by businessmen going to work, farmers sending livestock to the stockyards, and people wanting to visit Indianapolis to shop, attend the theater or visit family and friends. In addition to transportation advances, leisure time began to play a larger role in society. In 1915, the YMCA was constructed and became the community center, providing a gymnasium and swimming pool. Popular activities during the roaring twenties included a men’s nine-hole golf course, an amusement park at a nearby artificial lake, and a summer resort on McCoy’s Lake. During this decade, businesses and banks prospered.

Business and construction slowed down significantly in the next several decades. The Great Depression and World War II played a large role in that. Although businesses were not growing as much as they had been, people still shopped and transacted governmental business downtown. Only one major civic building was constructed during this time, the Post Office, in 1931.