Peabody Singing Tower

 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1986

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 station.

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 Street.

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 plant has  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 Ijamsville.

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 about 1883.

Source: NMHS Newsletter Feb 1987

 Cont’d. from November 1986 Newsletter

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.