We’ve outlined in red the location of Conner’s patent over a recent Google Earth aerial photo of the area. Although we have no evidence that William Conner had a trading post within the site, we do know that he never lived here. But it is instructive to understand some of what occurred in or near the 80 acre parcel following Conner’s ownership.
1. 1864: Traders Point is laid out by John Jennings and Josiah Coughran who erected a flour mill on this site. In 1897 the mill was deeded to the Traders Point Church of Christ when they broke away from Ebenezer Christian Church.
2. 1886: Site of Ebenezer Christian Church which is today known as Traders Point Christian Church. (this church has a long history of “moving to higher ground. The original site of Ebenezer Christian Church was south of Wilson Road. Following the dislocation of the Traders Point community in 1962 Traders Point Christian Church built a new facility at the intersection of Moore and Lafayette Roads (today New Life Worship Center).
3. Dandy Trail once intersected with Lafayette Road at this location. As Traders Point grew, this intersection was populated with two gas stations, a restaurant and a grocery store.
4. Site of the original commercial district of Traders, Point Indiana.
5. Site of a dairy farm once owned and operated by J.K. Lilly
6. Site of Cassilly Adam’s 8 acre homestead at the time of his death in 1926
7. Site of J.K. Lilly’s private orchard. (Note the rows of trees still visible today).
So what can we say about Conner’s parcel today? It continues to be filled with irony and surprises. Over 185 years after his patent the parcel is still unpopulated. It is located largely within the boundaries of the Eagle Creek Park and Nature Preserve. And there are no commercial enterprises located within the parcel. The next time you cross Eagle Creek by car on Lafayette Road, or pass under the bridge by boat, remember that this “x” created by the spot where the creek and the road intersect, may once have been a spot where commerce occurred between the native Americans and the first generation of Indiana settlers such as William Conner. Remember after all that Conner’s first wife was the daughter of Chief Anderson of the Delaware Tribe. Conner was a multi lingual Indian scout–as comfortable sitting around the fire in Indian dress with Tecumseh as he would have been entertaining neighbors in his mansion; the first brick home in Hamilton County. Conner was an enigma in his day. And he has left us with many unanswered questions about the true meaning of the term “Traders Point”.
There is another element to the patent that may be even more startling and exciting. Conner’s Traders Point parcel bears striking similarities to his Hamilton County parcel made famous by Conner Prairie, a Living History Museum in Noblesville. Consider the following shared characteristics:
1. Close proximity to Indian activity and settlements (a neighbor of ours claims to have evidence of a native American settlement near their property. I will protect their privacy and disclose their identify and location on a limited basis.)
2. Potential for or known existence of a Trading Post where trade between native Americans and early settlers and traders could occur. (we know Conner had a Trading Post along the White River. We only have the anecdotal evidence of the town’s name to infer a trading post existed near Eagle Creek).
3. large expanse of floodplain bottomland (prairie) that was prone to flooding.
4. creation of levees that decreased seasonal fluctuations in tillable acreage within the prairie lowlands.
5. vast expanses of acreage that are devoted to public use today (Eagle Creek Park and Conner Prairie).
6. Eagle Creek and White River parcels include heavily forested wooded uplands overlooking the prairie where first generation beech, walnut and oak trees have been preserved. This is unusual because it was the tendency of the early farmer and pioneer to remove the first generation of hardwoods to increase tillable acreage. Although the pioneers used some of these cut trees for construction of cabins and out buildings, most of the wood would have been burned in large piles. The pioneers lacked the resources to transport the trees, which were plentiful everywhere and viewed as a nuisance by farmers. There is some folklore that the heavy hardwoods in the valley of Eagle Creek were preserved because Daniel Boone had surveyed the area and carved a bear paw in a Beech tree near Conner’s patent. Challenging topography would have also preserved some of the trees. Both the Eagle Creek parcel and the White River parcel that Conner purchased include both the upland and the low land. Conner would have had the ability to choose the precise location and characteristics of the parcels he purchased and no one would have held a gun to his head encouraging him to acquire land that was prone to flooding, not tillable without tree removal, and potentially inhabited by Indians. So what was his motive for the acquistions if not to establish trade at the spot where trails bisected a navigable waterway.
(south of Conner Prairie there is a private house, built by Eli Lilly and owned by Conner Prairie, known as the Chinese House. It is hidden within a vast forest of heavy hardwoods left untouched by the pioneers.
7. Why would Conner select two sites, both in central Indiana but separated a considerable distance by horseback for two of his first two acquisitions? Was it these similarities in characteristics? Did Conner know something about bottomland farming or harvesting hardwoods?
8. Unrelated to Conner’s motives is the Lilly family coincidence of the 1920s. Around the time J.K. Lilly was acquiring land within Conner’s Eagle Creek patent from depression-ra farmers, Eli Lilly, brother, was doing the same thing in Hamilton County and each would donate their parcels to Purdue University in the 1950s, only to have Purdue transfer its interests in the 1960s.
Purdue agreed to a transfer of the Hamilton County donation to Earlham College when they admitted to Mr. Eli they were not interested in telling the story of the sturdy pioneer. Purdue donated the Eagle Creek parcel to the City of Indianapolis for the creation of Eagle Creek Reservoir and park.
I was employed by Conner Prairie from 1980 to 1982 but it would be years later when, as a new resident of Traders Point, I would trace the legal description of Pike’s first property owner
to the spot where Eagle Creek crosses Lafayette Road. What a fun journey. This discovery of the Conner connection to Traders Point has led me to appreciate the considerable coincidences of these two areas.
And all these years later, can we believe it is just coincidence that attracted one man to two sites that share so many characteristics?