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This sketch, artist unknown, allegedly depicts the sale of lots at Matthias Nowland's cabin. Various primary sources, however, indicate that there were large crowds of people. The sketch, nonetheless, may give a sense of what the auction must have looked like.
Nowland, Sketches, opposite 33.
A Crowd Gathers
During the first week in October 1821 Indianapolis was overflowing with people. They had gathered for the opportunity to buy land in the new state capital.
The sale had been advertised since June 10, 1821. By law the commissioners had to announce the sale at least three months ahead of time in three newspapers. The advertisement below is a sample.
Sarah Fletcher, wife of Calvin Fletcher, wrote in her diary,
October the 8th. The sale of lots commenced near our house-a large concourse of people were present.
The four taverns were completely full. Many people stayed in private homes or camped out.
Peter Van Arsdale (1787-1857) was one of many who went to Indianapolis seeking to buy land. He wrote the following:
. . . during the summer 1821 the town of Indianapolis was Advertized for sale. about the first of October, a number of us concluded to attend that sale, accordingly we made up a larg company of the Smalls [?] Demotts &c. and we took a waggon to carry our provision and otherr lugage, we had a company of ten. six were connected with the waggon four rode on horsback and campd together every night . . .
The sale was held at Matthias Nowland's cabin, starting October 8, a cold and very windy day. Major Thomas Carter was the auctioneer, and James M. Ray was the clerk.
Jesse McKay made the first purchase paying $152.75 for lot three in square seventy.
The sale lasted a week. John Carr, the state agent in charge of the land sales, paid the highest price for any lot- $572.00 for lot twelve in square fifty-seven.
A total of three hundred and fourteen lots were sold for a total of $35,596.25; $7,119.25 was paid in cash.
It would take the next fifty years to sell all of the original donation land, with the last recorded receipt in 1871. The total amount received for the entire donation land was less than $125,000.
Section twenty-three of the January 6, 1821 act specified that money received from the sale of lots would be used to erect public buildings. The money allowed for the construction of the clerk's office, the governor's mansion in the circle (now Monument Circle), a house and office for the state treasurer, the first Marion County courthouse, and the first state house. Part of the money went toward construction of the first state prison in Jeffersonville.
Sources: Dunn, Greater Indianapolis; Thornbrough, Diary of Calvin Fletcher; Nowland, Early Reminiscences; Peter Van Arsdale, A History. Written by Himself (handwritten manuscript), Peter Van Arsdale Collection, Indiana State Library, Indiana Division, Manuscripts.