How Three Men Founded the Same Town – Seperately
Here’s a pop quiz for you — which Hamilton County town had three founders, but not all at the same time?
If your answer was Atlanta, congratulations! You know your Hamilton County history!
Atlanta is actually a combination of three towns: Spargerville (which sometimes appears as Spargersville,) Shielville (or Shielsville) and Buena Vista. All three were situated within a mile stretch along the Tipton County border.
It appears the first town established was Spargerville, which may explain why I found very little solid information about it. Only a few references appear in the old newspapers, and all of them were written decades after Spargerville was just a distant memory.
The town came into being some time in the late 1830s when former Ohio resident Caleb W. Sparger laid out some lots on his farm. He didn’t bother formally recording a plat at the courthouse and truthfully, Spargerville doesn’t seem to have been worth recording. It was just a few homes and Sparger’s store.
Less than ten years later, Sparger moved back to Ohio. (Census records show his youngest daughter was born here in 1842, while his next child was born in Ohio in 1846.) It’s not clear if any of Spargerville lived on after Sparger’s departure.
(By the way, I’ve used the spelling, “Sparger,” because that’s how it appears in all the Indiana references, but in the census he’s “Spargur” and that seems to be the family’s preferred spelling.)
I haven’t yet seen Spargerville on any map, but according to Shirts’ 1901 county history, it was adjacent to the western border of Michael Shiel’s land.
Shiel, an Irish immigrant, founded Shielville, which was situated about a half mile west of Buena Vista (today’s Atlanta.) Shielville does appear on several maps (although it’s incorrectly labeled “Shieldsville” on the 1866 Hamilton County map.)
At first I was puzzled to see Shiel frequently referred to as “General Shiel” because I couldn’t find any military records to support that title. Finally, I ran across an account of his life written by a relative which stated that, prior to moving to Hamilton County around 1836, Shiel had lived in Pennsylvania and had served in the Pennsylvania militia.
Michael Shiel was a fairly prominent man. His farm, which was split between Hamilton County and Tipton County, consisted of 252 acres. He was the first justice of the peace in that area and was one of this county’s earliest Catholic settlers.
The general laid out Shielville in 1839. For several years the town did well; it had a store, a blacksmith shop and even acquired a post office in 1846. Then, the Peru & Indianapolis Railroad (eventually known as the Nickel Plate) changed all that by setting down track a half mile east of Shielville.
Anticipating the railroad’s arrival, Andrew Tucker purchased the eastern part of Shiel’s land, and on March 21, 1851, he platted the town of Buena Vista. (I’m guessing that name was chosen to commemorate the U. S. Army’s victory at Buena Vista during the recent Mexican War.)
After the railroad came through, everything in Shielville moved to Buena Vista except the post office. It remained in Shielville for several years.
Like Caleb Sparger, I found very little information about Andrew Tucker. I couldn’t even dig up an obituary for him, just a notice in the August 7, 1885 Republican Ledger — “Andrew Tucker died Tuesday Aug. 4, and was buried Wednesday.” (Curiously, that contradicts the August 3, 1886 date on his headstone in Atlanta’s McCarty Cemetery.)
In 1886, the post office was finally moved from Shielville to Buena Vista. Because there was already a Buena Vista post office in Indiana, however, Buena Vista had to have a new name.
That’s when the town became “Atlanta.”
Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at [email protected]