Boom[let] Town

West Terre Haute’s “heyday” was short-lived.  The peak of its prosperity was between the years 1915 and 1925.  It went from a small agrarian crossroads village of about 250 in 1900 to a relatively thriving community of 4500 in the mid 1920s.  The engines of its growth were the railroads and two natural resources: coal and clay.  Coal was the lynchpin.  Besides the small independent mines there were 9 large mining operations in the area.  Clay is often found in coal areas and that resource would lead to four clay plants being established.

This boom which so increased the population also changed the face of the town.  Previously it had been a striking homogeneous population.  For most of its history, West Terre Haute was “home grown” with over 70% Hoosier-born or from the upland south.  In 1850 there were only 47 foreign-born people in the township, and over half of them were the nuns at St. Marys.  But with the “boom” came a different population.  Immigrants often followed patterns where they migrated to places with climatic conditions similar to their homeland (the reason so many Scandinavians settled in northern states like Minnesota) or to where they could find similar work.  Thus the coal mines of West Terre Haute drew those who had been miners in Great Britain, Belgium, France and Germany.  They fueled the growth that is reflected below.

 

West Terre Haute, Ca. 1917, Population 4,100

  • 6 doctors
  • 2 dentists
  • 15 grocery stores
  • 12 Saloons
  • 7 churches
  • 3 Restaurants
  • Blacksmith
  • 4 Clay Pants
  • Soft Drink Bottler
  • 1 Bank
  • Bakery
  • 9 Coal Mines
  • 3 Baseball Teams
  • 2 clothing Stores
  • 2 Hotels
  • Canning Factory
  • Miner’s Company Store

But the mines began to play out in the late 1920s.  With each closure went livelihoods.  So even before the Great Depression West Terre Haute was well on its way to decline.

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