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Corydon celebrates 200 years


June 11, 2008
A Corydon man whose hometown was never far from his mind, even when he was visiting dignitaries halfway around the world, was memorialized Saturday morning during a celebration of the first state capital's 200th birthday.

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Kadence O'Bannon holds onto the statue of her late grandfather, former Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon, after a ceremony Saturday morning celebrating Corydon's bicentennial. Seated next to her is her sister, Elle. (Photos by Alan Stewart)
The full-size statue of a seated Frank L. O'Bannon was unveiled to more than 500 people as part of the 90-minute ceremony on the Corydon town square.

"Doesn't his nose look like his nose?" former Indiana First Lady Judy O'Bannon rhetorically asked the crowd after the unveiling.

Frank O'Bannon died Sept. 13, 2003, at the age of 73. He was in the middle of his second term of governor when he suffered a stroke five days earlier. He had previously served as lieutenant governor from 1989 to 1997, and served in the state Senate before that, from 1970 to 1988. Before turning to politics, O'Bannon was an attorney in private practice in Corydon, his hometown.

Raymond Graf of Louisville was the artist who designed the memorial that also includes three pillars that feature the late governor's father, Robert P. O'Bannon, and grandfather, Lewis M. O'Bannon, both whom have political backgrounds. Robert (1898-1987) was a former state senator, and Lew (1864-1943) was the 1924 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and a member of the first Indiana Historical Commission.

"It's not really about them," Judy O'Bannon said of the three men. "They're just the guys who did the job that showed up."

Instead, she said they are "symbols" of how communities can come together to make something happen.

Corydon native Bill Doolittle, the keynote speaker for the program, asked the guests Saturday morning to "travel back in time" two centuries and "paint a picture of our town as it sprang to life."

Most of the stories Doolittle knows about Corydon have been passed down from his father, the late William Brewster Doolittle, who died in early 2003, and Frederick Porter Griffin, the former county historian.

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Corydon resident Tony Short reads the information on one of three pillars that are part of the O'Bannon Memorial. They feature the late governor's father, Robert P. O'Bannon, and grand-father, Lewis M. O'Bannon.
Doolittle described how the town was laid out, "with north and south running streets, and east and west — exactly today as they were then.

"Of course, this carefully mown lawn and the trees around the square are not the trees that stood here two centuries ago," he continued, "but there are trees around Corydon that are 200 years old."

That's when the town of Corydon was founded, after the Proclamation of 1785, which allowed for accurate surveying and the sale of land in new territories, and the Northwest Ordinance that was passed in 1787 by Congress set the stage for the westward movement.

Doolittle said the pioneers who settled Corydon traveled the Ohio River mostly on homemade flatboats from areas that included Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. After they manuevered past the treacherous Falls of the Ohio, they began searching for what Griffin terms as "cracks," or a ravine or mouth of a dry little creek, "any place they could scramble up to the top of those bluffs and plunge on into Indiana," which was largely uninhabited at the time, Doolittle said.

William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Territory of Indiana and military commander of the entire Northwest Territory, purchased land here in 1807 that would be named for him. He later would become the ninth president of the United States.

"Poor guy had to go to Washington and never did get to live in Corydon," Doolittle said.

Harrison not only started the town, he named it after a Greek shepherd mentioned in the song "The Pastoral Elegy," which Beth Bostock and Sharon Simpson sang a portion of during the program.

In 1813, the territorial capital was moved from Vincennes to Corydon. And when statehood was achieved in 1816, Corydon was the capital of Indiana, a distinction it held until 1825, when the capital was relocated to Indianapolis.

"Of course, a lot of history happened here after that," Doolittle said. "A Civil War battle. The Harrison County Fair will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2010. An interesting newspaper rivalry heated up in 1935 ... A great political and public family of Indiana was born here: the O'Bannons ...

"But thinking back two centuries, so much happened so quickly in this town born on the very frontier of America, from a plat book grid of streets with a town square, that became almost in a flash a state capital of a new state," he said. "And then, with the capital moving along with the ever-moving American frontier, the dizzying days were done. And Corydon, which had started big, got to stay small."

"We're just a child," said Pam Bennett Martin, chair of the Corydon Bicentennial Committee and emcee for the event, in talking about the first state capital.

Indiana Ninth District Congressman Baron Hill, State Sen. Richard Young, State Rep. Paul Robertson and Corydon Town Council President Fred K. Cammack each made remarks about the day.

And the Harrison County Commissioners — chairman James Goldman, J.R. Eckart and Terry Miller, along with attorney John Colin — held a brief meeting to pass a resolution: They declared June 7, 2008, the 200th anniversary celebration day for the town of Corydon.

The color guard from Boy Scout Troop 412 presented the flags, and students from St. Joseph School in Corydon led the pledge of allegiance. That was followed by the 113th U.S. Army Band Dragoons playing "The Star Spangled Banner." The band later played "Back Home Again in Indiana" and "God Bless America" while many of the guests sang along.

A barbershop quartet, The Light Brigade, also sang two songs, "I Asked the Lord" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me."

Judy O'Bannon encouraged people to spend time at the memorial.

"I hope when you have a time of quiet by yourself or with a friend or two, you come sit on this bench with Frank," she said, and take time to ponder "what makes me who I am. How can I be part of this life."

After the program, Culver's of Corydon gave away free scoops of custard.

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