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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

What Happened Here? The Town

The Ryan family and the Gillespie family from the East, embarked on a keel boat with their possessions, floated down the Ohio and with the aid of poles, came up the Wabash and landed at Small’s Mill in 1818. Other families did the same.



Indiana Centinel, 13 Nov 1819

Thus, seeing another opportunity, John Small added real estate developer and town planner to his list of expanding occupations. He filed a Bill in the Lawrence County Circuit Clerk's office to sell lots at Smallsburg. In 1819 describing the future town as “on the Great Road leading to St. Louis and Kaskaskia in a fertile and healthy tract of country as any in the Western world, there is no site west of the Alleghenies that possesses more local advantages. River navigation on the river L’Embarras allows boats which float on the Wabash at all times to come up to the mill without obstruction.”


Front Street of Small’s village was to be 90 ft. wide. Main and Market Streets which crossed each other at right angles in the public square were each 80 ft. wide and all others are 66 ft. Alleys divided the lots and the entire town consisted of 24 blocks.


To promote the establishment of the town, Small agreed to give a lot to anyone who built a house there within 18 months. The frame, stone or brick house had to be 2 rooms large, not less than 16 ft. square with a window in each wall and 2 fireplaces. How many settlers took Small up on his offer is unknown.


But his dream for the little village was expressed in an advertisement he placed in the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette August 18, 1817.

“John Small Seeking Partner for New Mill at Smallsburg on Embarras River.

“Wherein a partner is wanted, to improve and occupy one of the most eligible and advantageous Mill- seats in the Western world. It is situated in the Illinois territory, within 6 miles of Vincennes, on the great road leading to St. Louis and Kaskaskia, on the river Embarras, which is a stream sufficiently large to afford water to carry on any works that may be thought necessary, at all times – one of the banks of the stream is permanent rock rather of the saponaceous kind impervious to water and easily cut or fashioned, as may be required – the bottom of the stream, opposite the mill is all sheeted with the same.


“The seat lies within one and a half miles of the Wabash River, enjoys all the advantages of the navigation of the same – the circum- country is equal to any section in the Western country for agriculture, and especially for that staple commodity, wheat, as its situation is high and undulating, and of course healthy – the soil of a black loam mixed with sand – the face of the country interspersed with prairies of the most agreeable texture, and in fertility second to none, and for the most part surrounded by luxurious wood lands, and as we may say, it is yet almost in a state of nature, and affords a most advantageous range for cattle, hogs, etc. A number of families have lately settled in the vicinity, and shortly we look for a flourishing settlement there.


“Nature has been exuberant at the seat, as there is scarcely any advantage that the enterprising parties might almost wish or expect that is not to be found there. Take into view the manufacturing of flour largely for foreign markets – a complete seat for a boat and shipyard also, for a brewery, distillery, and tanyard, and a well- equipped tavern is much wanted at present to accommodate the road, and for which it is an excellent stand – there are many other advantages that will appear by taking a view of the premises. There is an excellent sawmill now going, on the spot.


“My primary object is to have erected and equipped a merchant mill with not less than three pair of stones. I will furnish the seat upon equitable terms. It is hoped none will offer that are not of good standing in society, men of enterprise, and possessed of such funds as will enable them to carry on largely. A trio partnership would be preferred, as there is a great field for enterprise.


“I also wish to sell the plantation I now live on, it contains 400 acres, 80 of which is under high cultivation, the fertility of which is second to none, has on it an excellent never- failing spring, well calculated for a brewery or distillery as it has a great fall, situated within 3 miles of Vincennes. The subscriber who lives on the premises will think himself honored by any gentleman’s calling who might have an eye to either of the objects and would take pleasure in showing the same. --John Small”


John Small wanted a tavern at his proposed village as early taverns were important fixtures along the thoroughfares of the Illinois country. These stops offered to weary travelers safe, if austere, overnight shelter, and to locals a gathering place to swap gossip, gawk at strangers, and hear the latest news from Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis, all amidst an aroma of food, liquor, tobacco, man and horse.


From a Bill of Sale signed on July 24, 1821, a description of the tavern evidently built at Smallsburg can be found. Jonathan Marney sold the following property, 4 feather beds, and bedding, one desk, one bureau, one draping bureau (?), one dining table, two breakfast tables, nine Windsor chairs, seven pieces of hollow ware, two cows and calves and one hundred head of hogs, a still and distilling apparatus, and one lot in the town of Smallsburg to John and Robert Marney for $616 dollars.


In anticipation of the successful sale of lots in Smallsburg and the need for carpenters, Jonathan Marney also agreed with Robert Marney that in payment of the services of Robert for one year of employment starting from the February 28, 1819 to February 28, 1820, Jonathan Marney would sell Robert his carpenter’s business and all his carpenter’s tools, namely one broad axe, five augers, five chisels, three hand saws, one cross saw and all his house joiner tools.


In 1821 John Small died, about the same time as the DuBois brothers developed the village of Lawrenceville and it became the county seat, sealing the fate of Smallsburg. The plank road from Vincennes bypassed Small’s village, later known as Brown’s Mill, as did the railroad in the 1850’s. Most of the little village’s residents moved on. Few houses remained by the 1940’s. Today the property is owned by the State.


Friday What Happened Here? The Return to Nature



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