In a few past chronicles, I have recounted certain historical facts about the region of Versailles, in eastern Indiana. The scenic Laughery Creek runs through this region which includes Versailles State Park, the second largest in Indiana. South of Versailles, the stream enters a rugged landscape of high hills, deep ravines and small waterfalls that leap over limestone ledges filled with fossils.
Located in the heart of this area is the hamlet of Friendship, known for its early pioneering activities which have brought thousands of people to this site in the past.
The lower reaches of Laughery Creek, from Hartford Junction to its confluence with the Ohio River, is a good fishing stream. It has a large population of both smallmouth bass and bass.
Laughery enters Ohio south of the town of Aurora. High hills border the Ohio in this section of Hoosierland and offer some of the most scenic terrain in our state. It is a great region to explore or just enjoy the beautiful scenery. Aurora, although not a big city, is rich in history. It was established in 1818 and was first given the name Decatur. It seems that there always was a rivalry between this new town and Rising Sun which was founded in Ohio and competed for the river traffic which was the blood of most towns on the Ohio River.
The name Decatur didn’t ring true for the city’s founders, so it was decided to change it to Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn. To bring down the rising sun, the slogan “Aurora comes before the rising sun” was chosen as the motto. It seemed to have worked as the river bank in Aurora was soon lined with steamboats.
Before the city was established, this area had a tragic place in early Indiana history. George Rogers Clark has always aimed to capture Detroit from the British. After his capture of Vincennes in 1779, Clark became obsessed with the capture of Detroit. In 1781, he embarked on a campaign which he believed would lead to the fulfillment of his dream.
A large force would be assembled at the Ohio Falls and then march overland to Detroit. Clark and a group of soldiers traveled down the Ohio to establish a base camp at the “Falls.” Colonel Archibald Lochry and 107 volunteers from Pennsylvania were to follow and meet Clark.
Lochry had a series of problems as his strength descended the Ohio. He finally reached the mouth of a stream that entered Ohio. His men were tired, so Lochry decided to camp near the mouth of the creek and allow his men to hunt and regain their strength. Lochry didn’t know it would be a tragic mistake.
Joseph Brant, the famous Mohawk warrior, had gathered a group of about 100 Indians and planned to ambush Clark and his troops. Arriving after Clark had already passed and knowing that a second group was also descending the Ohio, Brant and his Indians decided to wait for this force to arrive.
Lochry had hardly set up his camp when the Indians attacked. Running out of ammunition, the Whites were soon defeated and about fifty of them were killed, including Lochry. The rest were captured and taken to Detroit. With Lochry’s loss, Clark was forced to abandon his plan to attack Detroit and was never able to pursue his dream.
The stream where the attack took place on August 24, 1782, was named for the Pennsylvania colonel whose name was later corrupted from Lochry to Laughery. Among the Indians of the Brant group, there was a Miami that would have a very important place in Indiana history, Little Turtle.
A memorial to Lochry and his men can be found in Riverview Cemetery near Aurora. The names of the men killed are inscribed on the memorial. Another battle marker can be found at the south end of the Highway 56 bridge over the creek that doesn’t even have its name spelled correctly.
A famous attraction of Aurora is the Hillforest Mansion. Built by Thomas Gaff between 1852 and 1856, Hillforest is a Hoosier monument. It is in the Italian Renaissance style, but is often referred to as a classic example of “Steam Gothic”. Gaff loved steamboats and had his mansion built with a few columns, circular porches, and a round dome that resembles the wheelhouse of a steamboat.
The materials used in the construction of the house and the furniture sequestered inside were the best money could buy. It is indeed at the top of the mansions of the Indiana Ohio River that the boatmen who went up and down the Ohio, the first gateway to Indiana, spoke.
The Hill Forest Victorian House Museum is open April to December, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. It is located at 215 15th Street, Aurora.