top of page


Before the first white settlers arrived on the Terre Coupee prairie, the land was inhabited by tribes of Native Americans. A treaty signed on October 16, 1826 between Governor Lewis Cass, Governor James B. Ray, General John Tipton, and the chiefs and warriors of the Potawatomi Indian tribe forcing the Indians to cede their lands to allow for white settlement. The treaty gave 160 acres to each Native American who had attended the Carey Mission School. The school was located near Niles, Michigan and sought to assimilate the Native Americans to the white man’s culture. Potawatomi Indian trader Lazarus Bourissa was one of these men who received land that is now New Carlisle. He lived in a double-pole log cabin that also served as his trading post on the northwest corner of Michigan and Cherry Streets. The area was known at the time as Bourissa Hill.


In 1835, Richard Risley Carlisle (pictured on right) came to the area and purchased Bourissa’s 160 acres                                                              for $2,000. Carlisle platted the town on August 15, 1835. The town came to be known as Carlisle Hill and                                                          was incorporated in 1866 when it was officially renamed New Carlisle. The original plat included the                                                          Michigan Road which was named Michigan Street as well as Race, Arch, Filbert, Front, and Chestnut                                                                  Streets.  Richard Risley Carlisle was born in 1814 in Burlington County, New Jersey. He lived in                                                        Philadelphia before coming to Olive Township where his relatives, the Egberts had settled. Carlisle only                                                             lived here from 1835-1840. He traveled extensively all over the world and was a famous circus and                                                                      theatrical entertainer. He often performed with his two sons, John and Henry. Carlisle performed in Japan                                                            and throughout Europe and one of his circus acts, named the “Risley Act” was listed in the Guinness Book                                                        of World Records. This human juggling act was performed with his sons.


Olive Township was organized in March 1832. The township was named after Olive Stanton Vail who along with her husband Charles had settled on the Terre Coupee prairie. The construction of the Michigan Road in the mid-1830s opened up the area for settlement. The Michigan Road was supposed to be a direct route from Madison, Indiana to Lake Michigan in Michigan City. When surveyors came to the Kankakee Marshes it was impossible to build a road, so the route was redirected to South Bend and continued west through New Carlisle and on to Michigan City. The road was built through St. Joseph County in 1834 and became a major transportation route. Many small villages and towns began to develop along the route. The hotel built in 1838 (below) in New Carlisle served as the stagecoach stop along the road.


                                                                                               Early settlers came from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, southern Indiana, and                                                                                                         Kentucky. They were attracted by the rich soil of the Terre Coupee prairie, a vast,                                                                                                 flat prairie east of the Town of New Carlisle. The pioneers cleared the land, built                                                                                                   their crude log homes and planted crops. Changes came quickly with the coming                                                                                                   of the Lake Shore Railroad. The railroad was built in 1852 through New Carlisle                                                                                                   bypassing several of the other towns such as Hamilton, Plainfield, Richardson and                                                                                                 New Palestine. Before the railroad, Hamilton had a higher population than New                                                                                                     Carlisle, but the railroad changed that and Hamilton, along with the other small                                                                                                     towns virtually disappeared.


New Carlisle, the little town on the hill would grow and prosper with the coming of the railroad. The simple cabins were now replaced with fine wood and brick residences. The availability of lumber and a wide variety of building materials was now easily accessible and more affordable. New homes and businesses were built in the popular styles of the day such as Italianate, Queen Anne, and Gothic Revival. New businesses flourished such as banks, dry goods, grocery stores, drug stores, millinery and clothing stores, doctors, dentists, barber shops, hardware and furniture stores. Other businesses included a livery, blacksmith shop, harness shop, flour and saw mills.


New Carlisle has always been situated on major transportation routes. After the stagecoach days and the coming of the railroad, two interurban lines were established in 1907. In 1908, the South Shore railroad was constructed and New Carlisle became a regular stop from South Bend to Chicago. The first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln highway, was conceived by a group of car enthusiasts and automobile manufacturers. The original route of the Lincoln highway followed the Michigan Road through New Carlisle benefitting the town from the traffic that the improved road created. In 1928, Lincoln highway was moved to U.S. 30.


Religion and education have always been important aspects of people’s lives in New Carlisle. Early                                                              settlers held church services in their homes until they were able to build new churches in which they                                                           could pray and expand their religious beliefs. We are fortunate to have many of those original churches                                                        standing and some still in use today. Education also continues to be a top priority for the community.                                                                    At one time Olive Township had thirteen district schools that provided education to children living outside                                                       of the town of New Carlisle. Those living in the town attended the Carlisle Collegiate Institute (right).                                                            By the early 1950s, the last district school had closed and all children went to the New Carlisle schools.


Community groups and organizations have played a significant role in the betterment of the community.                                                              These organizations and the people involved in them have served as the backbone of the community                                                                always willing to help where needed. Support has come in many forms for the local schools, parks,                                                                      fire department, needy families and the list goes on. 


Over the years, New Carlisle has grown from a mere village to a thriving town. New businesses, schools, libraries, fire departments, homes and the influx of new people have all contributed to the wonderful quality of life that the New Carlisle area provides. The pride and hard work of the people who have called the New Carlisle area their home is evident. The town of New Carlisle and surrounding area is very fortunate to have retained many of its historic homes, buildings, and religious structures as well as its parks and farmland. The citizens, past and present have worked to maintain and preserve these standing reminders of the community’s rich history.

hotel carlisle1.jpg
bottom of page