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.
Admittedly my entry this week is somewhat of a mystery to me. A while back I noticed this concrete marker in the right of way just off State Road 15 on the north end of Leesburg in Kosciusko County. There is no visible writing or lettering of any kind of it. I have seen right of way markers for state roads and this is bigger than those and the road markers typically have the number of the highway on them. I know the route of the Winona Interurban Railway passed through and would have went pretty close, if not right by, where this marker is located. So my guess is the marker had something to do with the interurban line. More specifically, though, I do not know what purpose it would have served. I don’t recall seeing anything similar still standing along the interurban route. Maybe a reader will have more specific information. If so, please contact me. I am kind of curious about this marker anyway.
Concrete marker along State Road 15 in Leesburg.
Cemeteries are a vital part of local history. Some of them are as old as the county they are located in. And the very earliest settlers can be found in the older cemeteries. Pleasant View Cemetery in Jefferson Township, Elkhart County, dates to 1837 or maybe even earlier. I found a Goshen newspaper article from 1897 that says it is the oldest cemetery in the township and was laid out before 1837 and “a good many of the first settlers are buried there.” It is located along County Road 20 near the intersection with County Road 23 next to the Pleasant View Mennonite Church and near Pine Creek. There is some confusion about the origin of the cemetery. Some references indicate there are actually two cemeteries here with Pine Creek being the other one on the west end. But another newspaper article I saw from 1905 said the name was changed from Pine Creek to Pleasant View. Truthfully I am not sure what is really accurate but I did not see any references in old newspaper articles to two cemeteries being located on the property. I do know, however, clues to the past of Elkhart County can be found in Pleasant View Cemetery. And the cemetery was there before the church was built.
Pleasant View Cemetery in Elkhart County.
In October 2015 I was with a friend tracing an old railroad line and we came across something somewhat unexpected. Since the both of us were sort of “tuned in” to old railroad line remnants, we spotted this railroad bridge across a rural road just outside of Avilla in Noble County. As you can see, it still has the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad emblem on it. The B & O was one of the most famous railroad lines ever. It cut across northern Indiana on its way to Chicago. One of the old B & O lines ran just north of Milford where I work. It’s interesting the emblem would still be there because the B & O was merged and bought out several years ago. But apparently there is a reason for the bridge still being the way it is. This is still an active line and only moments before the photo was taken a train came through. You could say this railroad bridge across a rural road in northern Indiana gives a glimpse into the past.
Old B & O Railroad bridge near Avilla.
Back in late October 2015 I met a friend for lunch in Plymouth and decided to drive back on the old Plymouth-Goshen Trail, a historic road and still named as such in Marshall County. As I was driving on the road, I noticed a farm with an old barn. I had a bit of a hunch there might be some history associated with the farm. Old barns are not so common anymore. They are fading from the rural landscape month by month, year by year. As I started doing a little research I found the photo I took is of the Milner family farm in North Township, Marshall County. This farm was homesteaded in the 1830s originally. That in itself is significant. There are very few family farms dating back that far and still owned by the descendants of that family. I’m not sure how old the barn is, but I’m guessing it is post 1900 based on its size. I could be wrong though. I do know the barn has that old, rustic feel to it. A lot can happen in more than a year, so I don’t know what has happened since I took the photo.
Old barn on a farm along Plymouth-Goshen Trail in Marshall County.
Traces of interurban railway lines is another favorite of mine. Here’s another remnant of the Toledo and Chicago Interurban Railway. According to Craig Berndt’s book about the railway, this house on South Cowen Street in Garrett, which is in DeKalb County, was converted into a depot for the interurban in 1927. Then when the line was abandoned in 1937, it was converted back into a house. Note the building to the far right was a parcel freight depot. This building is actually facing King Street. Berndt goes on to say in his book both buildings appear essentially as they did when the interurban service shut down in 1937. For nearly 80 years then, a piece of the past has remained virtually intact in Garrett, though I can’t say for sure if anything has happened since I visited in October 2015. As I mentioned before in another post, this railway was never completed. It never went as far as either Toledo or Chicago as originally intended. Unfortunately this was common due to lack of funding and other issues.
Former interurban depot in Garrett.
If you have read my blog with any regularity, you have likely figured out by now I am interested in old road remnants or what current roads used to be named. In Elkhart County the numbered county road system dates to the 1920s. Before then, roads had different names. Once there was a road known as the Goshen-Bristol Road. What is now State Road 15 between Goshen and Bristol used to have this name, but even before then it was located elsewhere. After reading a narrative describing the original Goshen-Bristol Road in one of the Elkhart County history books at the Goshen Public Library, I tried tracing the route on an old map as best as I could. It was said this road followed an Indian trail. Based on the narrative and the description naming Pine Creek, I believe at least part of what is now County Road 23 where it intersects County Road 20 near the Pleasant View Cemetery and church used to be the Goshen-Bristol Road. Only by reading this narrative and looking at old maps could this be really seen. But it makes sense CR 23 would be the old Goshen to Bristol route. It was originally SR 15 I believe as well.
County Road 23 in Jefferson Township, Elkhart County.
A few weeks ago I posted something about the former Toledo & Chicago Interurban Railway. It was originally planned to be a 70-mile railway, but was never completely finished. Quite common for many interurban lines. Big dreams crashed into a sea of reality. Shown is another remnant of the Toledo & Chicago Interurban. There was a powerhouse and car barn near what is now East Noble High School in Kendallville. If you look closely, you can see part of the foundation for the powerhouse and car barn. A powerhouse, as the name implies, was a source of providing electricity to power the interurban cars. Depending on the length of the line, there was typically more than one of these along the line. I’m not sure if there was more than one for the Toledo & Chicago. A car barn was a place to store the interurban cars and also to do needed maintenance work on the cars. It would be easy to overlook this remnant unless you knew exactly where to look. But it is a reminder of the past and a mode of transportation that was important, but short lived.
Foundation for powerhouse and car barn in Kendallville.
A church sitting in a rural area with a cemetery next to it used to be much more common. Although many of the cemeteries are still in use, many of the churches have either closed or been torn down. Shown is the former Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church in Clay Township, just off State Road 15 and north of Claypool in Kosciusko County. More specifically, the building is located on County Road 550 South. This brick structure was built in 1914, though two other churches sat on the same site prior to that. One was a hewn log building and the other a frame structure. Mt. Pleasant remained a church until closing in June 1993 so it had quite a long stretch of service. The building is privately owned now and still stands. The cemetery next to it is still used and is maintained by the Clay Township Trustee. I am not sure where the name Mt. Pleasant comes from, though it is somewhat of a hilly area. The terrain is noticeably different than it is in northern Kosciusko County.
Former Mt. Pleasant Church near Claypool.
I’m old enough to remember when you pulled into a gas station, someone came out and pumped your gas and cleaned your windshield. With a few exceptions scattered around, those days are long gone. Shown in the photo is the former Auer’s Auto Supply building in Syracuse, Kosciusko County. It is on Main Street in the downtown area. Originally it was known as Auer’s Friendly Service, an apt name for the business. John Auer purchased the station a few years after World War II with his son, Nelson. John had worked at the station before he and his son bought it. What started as pumping gas and changing tires evolved into a full line of auto parts by the late 1950s or early 1960s and that is when the name of the station was changed. Auer’s had a very well known wrecker service and often responded to wrecks, for one example, on nearby U.S. Highway 6. The business was a community hub, too, or a gathering place. The building still stands and is used now for a business. But it still has the look of an older gas station. The Auers sold the station in the 1970s and it has changed ownership a few times since then.
Former gas station in Syracuse.