Shelbyville and Shelby County are a part of a huge territory, known as the "New Purchase", which the Delaware and other tribes of Indians ceded by treaty to the United States, October 3, 1818, at St. Mary's, Ohio. The area was not opened for settlement until 1820, the Indians having agreed to vacate the ceded lands by that date.
Jacob Whetzel, brother of the famous Indian-hater, Lewis Whetzel, and of Susan(Whetzel) Goodrich, on of Shelby County's pioneer settlers--who lies buried in the City Cemetary, had obtained from his Indian friend, Chief Anderson of the Delawares, permission to mark a wagon path through the forest from Franklin County in eastern Indiana to the "Bluffs" on White River, south of present day Indianapolis. Within a week after the treaty had been concluded, Whetzel and a few friends began to blaze this wilderness "road", since known as the "Whetzel Trace." The route selected by Whetzel crossed Shelby County in a northwesterly direction a short distance north of present Shelbyville.
It was by way of the Whetzel Trace that many of Shelby County's first settlers came to make new homes. One of them, a squatter by the name of James Wilson, with the help of three of his older sons, erected the county's first cabin near "little" Marion in late 1818. Early in January, 1819, the Wilson family---eleven in all---moved from Franklin to this new one-room, 16' by 16' cabin, and become the county's first settlers.
In 1820 the "New Purchase" was formally opened for settlement and most of the rich farm land which now comprises Shelby County was speedily claimed by purchasers at the Brookville Government Land Office.
The next year, late in December, the State Legislature at Corydon-then the state capital-authorized the organization of Shelby County and the establishment of a county "capital." The name Shelby was assigned to the new county in honor of Isaac Shelby, twice governor of Kentucky and a famous Indian Wars soldier under whose leadership many of the pioneer settlers had served before emigrating to Indiana. The State considered four sites for the county seat, finally deciding on the present location in the center of the county. A donation of 70 acres of land--40 acres by John Hendricks, 20 by James Davison and 10 acres by John Walker-- was a deciding factor. The decision as to the county seat's location was revealed on July 4, 1822, at a giant barbecue northeast of the present Fairgrounds, and was made official the next day.
The county was first divided into four civil townships, but since has been made into its present fourteen townships. Shelbyville is in Addison, the central township.
The first house in present Shelbyville was built by Francis Walker on the lot at the northwest corner of Washington and Tompkins Streets.
On July 4, 1834, Judge William J. Peasley, local railroad enthusiast, built and put into operation at Shelbyville the first "railroad" this side of the Allegheny Mountains. It was an experimental road, horse drawn, ran on wooden tracks, and extended only one and one-fourth miles east from the town to a picnic area on Lewis Creek. Soon it was abandoned. Today the Penn Central Railroad serves Shelbyville.
Shelbyville was incorporated January 21, 1850, by a special act of the Legislature, according to county histories. The city charter received at that time was destroyed in the City Hall fire, January 1, 1928.
One Shelbyville citizen, Thomas A. Hendricks, after serving as Governor and in other high elective offices, became Vice President of the United States in 1884. An active County Historical Society has just completed the rebuilding of his original log home.
Another local citizen, Charles Major, acquired national fame for his excellent and popular novels. One of his books, When Knighthood Was in Flower, was especially successful on the stage and in a movie.
Many other local citizens have achieved honor and fame in the professions, and in other fields of endeavor.
For many years, the chief industry of Shelbyville was the manufacture of high-grade furniture, using the fine hardwoods which grew in abundance in the surrounding area. As the forest gave way to farm land, the furniture business--still important--has ceased to dominate the local manufacturing field. Today Shelbyville is a community of successful diversified industries.