TERRE HAUTE —
Alexander Baxter Crane became one of the most successful lawyers on Wall Street.
Crane was a Terre Haute resident for only 11 years but that was long enough for him to become irrevocably linked to the community and the friends he made there.
The son of Abial Briggs and Emma Porter Crane was born April 23, 1833 in Berkley, Mass. He graduated from Amherst College in 1854 and promptly settled in Terre Haute to read law under the supervision of Richard W. Thompson.
Upon admission to the bar in 1856, he associated with William Edward McLean, a prodigy who graduated from Indiana University before he was 20 years old.
Crane helped prosecute several important cases, including the trial against Lewis Bradford for the Aug. 10, 1860, murder of John L. Brooks. Bradford was found guilty on Sept. 14, 1860, and was executed by hanging Jan. 4, 1861.
In early August 1862, Indiana Gov. Oliver P. Morton asked John Pierson Baird, perhaps Terre Haute’s most esteemed trial lawyer, and Crane to establish the 85th Indiana Volunteers in Vigo County. The regiment was mustered in on Sept. 4. Baird was commissioned colonel and Crane was designated lieutenant colonel.
Though Col. Baird and Col. Crane were friends before the war, they were destined to become much better acquainted. Baird had no military training while Crane was only an “inert fourth corporal” of Capt. Mark Hough’s Terre Haute Guards.
Serving as judge before a military commission in Danville, Ky., during late 1862, in Crane’s presence, Col. Baird established a precedent by allowing black witnesses to testify over objections by the defense in a trial against a white defendant.
On March 5, 1863, both Baird and Crane were captured by Confederate troops commanded by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest at Thompson’s Station, Tenn. Baird’s physical health began to deteriorate during the trip during cold weather to Libby Prison in Richmond, Va. A bladder infection caused him incredible anguish.
Baird was released first in a prisoner exchange. “If good fortune had not relieved Baird before the rest of us,” Crane later said, “I think we should have left his body at Richmond as he was breaking down when he left. Baird’s name was called, being alphabetically the first colonel, and he bade me goodbye and left.”
Crane was not present at Fort Granger when Baird was mandated by Gen. James Garfield to hang Confederate spies Col. Lawrence Orton Williams and Lt. Walter G. Peter. Peter’s uncle was married to Martha Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, and Williams’ mother was a cousin to Robert E. Lee’s wife.
Previous columns and “Terre Haute: Queen City of the Wabash” described the incident at Fort Granger at length and extensive treatment of the episode also can be found in “Coburn’s Brigade,” the excellent history by Frank Welcher and Larry Ligget.
After Baird returned to the regiment, Crane perceived the mental impact the hangings had upon his friend. “Though he had gone through the incident with great nerve and with a full sense of responsibility,” Crane wrote nearly 18 years later, “yet he was much overcome by it. His whole sympathies were enlisted for those two men.”
On July 20, 1864, permanent disability forced Baird to yield his duties to Crane, provoking one subordinate to write:
“In every battle [Col. Baird] was our leader … [H]is coolness under fire and sound judgment in maneuvering his command, and his uniform kindness and care for his men has won for him a reputation of which he may be proud.”
Crane steered the 85th Indiana during the Atlanta campaign and Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Meanwhile, Baird returned to Terre Haute and, upon recovering from his several physical ailments, resumed a law practice in partnership with Gen. Charles Cruft, commander of the 31st Indiana Volunteers.
On July 12, 1865, Crane wed Laura Cornelia Mitchell, daughter of Charleston, S.C., lawyer John W. Mitchell. Alexander entered into a partnership at 92 Broadway in New York City with his father-in-law and brother-in-law.
In 1873, Col. Crane was among the first few affluent executives to commute to work in New York by rail by acquiring “Holmhurst,” a palatial residence in Scarsdale, N.Y., founded in 1851. He also became active in community affairs in or around the home. The Cranes raised six children.
Over the years the Cranes acquired more land in Scarsdale than anyone except Caleb Heathcote and transformed Holmhurst into a immense estate. Stones used for additions to the mansion came from quarries in Crane Woods. What became Crane Road used to be a farm lane. Several Scarsdale streets are surnames in Alexander’s ancestry.
There were two cottages on the Holmhurst acreage in addition to the mansion. After Laura Crane’s death on Jan. 26, 1917, Col. Crane lived there with three of his five daughters and a cook until his death April 16, 1930, eight days before his 97th birthday.
A property superintendent, his wife and two workmen and a chauffeur, his wife and a daughter resided in the cottages.
In 1951, the Crane estate was sold to the Trinity Lutheran Church.
Col. Crane did not forget Terre Haute or the friends he made there. He returned periodically for reunions and special events. Baird was not so fortunate. Plagued by the memory of two executions in Franklin, Tenn., he faced another setback while witnessing the Dec. 23, 1869, hanging of client Oliver Anson Morgan, a Civil War veteran.
In 1875, Baird had a mental relapse. On April 1, 1876, he voluntarily entered the Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Indianapolis and died there March 7, 1881, at age 51.
Col. Crane’s eulogy, read before the bar association on March 21, included the following remarks:
“I have never known a man who did more thinking than Col. Baird. He talked law, he thought law, he dreamed law. And he had an intuitive knowledge of men. He read men better than books.
“[S]ince residing in New York I have been … connected with some very able lawyers, but I can truthfully say I have never met a lawyer more able and none so dangerous as an opponent.”
TERRE HAUTE —
Alexander Baxter Crane became one of the most successful lawyers on Wall Street.
Historical Treasure: The 1947 Terre Haute Phillies and the history of baseball in America’s Crossroads
As another spring blossoms, it is time for another season of baseball to descend upon the city of Terre Haute.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: George Lance dominates intercity golf rivalry in 1927
What was expected to be a close match between two Terre Haute golfers for the 1927 Indiana Amateur Golf championship turned out to be a cakewalk.
GENEALOGY: Follow ‘Tips on Caring for Documents and Photographs’
I recently read an article called “Tips on Caring for Documents and Photographs,” by Tamara Hemmerlein, Hoosier Heritage Alliance Coordinator for the Indiana Historical Society
LOOKING BACK: 1988: Teachers issued rubber gloves to use in management of blood, other body fluids
Dorothy Jerse looks back at local history from 10, 25 and 50 years ago as reported in the Tribune and Tribune-Star.
Historical Perspective: Wabash Valley is home to prominent comedy opera stars
Comic opera, a genre consisting of light hearted musicals, was introduced in Europe during the 17th century.
In the 19th century, several female vocalists from the Wabash Valley, earned national celebrity by using that art form to excel.
Looking back: In 2003, Storm rips off half of Honey Creek Fire Department’s roof
A Saturday morning storm ripped off half of the Honey Creek Fire Department’s roof and caused heavy damage in Allendale. Wind gusts topping 60 miles an hour brought down power lines and trees throughout the county. Hail almost an inch thick and 1.5 inches of rain fell in less than an hour.
Abundance of shoe stores existed downtown
Spring to me means putting away heavy winter sweaters and bringing out fun lighter sundresses. It also means the possibility of shopping for a new dress or even new shoes.
Genalogy: Handwriting in 1700s-1800s Copperplate or English Round Hand
The primary style of old handwriting in the mid 1700s through the 1800s is sometimes called Copperplate or English Round Hand. This style of writing is much more recognizable and readable than the older Secretary Hand style discussed last week, and it is much less ornate as well.
The death of Irish Kate Preston
The lifeless body of Catherine Preston, commonly referred to as “Irish Kate,” was found Saturday morning, Oct. 5, 1895, on a sandbar at the western edge of the Wabash River wagon bridge.
Looking back: 2003: Sherertz sets nine-hole school record
Terre Haute North Vigo High School’s nine-hole record at Hulman Links was broken by golf team member Matt Sherertz who shot a 4-under-par 32 in a team-record win over Northview.
Historical perspectives: Railroads were models of innovation and growth in Haute
Railroads have played an important part in the building of our nation and in the history of Terre Haute. It is no small wonder that these amazing machines were turned into children’s toys, as well as models for the more mature train enthusiast.
‘Foreign’ letters to confuse a genealogist
Any serious family researcher will at some time or another encounter old documents in an older handwriting style that need to be read and deciphered.
1988: 700 teachers unite in protest
At least 700 teachers were absent from their Vigo County School Corp. schools as part of a job action to protest lack of progress in contract negotiations.
Genealogy: Vigo County Gold Star Honor Roll
FamilySearch International recently announced “the release of significant new enhancements to its web services that allow visitors to collaboratively build their family tree online, preserve and share precious family photos and stories, and receive personal research assistance–all for free.”
‘Far-sound’ rings in a new era
This week’s Historic Treasure is an invention that changed life, as we know it in a great way, the telephone.
Historical perspective: Venard: soldier in the War of 1812
His name was Stephen Venard. For more than 50 years he resided in Terre Haute, without fanfare, with his wife and a daughter. Much of that time was spent in the 400 block on N. First St.
Looking Back: 2003: Mark Cook brings blues home
Mark Cook returned to Terre Haute to play with fellow musicians in the Cook-N-Blues group at Brazil and Terre Haute.
Historical perspective: Attempted carriage-jacking thwarted
Nineteenth century newspapers covered several topics that might astonish current readers. For example, the front page of the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette on Nov. 16, 1878 – 135 years ago – reported on the bold attempt by four “villains” to rob two women riding in a carriage immediately west of the fairgrounds at Brown and Wabash avenues:
Genealogy: Dutchman seeks family of missing soldier
Query: I live in the Netherlands and recently I have adopted the name of American PFC Joseph P. Nelson at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. He was killed in action on Dec. 5, 1944, and his name is on the Walls of the Missing.
Sewing Society keeps hospital in linen, supplies
When Tracy Pruitt came across a small box of old ledgers and receipt books recently, his first impulse was to throw it away. But he decided to sit down and examine its contents. In doing so, he discovered a story.
Looking Back: 1963: Officials prepare for disaster
City officials were studying survival plans in case of a natural disaster or attack by an enemy source. Gilbert Leonard was the director of Vigo County Defense.
Genealogy: Gold Star Honor Roll: Vigo County
This week continues with the Gold Star Honor Roll (those who died in WW I) from the Wabash Valley. The Vigo County list is long and will be run in three parts.
River boat models capture glory of former culture
In the River portion of the latest exhibit at the Vigo County Historical Society museum are two models of river paddle boats created by Alfred F. Nehf.
Historical perspective: Babe Holland: advocate for equality
Wherever Terre Haute native William Sylvester Holland roamed, he made an impact.
Historical Perspective: Terre Haute’s architectural heritage
Much more than is commonly recognized, Terre Haute has a rich and diverse legacy of landscapes designed by some of the nation’s most talented architects.
Genealogy: A search for names from broken stones
This week there is a query about an old cemetery in Parke County, that is believed to have been destroyed:
Hidden treasures: Laborers phased out by machines
Today’s historical treasure will intone to many people an early experience of practical labor. For others, this artifact might lack a contextual notion.
Looking back: 2003: Two men rob Terre Haute First National Bank
Two men robbed Terre Haute First National Bank’s banking center at Southland Plaza, South Seventh Street and Margaret Avenue. It was the first bank robbery in Terre Haute since November 2000.
Interurban makes city Crossroads of America
Electric transportation is not a new technology. With the arrival of the electric car we are reminded that electric technology has a long history in Terre Haute.
The tale of the Wabash River
On March 14, 1913, the Indiana General Assembly adopted “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” by Terre Haute native Paul Dresser, as Indiana’s state song.
- More History Headlines
- Historical Treasure: The 1947 Terre Haute Phillies and the history of baseball in America’s Crossroads