Soon after Indiana County was formed in 1803, debate began as to where the county seat should lie. There were two possibilities, the first at the fork of Two Lick and Yellow creeks (present-day Homer City), and the second at the geographical center of the county. The latter was chosen after land for the town was given to the county by George Clymer. A wealthy Philadelphia Quaker and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Clymer was also a land speculator who sought to improve the value of his surrounding property. With little settlement before 1810, the borough was not incorporated until 1816.
The town was laid out on five acres with two large public squares, one containing the courthouse and the other designated for several churches ( IN4). Unfortunately, in the mid-nineteenth century, the public squares were sold as lots, what historian William H. Egle called an “unpardonable blunder” in his 1880 History of the Commonwealth (p. 795). With no river or canal nearby, the importance of a railroad to the borough of Indiana was clear. After a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad connected Indiana to Blairsville and Pittsburgh in 1856, transportation of coal and timber became a vital part of the area's economy. The wealth generated during this period can be seen in the many Second Empire and Italianate houses in Indiana, styles popular in the 1860s and 1870s when the railroads boomed. Coal mining created a second economic boom in the early twentieth century, as evidenced by the handsome Beaux-Arts-inspired Old Borough Hall, now the Municipal Building (1912; 39 N. 7th Street), designed by New Jersey architect Herbert King Conklin. He won the borough's c. 1910 competition for this building that combined fire department, jail cells, fire call box, and a truck scale to measure coal shipments. The facade is dominated by a stepped and arched parapet, and three large windows with fanlights; a hose tower rises above the roofline.
Indiana hosts a college campus in the southwest corner of the borough, which nearly doubles the population when classes are in session. While the town-and-gown relationship is strong, the borough's long main street has suffered from the lack of a preservation ethic, despite the excellent restoration of the former courthouse by the National Bank of the Commonwealth ( IN2). Both the borough and the township surrounding it show signs of unplanned and unsympathetic development.
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