Isaac Gray was a Quaker who was born in Pennsylvania, moved to Ohio for some years, and settled in Randolph County, Indiana in his 20s. He was a store owner who expanded into banking and grain processing, but he studied law with an eye toward advancing his political career. Shortly after he opened his law office, however, the Civil War started, and he raised a company of volunteers. During his military career, Gray was part of the efforts to repel Morgan’s Raid in the summer of 1863.
Following the war, he unsuccessfully challenged radical Republican (and thorn in Oliver Morton’s side) George Julian for a Congressional seat in 1866. He and Julian would later follow a similar path in leaving the Republican Party for the Democrats. As the focus on slavery diminished and issues such as tariffs and corruption became more prominent, the men found their views less aligned with the Republicans and more with the Democrats.
However, in 1870, Gray was still very much a Republican and had been elected to the Indiana Senate. You may recall this passage from the discussion of Indiana’s (potentially illegal) ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment:
When the proposal was drawing near to consideration, Democrats proposed to bolt again. Republicans resolved to use some strong arm tactics. Several senators claimed to have resigned but they had not left the building. The doorkeeper was told to bring them into the chamber, the doors were locked (apparently locked by a Republican senator by the name of Isaac Gray — who would later become a Democratic governor), and they were counted for purposes of a quorum despite claiming to have resigned.
Despite that history, for the 1884 gubernatorial campaign, Democrats put aside their old resentment of Gray and nominated him to be their candidate. The platform was mostly focused on national issues, but one state issue that was raised was defense of a state law passed by the Democratic General Assembly that took appointment and control of the city police out of the hands of the mayor and placed them with a board appointed by the governor, secretary, treasurer, and auditor of state.
The Democrats that year were boosted by a Presidential ticket that included Grover Cleveland and former Indiana governor Thomas Hendricks for vice-president. The General Assembly went to the Democrats that year and Gray beat Republican nominee William Calkins by about 7,500 out of about 500,000 cast. (An estimated 92.2% of the voting age population cast a vote that year, down from 94.4% in 1880.) Of some note, Eugene V. Debs was elected to the Indiana Senate as a Democrat. While in office, Debs tried to get a worker’s compensation bill passed that would have required corporations to compensate employees for work related injuries. The bill did not get passed and Debs (who would eventually run for President as a socialist five times) did not return to the General Assembly.
Of lesser note, it was during the Gray administration, in 1886, that the Purdue All-American Marching Band was established when the Purdue Student Army Training Corps formed a five member drum corps to play music for the cadets during their morning conditioning. According to Wikipedia, in 1887, Purdue, IU, Butler, and Notre Dame would all form football squads. (On the other hand, the Wabash football Wikipedia entry says that Wabash defeated Butler 4-0 in its first game in 1884, so that’s what I get using Wikipedia as a source.)
In the mid 1880s, transportation — particularly the railroads — was changing the economy in Indiana. Manufacturing in the 1850s was typically something like flour and grist mills. Milling grain was the leading industry at the time. Other industries were related to taking advantage of the state’s natural resources: pork packing, liquor distilling, lumber production.
This sort of industry was giving way to heavier industry that took advantage of new tools and the ability to transport products beyond local markets. And, in 1886, a natural gas boom hit Indiana. Ten years earlier, in 1876, in the search for coal, W.W. Worthington and George Carter bored a test core in Delaware County.
At a depth of 606 feet they ran into “an ill-smelling gas,” that readily ignited, producing a two-foot high flame. It was a natural gas deposit, suffused with malodorous sulfur content. Disappointed that there was no coal to be found, they capped the pipe and moved on.
In 1885, Andrew Carnegie had replaced a good deal of the coal he used for steel making with natural gas. Industries looked for locations with access to natural gas. A major discovery was made in Findlay, Ohio in January of 1886 (initially so powerful a towering plume of fire burned for 4 months.) In Portland, Indiana Henry Sees followed the news out of Findlay, and convinced local investors to form the Eureka Gas & Oil Co. They struck gas in March of 1886.
Meanwhile, George Carter went to Findlay and recognized the smell of the well from the hole they’d dug in Delaware County ten years earlier. He found investors, and on September 15, 1886, his company hit natural gas in Eaton, Indiana, and produced a plume that was reportedly visible in Muncie. This was the beginning of the Trenton Gas Field, spread over 17 counties in east central Indiana.
The people of that time were profligate with what seemed like an unlimited supply of gas. They were spectacularly wasteful. “It became fashionable to erect arches of perforated iron pipe and let them burn brightly day and night for month after month.” There were calls for conservation that were largely ignored. (“In 1893 the State Inspector of Natural Gas wrote, ‘The waste has been criminal and the day of repentance is fast approaching, and can only be delayed by practicing the most rigid economy and unrelaxed efforts in the husbandry of this valuable resource of our State.’”)
Still, the gas boom attracted industry to the area:
“The rapid growth and industrialization that Findlay, Portland and Eaton experienced was repeated again and again in Indiana’s “Gas Belt.” Cities like Muncie, Kokomo, Anderson, and Marion competed to attract new industries with offers of free natural gas, land, railway sidings, and tax credits.”
Lured by the generous incentives, 162 factories were built, creating over 10,000 jobs by 1890. Among these new industries were tinplate mills in Anderson, Gas City, and Elwood as well as 21 new glass factories. “Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing” relocated to Muncie from Buffalo, N.Y.
By 1902, however, the wells were starting to fail and the falling pressure was allowing salt water to creep in. Companies that had re-located to take advantage of the cheap, readily available gas were forced to close. The boom ended as quickly as it started.
At the same time as the gas boom, during the 1880s and 1890s, railroads and interurbans were continuing to grow (pdf). In 1880, there were five major railroads that crossed Indiana to reach Chicago from the east. This established the pattern we would see with our major interstates later on. Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Logansport, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis formed as rail centers. The expanded urban centers also gave rise to the electric interurban railways. With these railways, pretty much all roads led to Indianapolis, showing its dominance of the area. (I’ve experienced this driving back roads with no map, trying to get from one small city to another — very frequently the roads, instead of continuing in a particular direction will start to bend toward Indianapolis. I did not experience this anywhere near as frequently when wandering Ohio back roads.)
The electric railway offered a more flexible and lighter-weight, self-propelled vehicle than the large steam locomotives that required an extensive infrastructure for fuel and water. Within cities, small streetcars could readily navigate the city street grid using electric power provided by a central generating source. Streetcars and interurban electric cars were still heavier than horse-drawn wagons, however, and necessitated increased load-bearing capacity in bridges on streetcar routes.
Indiana, like the rest of the country, was being rapidly transformed by changes in transportation and industry. It must have been very disorienting to the people of the time.
Friday: Isaac Gray’s term continued — including “The Black Day of the Indiana General Assembly.”