Source: NMHS Newsletter, November 1989

A Holiday Stroll in North Manchester by L.Z. Bunker, M.D.

[Editor’s Note: This was written at Christmas 1957 for the children of Mr. and Mrs. John Roberts who lived in the old Willis house at 305 West Main Street.  The oldest boy, Charles, had severe bouts of asthma, and Dr. Bunker spent considerable time with him.  The children had come from Marion, Ohio, and were interested in their new home.  In her protracted visits to Charles, she used to tell the children stories about their house and the town, and the following was the result.  Charles outgrew his asthma and is a pediatrician in Shawnee Mission, Kansas]

Now that our Christmas dinner is eaten, let’s put on our coats for a stroll in the original part of North Manchester, reminding ourselves some of the things that are missing and pointing out a number of original buildings, present 100 years, which are still standing and in use today.

The first plat or plan of North Manchester was small, bounded by the Eel River on the south, the alley by the News-Journal building to the west,  Wayne Street on the east, and all reaching to Third Street in depth.  This was laid out in 1836, but it was soon seen that it should be expanded, so the present boundaries of the original plat were set up several years later.

The second plat, which is now called the ”original” on tax receipts, was extended to Elm Street on the west and to Fourth Street on the north, the other boundaries being unchanged.  So there were 24 squares plus the single line of lots on the river bank.

To see what many of the store buildings looked like, let’s take a quick look at the warehouse behind Mike’s restaurant at 602 West Main Street.  [Formerly the old Lutheran Church which burned mid-1980’s and torn down.  The Mike’s building is now occupied by Schrader Auto Parts.]  The roof line and cornice of this structure has never been altered, and it has its original proportions in the architectural style of the Greek Revival, a simple Doric style, in this area always built of wood.

This building had been a meeting house, store, and a warehouse.  It migrated back and forth across Main Street, finally settling blocks away.  Most buildings were unpainted 100 years ago, though a few were painted and most had shutters for there were no screens.

At 306 West Main Street the Mrs. Calvin Ulrey residence has preserved much of its original appearance.  This house was also moved from its original site next door to the library

All the old buildings had many-paned windows filled with hand-blown glass.  If you can find an old window, look for the flaws, specks and swirls in the little glasses.

A mansion sat back of the grove of pine trees and poplars at 207 West Main Street where Bender’s Funeral Home now stands.  It was a large two-story house with slatted galleries and many windows.  This house was moved just back of its original site, to 105 South Elm Street.  Most of the pines have died or have blown down, and a huge sycamore also had to be cut down a few years ago.  There are still quite a few of the original locust trees in and around North Manchester.  A few remain at the rear of the Lutheran Church.

Since we are on Elm Street, let’s walk down to the turn which is South Street and look down the river.  Great cottonwood trees grew here, and on the flats by the river was a tan yard.  Here hides were cured and made into leather, for everyone’s boots and shoes were made here, also saddles and harnesses,
door hinges and many small leather articles, such as buckets, latch strings, and rawhide thongs.

Behind the tan yard was an Indian camp, with cook fires and brush huts for shelter.  The Indians had been expelled from this area about the time the town was laid out, but many wandered back from Oklahoma during the summers and camped and hunted near their old homes.  There was an Indiana cemetery below town, but it had not been used for many years.

Let’s retrace our steps and stop and look at the building at the rear of 202 West Main Street, facing the Public Library along the alley.  This was a kind of house often seen in the early days, built by Irish “Canalers” and frequently occupied by two families.  Note the old doors and windows in this ancient building. [Since this was written this charming little structure has been torn down.]

Around the corner on the corner of Front and Second are two houses right out of the early days, the Burdge [Schannep] house on the southwest corner and the Karl Young house [Eckert] at 202 West Second street.  Imagine these houses without their porches, and they are almost as they were 100 years ago.

At that time, however, there were very few plants and bushes or well-kept yards, as lawn mowers had not been invented.  Every house was surrounded by a stout fence of wood pickets, with gates, as cows and pigs ran loose and were pastured on vacant lots called commons.

Each house or business establishment had a well and wooden pump with a gourd dipper hanging by to drink out of.

Walking east on Second Street to the corner of Walnut, we come to the Lantz house, a large two-story building which is the rear part of the Sheller Hotel.  It originally sat on the corner but was moved to the rear when the brick building was constructed.  It was painted yellow, probably with the Yankee recipe of yellow ochre and buttermilk for paint, as we know it was not common.  [This building has been reduced in size by half and sided but looks much as it did 100 years ago.]

Scattered among the large houses were occasional log cabins, but those were soon boarded over to be more up-to-date.  North Manchester was never a log cabin or frontier-type town for a sawmill was one of the largest enterprises, and timbers and boards were used almost from the beginning.  One old log cabin remained on 303 East Second Street until about 1915.  It consisted of two rooms and a lean-to for a kitchen.

Let us walk down Mill Street to the Ulrey Mill [North Central Cooperative].  There has been a sawmill and woodworking plant here since soon after the town was founded.  It is said that the river was dammed up here to provide power.  Since there were no bridges, barrels were got across the river on a rope trolley.  There was also a ford in the river.

There was no railroad in Wabash County until 1857, so all goods and supplies came overland by wagon or by canal boat to Lagro then overland.  Fort Wayne and Detroit were cities supplying this area; Chicago in 1857 was not a merchandise center. 

As we walk up the hill again we will walk along the south side of Main Street.  At the corner of Mill and Main was a vast building, old in 1857, and variously called “The Beehive” or “Catchall.”  It was a rendezvous for tramps, wanderers, and pioneers who were then called “movers.”  It is said the night it burned to the ground the fire chief appeared with a bottomless bucket and no one lifted a hand to save the building.

In 1857 North Manchester had no organized fire department, no water supply except wells, so many buildings burned to the ground

On the northwest corner of Mill and Main Street is the Hamilton House [now owned by Richard Deveve].  Think of this house without porches and look at the Mill Street doorway.

Many stores bought hides, fur, sheep pelts, tallow and beeswax, so the air was rank with these things.  Freshly butchered hog and beef hung outside the butcher shops in winter.

There was no pavement, no gutters or curbs, no drains or sewers, no sidewalk except a gravel path, no street lights in 1857.  Main Street was a vast expanse of mud and water from November to May.  If one had to be out at night, he carried a lantern with candle it

There were hitchposts in front of stores, and wagon teams and saddle horses were tied to them as their owner traded.

Walking west on Main Street there were various houses, some rebuilt log structures.  Tinners, shoe cobblers, tailors, and harness makers worked busily as almost everything was made by hand.  Furniture and coffins were made locally.   The druggist made prescriptions from herbs gathered in the neighborhood.

The original trading post on the bank of the Eel River, founded by the Harter and Cowgill families, stood at 125 East Main Street.  Originally made of logs, it was later boarded over.

Lutz’s store at 111 East Main Street, sold general merchandise and just about anything needed in that day: yard goods (calico and merino), candles and candle molds, tinware, needles and thread, patent medicine, tea, coffee, salt and sugar, and chewing tobacco. [See photo taken from one of the  oldest photographs of North Manchester from the collection of Dr. L.Z. Bunker. ]

There was no ready-made clothing, packaged groceries, fresh fruits or vegetables.  Once in a long while a few lemons could be obtained.  You can see that living in those days was not only simple but simplest.

So far as anyone knows, the jail has been in about the same place since the town was founded.  It originally was built of logs, then replaced by stone and brick.

Various church congregations met in a large and drafty wooden building near the site of the present Lutheran Church.  This was later moved across the street and finally torn down.

Next to the northwest corner of Main and Market was a large frame house which was moved to the [northwest] corner of Maple and Fifth Streets.  This house is altered very little except for some windows and front porch.  It has been in constant use.

These are a few of many remains of our town’s past ties with the pioneers.  It is hoped this will be interesting to you and will lead you to learn more about the early days in our community.