of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.



The Eel River of Northern Indiana

By Jay A. Taylor

Presented September 11, 2000 at a meeting of
the Historical Society, N. Manchester, IN

I love rivers. That love may come from my learning to swim in the Thornapple River flowing in Eaton County, MI. Or it may be that my formative years were live adjacent to, on, or in the Eel River near the point where it crosses from Kosciusko County into Wabash County.

Let me begin with some of the more recent history of Eel River at North Manchester. At the end of this article is a document procured by computer via the Internet from the USGS within minutes of the river being measured electronically. The data also lists a mean flow that has been averaged for the past 70 years. If you want to check up seven more years you can order a disk with this data of the Eel River

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  with data from 1923. Not all of the data was collected by Internet, I suppose you know. I apologize for not bringing the data for September ll, 2000 but my seven year old computer is too limited to find and download this information. I appreciate my son capturing it for me.

My fascination may come from the fact that rivers seem to have life of their own. Rivers are one of the few forms in Indiana that have not been turned into a geometric form resembling a tick tack toe game. They seem to meander endlessing down the slope from their source to their confluence with another river or ocean. They have along their length such a variety of expressions. Here they are docile and calming. Again they are babbling brooks as they encounter slight interruptions to their flow. On occasion they are angry and destructive forces, inundating anything and everything in their path. Again they may be flowing under thick ice unseen until the spring thaw or until the ice house gang revs up their saws to harvest next summers ice crop.

The late Dr. L. Z. Bunker tells of pools in the Eel that were 16 feet deep before the white man began to dam the stream. Even now this writer has sounded depths of eight feet. There are stretches where the normal water depth of 8 inches spreads wide, and again there are narrows where the river is scarcely 16 feet across during normal depth and flow.

The Eel is all of these. Like the song, "Old Man River" humans may come and humans may go but "Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along." At least the Eel has been rolling along ever since the great glacier deposited a moraine for it to skirt from a wet land, or swamp, near Huntertown, Allen County IN to the Wabash River in Logansport, IN. The Eel has been variously reported to be 96 miles to 110 miles in length. At any rate that is not a long distance for a stream to flow.

If you float the Eel from Collamer to North Manchester in the usual positions in a canoe the river boxes the compass at least once. It is a strange sensation to believe you are floating west south west and find the sun at noon coming over your right shoulder. Check the compass and you are probably in one of those locations where the river flows east or north by east.

Persons approaching a river may be looking for one of several 

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  opportunities. One may see it as a source of economic prosperity; source of power or supply of water for irrigation. Another may see it as a place of beauty to be further enjoyed by board walks, canoeing or bathing. Still another person may see the river for its historical information. I confess I am interested in all the above.

The Indians called the river the ke-na-po-co-mo-co which interpreted means "river of the slippery fish" or "river of the snake fish." A more perfect name might have been the river of warfare. Long before the white man's knowledge of the Eel it had been the line drawn by the Miami Indian tribes as the Potawatomi tribes pushed south through Indiana. At the Eel, Miami Indians had held the line. However, it was an uneasy line that was often breached by war. The river often ran red with the blood of warring tribes. Conflicts with the Potawatomi tribes eventually tapered off. Both the Miami and the Potawtomi Indians enjoyed the French and British traders who traveled the Eel and established trading posts. They brought the goods that made the Indian's life as a hunter more productive. However, not every white man was welcomed, as a new threat began to appear from the east.

The Miamis had built a garrison on a swampy inaccessible spot south of Columbia City, called "The Island," to protect their lands from invasion from the east. The earliest threats from the white men came into this territory from that direction. Conflict with these groups that wanted to integrate with the Indian culture more violently ran into stiff opposition. The Eel River Valley became a crucial battlefield again. The most formidable Indian warrior to stand up to this encroachment was Me-she-kin-no-quah, who the white men called "Little Turtle." Little Turtle carried warfare up and down the Eel and other river valleys of northern Indiana and Ohio. He was a fearsome foe. His activity as a warrior was both shrewd and brave.

The first encounter with the white man came when Augustin Mottin de la Balme, a French general, perhaps inspired by George Rogers Clark's victory at Vincennes tasted the possibility of fame and fortune for himself. He pushed up the Wabash River in 1770 seemingly intent on taking Detroit from the British. Who knows? Had he been successful all of Canada might also have become part of

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  the United States.

After a brief battle, General de la Balme took the village of Kekionga, which is now the center of Fort Wayne. He calculated that he had so badly routed the Indians that he could easily replenish his supplies by raiding a British trading post on the Eel near present day Columbia City, IN. He confidently camped overnight east of the trading post not calculating Little Turtle's genius and commanding knowledge of the geography. The Indians surrounded the sleeping soldiers and a with a war shoop moved in for the kill. One soldier escaped to fill in this history for us.

A decade later the many clashes with Indians on the frontier alarmed the federal government in Philadelphia. General Josiah Harmar, commander-in-chief of the U. S. Army was ordered to go out and teach the unruly Indians a much needed lesson. He arrived in Kekionga with l500 men and found it deserted. He confidently sent Colonel John Hardin with 210 soldiers north west of Kekionga on a well marked and established trail to catch the Indians along the Eel River and deliver the discipline.

  Again Little Turtle's skill and determination was misjudged. Chief Little Turtle hid 300 men beyond the marsh on both sides of the Eel and waited. Hardin boldly marched his men into the ambush believing no one would dare attack such a formidable force. When the Indians opened fire, Hardin's men were routed and those who fought boldly were killed. Little Turtle also scored victories along the Maumee River east of Ft. Wayne and along the Wabash River at Fort Recovery, OH. He was acclaimed by the Indians and feared by the United States forces.

Finally when President George Washington send General Anthony Wayne to win the elusive victory over Little Turtle the brave Indian recommended that there be no more warfare. Little Turtle was apparently aware of Washington's skill as a warrior. Several chiefs considered him a traitor, but their moves to imitate his victories were unsuccessful. Little Turtle became friends with two United States Presidents and served to draft the treaties that finally brought peace to the Eel Valley.

Following such a bloody early history of the Eel it seems a little

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  strange that the valley would become a place where so many non violent and peaceful farmers and business folk would settle. The river provided so much of what was needed for settling the wilderness. As it was for the Indian it became an important route for movementof people and commerce. Like the indians the settler found the river to be an important source of food. The remains of the Indian fish weir can still be found just down stream from the Laketon access ramp to the Eel. There it appears is one of the few of the early human inroads into the river. The remaining stones suggest that the depth of the river was increased. Wooden poles would have been arranged to trap the fish driven down the river by the squaws and children. The normal procedure would have been to dry or smoke most of the fish for winter consumption. Years later, but not today, a white teen age child might well have been sent to the river at four o'clock in the afternoon to bring home a bountiful meal of fish for supper.

The white settlers also found the river to be an important source of power. The late Keith Ross had documented thirteen dams along the length of the Eel. The dams before the turn of the twentieth century were generally "timber Crib dams." With trees in such abundance this worked reasonably well. A common procedure seemed to have been to form a foundation for the dam by lining the river bottom with trees with the butts placed side by side and the tops facing up stream in an area of the river where there was a sufficient embankment on each side of the river. On that foundation a timber crib was constructed and anchored. That crib then would be rilled with rocks to add weight and a variety of other material that would hold the water back and raise the level of the river for the fall needed for a water wheel. By 1900 concrete faces, abutments and aprons began to be placed over these cribs. Parts of those old timber dams can now be detected as the concrete has deteriorated after l00 years.

Most of these dams existed to mill flour and corn meal. In later years the Collamer, Liberty Mills and North Manchester dams were used to produce electricity. The Liberty Mills dam supplied the power needed to manufacture grass and clover seeders like the one in our Museum. In the summer evenings around the years of 1935 and following M. Ed Rittenhouse left the turbine running to light the

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  Liberty Mills softball field. After the final "out" of the evening he could be seen trekking from his house to the mill with lighted lantern in hand. The water was diverted and the ball field with the Rittenhouse property were left in darkness. Mr. Rittenhouse could then be seen carrying the lantern in his right hand lighting up his night shirt swishing around his knees as he returned to his house.

We have looked for confirmation that some power was created without damming the river. An old timer tells of a water sluice used to power the saws at the Ulrey Lumber Mill. Any one can observe the Eel has a large ox-bow from the water works of North Manchester down stream to the Market street bridge. The report is that just south of the covered bridge on river right a sluice was cut across to the mill with sufficient fall to power a wheel. It would be interesting to know more of that history.

Except for Logansport whose growth was largely affected by the Wabash River and the Wabash Erie Canal, the largest towns along the Eel are North Manchester with a 1996 census of 6629 people and Columbia City with a count of 6295.

As a boy swimming in the Eel we depended on the carp scavenging in the river to muddy the water while cleaning it. Some of the communities up stream discharged sewage without treatment. In 1965 this writer piloted a youth canoe camp for the Indiana North Evangelical United Brethren Church. Foul conditions were much more evident at that time. It seemed every farmer had a hillside overlooking the river where the family trash was dumped. Several dead live stock carcasses lay at the water's edge. There was a massive fish kill below North Manchester.

Today the river during normal flow carries chemicals and silt. Many of the adjacent swamps have been drained depriving the river of the filtering action that used to happen. The practice of farming almost up to the banks allows the flood waters more direct access to the river. During floods the sewage treatment plants sometimes allow inadequately treated affluent to be released down stream.

There seems to be new hope for the Eel with annual clean up being organized and executed. One sees more recreation on and along the river. Manchester College has a fleet of canoes. There were five

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  United Methodist junior high canoe camps on the river in the summer of 2000 with a total of 36 campers and 15 staff. Although a far cry from the wilderness stream of our Indian forebears the Eel is still one of Indiana's more wilderness streams. Except for the urban areas one sees only about a half dozen homes overlooking the stream on a 30-mile float from South Whitley to Stockdale, IN. Roads are scarcely visible except for the occasional bridge across the stream.

Our Indian brothers would be amazed at the way we read the river today. They sounded the depth and condition of the Eel by observing it with their human senses. Today the United States Geological Service measures the Eel for us six times daily at North Manchester from some office far away. (See the following)

Times and people come and go. Old man river he just keeps rolling along.

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  This photograph was taken looking upstream toward the Market Street Bridge about 11:45 am on February 10, 2001, just after the waters began receding from the highest stage level, 10.39 feet recorded at 9:15 that morning. The highest stage ever recorded was 14.81 ft. on December 30, 1990.

Data is collected hourly and is available on-line at

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Historical Society Summary

Given to the Jaycees, February ll, 1974 by Sara M. Allen

(Continued from November, 2000 Newsletter)
  In order to preserve past history we have an oral taping program organized whereby some of the older citizens can relate the past orally and have such information preserved. Our oldest citizen is Martha Farmer now in her 98th year and living at Timbercrest retirement home. She was a former Junior High school teacher who taught in the old building where the present Central Junior High school is located. Isaac Cripe, grandfather of Jim Taylor, is second oldest citizen. Many residents have reached four score years and several have reached four score and ten plus! Dr, Edward Kintner, a former science professor at Manchester College, has a keen mind and can relate much of the development of the College. It is contact with some of these people which has brought life to the society. Oscar Neher, another former science teacher, has helped to identify some of the antiques in the museum. We hope, in the near future to complete a systematic form of labeling for these items. The system was partially destroyed after a recent move to new quarters. Our desire is to have this museum opened to the general public in the foreseeable future.

One of the largest contributions to the group at Fun Fest was our first float given to us by the Manchester Builders who with the help of some sturdy members from the Society created a miniature covered bridge quite in keeping with the bridge centennial celebration.

Last summer Mary Louise Leckrone and the Russell Egolfs were put on a float committee for the Society. We thought that Pudge could manage anything mechanical which might be needed. From some old discarded News-Journals found in the city dump by Joe Leffel the story of the DeWitt automobile came to light. Judy Scheerer had zeroxed copies of a dozen sheets of facts about DeWitt, his home and factory plus workman's problems in the manufacturing of the 1909 -1910 auto and presented them to our organization. Immediately Pudge and Bill Poston went on a search for an old DeWitt car and found one in Ottawa, Ill, in a private museum. Due to the cost and complexity in bringing it to N. Manchester for the parade, Pudge, with

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  the aid of photographs taken of the original car, plus pictures and descriptions in the company's catalogue found in the local library, assigned himself a job that of reproducing the only local automobile manufactured for only one year 1909 - 1910. For one month he worked on his project and with the help of a few others managed to get the necessary parts for completion. The Historical Society entered the parade last year with more than just a "float" we had a collector's item with a monetary value of $3500. Not only was this a feat of mechanical skill, long hours of labor, and an interest in the past to make it live again in the present but a genuine concern for the community prompted Pat and Pudge to present the car to the Society as a memorial to the late Robert Floyd. The auto will be on exhibit in the building in which the original was first manufactured.

Not all the members are able to construct a covered bridge or an auto, but many members have given of their creative talents to better the financial status of the group. Some falling into this list are Allan White, Stephen Batzka, Orpha Weimer, Gladys Scheumann to name a few.

The question has been asked of us, "What will the Society hopefully do in the future?" We presume that the group will continue in the path already pursued, to help preserve, to educate the young for a deeper interest in their town, to increase the concern of all for making our community a more beautiful and unique place in which to live and a place where culture rates high.

A survey committee consisting of Dr. Bunker, Stephen Batzka and Allan White are planning a survey of the town where all buildings will be listed and the age of each recorded. The procedure for such an undertaking is being guided by the National Restoration Organization in Washington D.C. Early this spring Mr. Clubberson, of the Department of the Interior will be aiding them and will furnish proper registration forms. This is a monumental venture and must be the work of many assisting the main committee of three.

We have spoken only of buildings near us, but we have more than a passing interest in the destiny of the old mill at Roann. At present the condition is not beyond restoration possibilities, but it will take a combined effort with other groups in the county and state participat

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  ing if we can hope to save this site as a worthy historical spot. We welcome advice and help in any form to assist in preserving it in workable condition for the future.

As our Society continues to meet, more and more suggested items of interest and concern are presented. Most societies meet quarterly, semi-annually or annually. A closer and more frequent contact with our membership as a whole produces a more interested and active group than is evidenced in other communities. Thus far, this is a very receptive organization which accepts both advice and criticism with equal consideration.

It is our hope that these undertakings can all be successful realities and that more interested people see fit to join themselves with our membership. We welcome all members of the family to join and attend our monthly meetings on the first Monday of each month. The requirements for membership are simply that anyone be over 7 years of age with an interest in making our town a better, more beautiful and more prosperous place in which to live.

Anyone interested in joining our ranks should know that membership fee is $l.00 per year or $5.00 for sustaining membership and most important of all LIFE MEMBERSHIP for $100.00. (Amounts have changed several times through the years)

As representative of the Historical Society we have welcomed the opportunity to review our brief history, our objectives and goals, and our hopes for the future. This is really not OUR Society it is yours, also, since we strive to work for the betterment of our entire citizenry.

We might add, that when you carry on your two-day pick-up program each year if you see any throw-away items which could qualify as antique or collectibles REMEMBER the Society is collecting now and will be collecting from now on. Thank you for this opportunity to present this information to you and for your very kind attention.


Editors Note: This is true once again as it was it 1974. Check out the news flash on page fourteen. Finally the Society has room to begin collecting once again!

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Main Street North Manchester

Circa 1923-1928

Jack Miller has put together for us his best memory of the businesses and owners of that period. He (and we) are eager for any corrections.. Please send such to the Historical Society, Box 361, North Manchester, IN 46962

  • Main Street - south side - west to east.
  • l. Dr. Bunker's Office - Dr. L. Z. Bunker
  • 2. Dunbar Hotel - Charlie and Mable Dunbar
  • 3. Zion Lutheran Church
  • 4. Gill's Junk Shop - Bill Gill
  • 5. Riverside Bridge
  • 6. Fire Station - Clyde Overholser, Fire Chief
  • 7 Lavey Jewelry Story - John Lavey
  • 8. Harness Shop - ?
  • 9. Doctor's Office - ?
  • 10. Weber Barber Shop - George Weber
  • 11. Eel River Telephone Co. - office downstairs - switchboard upstairs
  • 12. Vacant Lot
  • 13. J. B. Williams Drug Store - Fern ?
  • 14. American Express Office - ?
  • 15 Millinery Store -
  • 16. Lautzenhizer Meat Market - Joseph Lautzenhizer
  • 17. Belsito Candy Kitchen - Pete and Tessie Belsito
  • 18. Lautzenhiser Pool Room - Hazen Lautzenhiser
  • 19. Brady Men's Clothing Store - C. E. Brady
  • 20. Blick's Barber Shop - ? Blickenstaff
  • 2l. Indiana State Bank - Adam (Ad) Urschel
  • 22, South Side Theater - ?
  • 23 Buick Garage (Old Jefferson Livery Barn) George M. Hayes Sr.
  • 24. William Jefferson home - American Legion Home today
  • 25. Rufle Jewelry Store - Ademar Rufle
  • 26, Tailor Shop - Otho Hill
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  • 27. Doctor's Office - Dr. C. F. Kraning
  • 28. Doctor's Office - Dr. Z. M. Beaman
  • 29 Bender Furniture Store & Undertaking Parlor - George Bender
  • Main Street North Side of Street east to west from Mill Street
  • l. Monument Works - Roberts ?
  • 2. Fiske Tire Store - Wetzel Display Case Co. on top floor
  • 3. J.W. Strauss Feed Store - John W. Strauss
  • 4. Store or Lodge ?
  • 5. Alley
  • 6. Stands Grocery Store - Lyman Stands
  • 7. Morris 5 & 10 Cent Store ?
  • 8. Sporting Goods & Magazine Store ?
  • 9. Sheller Grocery & Bakery - Daniel Sheller
  • 10. Urschel Department Store - Lewis (Lew) Urschel
  • 11. Marks Drug Store - Harold Marks Sr
  • 12. Gresso Department Store - Gordon Gresso
  • 13. Rex Telephone Exchange - above Gresso Store
  • 14. Walnut Street
  • 15. Burgess Drug Store - Burgess or Horning ?
  • 16. School Book Store - Run by the Drug Store
  • 17. Gem Theater - Mr. and Mrs. Walters
  • 18. Lawrence National Bank ?
  • 19. Oppenheim Department Store - Ben Oppenheim
  • 20. Indiana Light and Power Co. - ?
  • 21. Alley Way
  • 22. Union Trust Co. - George D. Barber
  • 23. Isenbarger Realty & Auto License - John Isenbarger
  • 24. Lautzenhizer Restaurant - Hazen (Hayes) Lautzenhiser
  • 25. North Manchester News-Journal - Josh Billings
  • 26. Feed Store - ?
  • 27. Mike's Standard Oil Station - Russell Michael
  • 28. Market Street
  • 29. Jennings Grocery Store - William M. (Bill) Jennings
  • 30. Doctor's Office - Dr. George Balsbaugh
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Purchase Finalized

The North Manchester Historical Society is especially pleased to complete the purchase of the Historic Oppenheim Building on Main Street of the town. We believe this is an important step for the Society and for the Town. Our purpose is to plan a Museum that will be an attractive new asset for Main Street and which will also be an educational tool for the children and the adults of the town. So few children (and some adults) know little of the way of life of their grandparents. The Museum collection which has been held for more than ten years in the Town Life Center has been rather invisible. Now access will be easy and the location much more in the public view.

Our first activity at the Oppenheim site has been to create window displays which include historical items. The Christmas display included some of the figures which Oppenheims had used in the past at Christmas time. This week a new display "Think Spring" is being created.

A specially chosen Museum Committee is beginning the planning for the remodelling needed in the building, an assessment of the space needs and configuration for the museum area. This is a very large building which may allow for rental of some areas, for ample storage, work rooms and display of large items held by the Society which are now stored in various places. Since there is an elevator we will be able to make good use of all three floors.

We have been fortunate to receive a matching grant which we must now match to put this effort on a sound financial footing.

Now is the time to renew memberships and secure new ones. Our present members are scattered from coast to coast and there are no doubt others who would be interested in the activities of the Society.. Will you help us let others know about the exciting new activities of this Historical Society?

Now that we have ample space we are asking you to contribute your historical materials to our collection. Please check with us.. pieces of furniture.. papers.. Land abstracts, pictures.. Our interests are broad. Things related to N. Manchester, Chester township or Wabash County.

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