The city of Huntington celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2023. Many pioneers settled in this area as early Americans moved westward, but a very few can be labeled as the founders of the town. John Tipton and Captain Elias Murray provided the land and its initial layout, while Joel and Champion Helvey are remembered as town’s first residents.
Elias Murray was born on November 2, 1787, in Montgomery County, New York. During the War of 1812, General William Henry Harrison, made Murray a captain of a cavalry unit from Delaware County, Ohio. In 1824-1825 he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.
Around the same time, John Tipton was a powerful force in the Indiana Territory. He had fought at the Battle of Tippecanoe during the War of 1812. Indiana became a state in 1816 with its first capital located at Corydon. By 1820 there was a desire to find a more centrally-located capital, and Tipton was part of the group commissioned to select a new site, which eventually became Indianapolis.
In 1822, Tipton was the Indiana commissioner who negotiated the Illinois state line between the two states. In March of 1823 General Tipton was appointed by President James Monroe as Indian Agent for northern Indiana, and he moved to Fort Wayne. President John Quincy Adams appointed Tipton as one of three commissioners to negotiate the Treaty of Paradise Spring in 1826, a treaty which provided the lands for building a canal. The federal land grant for the Wabash & Erie Canal was passed on March 2, 1827. Tipton moved the Indian agency west in March 1828, to where the Eel River joined the Wabash in anticipation of the canal opening making land more valuable.
Murray also moved his family from Ohio to start a new life as settlers in northern Indiana, purchasing land in what is now Huntington County. In the spring of 1830, the Murrays became parents of Marcia Murray, the first white child born in Huntington County at “The Bluffs.” They established their cabin just east of Silver Creek Arch in Dallas township.
In 1830, Joel and Champion Helvey settled at the site of the future town of Huntington. Their first building on the banks of the Little River was used by travelers and became known as the Flint Springs Hotel. The Helvey’s home at 736 E State Street is the oldest building in the city of Huntington.
Murray and Tipton first teamed in September 1830, when Murray became Tipton’s land agent. They began making plans for organizing the area, including a future town and a county seat near the Forks of the Wabash. On October 12, 1830, Murray and Champion Helvey purchased U.S. government lands for the town.
Murray was elected to the Indiana House in 1831. Tipton, who had been an Indian Agent and land speculator, was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Murray participated in the key 1831-32 legislative session that voted to begin the Wabash & Erie Canal, which would run through this land and secure it as a key location in the nation’s transportation system.
The Indiana legislature authorized the creation of a new county on February 2, 1832, and the county’s governing structure began on May 5, 1834. Murray named the county after his great uncle Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Once the future of the canal was assured, Murray began working with Champion Helvey to survey and plat the future town. On December 30, 1834, this land was transferred to Tipton, who then deeded 51 lots of the town to the county so that Huntington would become the county seat. That same year, the first permanent hotel of Huntington called Rock House was built by Tipton at the corner of West Park Drive and Warren Street. Standing on the bank of the Wabash and Erie Canal, it was a commercial, political and social center until it was destroyed in 1873.
Murray became the first county treasurer, foreman of a grand jury, a trustee of the county Seminary, and a road commissioner for the state road, which was to run through the county. In 1839, Tipton erected the first Huntington courthouse, a wooden structure, built at the corner of Jefferson and Franklin Street. It served as a courthouse until it was replaced in 1856. Tipton died in April 1839 at Logansport.
The Helveys left Huntington and continued west with their pioneering ways. Joel Helvey took his family across Iowa in 1846, finally settling in Nebraska. Champion Helvey is believed to have made his way to Missouri.
Murray went on to serve another term in the Indiana House in 1841. In 1846, he was chosen by the Miami Indians to help resolve claims with traders before the tribe was moved west. He was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1847.
By that time, Huntington had 150 homes and a population of around 700. On February 16, 1848, Huntington was officially incorporated as a town.
Murray participated in the Indiana Constitutional Convention in October 1850 and was one of the signers of the new constitution. A year later, President Millard Fillmore appointed Murray to be Superintendent of Indian Affairs northern region in upper Wisconsin. After serving as Indian superintendent for several years, Murray moved to Kansas. While returning to Indiana, he fell sick and died near Decatur, Illinois, on June 12, 1859, at age 72. His remains were returned to Huntington and buried in the Masonic cemetery.