The Old Country – a tale of two cities

52 Ancestors

Some folks may interpret the old country to be their immigrant ancestor’s country of origin. But since I am limited on what I know about our immigrant ancestor’s origins, and have already written what I know in previous posts, I’m going to put a small spin on things (you’d think I was getting dizzy from all this spinning I’ve been doing.). The old country – that place that was once country but is now the hub of a community. We have lots of places like that in our family history. Here is a short history of two of them.

Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne started as a post-revolution military outpost in the Indiana Territory. The town itself was not incorporated until 1829, with a population of 300.  The Wabash and Erie Canal increased trade between this frontier outpost and communities back east towards the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. The town was incorporated as a city on February 22, 1840, reaching a population of 2000. The railroad was completed from Pittsburgh to the city center by 1850. Now – why did John Rhoads leave Pennsylvania for Fort Wayne around 1840? Opportunity. Land had opened up, as a younger son of a large farming family in an established community, this was his opportunity to have land of his own.

John and his family arrived in the Fort Wayne area between 1840 and 1850 and purchased land west of the city in Aboite Township. Back then, homes were nearly a mile apart. It was 10 miles from the farm to Fort Wayne’s growing city. As Daniel eluded in his love letter to Mollie Meiser, to go to Fort Wayne from the home farm was an overnight affair and there was a train route to get there (or horse and wagon). This city of Fort Wayne has reached out to encompass this old country. The farm is now a subdivision and it’s a 10-minute drive by car from Fort Wayne.


I have written a little about the Danville Coomer’s. Those mysterious and frustratingly elusive, Coomer’s. They are in many places in Kentucky, mostly Adair County today. But my lovable Coomer’s are well established in Danville, Boyle County. Danville boasts a rich history and is most often called “The City of Firsts”. It is so-called because in Danville:

  • The first Courthouse in Kentucky was built in 1785.
  • The first U.S. Post Office west of the Alleghenies was built in 1792.
  • Was the first Capital of Kentucky in 1785 until it was moved to Frankfort in 1792/93.
  • Was the home of the first Political Club in the West, formed in 1786.
  • Hosted the first state-supported School for the Deaf, which opened in 1823.
  • The first successful operation to remove ovarian cancer was performed by Dr. Ephraim McDowell. 

But before Danville became a thriving small town-city, it was frontier land. And before that, as with all of the U.S., it was wild land in the care of various Native American tribes, among them were the Cherokee, Chickamauga, Iroquois, and Shawnee. Danville was first settled by European-Americans in 1774 when James Harrod led a party of settlers along various rivers into Kentucky and selected nearby Harrodsburg to build Fort Harrod. John Crow, who came with James Harrod, selected the current site of Danville for his outpost, Crows Station.

This initial westward push into Kentucky was followed in 1775 by Daniel Boone who was sent by the Transylvania Company in Virginia to blaze a southern overland route into Kentucky. Daniel followed old Native American trails through the Cumberland Gap and established what is now known as the Wilderness Road. The Wilderness Road connected Tennessee to Louisville – traversing right through Danville. In 1792, when the first post office was open, the mail was transported along the Wilderness road between Bean Station, Tennesse, and Danville, Kentucky. Settlements were far and few between back in those days and forts (or stations) were established mostly for protection against Native American raids.

By 1784, Daniel Walker purchased the deed for a tract of land near Crows Station. Daniel Walker laid out the plans for a new town and Danville was born. Eighty years later, the Coomer’s arrived followed a few short years later by Philip Batey and Mary Duggin’s family. It has now been 236 years and Danville has transitioned from the old country that it once was into today’s modern mid-sized town complete with distilleries, factories, private colleges, and a plethora of stores and dining establishments – a far cry from the old harsh frontier life of James Harrod, John Crow, and Daniel Boone.

Thus the old country in the United States becomes the modern towns and cities.