More than a 175 years ago the first settlers came to Alexandria, building a town on the promise of the Indiana central Canal. The canal was to be built from Fort Wayne to Southern Indiana. Within four years however, the railroads that stretched west had made the canal proposition obsolete, and Alexandria was left to make its way on its own merits.
The discovery of natural gas in 1887 changed Alexandria’s face – and fortunes – forever. Local businessmen were quick to jump on the bandwagon of the natural gas boom, and firms such as The Alexandria Company were formed. They offered free fuel, lights and location to manufacturers willing to locate in Alexandria, and boasted “gas enough to manufacture goods of the world.” The response was immediate.
From a population of 491 in 1887, the population grew to 7,221 in 1900. Factories were built to manufacture bricks, plate glass and steel, including the Harper and Cruzen Glass Factory, Lippincott Glass Chimney, DePauw Plate Glass Co., DePauw Window Glass Co., Indiana Brick and Kelly Axe. Businesses were opened to serve the needs of the people who worked in the factories. In 1896, there were nine groceries, five drugstores, four hardware stores, three clothing stores, 12 firemen, seven churches and 15 saloons.
In 1898, the first interurban train ran from Anderson to Alexandria. Charles Henry’s Union Transaction Co., which ran the electric railway system in Anderson, devised the first plan to connect various cities via the electric railway. Eventually, the tracks (which ran down Harrison Street) connected Fort Wayne, Marion, Elwood, Tipton and Wabash. The line from Alexandria to Tipton operated until June 1930, and the Anderson and Marion lines were abandoned in July 1932. The interurban is commemorated in Harrison Square, Church and Harrison streets, where an authentic interurban waiting station is on display.
While the gas boom prosperity came quickly, for those who worked in the factories it was short-lived. As the gas slowly burned itself out in the early 1900’s, some left. Others stayed to build a more economically sound city from the ruins of the gas boom era. By the late 1920’s, five factories thrived in the city: Banner Rock; the Alexandria Canning Plan; Aladdin Industries; and the Alexandria Metal Products Co.
World War II brought prosperity and fame to Alexandria. After surveying hundreds of towns, the United States Office of War Information selected Alexandria as the typical American town and told the world about it in a book called “Small Town, U.S.A.” The booklet was distributed in 1943 when “This Week” magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement similar to “USA Weekend,” told the story of America. Supported equally by agriculture and industry, with 600 men in service and 1,000 workers in war-related industries, Alexandria and her garden clubs, church suppers and tree-lined streets had the image America wanted to project.
Following the war the factories prospered, but slowly the city’s economic base shifted. Once again, Alexandria began an era of searching for industries and employers to pump lifeblood into the city’s economic base. Today, Alexandria is a mix of light and heavy industry, commercial enterprise and bedroom community. What had been a center for industry alone now supports a gospel music company, resin patio furniture producer, an ethanol bio-refinery, and one of the largest tomato product producers in the United States .
Alexandria’s 5,000 residents include those who work locally, those who travel daily to jobs in Anderson, Muncie, and even Indianapolis, and many retirees. All seek the same thing – the atmosphere and ideals that “Small Town, U.S.A” still typifies.