A Cannelton History

According to the dictionary, a history is a written narrative constituting a continuous record in order of time, of importance, and of public events. Events which are considered important are a matter of opinion of the writers.

Thomas J. De La Hunt, Cannelton historian states the City of Cannelton may be said to owe its existence to General Seth Hunt of Walpole, NH, who passing up the Ohio River in the summer of 1835, was attracted by the high grade of semi-cannel coal found in the hills skirting the Ohio River. Later, General Hunt was joined by James C. Hobart of Boston, and on the 23rd day of December, 1837, the American Cannel Coal Company was incorporated by an act of the legislature. Its object was to mine coal at "Coal Haven" and elsewhere , as well as to carry on manufacturing and mercantile enterprises of other descriptions.

A fire swept away most of the hamlet in 1839 and all workmen and their families, except five families, moved away leaving Coal Haven practically defunct.

In 1840, F. Y. Carlile came from Memphis, TN to resume mining and the revised settlement was named "Cannelburg." The town, however, was universally called "Cannelton" and was resurveyed in 1844 by Frederick Conner. The name it now bears was formally adopted. During the forties, the Hon. Hamilton Smith, native of Durham Strafford County, NH, came into prominence in the affairs of the Coal Company. Smith is a name with which Cannelton's history might never have been recorded as it stands. Through his liberal views and good management, Cannelton's rapid progress during this period can be traced.

For the next quarter century, the little town took quite a manufacturing boom and many companies were formed to make various products.

Cotton Mill

The Cotton Mill was built in 1849 - 1851 and was once the largest industrial building in Indiana. It was made of native sandstone and faced the Ohio River with a 280 foot frontage, 60 foot deep and five stories high, and wall three feet thick, but hollow. On either side of the front entrance are twin towers which are 100 feet high. One contained a bell that called employees to work. The building cost $80,000.00 when it was built. Over $175,000.00 worth of machinery was shipped from England to be used there. The mill was financed by southern land owners and local investors. It was patterned after a mill in Lowell, MA. Many young women were brought from England to work in the mill since they were experienced.

The location was perfect for transportation of the cotton from southern plantations, and other needed supplies like the supply of soft bituminous coal suitable for the boilers and steam driven machinery, and the wooded hills for timber.

The mill manufactured Union Army uniforms for the Civil War and war materials during both World Wars.

The mill operated continuously from 1851 - 1954. Since that date, Mid-West Safe Company used the weave shop until new facilities were built east of town, and also was used by Hydro Tex Corporation of Chicago for a short time.

Today the Indiana Cotton Mill is included in the registry of Historic American Engineering Records, and it has been placed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 23, 1975, and the Indiana Historic Landmark Foundation.

Except for special events, the building stands empty today. It was owned by William Conner, who sold it to Hubert and Louis Bruce in 1976. On January 15, 1982, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce deeded the old mill to Historic Cannelton, Inc. which had been organized in the late summer of 1975.

Advertisement to Attract Immigrants to This Region
(Taken from The Cannelton Economist, newspaper during the 1840's)


This town, which is on the Ohio River, about midway between Cincinnati and St. Louis, has grown up within the last eight years to a population of nearly four thousand. Of those, about one-half are emigrants from Germany and its neighboring States, or of German descent. They are employed chiefly in the mining of Bituminous Coals., in the manufacture of cotton, in the freestone quarries, and in mechanic pursuits. The wages paid in the mines, when in full operation, now average monthly: miners, $49; haulers, (boys) $21; outside hands, $35. The best miners often made over $75 a month. The wages paid in the cotton mill average weekly: men, $6; women, $4.50, and children, $2.25. The wages of common laborers are about $1.00 per day, and stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and other mechanics earn from $1.25 to $3.00 per day.

The Germans have services every Sunday, and in their own language, in Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. They have also a large Benevolent Society, which holds monthly meetings. The Free Schools of the town, supported by a general tax and State aid, are open eight months in the year.

Most of the lots in Cannelton and the lands in its immediate vicinity are owned by the coal Company, who will only sell to actual settlers, and with a stipulation for improvement. Prices of both are very low when compared with the prices in other growing towns; and such credits are given as enable the purchasers to make improvements and pay for the property out of their monthly earnings.

The climate and soil of this district are peculiarly favorable to the cultivation of the grape. The Coal Company are very desirous to encourage this branch of industry, and will sell five and ten acre lots for this purpose on a credit of four, five and six years, thus giving the coal miners a double field of labor, and enabling them to pay for the land out of its product. Inferior lands near Cincinnati yield an average of 200 gallons of wine, which usually is sold at $1.00 the gallon.

Lands from four to ten miles from Cannelton which, six years ago, were valued at $1.25 per acre, are now worth from $2.50 to $10.00 the acre. The advance in price is in consequence of the rapid growth of the Town and the increase of German emigrants to the County.

The persons named below are residents of Cannelton, and will give any information desired, in reference to the Town and County.

Rev. M. Marandt, Priest of Roman Catholic Church, Emigrant from Alsace.
Rev. David Angele, Pastor of Lutheran Church, Emigrant from Wirtenburg.
Rev. John Rhymer, Pastor of Methodist Church, Emigrant from Bavaria.
J. Fr. Esch, Pastor of Episcopal Church, Emigrant from Prussia.
M. Dusch, Superintendent of Coal Mines, Emigrant from Grand Hesse.
J. H. Kolb, Notary public, Emigrant from Nassau.
F. Surman, Merchant, Emigrant from Prussia.
C.Keilhorn, Cabinet Manufacturer, Emigrant from Hanover.
Ed. Drier, Merchant, Emigrant from Westphalia.
C. Snyder, Manufact'g. Cotton Batting, Emigrant from Hesse Darmstadt.
N. Caspar, Super't. Spinning in Ind. Cot. Mill, Emigrant from Prussia.
J. & C. Huber, Brewers, Emigrants from Switzerland Canton Zurich.
Bernard Wippach, Master Carpenter, Emigrant from Saxe Gotha.
L. Moehle, Agent German Relief and Ins. Co., Emigrant from Prussia.

On the opposite side of the River there are several Coal Mines being worked, employing about three hundred miners. The Reverdy Coal and Iron Company own an extensive body of lands, and are anxious both to increase their number of miners and to sell or lease their lands upon the most advantageous terms to actual settlers. The timber on the lands of this Company is of the most valuable description, and the soil is highly productive. The leading Proprietors of this Company are,

Messrs. Henry Rodewald & Co.
New Orleans, and
Jennings, Laughland & Co.,
New Orleans.

June 1st, 1857

Perry County Court House

In March of 1856 Charles Mason went before the County Commissioners with a petition for the removal of the County Seat from Rome to Cannelton. The point was not carried and nothing further was done until 1858 when Judge Ballard Smith presented a second petition accompanied by deeds and other pertinent information.

Several petitions asking for the removal of the county seat from Rome to Cannelton were circulated from March, 1856 to the spring of 1858 at which time the necessary two-thirds of the voters signed. It was necessary to raise quite a sum of money for the expenses of the re-locations and the ladies were given much credit for the part they played in this matter. A three-day fair was held at Mozart Hall, typical of the entertainment of the period, and the profit realized was $610.47. Rome stubbornly demonstrated, but with shifting population to Cannelton and Tell City area, the later petition received favorable action. Records were loaded on a barge at the Rome landing and towed by the steamer "Wave" to the new county seat on December 7, 1859 (Rumors are that the records were "slyly" slipped out and away by moonlight).

The latter petition received favorable action and on the 7th day of December, 1859, the offices and records were moved by steamboat down the Ohio River to Cannelton (at night). The first courthouse was a building in the center of the city park. It was formerly a school.

The event of acquiring the county seat was celebrated by a grand ball in Mozart Hall located on the corner of Front and Madison Streets. Here all important civic and social events were held. The hall was destroyed in the 1937 flood.

In 1886 the first city charter was granted to Cannelton and on May 4th of that year, the first regular city election was held resulting in the choice of S. T. Platt as first mayor.

The most important commercial event since the early days was the building of the Huntingburg, Tell City Railroad in the autumn of 1887. The first train trip was on January 1, 1888.

In 1896 the city of Cannelton presented Perry County with a beautiful straw-colored brick court house situated between Seventh and Eight Streets, facing the Seventh Street.

John Bacon Hutchings, Louisville architect, designed the court house. It is an example of the Italian Renaissance style with cut trimmings of Bedford limestone. Its perfectly balanced symmetry of line is an effective illustration of the old proverb, "Beauty is its own excuse for being." The corner stone was laid September 10, 1896.

The Court House Annex site on Eight Street was purchased in December, 1973 and the beautiful, much needed building was completed in 1975.

The new jail and sheriff's home were built during the latter part of 1965 and was put into use in early 1966. The old jail had burned in late August, 1963.

1937 Flood: "It Rained For 40 Days And 40 Nights"

During the last of January and first part of February, 1937, Cannelton, as well as other cities along the Ohio River was dealt devastating flood damage long to be remembered in years to come. Two-thirds of Cannelton was flooded. January 24, 1937 was called "Black Sunday."

Mayor Cleo Livers, with his committee chairman Edward Clemens, had one of the best working organizations along the river in fighting this disaster.

The Cannelton Ferry and Ed Tinsley Ferry at Tobinsport were very helpful in every way possible in carrying supplies and saving livestock and human lives along both sides of the river. Their experiences were comparable to reading fiction.

Can you image a boat landing at the Cotton Mill Office or mooring in front of Lacer Baker's store; or water half way up the front door of the Sunlight Hotel?

The Coast Guard aided greatly in the flood relief work by delivering food, doctors, medicine, and other supplies to resident centers along the river.

Several buildings collapsed and smaller one floated away. Mozart Hall was one which collapsed.

All citizens were urged to be vaccinated for typhoid fever with American Red Cross furnishing the vaccine. All drinking water was boiled and milk pasteurized. The work of the Red Cross was greatly appreciated.

Every home under water had to register for supplies. Several residents said, "It was over the hill to the Poor House." Twenty refugees were housed at this county Poor Farm east of town. Others driven from their homes, took bedding and slept in the Community Building. Meals were served at the High School at 9:00 and 4:00 each day.

The Indiana Cotton Mills' crew provided the city with adequate fire protection.

There was plenty of food for all, but merchants were allowed to sell only a normal supply -- no hoarding!

It was quite a sight to see two 400 pound hogs, belonging to Ed Genet, being towed behind a row boat. Yes, hogs can swim!

Best snap shot was a photo of Elmer Carr carrying an original indoor toilet, commonly called a "slop jar," down Main Street past the Irvin Theater.

Clean-up Time! As waters receded and clean up began, every able-bodied man had to help. "If you don't work, you don't eat," which was a slogan in Jamestown, VA. Peace officers enforced martial discipline. The W.P.A. also rendered excellent services.

After the homes and businesses were cleaned, the residents had to obtain a permit from the State Board of Health. Dr. Miller was the local officer.

According to a Flood Bulletin, in spite of all, you never saw a more cheerful bunch of people. "Carry On" was their motto and that's exactly what they did.

Flood Wall

Looking ahead to the future and remembering the past, a flood wall was erected and completed in September, 1950.

In 1937 when Cannelton celebrated its 100th anniversary, the city was in good financial condition despite the fact the nation was undergoing a depression. Three major industries provided a livelihood for the citizens: the Indiana Cotton Mill founded in 1849, the Cannelton Sewer Pipe Company established in 1908, and the Lehman Company of America. Of the three only the Sewer Pipe survives. The Lehman Company burned in November of 1946 and the Cotton Mill closed in 1954.