Founding Frontiersman

Madison founder Paul was led
by his sense of adventure

Former soldier became a pioneering visionary

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

January 2010 Indiana Edition Cover

January 2010
Indiana Edition Cover

(January 2010) – John Paul may not be as famous as legendary explorers like Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, but many historians consider his place in history just as significant for his exploration and settlement of vast Indiana territory, including Madison.
Paul not only founded the city of Madison but also that of Xenia, Ohio, during his pioneering travels.
A former soldier of the Revolutionary War, Paul was an adventurer and visionary who helped tame the frontier along the Ohio River. He served in various civic capacities throughout the territory, including a term as an Indiana state senator. He bought and donated land for the establishment of other communities, volunteered in the war of 1812, served as president of a bank, established mills, a ferry operation and even a public water system.
His energy and zeal in all of his endeavors helped countless pioneers as they bravely settled in the dangerous and uncultivated wilderness throughout southern Indiana.
Born in 1758 near Philadelphia, Paul emigrated to Kentucky in 1781, after serving in the War of Independence under the command of Gen. George Rogers Clark.
By 1793, Paul was living in what is now Hardin County, Ky., and became the community’s first clerk and coroner. By 1800, he had moved to Hamilton County, Ohio, and was elected clerk and recorder of that county.
A 1917 “Indiana Magazine of History” said: “Paul’s conscientious attention to detail in keeping the records is still a matter of remark, even to the fact that he could keep his written lines on unruled paper absolutely straight, an accomplishment which county books show to have been rare.”

John Paul Park

Photo by Don Ward

John Paul Park
could become the
site of many more
community events
if an ongoing
fundraising campaign
is successful in securing
the money to add new amenities and repair
the eroding hillside.

While in Ohio, Paul was a delegate from Hamilton County to the First Constitutional Convention of Ohio in 1802, and in 1803, he became a member from the First District of the first Senate of Ohio. That’s when he founded Xenia, which served as the county seat of the brand new Green County in that same year.
By 1807, Paul was ready to move on, so he bought a tract of land that is now the site of New Albany, Ind. Not satisfied with the land, he scouted the area and chose a point along the Ohio River that offered good landings for river traffic, an expanse of flat land for a settlement and rich forests and farmland just beyond. That site became Madison.
In 1809, Paul moved his young family to Madison. In 1795, he had married Sarah Thornberry Grover at Danville, Ky., and together they had four children: Mary Berry, who died at age 2 in 1798; Ann Parker, who later went on to marry Ohio Gov. William Hendricks; John Paul, his only son born in Xenia; and Sarah Grover.
Although the family lived in a small cabin when first arriving in Madison, Paul eventually built a two-story brick house with a central hall. He cleared from his front door to the river, a 400x600-foot area in front of his house. Pioneers following Paul found this to be the only opening in the forest fringe of the river for many miles, and it became their landing zone.
While Paul was filled with the pioneering spirit, it was obvious he liked luxury. From a spring near where Michigan Road runs today, he in 1812 piped water through hollowed logs to his home two miles away. His frontier home even had a bathroom.
By 1811, Paul had established the first ferry service from Madison to Milton, Ky., and he had become the first clerk and recorder of Jefferson County, Ind. His pioneering efforts took a back seat to his patriotism in 1812, when he became a volunteer colonel during the War of 1812.
In 1813, he helped establish two mills in Madison, and the town’s first grist mill at the head of Mill Street. And, although by this time, Paul was a successful land owner, town leader, merchant and patriot, he wasn’t ready to sit in the rocking chair on his front porch.

John Paul Park amphitheater rendition

Rendition of the planned future
amenities at John Paul Park. located
on Third Street in downtown Madison.
A multimillion-dollar fundraising
effort is under way to pay for the
project, which would include an
amphitheater, band shell and shore
up the eroding hillside.

He went on to help establish and become president of the successful Farmer’s and Mechanics Bank of Madison from 1814-1824, served from 1816-1818 as an Indiana State Senator from Jefferson and Switzerland counties, and in 1818 donated the site for Versailles, the seat of Ripley County, Ind.
Paul headed out on horseback in 1827 to the western part of the county to view some horses he had considered buying. Heavy rains had delayed his return and overflowed the banks of Clifty Creek. While his horse was attempting to swim the swollen creek, it fell on the slippery banks. Paul’s head hit a stone, and he laid there unconscious for hours until rescuers found him.
Unfortunately, he suffered from painful and debilitating rheumatism for the next three years, and died as a result on June 6, 1830. Paul was buried in the Third Street Cemetery he had donated to the town during the 1820s.
Although Paul was an important figure in the history of Indiana development, no portraits could ever be found of him. “We did extensive research and have never been able to locate any portraits of him,” said Ron Grimes, historian at the Jefferson County Heritage Center Historical Research Library. “I even traveled to Xenia to look through their records, but we found nothing.”

John Paul ceremony

Photo by Darrel Taylor

A group of schoolchildren from
Madison’s Lydia Middleton Elementary
School take part in a ceremony
Nov. 12 at John Paul Park as Madison
Mayor Tim Armstrong watches.

That didn’t stop schoolchildren in Madison, Ind., during a Nov. 12 tribute celebration to the city founder. The students participated in a portrait contest in which they composed portraits of Paul after doing research projects and writing songs and poetry about him. Hundreds of students from area elementary schools participated, and winning portraits were displayed at John Paul Park, the former cemetery he donated to the community. The portraits were later moved to the library and were on display until December.
“It was great fun, the children loved the project, and we all learned so much about how important John Paul was to our area’s history,” said Lydia Middleton teacher Susan Ohlendorf, who headed the project. “Paul was such a vital part of our heritage. We need to do more to honor him.” Because Paul was a successful entrepreneur and businessman, she suggested the community should name a small business award after him. “We should create the John Paul Small Business or Entrepreneur Award to honor his accomplishments,” she said.
During the celebration at John Paul Park, Mayor Tim Armstrong declared the day, “John Paul Day,” because it was his birthday anniversary. Paul gave the land the park is situated on for use as a city cemetery in 1823. The site was located outside the developed area of the town on a plateau above Crooked Creek and its floodplain. The last burial was in the late 1830’s, and in 1903, The John Paul Chapter of the Indiana Daughters of the American Revolution obtained permission to create a park on the property, which had fallen into serious disrepair.

Jill Keller

"John Paul Park
is an important part
of the community’s
history. We need to
secure it for
the future."

– Jill Keller, John
Paul Conservancy

Paul, his wife Sarah, and other family members were buried in the cemetery, but when it was abandoned, most of the bodies were removed to Springdale Cemetery. Paul and his family were moved to Fairmount Cemetery on the hilltop.
Under DAR leadership, park construction was locally funded through the sale of hand fans, lawn fetes, musicals, flag raisings, band concerts and patriotic celebrations. In 1913 a six-sided stone tool house was constructed on the southwest edge of the park.
DAR leaders also wrote letters to the governors of each of the 13 original American colonies and requested a young tree from their state for the park. The trees were planted in a circular configuration, illustrating the circle design of the Revolutionary flag.
According to records at the Jefferson County Historical Society Research Library, Massachusetts sent an elm tree grafted from the tree under which George Washington took the oath to command the Revolutionary Army at Cambridge. Pennsylvania sent an acorn from the battlefield at Gettysburg. Descendants from the trees remain in the park today.
The park is in serious need of a major restoration and renovation, according to John Paul Chapter DAR representative Jill Keller. The John Paul Park Conservancy’s Board of Directors has put together a three-phased, multi-million dollar project plan that will eventually stabilize and secure erosion on the park’s hillside, add an amphitheater and band shell to the west end of the lower level and fix the drainage situation in the park.
“In the spring, we hope to get engineers to give us estimates on the stabilization portion of the project,” said Keller. The conservancy is researching grant money that may be available for the project. “We will still need matching funds, and we hope the community continues to give to the park,” said Keller. “John Paul Park is an important part of the community’s history. We need to secure it for the future.”

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