History of Fowler, Indiana

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The history of this community rests on the shoulder's of one man, the Town's namesake, Moses Fowler.  Mr. Fowler, a young man of humble background, came to Lafayette with John Purdue to go into the mercantile business.  Later he became director of the Lafayette Bank and was destined to become its largest stock holder.  Owing to his financial success in this, his most profitable enterprise, and impressed by the land investment of Henry Ellsworth, former head of U.S. Bureau of Patents, he gradually acquired Benton County land.  After Ellsworth's death in the late 1850s, Fowler purchased much land from his estate as well.

He foresaw the opportunity of agriculture, as depending upon draining the swamp land and, building of a transportation system in the form of railroads to transport grain and livestock to available markets.  He and his brother-in-law, Adams Earl, also a financier from an humble beginning, accumulated land in the county totaling over 30,000 acres.  At first the land was used for Fowler and Earl's large cattle herds, with enough grain being grown for winter feeding purposes.  They also leased out large parcels of land for grazing purposes.  Farmers in the area raised corn, wheat, oats and flax.  There were many trappers too.history1.jpg



By 1871, the town of Fowler had begun to emerge.  A few houses (the first house built belonged to Scott Shipman and the second to James S. Anderson), a hotel, operated by William Jones, a grain elevator run by O. Barnard and son and later by Leroy Templeton, a blacksmith shop and post office operated by John Mitchell and a small millinery shop owned by Mrs. Ed Westman – all on land owned by Moses Fowler.  The town was platted in 1872 by Moses Fowler and wife on the Big 4 line railroad and had 583 lots.  Later it was re-platted by Moses Fowler, Adam Earl and their wives because of several jogs made around already established businesses and homes.  In 1873 Fowler was a thriving town and Moses Fowler began to influence his compatriots, especially those that were landowners in the center and western part of the county, to move the county seat to his town – Fowler.  This move fell into line when a Chicago architect condemned the second courthouse.

history2.jpgThat brick structure, that had been constructed in Oxford in 1856, served as courthouse and jail, and had been condemned as unsafe and inadequate.  When a village develops into a town, it must be incorporated, named, and organized and acquire a directive body.  Early in 1875, three residents of the community, William Hughes, J.F. Warner, and John Burns asked for a vote of the people to decide if the area should be incorporated and if the town should legally take the name "Fowler".  Eighty-three votes were cast; seventy affirmatives and thirteen negative.  The town was incorporated, a town board was elected, and soon after a town hall built.

Many years later, in 1955, a new town hall was built on the sight of that first building.  Intended to house the town offices, it also served as the home of the police and fire departments.  Today, it is still the meeting place of the Town's Board, as well as the Fowler Police Department.  By 1900, Fowler had 1500 people and was the largest town in the County, as well as being the County Seat.  It is still both of these today.history3.jpg

               THE FOWLER FAMILY

Moses Fowler, the head of the family of which this memoir treats, was unlike the man who slips noiselessly through life, touching here and there only the lesser interests of the community, and after a quiet, unobserved career, steps from the scenes of his activity, to be missed only by his immediate family.  In the case of Mr. Fowler, his intense nature caused his influence to be felt along almost every avenue of enterprise and legitimate industry within the extensive scope in which he was a masterly operator for a long period of time, thus connecting himself with men of achievement who "do things" for their day and generation, and whose memory is long cherished for the lasting results which their minds and hands have worthily wrought.

Mr. Fowler was the son of Samuel and Mary (Rogers) Fowler, who were descendants of the old Revolutionary stock, and were both reared in Virginia, inheriting the patriotic pride of the Old Dominion commonwealth.  The father was a soldier in the Revolutionary struggle, and both parents removed to Ohio before the birth of their son.  Moses, the chief subject of this biographical memoir, was born near Circleville, Pickaway County, Ohio, April 30, 1815, and remained on his father's farm until sixteen years of age, assisting his father summers and attending school during the winter months.  He next went to Circleville to learn the trade of a tanner, under the direction of James Bell, who owned an extensive tannery at that point.  After serving two years, Mr. Bell was so impressed with the young man's ability and business foresight that he wanted him as a partner in the business, but this offer young Fowler respectfully declined, preferring a clerkship which was tendered him in a dry goods store belonging to an excellent businessman at Adelphi, Ross County.  There he remained about three years, mastering the business and saving his earnings.

The spring of 1839 marked a new era in the life of Mr. Fowler, who was then twenty-four years of age, in the prime of his young manhood and entering the doorway of an eventful life.  At that date he, in company of John Purdue (founder of Purdue University in later years), moved to Lafayette, Indiana, where they established a store of their own.  The only capital Mr. Fowler then possessed (and a part of that was borrowed) was seven hundred dollars.  During the five years following the foundations of the future fortunes of both these young men were laid.  At the termination of this partnership, Mr. Fowler embarked in a similar business on his own account, in his own room, on what is now the corner of Main and Second streets, in Lafayette.  So great was his success that at the end of a half dozen years he was able to close out his store and become an equal partner with William F. Reynolds and Robert Stockwell, under the firm name REYNOLDS, FOWLER & STOCKWELL, in the wholesale grocery business, which at that date required little to no capital.  Mr. Fowler managed the business largely, and purchased the great bulk of the goods.  For seven years this firm conducted the leading wholesale grocery house in Indiana.  Although Lafayette was then but a small village, it was the terminus of the Wabash & Erie Canal, as well as at the head of navigation on the Wabash River.  They had a trade extending over a radius of more than one hundred miles.  So prodigious was their trade that they frequently chartered a whole fleet of steamboats to transport their southern supplies, including sugars, syrups, molasses, coffee, rice, etc., from New Orleans.  The Wabash River then allowed steamboats of the largest magnitude to ply its waters as high up as Lafayette.  Many times from six to eight of these boats might have been seen unloading at the Lafayette wharf.  With large sales and good profits, Mr. Fowler, at the end of a few years, had accumulated a handsome competency and retired from this line of business.  However, he had not ended his career as a business factor in Indiana, for he had really but laid his foundation deep and strong for his future operations.

Two years after his arrival in Lafayette, Mr. Fowler was made one of the directors of the old Indiana State Bank, which position he held until the bank closed up its business.  Subsequently, and after the organization of the Bank of the State, HON. Hugh McCullough, supervisor of all the banks in the series throughout the entire state, selected Mr. Fowler to organize the branch at Lafayette, with a capital of $300,000.  The stock was speedily taken and he was made president of this branch.  This system of banking in Indiana existed for eight years, during which time Mr. Fowler was a delegate to the Bank Board, which held its sessions at Indianapolis and which had charge of all the banks of the branch character within the state.  With one exception, the Lafayette branch was the most successful of all these banking houses.  It was finally wound up to the profit and entire satisfaction of all concerned.

In 1865 Mr. Fowler secured a charter from the United States government to organize the National State Bank of Lafayette, with a capital of $600,000, and of which he was made president.  This was even a greater bank and succeeded far beyond the operations of the former bank which he had been at the head of.  The charter of the bank expired in January, 1885.

Thus Mr. Fowler had been in one way or another connected with the banking business for about thirty years, and desired to retire from the cares and perplexities of the business which had grown to such a magnitude, but when this desire was made known to those with whom he had long been associated, they stoutly protested and wanted him to organize a new banking house in Lafayette.  Chiefly to gratify his old stockholders, he consented to do so.  He was finally led to this step, at the instance of his old-time cashier, Brown Brockenbrough.  He organized the National Fowler Bank of Lafayette, a small national bank of only $100,000 capital, the stock of which he chiefly held himself.  But instead of reducing his business and accompanying cares, he in reality increased it.  His honor as a banker was everywhere known; no one cared what the advertised cash capital of the new bank might be so long as he was at its head.  Deposits soon reached the $1,000,000 mark, a sum equal to all other national banks in Lafayette.  Its growth and financial success and profits were indeed phenomenal.  Had he left no other monument to his great business ability than this banking concern it were sufficient to preserve his name in the minds of the coming generations.

But not alone in the roll of a banker did this man succeed.  In 1861 - the first year of the Civil War period - he organized the firm of CULBERTSON, BLAIR & COMPANY, of Chicago, of which he became a member.  This was a firm engaged extensively in the slaughter of cattle and hogs, doing a general meat packing business.  It was next to the largest plant in that line of business in the entire West.  After eight years, Mr. Fowler withdrew from the firm, selling his share for $250,000.  But his business tact and tendency still urged him on in the direction of other large conquests.  The next speculation was the purchase of large tracts of unimproved lands, in company with Adams Earl, Esq.  Their plan was to put large droves of cattle on these lands, and after partly subduing the land then make farming tracts of it.  These lands were located in Benton County, Indiana.  After 12,000 acres had been purchased, under the first arrangement, Mr. Fowler preferring to be sole owner in the business conducted it on his own account, he having divided the former lands with his partner.  He continued to purchase lands in this county, until he owned in his own right, and in the very heart of the rich county, 20,000 acres.  After having thus secured these lands, he set about the building of a railroad through the same, which line of highway should connect his interests with the great cities of Chicago and Cincinnati, his lands being one hundred miles southeast of Chicago.  He had already had some railroad experience, having been one of the directors of the Cincinnati & Lafayette Railway Company.  This knowledge was now to serve him a good turn.  He, with two other men, organized a company and constructed the Cincinnati, Lafayette & Chicago Railroad, since known as the Kankakee Short Line, being the most important link in the "Big Four" system between Chicago and Cincinnati.   The next stroke of business diplomacy was to move the county seat from Oxford to the town of Fowler, in the center of the county where his landed estate was situated.  This was soon accomplished, Mr. Fowler donating $40,000 to Benton County for courthouse purposes and additional grounds for buildings.  By this improvement, including the construction of the railroad, Benton County was made a county of value and importance, while up to the day of this transformation it had been one of the most valueless, backwoods districts within Indiana.  He verily made the waste places blossom like the rose.

Besides the lands already specified in the narrative, Mr. Fowler owned immense tracts in Warren County, adjoining; also in White County.  In these two counties he owned fully 25,000 acres of land.  In 1886 these lands were valued at an average of $50 per acre.  For more than a decade he, with William S. Van Natta, business manager, was engaged in the cattle business on these lands.   The droves contained 2,000 head of fine cattle, which eventually found their way to the markets of Chicago and the far East.  Among these cattle were to be found about 500 head of the finest Herefords in the United States.  On these broad acres Mr. Fowler had about 10,000 acres planted annually to corn, oats and other crops.  His pastures were carpeted with as fine a growth of blue grass as ever graced the soil of the famous Kentucky blue grass district.  It will go almost without saying that Mr. Fowler became one of, if not altogether, the wealthiest citizen of Indiana.

With all of his immense business operations, Mr. Fowler never shirked his obligations as a loyal citizen of the county, state and nation.  In his politics, he was originally a Whig, tried and true in principle.  When the Republican party was formed he became one of the pioneer members and, while never allowing his name to be up for public office, he ever aided the cause of the political party of his choice.  In the dark days of the great Rebellion he aided his country mightily by both means and personal influence.  Too old to enter the ranks of the Union army himself, he sent a substitute who carried the musket three and more long years.  Gov. Levi P. Morton found in him a wise counselor and confiding friend.  While a man of affairs and largely absorbed, it might seem, with secular matters, yet he ever did his duty as a Christian gentleman, he having been connected with the Presbyterian church from his early manhood.  In Lafayette he was a worthy member of the Second Presbyterian church and for almost thirty years was a trustee in that church.  He was also a trustee of the Wabash College for a quarter of a century.  He, with a few men, donated bank stock to the sum of $30,000 to be used for the support of this institution.

Mr. Fowler was married in 1843 to Eliza Hawkins, daughter of James and Susannah (Jones) Hawkins.  Mrs. Fowler's paternal grandfather was Benjamin Hawkins, of English ancestry.  James Hawkins moved to Ohio from South Carolina, with his parents, who located in Butler County when he was a mere lad.  The date of his birth was January 8, 1788.  The date of his death was December, 1850, his widow surviving him five years.  Politically he was a Whig, and in religious faith both he and his good wife were members of the Society of Friends.  He became a pioneer in Tippecanoe County in 1829.  He was the father of eleven children, Mrs. Fowler being one of the daughters.  Mr. and Mrs. Moses Fowler were the parents of five children--three daughters and two sons.  Two died in infancy.  They were as follows: Annis, who married Fred S. Chase (eldest son of H.W. Chase, of Lafayette), a graduate of Yale College and an attorney of Lafayette.  This daughter, Mrs. Chase, died about 1885, leaving a son whom, in honor of her father, she named Fowler.  The other daughter, Ophelia, married Charles H. Duleme, of Cincinnati, now dead.  The son, James Fowler, after he obtained his education, was associated with his father in business.  More concerning the son will appear elsewhere in this work.

Pre-eminently a self-made man, Moses Fowler forged his way steadily to the front rank of industrial men of his times.  He had but a limited education, no money with which to commence his operations, but did possess that peculiar genius for accumulating wealth that is seldom surpassed in this country.  His judgment was of the best; his acts were always on a "square deal" basis, and among his traits of noble manhood may be enumerated these--honesty, industry, courage, energy, and by the preservation of his self-control and the observance of a courteous manner under all circumstances he was enabled to attain the height of business standards, finally being crowned with ultimate success, and enjoyed an exalted power of influence.

Strange as it may seem, in all of his eventful career he never gave a mortgage on any of his property, save in a case or two where it was given as a matter of form in purchasing some tracts of land.  Again, he never had but two suits at law, and then he was made the defendant and won his judgment against the parties for the plaintiffs in such action.  This is all in contrast to such other men who do a large business on borrowed capital, and are made parties to numerous suits at law, by reason of their overreaching and questionable methods of transacting business with their fellow men.

Not only did he make money fat during the latter years of his business career, but he used wealth for the good of his family and the great busy world of men and women less fortunate than himself.  Finally the end came and this good man and public benefactor passed to this rest on August 19, 1889.  He left a widow and two children, and not only they but the whole state of Indiana mourned his loss.  He had reached the advanced age of seventy-five years.  His was truly an eventful life and a praiseworthy career, of which the world has none too many.