William Brookfield, the first county surveyor, made the first public surveys in 1829 but it was not until the late 1830's that the first public sales of land were made. Alexis Coquillard and Lathrop Taylor were the first settlers to purchase two adjoining tracts of land for $1.25 per acre from the government in St. Joseph County. These tracts of land would become the foundation for the city of South Bend.
Almost immediately after land became open for sale and after the majority of the Indians were removed, white settlers began pouring into the region. Soon, two counties were organized; St. Joseph and Elkhart. These counties would make up the St. Joseph Valley. At about the same time sales of land were taking place, a board of justices were sanctioned to conduct county business. Justices Berry, Worth, Evans, Ross and McBane met for the first time on the last Monday of May, 1830 in Alexis Coquillard's home. These men were charged with setting up county business and thus appointed a county treasurer, an assessor, a tax collector, two constables, two overseers of the poor, and two fence viewers.
Later, in September 1830, a second meeting took place where Grand and petit jurors for the November Circuit Court were drawn up. No record has been found where this set of jurors were called to duty.
One week later, the board of justices met again at the Coquillard house, this time the commissioners were given three dollars per day each for their services. Their task at this juncture was to locate and name the county seat for St. Joseph County. This particular item of business was a sensitive one because St. Joseph County already had a county seat. On January 29,1830 William Brookfield himself declared the village of St. Joseph the county seat and it was effective April 1, 1830. The village of St. Joseph was drawn up by Brookfield to be located at LaSalle's Portage. This is the very location where LaSalle first stepped foot on the banks of the St. Joseph River. This was also located within the territorial borders of Brookfield's own tract of land. The village of St. Joseph (named so for Joseph, husband of St. Mary, mother of Jesus) was only drawn on paper and had never materialized into an actual village even though it was already declared the official county seat on record.
The absence of an actual village of St. Joseph led Coquillard, Taylor, and others to pay $3000 plus a donation of 15 lots of land to St. Joseph County in order to influence the location of the county seat. This offer was accepted much to the disappointment of William Brookfield and the justices chose South Bend as the new St. Joseph County seat. Parts of South Bend was within both Coquillard's and Taylor's newly owned tracts of land and was a few miles north of the original planned seat.
William Brookfield is said to have left St. Joseph County and the state of Indiana for good after the decision for re-location of the county seat was made.
The fourth and final session of the justices held in the same location as the three previous meetings, dealt with the division of St. Joseph County into four townships. It is these townships and a look into the everyday lives of the pioneers who resided there that will be explored in Part 2 of this topic.
South Bend as the new county seat would prove to be an attractive destination not only for the fur traders already there, but would also serve as a major hub for future industrial growth for many years subsequent to its birth as a city.