NEWSSHEET of the
North Manchester Historical Society
Vol. XXI, No. 2 May 2004
The Chester School Building was built in 1902 housing eight grades for nearby pupils and a High School for all of Chester Township. The cost of the six-room, two-story brick building was $9,195.00. Ground had been purchased for $350.00, Equipment cost $2,000 including seats and desks $650.00, school bell and black boards $100. Spurgeon & Grossnickle were the builders and Hosea Little contracted for the slate roof.
Alvin Ulrey was the first Superintendent. The first High School class graduating in 1904 consisted of twins, Dayton & Clayton Ulrey.
The building was torn down in 1928-9 to be replaced by another building in 1929.
When I travel from Wabash to visit North Manchester I always take the old Wabash Road into town. As I approach the new cement bridge across Eel River, how I wish the old iron bridge were still there. You old timers will remember the square corners you had to make to get into the south end of the bridge. It is too bad that it couldn’t have been saved. It was an historic monument.
Prior to 1872 to cross Eel River at this point, there was a ford across the river. A cut had been made down through the steep south bank and the horses and wagons would cross about where the new bridge stands today, coming out on the Wabash Road right behind Charlie Swank’s barn on the north side.
In 1871 the town fathers decided it was time to stop wetting the horses’ tails and ordered an iron bridge to span the river at this point. I think the bridge was build by a company in Fort Wayne, as the Wabash Bridge and Iron Works was not in business yet. It is interesting to note that the North Manchester Covered Bridge was erected by the Smith Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio, at the east end of town. What were the city fathers thinking when they ordered an iron bridge and a wooden bridge to built at the same time! Well, we all know the wooden bridge did survive. Back to your story, Miller.
Well, the iron bridge was delivered to Wabash to be hauled by horse and wagon over the old dir road (State Road 13, today) to Eel River. The north/south railroad, Cincinnati, Wabash, Michigan Railroad, was in the building stage, but the Detroit, Eel River, and Illinois Railroad had just been completed from Butler to Fourth Street in North Manchester that September of 1871. Heavy rains made the Wabash Road one big mud puddle and the bridge parts sat on a Wabash railroad siding. Then somebody thought of the new railroad in town. The bridge was shipped back to Fort Wayne where it was switched over to the fort Wayne and Pennsylvania Railroad. At the Columbia City railroad crossover the bridge was switched to the new Eel River Railroad and on to North Manchester to be the first freight shipment over the new railroad.
In the 1920s that bridge was part of us boys’ who lived in the west end of town. On the north wide of the river, below the dam, was the sand bar, and it was here on that sand bar where we boys would swim, sometime skinny, sometimes BVDs. On the south side of the river were the good fishing holes below the dam. Our outdoor gymnastic playground was that old iron bridge. Of course, it was summer time and sun beat down. The floor of that bridge was covered with thick tar to protect it.
Under the sun, the surface of that bridge floor became like the top of the laundry stove on was day. The dare to us 7 to 12 year old boys was, “We dare you to walk across the bridge slowly!” I have taken that dare and tried to hide the tears of pain on the other end. We boys climbed to the top, walked across the top beams, swung from the braces and but for the hot foot, I never knew a boy to ever get hurt. Yes, we loved that old iron bridge, and I still do!
One seldom has an occasion to commend a person only for things done in retirement. But the tremendous contribution made by Lester H. Binnie and his wife are worthy of a special exception. I never knew Lester Binnie until after he had retired and moved to North Manchester and lived on River Cove Lane, and later at Timbercrest. His early writing and research was done while he lived at Albion, Indiana, and I am sorry now that I don’t know what he did during his career years. I’m sure others in our community do. But because I am thankful so many days of my life for the work of the Binnies I want to tell you about it.
Lester explains a bit in the preface of his book Early Brethren Families in the eel River Congregation in Kosciusko & Wabash Counties, Indiana. He says “The idea for preparing this history of early Brethren families who settled in northern Wabash and southern Kosciusko Counties in Indiana occurred to me more than ten years ago. It happened as a result of finding Vol. II of The Ten Mile Country and its Pioneer Families by Harold L. Leckey, 1950. This carefully prepared book of family sketches, …provided background information on the family of one of my ancestors who became a member of the Eel River Congregation. This reference did not answer all my questions, but it did provide enough facts to enable me to find the answers. I hope others will be able to say the same about this effort to identify and describe the early Brethren settlers who lived near North Manchester, Indiana.”
A later paragraph hints at the less limited usefulness of the book for persons living in this vicinity. “After about 1880 there was less tendency for members to choose marriage partners within their own denomination; therefore, many of the people now living in the Eel River community can trace their parentage to one or more of the early Brethren settlers.”
His book uses County Records, the national Archives, the census records, “Tales of the Old Days” by W.E. Billings, Old Letters, Deeds, area cemeteries, church records and many interviews. It is an amazing collection. It is well indexed. All principal source materials are listed. Ten years after the first edition he revised this work adding a long list of detailed corrections. An important list of photos are included. Even if you are sure you have no relationship to anyone in this book, you will find it interesting reading. There are so many fascinating stories. Here’s one:
“When Samuel Ulrey and his wife, Sarah, moved to their new home, several Indian families were camped nearby. Each time Sarah baked bread, she gave them a loaf. One day, when Samuel was away from home, Sarah took their only child, Esther,-too small to walk-and the family dog to search for their milch cow. At some distance from the cabin and in a creek bottom, she became too tired to carry Esther any further; so she left Esther and the dog beside a fallen tree and went on alone. When she returned, Esther and the dog could not be found. Returning to the cabin in desperation, fearful that Esther had been kidnapped, she found her peacefully sleeping on the door step and the dog nearby.”
An even more amazing accomplishment was a complete census of cemeteries in Pawpaw, Pleasant and Chester Townships of Wabash County and most if not all the townships of Kosciusko County. I’ve tramped a few cemeteries, too. But I can’t quite imagine doing the dozens he and his wife, Doris, did. Some, I know were full of wild berries and rosebushes, with poison ivy growing over the stones. As he reports, stones were broken and scattered, some half buried where they had fallen. These must have been recorded carefully, hand written and then transcribed, row by row. A bit of history or description was written of each cemetery, and a careful notation of the date/s when the census was recorded. For some townships a revised edition was done later. A note is made of the exact location and the companion church house. These books are such a valuable resource for researchers. A look at the index can quickly set one on the path to finding the grave of an ancestor.
Another book gives an excellent glimpse of the way of life of people of the community in the last half of the 1800s. This is a collection of the Heeter letters. The Henry Heeters had ten children. They came from Montgomery County, Ohio, just as did many of the early settlers in this area. In addition to the family news in any letter, there was always community news—the price of wheat, the condition of the potato crop, and many other details. History at the hometown level.
Lester Binnie’s books are in our local library. Sample one or more and take time to honor Lester and Doris Binnie for Their priceless contribution to our historical treasures in this area.