Kirklin, Indiana bears the name of its founder, Nathan Kirk, who journeyed from Pennsylvania to the area that would become Clinton County in 1826 and was reportedly its first white settler. Four years later, when the Lafayette-New Castle Road was laid out across Michigan Road, he secured some of the coveted ground near the crossing and opened a tavern there. For many years, the village that sprang there was known as Kirk’s Crossing.
The Bickley Tavern Inn (left) was built in 1830 on the Michigan Road, one mile north of Kirklin. It was used as an inn and tavern until 1852, when it became a residence. Government engineers stayed there while en route to their construction of the Wabash-Erie Canal. It is rumored that Abraham Lincoln slept there while he was on the campaign trail in 1860.
By 1837, several buildings had been erected, including the first general store built of logs opened by Edward Miller and a hotel operated by Nathan Kirk. Around the same time, Kirk converted his tavern into a general store, William Wyncoop built another hotel, and William Benson built an additional general store.
A mid-century housing boom brought many new settlements to the young town, and some of the new residents — such as M.Z. Saylor, the area’s first physician; John Heffner, the first blacksmith; and Columbus Kemp, Kirklin’s first tanner — provided much-needed professional services.
Nathan Kirk died in the spring of 1851, but the town he founded lives on. By the turn of the 20th century, Kirklin’s downtown consisted of four department stores three restaurants, four doctors, three barber shops, two banks, two flour mills, three sawmills, two livery stables, a lumber yard, two meat markets, two furniture stores, two jewelry stores, two hat shops, three blacksmiths, a plumber, an elevator, a newspaper, a funeral home, two harness shops, a brick and tile factory, natural gas, a telephone company, a seven-room school, three secret orders, four saloons, and four churches.
Town streets were dirt or gravel, and even Main Street was a giant mud puddles for much of January through June. Sidewalks were few, and those that existed were made of wood. In the early part of the new century, however, the townspeople’s dissatisfaction over the lack of sidewalks manifested as petitions demanding cement walkways. Citizens fought hard for the improvement and ultimately won. The first concrete sidewalk finished was located on the west side of Main Street and led to the schoolhouse. It was built by O.H. Mann.
The school was built around 1885. Originally, it had only four rooms, until a wing containing two classrooms and an assembly room was added in 1897. At first, the high school was a three-year program. In 1900, the course was expanded to four years. Around 1907, the State Board of Health condemned the building as unsafe and unsanitary, leaving the town to raise funding for a new building, which was completed in 1908 for a cost of $40,000.
Like many small, Midwestern towns, its population began to decline in the late 20th century. However, over the past few years, the town has experienced a rebirth, sparking a renovation and restoration of nearly all the downtown buildings and attracting many new businesses. Today, Kirklin is home to numerous antique & specialty shops, two outstanding restaurants, and a celebrated art museum, all of which attract visitors from throughout Central Indiana — and beyond.
Kirklin is located in Clinton County on U.S. Route 421, originally Michigan Road (Indiana's first north-south route), 18 miles north of Zionsville, and 6 miles south of U.S. 421’s junction with State Road 28.