VOLUME VII, Number 3 (August 1990)



The Eel River and its Railroad

By Richard S. Simons

(Reprinted from the National Railway Bulletin

with permission from the National Railway Historical Society)


There is a vague resemblance between the now-vanished Eel River Railroad of northern Indiana and the cat, with its legendary nine lives.  The railroad had been beheaded, dismembered, abandoned and resurrected, wrung through at least four receiverships and foreclosures, battered by ice and flood and one of Indiana’s longest and most explosive legal wars.  Each time it landed on its feet, picked itself up, and carried on until the Pen Central debacle.


As early as the 1850’s a farm-to-market road across northern Indiana was a dream, which in 1852 began to materialize as the Auburn & Eel River Valley Railroad.  The way was rough and bumpy, and the line went through many name changes, two receiverships, and false starts even before the first train puffed its way over the rails.  The project lay dormant through the Civil War period.  After the Detroit, Eel River and Illinois came to life in 1869, work began in earnest.


By 1872 the road extended westward from Auburn, beyond the hear of the valley, to Denver.  64.1 miles away, and eventually to Logansport, burgeoning rail and commercial center at the river’s mouth.  Local subsidies ranging from $96,000 helped convert dreams to reality.  The following year, aided by free land and a $4,000 per mile subsidy, the road was pushed 10.6 miles eastward from Auburn to Butler, the last section to be built but, ironically, the first to go.


The dream had reached it fullest flower.  Locomotives snorted and puffed the length of the valley, 93.1 miles, on 56-pound rail.  Farmers at last had convenient transport for their crops, and processed and manufactured commodities had a way in.  But prosperity came in fits and starts.  After only four years bondholders bought the road at foreclosure and the following year reorganized it as the Eel River Railroad Company, ignoring grandiose titles, which indicated Saint Louis, Toledo or Detroit as terminals.


Passengers now could ride two daily round trips the length of the road.  True, an on-time trip might consume seven ours, but people of the valley were content that at last their dream, short as it was, had come true.


But big things lay just ahead in a dazzling way.  Jay Gould controlled the Wabash, Saint Louis & Pacific Railroad that began at Toledo and passed through Fort Wayne and Logansport on its way to Saint Louis.  Pursuing transcontinental dreams, he realized the value of the Eel River road, now gloriously caught up in his plans.  In 1879 the Wabash, Saint Louis & Pacific leased the Eel River for 99 years.


What possible use could the heavy traffic WStL&P have for this little backcountry road and its 56-pound rail that ended at a town of fewer than 2,000 persons and served no sizeable community between its terminals?


Gould’s plan unfolded at Detroit.  The Detroit, Butler & Saint Louis was taking shape, and there was no secret where it was going.  Its corporate name told the entire story.  Detroit and Butler were 113 miles apart and shortly after the Wabash had leased the Eel River, a proprietary company completed the Butler-Detroit line.  The Eel River would provide the connection to Saint Louis!


Immediately the Eel River assumed a remarkable importance as vital middle link in a line beginning at Saint Louis and extending through Detroit and across Ontario to Buffalo, N.Y., then over the West Short Railroad to Weehawken, J.N., opposite New York City.  1,200-mile route impossible without the little Eel River.


Gould concentrated on building Detroit traffic, and within a short time the two-trains-a-day Eel River line was carrying 14 passenger trains and countless freights.  This was in addition to frequent passenger extras hauling excursionists to Niagara Falls.


In 1898 the road inaugurated the glamorous, Continental Limited, a luxury train of incomparable appointments.  It carried Pullmans and a diner, and its coaches were vestibuled.  It originated at Saint Louis, picked up cars from Kansas City en route and continued eastward.  A resident of Peru, Indiana, could board at 3:35 p.m. and step off at Weehawken, N.J., less than 24 hours later, sleeping and dining comfortably as the train gobbled up the miles.


The last passenger train to run on a similar schedule across Indiana was the famed Wabash Cannon Ball, which did not appear until a ballad of the same name was composed years later.  Prior to that, after the demise of the original Continental Limited, the Cannon Ball had been known by the unimaginative name of Detroit & Saint Louis Special but retained the Continental Limited’s original numbers, 1 and 4.  For a time, Saint Louis-Detroit trains left Wabash rails at Clymers, 6.3 miles south of Logansport, rather than in the city where a complicated switching maneuver was required.


In addition to operating trains over its own rails the Wabash obtained trackage rights over what later became the Erie and operated a Chicago-Detroit service over that road as far as Newton, a junction near Laketon, and then over the Eel River to Detroit. The service was dropped after the Wabash built its Chicago-Montpelier (Ohio) line about 1893.


But even before the Continental Limited was placed on the rails, something happened at Peru, 15.9 miles east of Logansport, sowing the seeds that became the Eel River Line’s undoing.  Local residents, perhaps acting for the Wabash, built a short line in 1889 to Chili where it connected with the Eel River Railroad.  They named the 9.63-mile line the Peru & Detroit, which made no pretense of its route, and leased it in 1890 to the Wabash for 99 years.


Almost immediately the Wabash did two things that angered the people of Logansport and nullified the $65,000 tax investment that had brought the Eel River shops to their city.  It routed its trains on the original line as far east as Peru, then turned north over the new P&D to connect with the Eel River at Chili.  It then moved the shops to Peru, merging them with those of the Wabash and closing the 22 miles to the Eel River from Logansport east to Chili.  Virtually abandoned, stations were razed, switches and sidings destroyed, and bridges, buildings and tracks allowed to decay.


This was the road’s condition in 1891, at least as seen by Judge D. D. Dykeman, an Eel River stockholder who sued to revoke the charter and place the company in receivership.  The Eel River, he charged, had forced its own destruction by leasing itself to the Wabash.  Only a pretense of service was offered to Logansport.


At this point the top blew off.  Editorial wars raged up and down the Wabash valley.  Cities that had no connection whatever with the dispute jumped into the fray with both editorial feet.  The editor of the Peru Journal charged that “the people of the old, dead town of Logansport are low, mean and envious, and their remarks are idiotic.”  The feud he thus launched charged the atmosphere of the peaceful river valleys for the next decade and caused gavels to pound and courts to issue rulings all the way from Indiana to Massachusetts.


Editors being made of the stuff they were in those days, the Logansport Journal could not let these insults pass unnoticed.  “Pouting Peru.  Drinks Mississinewa water and refuses to be comforted,” retorted the paper’s headline.  “The Peru papers indicate that the citizens of that Indian village are as mad as wet hens.” 


“A dog in the manger movement by the displeased people of Logansport,” replied the Peru editor.  “Now is the time to strike if the city is ever to recover what the Wabash lease euchred us out of,” shouted the Logansport Pharos.  Not to be outdone by her sister cities, the Huntington Herald leaped into the battle.  “If the litigation…should result in the permanent transfer of the terminus of the Eel River from Logansport to Peru, we shall shed no tears.” Began the editor.


The state thus set by the press, the legal drama opened, and for the next six years was mostly a story of the railroads’ attempting to keep one jump ahead of the sheriff.  They managed that with amazing efficiency.  The Cass County sheriff, in whose jurisdiction the suits were filed, was forced to return the papers because he could find no Eel River agent to whom they could be served.  Sheriffs in the other seven counties in which the railroad was operating were forced to do likewise, since the road’s agents had disappeared as completely as if they had been swallowed alive by the parent company.  Eventually two Eel River officers were located but, sine they resided in Michigan and Massachusetts, courts would not allow service of papers. 

The railroads lost the next round, however, when they were forced to appoint an agent resident in Indiana the named William V. Troutman of Butler to this thankless position.


Five years had now passed since Judge Dykeman had filed the original suit, and the great railroad trial seemed about to get under way.  Subsequent maneuvering, however, sent the case bounding like a yoyo through four courts in Cass, Fulton, and Howard Counties.  Finally the judgment was handed down against the railroads:  The Wabash lease was annulled and a receiver was appointed for the Eel River.  The railroads promptly appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court which three years later got around to denying a rehearing.  End of legal drama.


Abandoned by the Wabash, the Eel River was left to die.  The Wabash, left without a link in its mainline had to build a 26-mile connection between Butler and its original line near Fort Wayne.  Otherwise it would have been forced to disconnect Detroit service over its own rails.


On January 1, 1902, the Wabash opened its new line, leaving the Eel River to find its own way through the forest of railroads that had grown up about it.  On the same day the Peru & Detroit Railroad was forsaken and left to rust.


Contrary to the axiom that once a railroad is abandoned it stays abandoned, the Eel River rebuilt its Logansport-Chili section so that trains once again rolled the entire length of the valley.  It then sold the decaying Peru & Detroit to the Winona Interurban Railroad whose passenger service outlived the Eel River’s by four years.


Logansport should have been pleased to regain its shops and terminals, but it was a hollow victory.  Within seven years after the Eel River had left the protective arms of the Wabash, it sold itself to the Pennsylvania.  Soon its 14 passenger trains had dwindled to four locals and by 1930 had ceased altogether.


As a freight carrier the Eel River continue to decline.  It was beheaded when the Auburn-Butler trackage was abandoned in 1954 and was sliced in two when the Columbia City-Churubusco segment was discontinued in 1961, leaving an orphan branch to serve Churubusco from LaOtto on the Pennsylvania’s Grand Rapid and Indiana line.


In its last days the Eel River operated freight service tri-weekly from Fort Wayne to Columbia City to Logansport.  Clearances were high and wide, and operating crews vainly hoped the route would be retained for that reason.  But it was not to be, and the Pennsylvania, which controlled the line from 1901, when it was deeded to the newly organized Logansport and Toledo Railroad, continued to whittle away.  The Logansport-Mexico section, part of the west end rejuvenation, was abandoned in 1968, and the balance by 1973, except the Mexico-North Manchester trackage, which survived a short time longer.


Here and there scattered cuts, fills and bridge abutments remain as a monument to the tenacious little railroad that for nearly 100 years refused to die.


[Richard Simons is vice president – public relations for National Railway Historical Society and national director of the Hoosier land Chapter.  He lives in Marion, Indiana.  The staff of this newsletter appreciated his assistance. – Ed.]




Now that the Brick Mill is Gone


Research by Robert Greengard to accompany the nomination

To National Register of Historic Places, listing of March 5, 1982


When the real old timer speaks about the “brick mill” which stood until July 1990 on the south side of Main Street just east of the tracks, folks of a later generation may think he is talking about a place where bricks were made, but that wasn’t so at all.  No brick was ever made at the “brick mill.”


It was the first factory building of brick erected in North Manchester and for that reason was identified as the “brick mill.”  The name has stuck with a considerable number of the old timers yet today.


The property was bought by George M. Eichholtz and J. J. Valdenaire for $650 and on November 11, 1876, they started construction.  On January 1, 1877, they also took an equal partner, Louis Petry, and founded the first business in the new building, the North Manchester Planing and Band Saw Mill.  This was one of the “finest and most complete mills of its kind.”


The building was a substantial brick structure.  The main building consisting 45’ x 60’, two stories with a wing 30’ x 50’, with a boiler room containing two 40-horse boilers with an engine of 60 horsepower.  A dry kiln, 20’ x 20’, was heated by steam.


On the north side of Main Street was the lumber yard, occupying four city blocks and including two sheds, 22’ x 64’ and 22’ x 90’.


All the belting, line shafting and other works were located in the basement of the main building, economizing room in the upper stories. 


The machinery was of the latest and best models, while the saw carriage was supplied with a shifting device invented by the proprietors themselves.  The machinery in the upper story was of wood lathes, cut-off saws, a surfacer, molding machines, gainer (or dado) joining machine, jib saw, boarding machine, etc., and on the first floor a flooring machine, surfacer, jointer, two circular rip saws, a circular cut-off saw, and resaw.


In the saw mill department the machinery used was a circular saw, one band saw with a six foot wheel, using saws 44 feet long and five inches wide, one cut-off saw, and gang-edger of three saws.  They manufactured a full line of builders’ materials, scroll work, frames, molding, banisters, turned goods and had a large and constantly increasing demand for their products, operating until 1884.


The brick mill was then sold to the Manchester Planing Mill Company, Inc., and passed through various changes that would be difficult to trace, with men going and coming as owners and managers, starting J. A. Browne and Company with Henry Mills.  They began making wagon wheel spokes, axles, tongues, neck yokes, singletrees and so forth in the brick mill.


J. A. Browne and Company owned a sawmill, 3,200 acres of timer land and a railroad known as the Homan Southwestern, located in Homan, Arkansas, which supplied lumber to the brick mill in North Manchester, Indiana.


In 1892 a new building was erected on the same property, just east of the brick mill.  The Electric Light Company for North Manchester was transferred to this site in 1898.  It had occurred to Browne that a consolidation of the lighting plant and the woodworking establishment would prove advantageous.  The factory produced large quantities of wagon and carriage woodwork in the white and had sufficient waste at all times to provide fuel for the boilers.


In 1898 an addition was added to accommodate engines and dynamos, for the workshop, and for housing electrical supplies, and the electric light mill and brick plant were joined and by this addition the mill took its final form.  In the years to come this would prove to be a great savings by combining the two plants.


In 1903 a large dynamo was installed in the room to the far east.  In 1907 a large fire destroyed the roof section of the brick mill, not harming the walls.


The factory at that time was described as divided into three sections:  a large room at the west end used for the engine room, then in the middle the boiler room, and at the east end the power plant with dynamo and storage rooms.


In 1909 they moved the dynamo into the engine room, which was attached directly to the engine instead of being connected with a longline shaft into another room.  The room where the dynamo had been located was made into office space.  The Browne Company operated the wagon and buggy factory until about 1915 when trucks and automobiles, coupled with the scarcity of timber and less demand, put it out of the running. 


In 1921 the light plant was sold to the Bippus Utility Company of Huntington.


Miley Brake Lining followed the closing of the J. A. Browne and Company Wagon and Wood Factory and was later occupied for a short time by the Interstate Specialty Company, headed by Frank Giddings.


Lawn equipment, Christmas tree holders and kindred novelties were produced, but the Interstate territory did not furnish business to keep it going, and Arden Strauss was called in as receiver.  When a Mr. Andrews started to bring a rubber and brake lining factory from Wabash, legal complications arose.


B. C. Lancey and Son bought the outfit and operated as Hoosier Brake Lining Company.  Death of both Lanceys followed, and the L. J. Miley Company of Chicago acquired the business.  Mrs. Miley constituted the company as it was operated in North Manchester but in Chicago was associated with two daughters.  A number of years previous Mr. Miley had developed a business of selling brake linings but did no manufacturing.  After his death Mrs. Miley continued the business.  At times a suitable product was hard to get, so she bought from the Hoosier Company while it operated and bought the company when it went on the market, taking the entire output, known as the Black Gold Band, of which H. C. Ulery was the local manager.


From the early 1950’s the brick mill remained empty and deteriorating.  It was razed on July 7, 1990.




History of Wabash County, John Morris, 1884

Big Mill Fire, News-Journal, January 20, 1896

Sale of Brick Mill, News Journal, April 2, 1896

Newspaper Article, News-Journal, April 11, 1907

Lamps Are Burning, News-Journal, April 18, 1907

Buying New Machinery, News-Journal, January 7, 1909

Big Sale Of Timber Land, News-Journal, April 26, 1911

J. A. Browne To Leave Electric Company, News-Journal, January 26, 1920

Light Plant Sold to Huntington Company, News-Journal, July 7, 1921

Bought the Old Light Building, News-Journal, December 3, 1923

Bippus Plant Sold to Big Company, News-Journal, October 11, 1923

Tales of the Old Days, W. E. Billings, 1926

New Factory Starts in Browns Building, News-Journal, March 15, 1926

Furniture Factory Will Start Soon, News-Journal, February 17, 1927

Henry Mills Dies After Long Illness, News-Journal, August 4, 1927

North Manchester Industries, “The Whistles of our Forefathers,” William E. Billings, February 1950




Those Abstracts to Title  of Property:

Our Irreplaceable Key to Early Residents

By L. Z. Bunker, M.D., Ret.


Much of our information of the first white people living in our area has come from property abstracts, family records, and family history.  The problem for researchers has been that the Wabash County Court House burned down in 1871, and all records stored there were lost.  So we have no single repository to go to for much of the early information about North Manchester.


Property abstracts, however, which remain in family hands are an authentic tie with the past up to 1871.  We have searched nearly 200 abstracts and have found invaluable information.


In the last few years, it seems, many of the land abstracts have been discarded and have been supplanted by “title insurance” which supplies no information whatever.  We are fast losing our only source of authentic information dating from the land grants, the earliest of which are from 1826.  Property transfers after 1871 are recorded in the Wabash County Courthouse.  What are particularly sought are records of property in the Original Plat of North Manchester, 1836.


If you have the abstract to the title of your property, be sure to keep it in a lock box and have it photocopied.  Take good care of the copy.  Or consider giving an additional cop, photocopied, to the North Manchester Historical Society.  If you have an abstract to property you no longer own, this could also be given to the Society.


Attached is an incomplete list of persons living in the town and its early additions, 1834-1865.  A further listing from 1865 to 1900 is in the making.  If you have relatives who were early residents or knowledge of persons on this list, any information would be much appreciated.



Andrews, Melitis, 202 East Third Street


Beauchamp, Asa, owner of the American Hotel

Bonewitz family

Butterbaugh, Phoebe, first white child


Cowgill family, shoemakers, tanners: Cowgill family, 201 North Mill:  son Carey, daughter Kate (Harter), Rowena (Harter) Tryon


Dailey, J. R., Black Hawk war veteran


Eagle, Francis, came here with the Harters, prominent attorney in Wabash


Fannin, Rev. Bryant, circuit rider

Flook, Columbus, potter

Ford, Ezra, 201 West Third Street; William Ford

Frame family, Mahlon, James; William Frame, Mexican War veteran


Goshorn family, one a physician

Grist family, builders


Halderman, Allen, donated land for (pioneer) cemetery

Harter, Joseph, the pioneer, 11 children by first and second wives, came here 1836; sons Joseph B. Harter, Jacob Harter, prominent citizens through early 1900’s

Helvey, Col. Richard, 1834, 202 East Main Street


Lantz, Henry and wife, Lantz House (hotel), 202 Walnut Street, had flour mill and other enterprises; to California in the Gold Rush, 1849


Metzger family.  One member went to California with Henry Lantz, 1849


Noftzger family, 1845.  L. J., sons Charles and Sam.


Ogan, Peter, founder of the town, cabin at 125 East Main Street, wife Mary Anne; John Ogan, brother of Peter, miller


Place, Morris, operated the Quaker school on South Maple Street

Place, Isaac, 309 South Maple Street, with the “Underground Railroad”


Rager, Eli and wife, Jennie Willis, 204 South Maple Street

Ruse family, Third and Walnut Streets


Sheets, Hiram, with “Underground Railroad”

Siling, Tighlman I. and brother, furniture makers before 1854

Spurgeon, Alex and son John, builders

Stone, Daniel, here in 1836


Thorne, William, merchant, residence at 207 West Main Street; George, 1840+, had racetrack at the edge of town


Ulrey family, 401 East Third Street


Wallace-Marine family, South Mill Street

Wicks, Martin, a pioneer

Willis, William E., first postmaster, 1839

Whitlow, Hiram, blacksmith

Windle, Albert, 311 North Market Street




The Museum Occupies New Quarters

In the Marshall Building


The North Manchester Historical Society’s museum is one dream that interests and unites many of the society’s members and friends.  Now more than a dream, the museum settles into its new home, two former classrooms in the 1929 Thomas Marshall Elementary School, 603 Bond Street.  New emphasis will be given to education and archives.  A formal opening will take place, possibly yet this fall.


Now let us work together!  No donation of love and labor is too small. President Max and Grace Kester have cleaned the “dream” rooms thoroughly and have begun to supervise the creation of educational displays.  One room will house permanent items, which will nonetheless be rotated from time to time.  The other room will be a theme room with periodic displays of items borrowed for the short-term, two months or so, and illustrating a theme.


Fabric Craft Is First Theme.  The first of these themes, if you care to help…and we hope you will…is fabric craft.  If you have antique or old items which can be used to demonstrate sewing, weaving, needlecrafts, rug making, or tatting, please lend them to us for a couple of months.  Young people will be visiting the displays, and your loan will take on even more value as an educational tool.


Specific items to develop the theme include yarn and fabric samples that imitate traditional cloths, dye goods, baskets, weaver’s cards and spinning wheel, a loom, sewing notions, old sewing machine and sewing rocker with footstool, quilting frame and quilts, cross stitch and needlepoint samples (in process, perhaps) and supplies.


Many of you remember the quality of the FunFest window displays through the early 1970’s.  That is what is in promise for the “theme” room.  We know it will happen to your liking, because Judy Scheerer is the gifted woman who will fit it together.  Her enthusiasm is infectious and therapeutic.  If you can volunteer, please don’t wait for her to call you!


Appraisal of Articles for Donation.  The society has access to appraisal service, which, for tax credit, can put a value on your donations to the society, now legally incorporated as a not-for-profit organization.  These would include any number of items, from furniture, small machines or household items, authentic old clothing and uniforms, hats, to books representing Hoosier and local authors or first editions, family histories and photographs.


Until the society and its museum committee formulate written procedures, the guiding principle for donations of articles is significance, general interest, and good condition.  The society will use every possible means to preserve permanent donations to the museum.




Good Times in a “Gypsy” Camp

By Orpha J. Weimer


From the mid-1930’s into the 1950’s there was a “notorious” church school class in the old Methodist Church (stood at 208 West Second Street), which did zany, unorthodox things and had good times while working.


They were supposedly the young couples’ class, although several had painted the high chair three or four times.  The group stayed consistently at 60 members, mostly young professional people who enjoyed each others’ company.  They worked, played and prayed together, sympathized and consoled one another, and had energy to spare.


The finances came mostly by serving lunches four days at the State Debate Tourney at Manchester College.  Prof. George Beauchamp, a class member, chaired this group for several years.  It was work, as we did not have modern conveniences.  We dressed our own chickens, roasted our hams, baked our pies, cakes, and rolls and concocted our casseroles and salads from farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.  Many hands made the work light in what seemed an almost continuous part.  At times there was even more help than needed.  Not many women worked outside of the home, so young children were ”parked” with grandparents or friends, and the young mothers visited as well as worked.


Parties were held every month.  Committees vied with each other to be the most original.  Some were unscheduled, such as a housewarming, a farewell, or a visitor to greet, and even the weather got into it.  Many times sleds were borrowed over town for a belly-smacking ride down a hillside and then finished off with a bacon and scrambled egg outdoor fry, broiled hamburgers or hotdogs, cookies, toasted marshmallows or “s’mores,” with plenty of hot coffee as well.


One evening the Weimer brothers, Al and Harry, the Ralph Baggots, and Don and Bessie Hoover had a “gypsy camp” on the Weimer farm, now the Manchester Plaza and Strauss Veal plant.  Notices on toilet paper were sent out, giving dates and instructions to bring only a tin pie plate and a spoon.  They were to follow Al Weimer’s airport runway across fields to the wooded area.  Picnic tables were loaded with trays of raw veggies, fruit, pickles and relishes, crackers and trays of bread, along with long-handled forks for you to toast you own.  From a large iron bar swung over the fire hung my mother’s big iron kettle, full of spicy, bubbling goulash ready for the serving.


Over a nearby fire was a large aluminum kettle of hot oil.  Nearby was a table containing long-handled forks and paper-lined trays with layers of cut doughnuts for you to dip and fry yourself.  We’ll never forget Roland Schmedel’s frying doughnuts for anyone who would let him.  One hand held the fork while the other shook a paper bag of sugar to sweet-coat his offering.


For along time afterward we sat around, singing songs, telling riddles and stories, or playing jokes and pranks on each other.  It was a notoriously fun-loving class, never guessing what the next party would be like, except for plenty of food and gallons of good, hot coffee.