Newsletter Nov 1986
SOME MEMORIES OF LAKETON
By Howard Ulsh As Told to Lester Binnie
My father’s full name was Manias
Jacob Ulsh, but he was always known as M.J. It was his
choice. He grew up in Seward Township, Kosciusko County,
Indiana, but was a partner in a grocery store in Laketon
as early as 1891. About six years later, he bought the
two-story, frame building that still stands at the
corner of Main and Lake Streets, recently owned by Don
Price. He operated a general store there until 1930.
During that time, he had been a partner in the Laketon
flour mill on Eel River and in the grain elevator that
stood near the refinery, at that time an oil pumping
His general store was just that.
From the east entrance, shelves and counters lined each
side of the building. On the right were the groceries,
mostly canned goods, flour and sugar, with candy in a
display case, and near the front, a display case for
unwrapped bread. Dry goods occupied the shelves and
counters on the left side. Down the middle were counters
for such things as overalls and boots and shoes.
When I was a small
boy, the Laketon Post Office was located near the
east entrance and on the left side. Ernest Ohmart was
the Postmaster and Sherm White was the rural mail
carrier. The mail was picked up at the Erie and Vandalia
depots by John Price, a veteran of the Civil War, in his
spring wagon. The wagon also served as a taxi for
persons going or coming from the depot.
It is said that the first telephone
office was located on Lake Street in the upstairs room
now used as a museum. The telephone company was first
owned by a Mr. Harmon, who sold it to Frank Zimmerman
and moved to Wisconsin. Zimmerman also owned the
exchanges at Disco and Akron. During World War I, Mary
Fulton was the chief operator of the Laketon exchange.
She later became the second wife of Vernon Heckman and
helped him establish the Heckman Bindery. She encouraged
my sister, Verna, to learn to operate the switchboard.
That was sometime after the office had been moved to a
ground floor location on Main Street and north of Lake
Verna got about in a wheel chair
after falling from a hay mow as a child. The switchboard
was in use 24 hours a day except on Sunday, when it was
closed in the forenoon. Verna received 17¢ per hour for
daytime work and 11¢ during the night when only
emergency calls were to be made. When on night duty, she
slept in an adjoining bedroom and was awakened by a bell
near her bed. There was a printed directory, but many
people called by name, so it was necessary to learn the
names of 150 to 200 people and their location on the
switchboard. By helping Verna learn the names, I learned
them too. Sometimes I was employed as a substitute when
Verna or one of the other girls went on vacation.
In about 1888, an oil pumping
station was established on Long Lake. It was built as
one of several stations to pump oil from the wells in
Pennsylvania to the Standard Oil Refinery at Whiting,
Indiana. When the Pennsylvania wells began to fail, a
pipe line was brought in from Oklahoma by way of
Kankakee, Illinois. Part of the oil was then moved
through Laketon, east to New Jersey refineries, and for
export. The steam boilers, fired by coal, provided power
for the pumps, and the plant provided employment for
several engineers, firemen, maintenance men, and a
telegraph operator. These men served twelve hour shifts.
Oil is still being pumped through the lines, but the
been converted to a refinery.
The first depot for the Erie
railroad was built on the road south of the refinery and
across the highway from a grain elevator. This early
road crossed the river at a ford near the mill. After
this depot burned down, a new one was built on the road
south of the covered bridge. It was on the north side of
the tracks and on the east side of the road leading to
There was a large icehouse near the
road in which ice from Long and Round Lakes was stored.
Large quantities of sawdust were used as insulating
material. The ice was used in refrigerator cars that
transported fresh produce from the west coast and for
cooling the express car on the “milk train” that picked
up large cans of fresh milk for the dairies in Chicago.
A cooperative grain elevator was
built east of the depot in about 1915 and nearby, my
father had a coal yard and a place where he sold cement.
I believe there was a livestock yard there for holding
and loading cattle and hogs into freight cars. There
were many private ice-houses in and near Laketon. Some
were used by cooperative ice rings, others for local
stores like West’s Meat Market and my father’s store.
At one time there were four hotels
in Laketon. Dennis Lautzenheiser, my great uncle,
operated a hotel in a large two-story house, still
standing, southeast of the Laketon schoolhouse. This
house is said to have been built from trees that stood
on the lot. The uptown hotel stood on the lot north of
Earl’s Place. The lower story still remains, but the
upper part was removed many years ago. There was a hotel
near the flour mill. The dam for this mill was just west
of the Laketon Cemetery. The mill was operated for
several years, was burned, rebuilt, and later abandoned
when the dam was washed out.
The old part of the Laketon
Cemetery was first called the Ijamsville Cemetery,
but it is now under the care of the Laketon Cemetery
Association. This part was established on land that
was owned by Daniel Funderburg. The new part was
established in about 1909 on land my Grandfather
Sholty bought when he came from near Dayton, Ohio,
in 1854. The low ground back of the old cemetery and
between the two was created when the soil was
removed to build the grade for the Erie Railroad in
Newsletter Feb 1987
Cont’d. from November 1986
SOME MEMORIES OF LAKETON, by Howard
Ulsh as Told to Lester Binnie
In about 1910, Howard Rager
established a concrete block and concrete fence post
factory on the east side of Main Street and just north
of the river. Many of the posts that he made can still
be seen on farms in Pleasant and Chester Townships.
Howard also had a mill for grinding grain for livestock
feed, first powered by a Gray, 12 horse-power,
single-cylinder, gasoline engine and later by
electricity. Some years later he and Robert Fulton
operated a hardware business in Laketon.
The first paved streets came to
Laketon in 1924. Mr. Grossnickle of North Manchester, a
strong supporter of Warren G. Harding for President, did
the job. The first pavement consisted of Main Street
from the schoolhouse to the curve where it joins the
Lukens Lake Road, the east fork of the “Y” to where
it becomes Ogden Road at the schoolhouse, and
part of Lake Street to the covered bridge. Other lot
owners went to the oil pumping plant for waste to spread
on the gravel to keep the dust down.
On the Erie Railroad there were two
passenger trains each way that stopped at Laketon. One
that came at 2 p.m. brought copies of the Fort Wayne
newspaper that I sold in Laketon. There were also two
passenger trains each way on the Vandalia. The two that
came through in the evening were supposed to pass
between Boliver and Ijamsville. It seems the station
agent, a woman, had not learned to use the telegraph, so
she was not sure when the trains would meet and pass.
Electricity came to Laketon in
1924. I was unemployed when they came looking for help,
so I got a job helping to dig holes in which to set the
poles for the power line. It was a very wet season and
we all got covered with mud from head to foot.
Daniel Reahard came to the Laketon
school when I was in the sixth grade. He was Principal
there for twelve years. In view of the political
environment in which teachers worked during that time,
it was a long period of service. I had admiration for
him as did many others. There were twelve high schools
in operation in Wabash County at that time. Two were in
North Manchester and Wabash, and of the other ten, the
names of five began with the letter “L”.
I did not play basketball, but I
did attend most of the games, played outside on a dirt
court. When I was in high school the old Laketon town
hall, formerly the United Brethren Church, was moved
behind the schoolhouse and converted into a gymnasium.
The spectators stood along the walls and hoped that the
players did not come too close.
Some of the outstanding teachers
were: Fred Conkling, who became a teacher at Manchester
College; Warner Ogden, who lived just a few hundred feet
north of the school; Miss Marie Shively, now in the
Timbercrest Home; and Hazel Dickey, who lived north on
the Ogden Road. From the third to the sixth grade
inclusive, my teacher was Helen Huffman, a step-sister
of Loren Wertenberger. Loren grew up in the home of his
grandfather, Henry Ogden, an early undertaker and dealer
in furniture and hardware. Loren followed his
grandfather in these activities. In addition, he found
time to devote to music and for many years conducted a
band. He also had an outstanding dog show and built
outstanding Christmas displays.