Our fictional village of Prairietown is based on years of demographic and geographic research. The idea was to create a village that was representative of a newly-founded Indiana town in the 1830s. But would the town succeed, or wither away? What factors influenced its fate?
How did Prairietown begin?
In the simplest terms, towns either grew organically due to their natural advantages or were “proprietary towns” located and laid out by individuals or groups for gain. In early America, “organic” towns were those which grew because they were on a navigable river, or convergence of waterways, or ports. New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Pittsburgh are examples of this. Proprietary towns were the second and third wave of town founding in America and their success was more subject to the economy, infrastructure, or available natural resources than organic towns.
Prairietown is an example of a proprietary town. It was “founded” by Dr. Campbell when he purchased the land, plotted the village, and started selling lots. Why there? In our story it is because it is near a river, part way between Indianapolis and Noblesville, and surrounded by good farm lands. He wisely made special offers to mechanics, like a blacksmith and woodworker, knowing that those businesses were needed to attract potential buyers.
Survive or Wither Away?
Would Prairietown have grown and prospered? A case can be made either way (after all, it is fictional). If Prairietown stayed exactly as we show it and didn’t attract any more neighbors or business, our belief is that it would not survive. Why? The Panic (or Depression) of 1837 would have been devastating to a brand new village. Lots would go unsold. Trade would diminish. The White River was not navigable by larger vessels, so steamship travel would not exist to help it grow. It was to be years before the railroad would come. In essence, the economy and lack of other advantages would force Dr. Campbell to give up his dream and Prairietown would wither to be reclaimed by the land and the forest.
If only Dr. Campbell could attract big business here! If only the state would fund a canal project in the area! So many factors could influence Prairietown’s survival. That’s why when you come to visit, you’ll notice that the citizens of Prairietown are eager to find new neighbors. They will be very curious about what skills and assets you might have, and are very likely to encourage you to settle in Prairietown. Be a part of determining Prairietown’s fate!
Find out more about events that could have influenced Prairietown’s fate in 1836, as well as other Indiana towns that survived and others that failed in 1836.