A few years ago I took a vacation trip to see some people I knew from my childhood days. I grew up in the small town of Centerville, Indiana, east of Indianapolis along U.S. Highway 40, the old National Road. While in Centerville, I was able to get some photos of a remnant of the old Pennsylvania Railroad. This was photo was taken off U.S. 40, west of Centerville. I’m sorry, but I don’t specifically recall the road I turned on off 40. I know the photo is not of the greatest quality, but it was about the best I could do given the tree growth and so forth. You can faintly see where the railroad bed was located. Coming out of Centerville, the railroad followed 40 for several miles. These tracks were removed in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I can remember when trains still came through Centerville, though at that time I wasn’t the least bit interested in trains. The Pennsylvania Railroad, as railroad enthusiasts would know, was one of the most prominent rail lines in the United States at one time. But those trains don’t run anymore in most places. Another trace of the past.
Roadbed of the old Pennsylvania Railroad near Centerville.
County Road 40 has become a much busier road since the construction project started on Kercher Road, or County Road 38. It is particularly busy from Waterford Mills to the west. Shown is an old alignment for County Road 40 just outside of Waterford Mills to the west. This can be confirmed by looking at older county maps. The road would have crossed the Elkhart River as it does now. I’m not sure if there are any remnants of the old bridge remaining. This is private property and I wasn’t able to drive back there to see anything. Before county roads were numbered in the 1920s, what is now County Road 40 would have been known as the Waterford Mills-Wakarusa Road. If you drive far enough west, you will come to Wakarusa. I believe the old alignment is now used as a private driveway.
Old alignment of CR 40.
Unless you live in the immediate area or are familiar with it, you probably wouldn’t even know there is a cemetery off Armstrong Road in Tippecanoe Township. There is no sign indicating as such by the road and there is no road leading back to it. There is only a poorly visible lane made by years of someone driving back to take care of the cemetery. But Light Cemetery is quite real and there is one of the blue cemetery heritage signs issued through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources standing by the cemetery. This is a small and quite old cemetery. No one has been buried in it since prior to 1900. It was named after the Light family who once owned the surrounding land. Only a few of that family and a few of another family they married into are buried in the cemetery. The stones have faded as the weather elements have taken their toll. Years ago the Boy Scouts did some work in the cemetery to help preserve it. I was able to see it by making arrangements with someone who had permission to go back there.
Historic cemetery in Tippecanoe Township.
Log cabins remind us, of course, of the very early days of settlement. They were literally built by hand from the resources of the earth. Obviously there were no lumber stores or anything else of the sort. Settlers used what they could find. Remarkably, a few of the log cabins survive to this day. Some of them have been added on to or siding has been put on. This one is in Waterford Mills, a small community just south of Goshen in Elkhart County. At the time the photo was taken, it looks like there was siding on it but it had either fallen off or been taken off for the most part. There is also evidence electrical service exists as shown by the meter box. According to the Indiana Landmarks survey of historical properties for Elkhart County, William Layton Baker built the log house in the 1830s just south of a grist mill he operated. Waterford Mills was once a thriving commercial area with mills, businesses and stores. But when a hydraulic canal was put in later, businesses started moving to Goshen and the town, which also had a post office for 50 years, died out. Today there is little evidence of a thriving community.
Log cabin in Waterford Mills, south of Goshen.
The old country church has not completely vanished from the landscape, but admittedly there are fewer of them. People are much more mobile today than they were when many of the rural churches were built. At that time, only those in the very nearby local area typically could make it to church. Shown in the photo is the Eel River Community Church of the Brethren. It is located on State Road 14, just west of State Road 13 in Jackson Township, Kosciusko County. Records indicate a church was built on this site in 1860 and became known as the Eel River Church of the Brethren. I’m not sure if this building in the picture was built then, but obviously the back end of the church is older as indicated by the tall windows. This church grew out of one organized in 1838 by some Brethren families who had migrated to the area from southern Ohio. When the church was built on this site in 1860, it was one of three meeting houses in what was known as the North Territory for the denomination. There is also a cemetery next to the church, which was typical of country churches many years ago.
Church on SR 14 in Kosciusko County.
This week I’m featuring another old cemetery in Elkhart County. This one is known as the Old Yellow Creek Cemetery and is located on County Road 11, just south of County Road 38 in Harrison Township on the east side of the road. It is one of three cemeteries in the nearby area. As the name implies, Yellow Creek flows not far away. According to the Elkhart County Genealogical Society website, the cemetery was started in the mid-1840s on what was believed to be the David Hoover farm. There was a church on the same plot of land, but eventually it was closed and moved across the road. It was known as the Yellow Creek Mennonite Brethren Church. The oldest known stone in the cemetery belongs to Isaac Berkey, who died in 1845. But there were other deaths before his, though no stones could be found. This cemetery is also known as the Mennonite Brethren Cemetery. The Mennonites and Brethren heavily settled this area.
Old Yellow Creek Cemetery on CR 11.
Once in a while you can see only the foundation remaining of a former business. Such is the case of this foundation in Claypool along Section Street. Claypool is a small town in southern Kosciusko County that has, unfortunately, suffered the fate several other small towns have. Businesses have closed through the years and not much remains. This foundation is a remnant of the past when this small town actually had quite a few businesses. What once stood here was a garage building which I believe was owned by Eli Garman. Correct me if I’m wrong please. It was a two-story cement block building where the ground floor was used for a blacksmith and repair shop. The top floor was used for the building of wagons, making and repair of side curtains for buggies and later for automobiles. This is fairly typical. Wagon builders sometimes converted to automobiles or faced the prospect of going out of business. Eli’s son Boynton continued to operate the business after Eli died.
Foundation of building in Claypool.
When we hear the word “stagecoach,” our tendency is probably to imagine one of the old Western movies. But stagecoaches operated in the local area, too, and one prominent line ran between Goshen and Fort Wayne. It followed the old Goshen-Fort Wayne Road, which, generally speaking, is U.S. 33 today. Along that route were stagecoach stops for weary travelers to rest and also to rest their horses. Shown in the photo is what was originally a stagecoach stop and tavern operated by David Keister. Keister came to the area in a covered wagon drawn by oxen from Ohio. In 1845 the tavern and inn was built and served as a place of rest and refreshment for travelers between Fort Wayne and Goshen. It is located along U.S. 33 near Merriam in Noble County. There is also a historical marker along the road identifying the tavern and inn. I found this information in a book about historical markers in Noble County published by the Noble County Historical Society.
Former stagecoach stop in Noble County.
More than once I’ve featured cemeteries. Obviously I feel there is a great deal to be learned about local history from cemeteries. Another example is the Island Cemetery, located southwest of Milford off County Road 1050 North in Jefferson Township. It is one of only two cemeteries in the township. As you can see in the photo, the cemetery was placed on higher ground. There is a drive leading to it from a nearby county road. I remember reading a likely reason it is named Island Cemetery is because this area was very swampy and wet many years ago. Eventually several ditches, some of which were dug by hand, helped drain the wet ground. So the cemetery was essentially an island and surrounded by swampy ground. As I recall, it dates to the 1840s if not sooner based on the dates inscribed on tombstones. The cemetery also has associations with the Primitive Baptist church. There was a Primitive Baptist church on 1050N that was disbanded many years ago. The building no longer stands.
Island Cemetery in Jefferson Township.
A field stone historical marker was put in place in 1923 by the Elkhart River just outside the small community of Benton in Elkhart County by the county historical society. This marker, still in place, signified a place where the very earliest settlers in the county forded the river. Because of the location of the marker near U.S. Highway 33, I’m guessing many of these settlers used the old Fort Wayne Road to get to this point. Depending on when the settlers came, it was likely nothing more than a trail which had yet to be improved much at all. I’ve often wondered if there are places where you can still see where wagons forded rivers in the early days. Someone told me such a place may exist at the Tippecanoe River near Warsaw, but I’ve yet to check it out. We are so far removed from the 1820s and 1830s it is difficult for us to really understand the hardships the early settlers faced when traveling here. Some of them died on the way. Others became very sick and somehow made it. They had very little in the way of material things and persevered anyway. I hope this marker stays for a very long time.
County historical marker at the Elkhart River.