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History of West Lafayette back  
Date of Record: November 2, 2008

The History of West Lafayette

Village area

View of the Village area coming up State Street hill toward the Purdue University campus. Photo, ca. 1903, Tippecanoe County Historical Association.

"In the wilderness days, West Lafayette as it is known today was an entire wilderness. Its tangled forests and undisturbed prairies were the haunts of wild beasts and the homes of wandering Indians. Only here and there were to be seen traces of civilization with its many hardships and privations incident of frontier life. Still the same beautiful Wabash River founds its way undisturbed."
- Charles T. Stallard, "Brief History of West Lafayette"

The first group of pioneers settled in the West Lafayette area soon after the town of Lafayette was founded in the late 1820's. Called "Jacktown," this settlement was located at the top of a rather steep hill above the Wabash River at North Chauncey and State streets. In 1836, the first town of West Lafayette was laid out by August Wylie on the banks of the Wabash River, opposite the gravel bar south of the present railroad bridge and near the present West Lafayette Wastewater Treatment Plant. The gravel bar was used to cross the river during low water. The town consisted of 140 building lots. But it never succeeded due to the realization that it was situated on the flood plain of the Wabash River.

Purdue University campus, ca. 1878, Purdue archives.

Next, the town of Kingston was platted up the hill on April 3, 1855. The area consisted of four squares and included the area now bounded by Northwestern Avenue, Salisbury Street, North Street and South Street. A large lot at the northeast corner of the town at North and Salisbury streets was marked off for a school lot. The present site of Morton Community Center - formerly Morton School - was designated as a school site. The land was owned by Jesse B. Lutz and his wife, Jane.

Happy Hollow
The Happy Hollow streetcar line on the wooden trestle over Happy Hollow creek. View southwest toward Grandview Cemetery. Photo, ca. 1900, David Chamber Collection.

The Chauncey family, wealthy land speculators from Philadelphia, purchased neighboring land and on January 16, 1860, the town of Chauncey was platted. The town of Chauncey included the land south of State Street and east of Grant Street to the river, and the land north of State Street and east of Salisbury Street to the river. It included North River Road to the current Water Company Pumphouse and Robinson Street, then a plank road. By 1864, the area included about two dozen homes and five main roads. Everything south of State Street and east of Salisbury Street consisted of forest land.

In January of 1866, a group of interested citizens of Kingston, Chauncey and other surrounding communities met at the Kingston School to organize, incorporate and name the town. They eventually decided to call their town Chauncey in honor of the Chauncey family. The town received its charter in the fall of 1867. On May 21, 1888, the town of Chauncey voted to change its name to West Lafayette after a petition signed by 152 electors, and this change became official on May 28, 1888. The name change was requested because the town of Chauncey did not have a post office, and mail addressed to Chauncey would not be delivered.

Miller Building
The Miller Building, corner of South Street and Northwestern Avenue, ca. 1900. The grocer, Myron B. Morgan, was West Lafayette's first mayor. Photo, David Chambers Collection.

As an incorporated town, West Lafayette was then able to establish its own government and school system. Very few of the original buildings remain, and those that do no longer appear in their original condition.