Shelbyville history began with the “New Purchase” of 1820, though the city was not formally incorporated until 1850. The “New Purchase” was a treaty between native American Indians signed in 1818 in Ohio that ceded an enormous amount of land to the then United States. The lands that became Shelbyville, Indiana were opened for pioneer settlers after the original occupants vacated two years later.
In the early 1800’s, a gentleman named Jacob Whetzel blazed a wilderness path in the dense woods from Franklin, Indiana, which is now a suburb on the southern side of Indianapolis, to the White River Bluffs not far away. This path became known as the Whetzel Trace, used by many of Shelby County’s first settlers. The county was named for the governor of Kentucky, Isaac Shelby, also well known as skilled soldier in the short-lived Dunmore’s War. Shelby County now encompasses fourteen townships.
Shelbyville was the first town on the western slopes of the Allegheny Mountains to install a primitive, horse-drawn railroad, built of wooden tracks. Today, Shelbyville is a successful and typical Midwest town with a population of 18,000.
The city boasts several luminaries as past and present residents, including Thomas A. Hendricks, who was Vice President to U.S. President Grover Cleveland in 1884 and held other high political offices, including Governor. Bill Garrett, the first African-American to make basketballs’ Big Ten Conference (current conference of Purdue University and Indiana University), and 1947’s “Indiana Mr. Basketball,” hails from Shelbyville.
In other matters in Shelbyville history, the world’s tallest woman, Sandy Allen, spent her last days in the same Shelbyville retirement home as another famous resident, Edna Parker, the world’s former oldest woman.
One of the most historic buildings in Shelbyville, recently restored, is the Shelby County Players Community Theatre facility, which originally housed the Christian Science Church in the early 1900’s.
For generations, the city lived mainly off its furniture businesses, which used the fine local hardwoods in its manufacturing. Today, however, other, more diversified industries are the foundation of Shelbyville business. If Shelbyville history has anything to tell us, it’s that this small Midwestern town has had an exciting birth and adolescence and will continue to thrive for the next several centuries.