It feels like warping back more than 150 years in time when you drive into Centerville, on US 40 and the old National Road in east-central Indiana.
The town’s cobblestone streets have long been supplanted by four lanes of asphalt. But almost everything else about Centerville takes you back. Way back. Like the Mansion House, built in 1840. It has served as the office for the Western Stage Company and as a tavern (think: meal and place to sleep) for travelers. In 1858, the women of Centerville had enough of the gambling and boozing that went on inside, so they axed their way through the door and destroyed all of the whiskey barrels, letting the liquor spill into the street.
Centerville, platted in 1814, predates the National Road. It became the Wayne County seat of justice in about 1818. This log cabin was once the courthouse — but that was before 1818, when the county seat was in Salisbury. As best as I can tell, that town doesn’t exist anymore. The log cabin was dismantled and rebuilt in Centerville in 1952. It’s the last standing log courthouse in the entire old Northwest Territory.
By 1870, nearby Richmond had become by far the largest town in the county, and wanted to be the county seat. But Centerville was determined not to let it go. They went as far as to build a new jail, thinking it would help their cause. It didn’t; the courts ruled in Richmond’s favor. But Centerville wasn’t done fighting. When officials from Richmond came to Centerville’s new jail to get the courthouse’s records, they were rebuffed twice: first by locked gates and then by cannon. That jail, pictured above, is now Centerville’s library — and it still features holes from where iron scraps fired from the cannon pierced the building’s facade. The next day, soldiers came and took the records by force.
Centerville is known as “the city of arches” for five arches built into some of its buildings.
The National Road was once 100 feet wide through Centerville. But the people of Centerville encroached into the right-of-way when they added onto the fronts of their houses in the 1820s and 1830s, narrowing the road to just 65 feet. The arches allowed access to the original buildings.
Today, Centerville is known mostly for its many antique shops. So is nearby Cambridge City. You can spend a very enjoyable day on the National Road in these two towns visiting all of the antique shops. I found an old camera in one to add to my collection. (For the camera geeks in my audience, it’s a Minolta SR-T 202 with a dead meter — but a 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens, for $30.)
My friend Dawn and I walked through Centerville to take in the architecture. An accident had closed I-70, shunting traffic onto US 40 and through Centerville. I had to wait quite some time to get this photo. And it was sobering to walk the sidewalk and feel the semis rumble by just a few feet away. I can only imagine what Centerville was like before I-70 was built and all that traffic had no choice but to drive through here.
Dawn and I stopped for a selfie in front of the mural on the end of the buildings in the previous photo. It was a great day to be on the National Road — sunny and mild.
Centerville is bookended by two great houses: the Mansion House on the east, and this, the 1823 Lantz House, on the west. When Dawn and I last visited, in 2009, the Lantz House was a bed and breakfast. It looks like those days are over now; the house is for sale.
We lingered too long in charming Centerville. Just like last time.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
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Last updated on 27 March 2020 by Jim Grey