Darke County Genealogical Researchers > Randolph County Indiana > History of Union City

A History of Union City

Written by Don C. Ward and presented in a radio broadcast from WHIO,
Dayton, Ohio on Sunday afternoon, March 21, 1937. This "Salute to Union City"
radio program was sponsored by the Union City Chamber of Commerce.


Union City, with a population of between 5,000 and 6,000 people, enjoys the unusual distinction of being located on the border line of two great states, Ohio and Indiana, and of two great counties of those states, Darke and Randolph. One of the principal thoroughfares of the city is State Line Street which divides the city into two separate municipalities for governmental and educational purposes. There are two separate city governments, two fire departments, two police departments, two water works systems, two separate school systems. The city has one post office, located on the Indiana Side of the State Line, thus making the address of all residents of the city "Union City, Indiana." This leads to considerable confusion in the mail service. There is one electric light and power service, and one telephone service for the city. Two-thirds of the people enjoy the name of "Hoosiers," while one-third find equal pride in the name of "Buckeyes."

Union City is ideally located near the intersection of the 40th parallel and 85th meridian, with a satisfactory climate and sufficient rainfall. It stands on a ridge on one of the highest points in either state, with an elevation of 1285 feet above sea level. It is sometimes humorously remarked that Union City people are nearer to Heaven than those of other parts of the two states. The city has fine natural drainage in every direction, and an inexhaustible supply of water of best quality. It is remarkably free from storms, floods, and epidemics of disease.

Union City has a most interesting history. In 1848 the ground now occupied by its homes and business district was an unbroken wilderness. In 1849 promoters decided to build lines of railroad which were to converge at the State Line where Union City now stands. One line was to come from Dayton, O.; another from Indianapolis, Ind.; a third from Bellfontaine, O., and a fourth from Columbus, O. Level land, abundant timber, other resources, and the natural location between important cities, determined the location of these lines of Railway. On Christmas Day 1852, the first line of railway was completed from Dayton to the present site of Union City. A few days later the line from Indianapolis was finished, which was the second line of railway to be built in Indiana. and on January 24, 1853, the first train was run from Dayton to Indianapolis.

The transferring of all passengers, baggage, and freight decreed that a town should be started at this point on the State Line. This was foreseen by Judge Jeremiah Smith, promoter and eminent lawyer, who lived in Winchester, Ind. In May, 1849, he purchased from Augustus Loveland, whose log cabin stood south of the present Backstay Machine and Leather Co. plant on Howard Street, 160 acres of land which he platted into 252 lots, the original plot of Union City, Ind. These lots sold rapidly, and by 1858, Union City, which took its name from the union or junction of these separate lines of railway, was a thriving town which had absorbed much of the business of the first little town located at the crossing of the Deerfield and Greenville wagon road and Dayton and Union Railroad to the State Line. This first town established in 1852 boasted of a boarding house, mill, brewery, foundry, several stores, post office, and a four-story building which was to serve as an opera house and hotel. Shortly before the Civil War the post office was secretly moved to the Indiana Side of the town, "on a wheel-barrow in the dark of the moon," according to one tradition. A persistent effort was made to hold the town on the Ohio Side of the Line, but Judge Smith bought a tract of 40 acres lying between the first town and the State Line, and he refused to sell any lots from this tract till 1870, at which time the new town on the Hoosier Side was well under way. Since that time, however, this tract has been platted, sold, and converted into residence and business property.

Superior railroad facilities have been among Union City's greatest assets. These have included the two trunk lines of the Pennsylvania and Big Four, the smaller feeder line of the Dayton and Union; Ohio Electric and Union Traction Co. lines now abandoned and supplanted by bus lines, hard surface roads, many of them state highways, entering the city over paved streets from every direction, giving the city its well known nickname, "Hub of Two States." These lines of railway led the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, who lived many months in this city painting signs, to refer to Union City in his prose sketch, "A Remarkable Man," as "a fussy old-hen-of-a-town, forever clicking over its little brood of railroads as though worried to see them running over the line, and bristling with the importance of its charge."

Union City is in the heart of a rich agricultural region, and is a well-known market for farm and garden products. Three large elevators, two belonging to the Pierce Elevator Co. and one to the John Parent Co., care for the grain. The city has several large manufacturing plants. The Union City Body Co., Sedan Body Co., and is subsidiary, the International Seat Corporation, manufacture large numbers of school busses, city street railway transit busses, and opera chairs which go to nearly all parts of the United States. The Backstay Machine and Leather Co. has a large business making leather trimmings and accessories for automobiles, furniture, and refrigerators, while its subsidiary, the Electrim Co., makes insulation for wiring. The red "73" Creamery manufactures butter, cheese, powdered milk, condensed milk, and will pay a million and a half of dollars to the farmers of this community this year. The Kemper Furniture Co. and Johnston Furniture Co. make furniture; the C. W. Rice Co., window blinds and shades; Champ Products Co., golf bags, carrying bags, musical instrument cases; Bailey Mfg. Co., machine parts; Union City Garment Co., clothing; Imperial Electric Co., and Garner Machine Co., cream tester, windshields, trailer windows; Reit-Price Co., mops, wringers, buckets; Kurative Products Co., poultry feed and medicine; Harrison Co., advertising novelties; Pittsenbarger Co. deals in poultry, produce. Practically every branch of industry is represented.

The city is well supplied with modern retail stores of all descriptions It is almost unique among cities of its size in the Middle West in having three thriving banking institutions, the Farmers State Bank, Commercial Bank and Trust Co., Union Trust Co., and two enterprising daily newspapers, the Gazette and Times. It has three public schools, including two first grade commissioned high schools, and one parochial school, with a combined enrollment of 1,300 students. Each of the high schools has a large auditorium and gymnasium. Both have good scholastic and athletic records. In 1923 Harold White of the West Side School broke the Indiana state high school record for the one-mile run by reducing the time to four minutes 33 and 4/5 seconds. The basketball team of the East Side High School won the Southwestern Ohio District tournament at Dayton a week ago in Class "B" and has just returned from Columbus where it ably represented the district in the Ohio State Tournament, being defeated only by Upper Arlington, the winner of the tournament.

Within five miles of Union City are four consolidated schools, including three first grade commissioned high schools, with a combined enrollment of nearly 1,000 students. The city has active churches representing nearly all religious denominations; and lodges representing the leading fraternal orders. Other active organizations include the Chamber of Commerce which is engineering this broadcast; Rotary Club, Business and Professional Woman's Club, Elks Club, Garden Club, W. C. T. U., Boy Scouts, Campfire Girls, Girl Reserves; several sorority chapters, and many social clubs.

The people of Union City are thoroughly progressive and public-spirited, having placed their city among the first cities in this section to have water works, electric lights, telephones, cement sidewalks, paved streets, sanitary sewers, modern theaters, hotel, Carnegie Library, hospital and clinic. Recent improvements include a $65,000 new federal post office building, rebuilding and electrification of the water works, sewage disposal plant and public park on the West Side, a new $84,000 addition to the school plant on the East Side, together with a new water works plant, public park, and preliminary steps toward a sanitary sewage and disposal plant.

Union City has contributed liberally to almost every profession and vocation in life, and many of its citizens have gained distinction and more than local fame. It has furnished one Governor of Indiana, Gov. Isaac P. Gray, later Minister to Mexico, and buried in our cemetery; Dr. John R. Commons, eminent economist of the University of Wisconsin; Dr. Earl Raymond Hedrick, recently made vice-president of the University of California; Prof. Reno B. Welbourn, nationally and internationally known science lecturer; E. M. Costin, for many years general manager of the Big Four Railway system; and many others, of both the older and younger generations, who cannot be mentioned because of the lack of time.

Union City has made every call made upon it, in war and in peace. In the words of the great Apostle, it is "no mean city," and to everyone it extends a hand of cordiality, friendship and helpfulness.



Transcribed by Billy Joe Baker
Back to DCOWeb's Randolph County Home Page