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History of Wabash

"On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away"
~State Song by Paul Dresser
Adopted in 1913


"A man who lives near a river cannot go for long without a visit to the riverbank. Anyone who has lived near flowing water--and most Americans have--know that. The river draws him to it, like a magnet, and on its banks he will stand for hours, simply watching the water glide past. He cannot tell you what attracts him or what holds him there. Perhaps it is the river's beauty. Perhaps it is the current's symbolism of eternal change within eternal changelessness.....But whatever the motive and whatever the nature of the is all the same. A man must go and look at the river now and then. To know America, you have to take a good, long look at the Wabash River. This is not provincial Hoosier pride. Other rivers in America are just as important. But, on the banks of the Wabash, the shape and size of the United States were determined during the Revolution, setting the southern border of Canada for all time at the Great Lakes, rather than the Ohio, and opening the Far West to American development. And on the banks of the Wabash has been nurtured the rare fusion of southern grace and Yankee industry which, for more than a century, has make the Hoosier one of the finest of American types.

They called the river Ouabache originally--the French, who came to the country first, in the seventeenth century. That was their spelling of the Indian word, which meant "white". In those days, before the soil began to erode, the river was white, a glistening silver-white under the summer sun and a pale oyster-white when it reflected a winter sky...Whatever they called it and however they defined its course, they all agreed that it was a beautiful river and its valley a paradise. The Indians gave their lives to keep possession of it. The French sent back to their king glowing reports of its riches. The English fought stubbornly to win and to hold it." And it is on the picturesque Wabash River that nestles the town of Wabash, Indiana. The above description of the Wabash is taken from "The Wabash" by William E. Wilson. With a copyright date of 1940 the book is housed in the Genealogy area of Wabash Carnegie Public Library.

Wabash~the loveliest of the Indiana cities of the third rank is the law seat of Wabash County, Indiana, snugly nestled among the hills on the north and south bank of the Wabash River, commanding a view of the beautiful valley for many miles, a site for attractiveness and healthfulness which is unsurpassed. The city is ninety miles north of Indianapolis, and equally distant from Toledo and Chicago, the distance being one hundred and thirty-seven miles. Wabash County has an area of 413.2 square miles and is crossed by four rivers.

Prior to 1826, all of Wabash County was the hunting grounds of two pastoral tribes, the Potowatomi and the Miami. The Potowatomi were located north of the Eel River, which they called Kennappcomoco. Their primary villages were Pierrish's Village, located at present day North Manchester, and Squirrel's Village at Stockdale further down the Eel River. The Miami controlled the land south of the Eel River. Major Miami villages within the county were Ketongah (at Wabash), Osahomonee's Town (at LaGro), both on the Wabash River, which the Miami call Wah-bah-shik-ki, meaning "white or pure bright water". The last village was Metocina's Village, located southwest of LaFontaine on the Mississinewa River. In 1826 treaties were signed in which Indian lands were to be opened for white settlement. Shortly after the signing of these two treaties, white settlers began moving into the area . The first person to purchase land in what is now Wabash County was Jeremiah Cox on February 8, 1827. Although white settlement had begun, both Miami and Potowatomi Indians continued to own land in the county, particularly along the sides of the proposed canal. Through a number of treaties both tribes eventually gave up further claims to the government. In 1838 and again in 1840 the Indians ceded more land and in 1846 approximately 600 Indians left for the West. Several families had been exempted such as the Meshingomesia, Slocum, Godfroy, Richardville, and Lafontaine families. In 1850 several hundred Indians were still in Indiana, most of whom were living along the upper Wabash River Valley. Many of the descendants of these Indians are still living in Wabash County and are a constant link with our past.

David Burr, with Hugh Hanna, laid out Wabash Town on the site of Treaty Ground at Paradise Spring in the spring of 1834. These men held visions of the town becoming an important port on the Wabash and Erie Canal. In 1835 Wabash County was organized and the town of Wabash was selected as the county seat. In November 1836, Hugh Hanna bought David Burr's half interest in the town for $4,000. He then, as sole owner, became responsible for fulfillment of the various promises made by both proprietors of Wabash Town. The town was built on solid rock, its sidewalks were few in number and were made of planks and were in such bad condition that one ventured out after night at his own peril. Plank roads tied Wabash to the rest of the county. Wabash had two main hotels to meet the needs of weary travelers: The Center House on the northeast corner of Market and Wabash Street, and The Indiana House, patronized mainly by canal travelers, located on the corner of Canal and Huntington streets. Barber shops of the city were called shaving saloons and the barbers were professors. Professor Watson created "great excitement" when he opened his Wabash City Shaving Saloon over Bach's Grocery Store. His rates were 5 cents for a shave, 15 cents for a hair cut, and 20 cents for a shampoo. In early October of 1900, Frederick C. Boyd initiated plans for the construction of an inter-urban which would run at regular intervals between Peru and Wabash. Regular street car service began August 1901 and provided the citizens of Wabash with invaluable service for some 29 years. The end of the era came at midnight on August 29, 1931 and was most assuredly hastened by the deepening depression and the emergence of the automobile.

Early newspapers began the communication flow in 1846 when the first printing press arrived from Logansport for the Argos, the Democratic weekly founded 12 years after Wabash became a town. Some of the early newspapers were: the Gazette 1846-1856, the Intelligencer started in 1854, and the Plain Dealer born in 1866 and continuing today as Wabash's only daily newspaper. Other papers that folded or combined during that time were: the Free Trader, Courier, Times 1884, Daily Tribune 1894, weekly Star, and the Times-Star.

The greatest need of the early settlers was access to a suitable market for the products of their farms, and to meet this demand, the Wabash & Erie Canal was constructed. The building of this extraordinary engineering skill cost an immense sum of money and was one of the greatest and most costly internal improvements ever attempted in the United States, and was completed in time to be opened by fitting ceremonies on July 4th, 1837. The construction of the Canal, and the advent of the advantages resulting therefrom, especially in shipping facilities, made Wabash distinctly a commercial town until about 1870, when the construction of a network of railroads throughout the state caused the Canal to pass into a condition of "innocuous desuetude", and the reaction set in, which was followed by the panic of 1873 and 4, but when the crises passed, a manufacturing era was inaugurated, and the manufacturing period was begun.

Historical Sites in Wabash

On November 15, 1866, the Wabash Plain Dealer had this to say about the 23-year old structure serving as Wabash County Court House: "Stop at the corner of Wabash and Market and take a disinterested look at the old barracks dignified by the name of Court House." Well, the "old barracks" went down in a big fire on April 14, 1870. At the present time, at the Wabash County Museum, there is a calendar salvaged from the fire that hangs on one of its walls. It's slightly charred date still says April 14, 1870. September 1877 contracts were let for a new court house. L & J. Gable, Eaton, O., were given the $72,900 contract. Hezekiah Caldwell, Wabash, made the 1,250,000 bricks used in the building. Stone came from Berea, O. Cornerstone was laid May 8, 1878. The clock was ordered from Seth Thomas Co. Through Henry Graffe, Wabash jeweler. It was installed by the inventor and began regulating the lives of citizens April 23, 1879. The clock weighed 2,000 pounds and its weights were 1,500 pounds each. It was electrified in 1938 after one of the weights fell and almost smashed through to the floor below near the sheriff's office. The new building was dedicated July 4, 1879. In addition to the cost of the building and walnut furniture, some $2, 166 was added for an iron fence, which ran along the east, north and west sides of the public square. Later the fence was used to separate City Park from the Woman's Club House, and still later, it was purchased by the Jewish Cemetery organization. That same iron fence presently surrounds the Jewish Cemetery on Factory Street in Wabash. The first Court House was lighted by candles and later by oil lamps. Quill pens were used. It was heated with wood fires; wood cost 25 cents per cord. Water was supplied from a bucket and dipper. The new Court House was lighted on 134 gas jets, two chandeliers of 12 and 12 of four jets each. Water was carried from a well located on the northeast corner of the square. During the first winter, the county bought 70 tons of soft coal at $3.60 per ton and 20 tons of hard coal at $4.75 per ton. Wood was burned in the fireplaces until 1889, when natural gas was piped to the Court House. February 2, 1880, Common Council allowed Brush Electric Light Co. to make a test of its light in Wabash by placing the light on the dome of the Court House. The test was made March 31, 1880, and proved such a success that the light was permanently installed, making Wabash the first wholly electrically lighted city in the world. Newspaper accounts report: "On Wednesday evening, March 31, 1880 at 8 o'clock, the ringing of the court house bell announced that the exhibition of this new light was about to commence. The crowd had gathered, when suddenly from the towering dome of the court house there burst forth a flood of light the like of which had never been seen in Wabash. The people stood almost breathless, overwhelmed with awe, as if in the presence of the supernatural. This strange, weird light seemed more powerful to the people than the sun itself. It drove the darkness back and out of the entire city of Wabash so that now the people could see to read on nearly all of the streets of the city of Wabash by night."

The Lincoln Monument that sits atop the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn was placed there on May 31, 1932. The "Great Emancipator" was created by master sculptor Charles Keck and donated by Alexander New the latter being a Wabash native. The following is taken from a story by Homer T. Showalter, the mayor of Wabash at that time: "About May 20 a flat car from Quincy, Massachusetts arrived containing the granite pieces for the base as well as the bronze statue...The foundation had been finished six weeks before by Fred Hoffman, but it required three full days to set the several pieces and lead the joints...In the meantime, Emmanuel Gackenheimer, who operated a drugstore across the street, came over and asked if he might place a container of pictures and newspapers in the hollow space between the blocks. I agreed, and before long we had quite a collection of fruit jars and other containers that people brought in. On the third day we brought over the statue, placed it on top of the granite and un-crated it....I knew at once that we were looking at a masterpiece..."

One of the great names in Wabash History was Mark C. Honeywell (1874-1964). At the turn of the century, Mr. Honeywell started a heating and plumbing business in Wabash. With developments and patents involving hot water heating and damper controls, this endeavor grew rapidly. In 1927 the Honeywell Heating Specialties Company merged with its larger competitor, Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company, to become Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company, now Honeywell, Inc. Mr. Honeywell was president of the company and was later named chairman and chairman emeritus. In the 1930s Mr. Honeywell became very active in Florida where he spent time each winter. He built a home in Miami Beach; and he developed an island, Boca Chita, which is now part of the Biscayne National Park. During the same period, he completed some projects in Wabash. In a wooded area north of the city, he landscaped an extensive formal garden. In the midst of the garden he built a stone replica of a Norman chateau as a studio for making films, one of his favorite pursuits. Today this handsome structure serves as the clubhouse for the Wabash Country Club. In the early 1940s Mr. Honeywell began construction of the Honeywell Memorial Community Center in Wabash as a memorial to his first wife, Olive Lutz Honeywell, and to his parents. He established the Honeywell Foundation to support the center and other philanthropic causes in the community. An addition to the Center was built in 1994 which includes a lobby-gallery, restaurant, and a large outdoor activity plaza with a stage. The facilities also include the 1,500 seat Ford Theater with an eight story high stage house, orchestra lift, balcony, outstanding acoustics, and computerized sound and lighting systems. Other rooms include a gym, roller skating rink, and rooms for smaller groups. The Honeywell Memorial Community Center is one of the most unique facilities of its kind to be found in the country. It provides facilities and services for conferences, recreation and cultural programs for the entire community. It is open to the public seven days a week.

Located at 720 N. Wabash Street us the beautiful Honeywell House, home of the late Mrs. Mark C. Honeywell (1896-1974); a cultural center owned and operated by the Indiana University Foundation offering an ideal setting for a variety of artistic, civic, and educational programs ranging from solo recitals and chamber music concerts to lectures and art exhibits. In warm weather, concerts are held on the terrace and the grounds provide a charming backdrop for wedding receptions. Continuing the Honeywell tradition of hospitality, the management offers excellent food as well as overnight accommodations. Inspired by classic themes of French architecture in its massing, hipped roof, and brick detailing, the exterior of the house conveys an elegance that sets the tone for the 14-room interior which includes parquet floors, a historic ormolu stair railing, and Italian marble mantels. It also is home to an outstanding personal collection of antiques which reflect Mrs. Honeywell's extensive travels. Marquetry tables, magnificent chandeliers, porcelain accessories, hand-loomed carpets, and original paintings by well-known Indiana artists combine to create an intimate feeling. A gracious lady, Mrs. Honeywell was a concert pianist, businesswoman, civic leader, and philanthropist. It is said that on warm summer evenings passers-by would stop and listen to the lovely strains of her music as she played on the grand piano in the drawing room. Mrs. Honeywell wanted her home to offer sanctuary and hospitality for musicians, artists, and writers. Through her foresight and generosity, the Honeywell House continues to enrich the cultural life of the community.

Paradise Spring and the 1826 Treaties

One hundred and seventy-four years ago, in the month when "Injun Summer" comes to our land with its riot of color, two important treaties were concluded between the States government and the Potawatomi, and Miami tribes of Indians at Paradise Spring, called Ta Kincomiong, "Running Water Place" located on the northwest bank of the Wabash River in the present city of Wabash. Here more than two-thousand Indians met with Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan, Governor James B. Ray of Indiana, and John Tipton of the Fort Wayne Indian Agency to negotiate Indian land cessions in the state of Indiana. It was picked for the treaty signing because the spring, no longer visible, could provide water for the Indians and government agents involved. When the council fires cooled the Miami and Pottowatomi Indians combined relinquished approximately 900,000 acres in exchange for much needed food, annuities, education, etc.; opening this land to white settlement. The tension of the talks fell with the night. "The Actual Account" Gov. Ray writes in a diary of events:

We were treated to several native dances, one being on a park carefully cleared east of the Wabash, around which a circular path for dancing was prepared with soft leaves for the moccasins. It being night, the limbs of the trees around were lighted with candles furnished by our commissioners. In a leading dance a prominent brave, brightly painted, whirled into the path, keeping time to the music of a rough drum and beating time as he passed around the circle, instantly followed singing behind him by the bright girls, making him thus their favorite. And soon after, as other braves joined the dance, space was left for their sweethearts that chose them as partners, to follow the in the dance. Loud shouting and yelling followed in the choice made by the girls after their favorite warriors, some of whom would have groups of followers, while others would be left to dance almost, if not quite alone, thus receiving the mitten with the jeers of the crowd. With other varieties, the dance was continuing in the best of humor and life when we left them near midnight."

The years have brought many changes to the Paradise Spring hillside. The grounds where the treaty was agreed upon have long been a part of the railroad yards. The Big Four Station was built at the foot of the hill a few hundred feet east of the spring. A road was constructed on the hillside leading down to the station. Historians tell us that the spring water was brought across the road and supplied by gravity a drinking fountain in the station. We can only speculate that perhaps by that time the flow from the spring might have been only a fraction of its original volume. In 1916 the Wabash Chapter of the D.A. R. contracted with homer T. Showalter to set a granite marker at the Paradise Spring site. This was set in a frame built of cobblestones. In 1970 the frame of the marker was damaged, and it was removed. In 1972 the Historical Society commissioned Mr. Showalter to reset the marker, this time in a frame of native Indiana limestone. This stone was obtained from a building dating back to canal days. The design is Mr. Showalter's own. In the 1990s, Paradise Spring has been host to enactments and festivals. There are authentic log cabins erected at the site to add to the long-ago feelings and memories. Paradise Spring was not only the site of the treaty negotiations that opened all of northern Indiana to white settlement, but was the main factor in determining the site of the city which exists today. It is truly a milestone on the road of local, state and national history.

Chronology of Wabash, Indiana

  • 1826 Paradise Springs Peace Treaty
  • 1827 The first permanent white settlers, Samuel McClure and family, arrived in the county from Ohio.
  • 1834 The town of Wabash was laid out by Hugh Hanna and David Burr
  • 1835 Wabash County was organized and the town of Wabash was selected as the county seat.
  • 1837 The Wabash and Erie Canal opened to Wabash
  • 1846 First newspaper was published: The Wabash Argus
  • 1849 Telegraphic communication ties Wabash to the rest of the world
  • 1851 In the early days, and up to the sixties, the streets were decorated with stumps. Cattle, horses and hogs were allowed to run at large. By order of the town trustees the hogs lost that privilege.
  • 1856 The first railroad train puffs its way into Wabash.
  • 1859 Covered bridge built at Wabash, one of the longest in the state, crossed the river diagonally, the north end where the Wabash street bridge is today, south end 300 feet east.
  • 1865 Smallpox epidemic in the town
  • 1866 Wabash incorporated as a city
  • 1870 Fire Department was organized
  • 1879 Wabash County Courthouse was dedicated
  • 1880 First electric arc lamp tested as a street illuminant.
  • 1883 Wabash City Hall was erected
  • 1888 By a decision of the voters, the right to roam the streets was taken from cows.
  • 1899 Memorial Hall was dedicated
  • 1901 Inter-urban lines run into Wabash
  • 1903 First electric street cars began operating
  • 1913 Worst flood in the history of the county. Telephone and telegraph wires down, interurbans and trains unable to run. Loaded train put on the railroad bridge to save it. South Side without lights, water, and gas for three days.
  • 1929 Talkie movies come to Wabash at the Eagles Theater
  • 1932 Lincoln statue given to the city
  • 1940 Honeywell Memorial Community Center opens
  • 1942 Modoc's escapade put Wabash on the map again.

Wabash County Legends and Folklore

The area of Wabash County, with its Indian history and the Wabash and Erie Canal, along with an abundance of local tales and characters, holds a wealth of lore. The following is only a few of the most well-known.

According to the 1994 est. census Wabash, Indiana is home to approximately 12,679 Hoosiers. At the present time Wabash County is home to 47 major employers and according to economic indicators total employed in Wabash County is 17,220. It continues in its long tradition of hometown hospitality and has been consistently thought of as one of America's safest cities and a wonderful place in which to raise a family. Rich in history and memories of the past and growing in ideas for the future, and quietly nestled in the lovely Wabash Valley, Wabash's scenic beauty has often been spoken of by the tourist and lover of nature, and has afforded many an artist with his choicest subjects. In the book "Painting Indiana: Portraits of Indiana's 92 Counties, copyright 1999, there is an excellent view of the city of Wabash from the top of Wabash Street, painted by Ronald Mack showing some of Wabash's loveliest architecture.

"This is the Wabash"

Excerpt taken the The Wabash
c1940 by William E. Wilson.
"This is the story of the Wabash, and yet it is not the Wabash itself. The Wabash is something more than topography, history, and statistics. It's, rather, the things a Hoosier remembers when he hears that magic name. The Wabash is the smell of clover in June, of hay and sweetgrass. It is a dome of blue and golden sky, piled high with white clouds, and sun- soaked days filled with the hum of insects. It is the harvest moon and stars, like a chandelier of jewels, in purple nights. It is the folks on their front porches waiting to go down and look at the river. It is the soft drawl of friendly voices, the creak of rockers, the scuffle of small boys, and the laughter of pretty Hoosier girls.
The Wabash is the taste of crisp fried chicken and hot biscuits, of watermelons and cantaloupes, sweet roasting ears and homemade bread spread thick with yellow butter. It is fields of golden wheat and rich green corn, the song of redbirds, catbirds, and turtledoves, and the lazy dip of oars in a sluggish bayou. It is milkweed and Jimson weed and ironweed, white with dust; the haze of autumn over a far, low-flung horizon; the flavor of ripe persimmons; a big, black mule rolling on its back in a barn lot; a bursting corncrib; and the contented cluck of brown hens in the sun....The Wabash is spacious towns and cities, dozing in the sun. It is comfortable homes with wide porches, broad lawns, and dark shade trees. It is long, straight, concrete highways, with road signs suggesting a reduced speed of sixty miles per hour at the infrequent curves. It is clusters of flour mills and canning factories. It is tall buildings with plenty of room about them. It is fine schoolhouses and community centers. It is the drove of a lawn mower on a summer afternoon; the well-thumbed pages of a book from the public library; the scrape of roller skates over asphalt; the murmur of many voices in a schoolroom; the proud faces of parents at a high school commencement; the pride of men and women in native sons and daughters.

The Wabash is the old-time religion that sometimes lifts and sometimes destroys men's hearts. It is lodge meetings and Rotary clubs and literary circles. It is political rallies and barbecues and moonlight excursions. It is watermelon feasts, hay rides, love-making, fist fights, and laughter. The Wabash is Indiana; and to every Hoosier, wherever he lives, Indiana means home'."