Bluffton was founded in 1838 and was incorporated in 1851, when its population was about 850 persons. In its early years it was a primitive, backwoods village, subject to frequent floods of the Wabash and outbreaks of malaria. The advent of the railroad in 1869, guaranteeing access to distant markets for its numerous wood-products, brought prosperity to the town, while ditching of the numerous swamps in the vcinity reduced the hazards of floods and malaria. The 1890s witnesses the construction of the town’s distinctive downtown Victorian architecture. In past years, pianos, windmills, furniture, shoes, radios, gloves, washing machines, and television tubes were important local products. Today, high-tech industries are increasingly significant locally.
Why Parlor City?
Bluffton, the county seat of Wells County, enjoys the distinction of having been designated many years ago as the “Parlor City of Indiana.”
This fitting name has endured for the last 40 years and no other city of the state has ever attempted to dispute Bluffton’s right to the title.
The city well merits the reputation of being the most beautiful and well-kept city of the Hoosier state. It is picturesquely situated on the south bank of the far-famed Wabash River, crowning high bluffs from which it derives its name and which give it a commanding view of the surrounding country.
It is a veritable paradise, combining health, wealth, beauty, comforts and pleasures, and with its miles of finely-paved streets, handsome public buildings, many beautiful and modern residences, broad and well-kept lawns, hundreds of stately shade trees, modern disposal plant, and perfect model of cleanliness and health, the city is indeed a place of beauty and attractiveness which have won renown as the “parlor city” of the entire state.
The appellation of “Parlor City of Indiana” is traced back to the beginning of the century, possibly two years earlier, following completion of the first big contracts for street paving with modern hard surface material. A visitor to the city first applied the name.
—The Bluffton Evening News-Banner, September 15, 1937
(Note: In 1900, the parlor was commonly the cleanest room in the house and was the room in which guests were entertained.)