history.gif (1327 bytes) Street Smarts:  Tell City's Streets


From presidents and painters to philosophers and poets, the names marking Tell City's streets honor the ideals of its founders.

Vince Luecke
Perry County News
March 19, 1998

The names marking Tell City's Streets are a curious mix of characters, famous and forgotten, natives and foreigners.  In the same city, a street named for a revolutionary is neighbor to a statesman while just blocks away pedestrians promenade on streets honoring presidents, poets and painters.

Some, like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, are counted among our own Founding Fathers.  What about Pestalozzi, Humboldt or Schiller?  Who were they?  What did they do?  And most importantly, why were their names chosen for Tell City's streets?

Some communities have went to less trouble in naming their streets, boulevards and thoroughfares, using names of trees and states for their guide.  Others have no system, designating them at random.

The names marking Tell City's east and west running streets are useful clues to those wanting to study the prevailing attitudes of those who planned its founding 140 years ago.

The traditional story was that these freedom-loving men and women decided to name the streets after those with like-minded ideals, whose actions typified independence, freedom of thoughts and action and personal responsibility.  Tell City residents, the story goes, wanted no name to remind them of the tyranny or oppression they and their forefathers had known in Europe.  Instead they chose men who were statesmen, military leaders and scientists and educators.

Johann DeKalb

Like several of those whose names are honored on Tell City streets, Jean de Kalb (1721-1780) served during the American Revolution.   Born in Huttendorf, Germany, in 1921, the young baron served under the French flag in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War.

With the colonies in America seeking their independence from Britain, de Kalb served as a secret agent.

Along with the Marquis de Lafayette and others, he was offered a commission by the Continental Congress and appointed to the rank of general.  He served at Washington's side through the hardships of Valley Forge.

In 1780 he was named second in command to Horatio Gates in the Carolina Company.  He died Aug. 19, 1780, from wounds received in the battle of Camden.

Arnold von Winkelried

Tell Citians residing on this street should know of the bravery displayed by the legendary Arnold von Winkelried (?-1386).  A true Swiss hero, his legendary deed in the Battle of Sempach on July 9, 1386, remains famous in the annals of Swiss history.

According to the story, which historians consider to be embellished, Winkelried and other Swiss soldiers were in what seemed to be a losing battle against the Austrians under Duke Leopold.  Winkelried single-handedly threw himself against the Austrians line and was hit with all the Austrian spears.  Though Winkelried gave up his life, the Swiss stored the breach and won the battle.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

Tell City students living on Pestalozzi should know their street patron had a major impact on the progress of education.  Known today as an education reformer, Johann Pestalozzi's (1746-1827) early concern was that of poor children, who more often than not received little or no formal training.  Though it later failed Pestalozzi created a home industry project where young students learned and worked as cotton spinners or weavers.

Proclaiming that every child should benefit from education, Pestalozzi stressed the goal of classroom learning should develop students' abilities and that instruction should be tailored to the student from the simplest concept first and then to more complicated theory.  His students were divided by ability instead of age, a concept foreign to his time.

George Washington

Just as it did for new communities across the young nation, the memory of George Washington (1732-1799) and his pursuit of liberty and freedom left a deep impression on recent immigrants who settled in Indiana.  Thus it should be no surprise that his name was lent to one of Tell City's streets.

Trained as a surveyor, the young Washington began his military career as an officer in the French and Indian War.  His success garnered him command of the Continental forces in the American Revolution.  He later oversaw the Constitution Convention of 1787, at which our Constitution was drafted.  He was the unanimous choice for the nation's first president in 1789 and reelected four years later.  He deferred running for a third term, a tradition followed until the 1940s.

Benjamin Franklin

Those living on the street named for Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) should always remember that hard work and dedication can take a person anywhere.  Born the son of a soapmaker, young Franklin left school at the age of 10 and was later apprenticed to his half brother as a printer and publisher.  He went on to become an author, statesmen and humanist.

Curious of the world about him, Franklin was a scientist and inventor as well.  The Franklin stove and bifocals came from his thoughts.  And when it comes to lightening, every child knows the story of Franklin, his kite and a key.

A true statesmen, Franklin pressed prudence in the early struggle for independence.  However, when the time came he was among the staunchest supporter for the colonies' rights.

Peter Paul Rubens

The love of beauty and the importance of art in any community may have been the reason the famed Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) earned lasting memory to Tell City.

Through his career, Rubens directed the painting of nearly 2,000 masterpieces; religious painting for churches across Europe; royal families and even landscapes.

Thomas Jefferson

To the Swiss who founded Tell City, few Americans were held in more esteem than Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), drafter of the Declaration of Independence and the third president.

A true lover of liberty, Jefferson was an advocate of civil and personal freedom.  Representing his beloved state of Virginia in the Second continental Congress in 1776-76, Jefferson was almost the sole author of the declaration that begins 'We hold these truths to be self evident...'  As president he secured the Louisiana Purchase from France, an act that would secure the growth of America.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Perhaps it was their love of music that led Tell City's founding fathers to name a street after the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

A musical prodigy who began composing at the age of four, Mozart was born in Salzburg.  He was precocious and moody and a poor manager of money.  But how he could compose.  His operas, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, were still popular in the mid 1800s at the time of Tell City's founding, as were the concertos and symphonies that carried the name of Mozart.

Baron von Friedrich Wilhelm Steuben

Born in the Prussian city of Magdeburg, Steuben gained fame as the military trainer for forces in the American Revolution.  In Europe, Steuben (1730-1794) saw action in the Seven Years War as a staff officer and later became an aide to Frederick the Great.

While in Paris he met Benjamin Franklin whose words made a deep and lasting impression,.  Upon the encouragement of George Washington, Steuben served with the future president at Valley Forge in 1778.  It was there he undertook the training of Continental Forces and transformed the army of civilian farmers and craftsmen into a potent fighting force.

John Payne

Signs reading Home Sweet Home can still be found in Tell City.  To honor the American actor and dramatist John Howard Payne (1792-1852) city leaders gave him is own street.  Famous for the song Home Sweet Home, Payne was born in New York.  At age 13 he was editing a newspaper and after two years of college embarked upon an acting career.  The song that made Blum famous was first sung in the opera Clare.

Johann Hermann
Karl Hermann

Which of these two German scholars today's Herman street is named for is not clear.  Past accounts have suggested the most likely candidate is Johann Hermann (1772-1848), a German scholar and philologist.  His many books focused on language and grammar.

Karl Friedrich Herman (1804-1855) devoted his career studying ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Plato and Greek culture.

James Watt

If the Tell City Electric Dept. looks for a patron, it need look no further than the Scottish inventor James Watt (1736-1819).   While working at the University of Glasgow, the inquisitive instrument maker created a new type of steam engine.  He later coined the term horsepower, a measure of power we use for everything from sports cars to lawn mowers.  In recognition of his efforts, the electrical measure of watt was named in his honor.

Marquis de Lafayette

The French general and political leader Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) played an important role in the American Revolution despite a share of misfortune in life.

Born of a noble family, Lafayette entered the Army early in life.  When hearing of the foundling revolution in America, enthusiasm over the ideal of freedom and self-determination brought him to our shores.  Upon his arrival in 1777 he was immediately given the rank of major general.  A mentor to George Washington, he shared with him the hardships of that winter spent in Valley Forge.

After the war he returned to his homeland and later tried to restore calm in the wake of that country's revolution.  Imprisoned briefly he was freed by Napoleon.  In 1824-25 he embarked on a glorious return to the United States, where he was welcomed as a hero.

It was on that journey on the Ohio River that his steamer the Mechanic, struck a jagged island near Cannelton and sunk.  His possessions lost but otherwise uninjured, the general gave startled residents a speech before resuming his voyage on another ship.

Displaying a measure of courage, integrity and idealism, Lafayette symbolized the characteristics that those who founded Tell City could call their own.

Friedrich Schiller

One of Germany's greatest literary characters, Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) overcame a forced military career to become one of the founders of German literature.  One of his works, Die Rauber, commented on the evils of political tyranny.

Shiller's works display his high idealism, ethical principles and insistence on freedom and nobility of spirit, something members of the Swiss Colonization Society looked upon with nothing but approval.

William Tell

While historians still question his existence in reality, the Swiss hero William Tell idealized the principles of emancipation that lent his name to the new community on the banks of the Ohio River.

As the legend goes, William Tell was a native of Uri at the time the Swiss were resisting the Austrians.  Gessler, the Austrian bailiff of the canton, decreed all Swiss citizens must remove their hat before his own, which had posted on the top of a pole.  True to his ideas, Tell steadfastly refused.

As a punishment for Tell's actions, Gessler at first condemned Tell to death.  He later offered to release him if Tell was able to shoot an apple off the head of his son with his own bow and arrow.  Tell succeeded, but Gessler was incensed when told that Tell's aim had been less than perfect, a second and hidden arrow was intended for him.

Tell was subsequently rearrested and escaped.   The evil bailiff later met his demise at Tell's hands and the Swiss reclaimed their independence.

Friedrich Wilhelm Humboldt & Wilhelm Freiherr Humboldt

It is for one of the two Humboldt brothers that Tell City's Humbodt Street took its name.

Friedrich (1769-1859) made several overseas journeys, including South America and Cuba.  His field of interest was meteorology and physical geography.  He climbed Andean peaks and later organized meteorological research stations in Russian and British colonies.

A friend of Schiller and disciple of Pestalozzi, Wilhelm Humboldt (1767-1835) is considered one of the great liberalizers of Prussia.   As minister of education he reformed the school system and helped found the University of Berlin.

Robert Fulton

With the rolling Ohio River at hand, it is little wonder a street was reserved for the man given the title (if perhaps by serendipity) "Inventor of the Steamboat."

Born in the farm country of Pennsylvania, the young Fulton (1756-1815) was a true Renaissance figure, whose talents were as varied as gunsmithing and landscape painting.  After a stint painting in Europe, Fulton began designing water craft and even torpedoes.

it was in 1802 that Robert R. Livingston contracted Fulton to design a successful stream-driven craft for use on the Hudson.   The journey of the Clermont in 1807 gained for him a place in history over other less successful steamship pioneers.

Fulton had more concrete ties to Tell City's history.  At one time he owned several hundred acres between Cannelton and Tell City and had hopes of tapping into the area's coal deposits.  After his death in 1815, Fulton's brother, Abraham, moved east to oversee the estate.  He was later killed by a tree near Troy.  Thus today's Fulton Hill.

Robert Blum

The martyr of independence, Robert Blum's death less than two decades earlier must have been well remembered by Tell City's planners when naming their streets.

A man of varied interest, Blum (1807-1848) was a lover of literature and the theater.  As a publisher he helped rally support for growing sentiment against the reigning rulers in Saxony.  Upon the defeat of the citizens, he was arrested with several over lovers of freedom and executed.

Johannes Gutenberg

As the inventor of the moveable type printing press, Johannes Gutenberg (1397-1468) earned himself a berth in history books and Tell City street maps.

Though early details about his life are sketchy, historians believe Gutenberg was born in the German city of Mainz and trained as a goldsmith.  In the 1430s he developed a partnership with others to whom he taught his printing art.  With the goal of reproducing medieval manuscripts, his name is most often associated today with the Gutenberg Bible.