History, Preservation, Road Trips

Elias Conwell may have been a rascal, but he sure had a nice house

One of my favorite stops on my 2008 Michigan Road trips was Napoleon, a little town in Ripley County, Indiana. A grand old home stands where the road intersects with Wilson St. there, and when I photographed it I wondered about its history.

Elias Conwell House, Napoleon, Indiana

The home’s owner saw this photo in my trip writeup and e-mailed me to fill in some details. The house was built in 1822 by Elias Conwell. I’m not aware of any houses older than this on the Michigan Road! It was restored several years ago to its 1820s appearance; it has eight working fireplaces. It’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

I did a little research on Mr. Conwell. He was born in Delaware in about 1789 but moved to Aurora, Indiana, in 1819. There he was a postmaster and a businessman, opening Aurora’s first store. It’s not clear when he made his Napoleon home his primary residence, as his dealings in Aurora continued through at least the 1820s. Those dealings sometimes landed him in court. In 1823, he was convicted of assaulting another prominent Aurora businessman named Horace Bassett, for which the penalty was a $2 fine plus court costs. He was also sued in Aurora in 1825, accused of taking unlawful possession of a building belonging to someone named Luke Erill. He lost, but records available to me don’t indicate the penalty.

Despite Conwell’s rascally ways, a street in Aurora is named for him. It seems fitting if nothing else because he was involved in roadbuilding, forming the Sparta and Napoleon Turnpike Company in 1851 with six other men. Sparta is an unincorporated town about nine miles northwest of Aurora on what is now State Road 350. The road was to pass through Milan and Prattsburg (which doesn’t appear to exist anymore) on its way to Napoleon. It looks like the road may have been built; I’m able to trace a likely route among these towns, starting on State Road 350 in Sparta, following some county roads (and places where those roads clearly used to go but which no longer exist), and ending on State Road 229 in Napoleon.

Conwell died in Napoleon in 1862. He was 73.

There’s plenty of interesting history along the Michigan Road. I’m part of a team that’s working to have it named an Indiana Historic Byway. For more information, see our Web site.

Other noteworthy Michigan Road houses include the Fairmount Housethe Boardman House, and the Corbin House.

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11 thoughts on “Elias Conwell may have been a rascal, but he sure had a nice house

  1. Boy, is this timely. The Conwell House joins close to 100 other properties listed on the National Register in the Historic Michigan Road Byway corridor. It is great to know these histories; they certainly make the road come alive.

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  2. Lone Primate says:

    How did you find out those things about Mr. Conwell (and apparently, despite the name, he didn’t “con” all THAT “well”!)?

    An online, US-dollar-denominated inflation calculator I consulted gives the modern equivalent of that $2 fine as $35.36. Horace Bassett must have had it coming. :)

    Napoleon! What an unfortunate name for a town. I think “Wellington” would be much better. But I admit, I may have an imperial bias. :)

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  3. vanilla says:

    I had a little fun with this. Sent a link to my oldest stepson, historian of his family, since there are Conwells in his “tree.” He read your post and advised me that he does have this Elias in his database, but although his Conwells also came from Delaware and lived in the same area (near Aurora), he can’t figure where Elias fits into the scheme. He also sent stuff from HISTORY OF DEARBORN AND OHIO COUNTIES, INDIANA-1885, but nothing you didn’t alread reference.

    Napoleon, Versailles, who were the early settlers in that area?

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    • I am a bit dumbstruck by this link to your extended family! I don’t know anything about the histories of Napoleon and Versailles, and unfortunately a few minutes of Googling them didn’t turn up much.

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  4. Mike Stratton says:

    Sir, Another interesting spot, 5 miles south of Napoleon on the Mich. Rd. is Otter Village, corner of Mich. Rd. and County Rd. 325N. Platted in 1837 by Stephen Andrews, a veteran of the War of 1812, was a stop over point for stock being driven to the Ohio River. Historical marker erected there. Andrews and about 15 Civil War veterans buried there. The cemetery is the only evidence left that the town ever existed. Mike

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    • Mike, thanks for chiming in! I looked up Otter Village on Google Maps. I found the cemetery just west on 325 N. Next time I drive the Michigan Road I’ll stop and have a look! Thanks!

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  5. Pingback: Elias Conwell may have been a rascal, but he sure had a nice house (via Down the Road) « The Historic Michigan Road

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