Source: NMHS Newsletter, May 2004

Lester H. Binnie, by Ferne Baldwin

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.

--Ferne Baldwin