Source: NMHS Newsletter, February 1990
“Passed By Here”
By Dr. L.Z. Bunker
Recently the author was recalling a tour of the Southwest where one amazing sight was an inscription cut in red sandstone high above an ancient road, “Don Juan Onate passed by here 1569.” That was more than 400 years ago!
The same interest might well be applied to our own area. Who passed by here 400 years ago, and who since?
In 1590 Miami and Pottawatomie Indians, members of the
Delaware Confederation, moved about at will over this area for long distances on
“traces” or footpaths marked by broken tree limbs
and “trace trees,” saplings bent over and pegged to the ground.
Two of these existed on the ancient trace west of North Manchester which
eventually became the Michigan Road and today Indiana State Road 15.
These landmarks were removed in the 1930’s as a hazard to traffic, being
near the roadway.
Northern Indiana was travelled by the French coureurs du bois and voyageurs, trapping furs for the great French axis that extended from Quebec to New Orleans. Early explorers traversed the waterways in the area, one of whom was Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle. Jesuit missionaries were also active through here. Recently a large silver cross with Montreal touch marks was found in Pony Creek, lost by some important Indian who had been converted to Christianity by a Jesuit priest.
The French were challenged by the British in their conquest of the North American continent. Soon Indian tribes were dividing their allegiance. George Croghan, the celebrated emissary to the Indians, was in this area in the middle to late 1700’s.
After the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, the country fell under British and later American influence. The great Indian tribes were decimated by wars and epidemics, and it is hard to believe that by 1838 these once great nations were reduced so they could be removed to reservations on the “Western Lands.”
Now come the pioneers and amazing expansion. Whole communities arose at once…towns, trading posts, farms, and commerce. North Manchester was platted in 1836. In 1839 we had a United States post office, of which the first postmaster was William Willis.
Few visitors came to the new lands, such as an occasional circuit rider like Bryant Fannin or a trapper or pioneer moving farther west . A stage line operated on the old Indian trace, now improved and extending from the Michigan line to Indianapolis. Stephen A. Douglas was said to have campaigned against Abraham Lincoln in 1860 in this area, travelling by stage coach and probably meeting constituents at stage stops.
The first railroad came into southern Wabash County in 1857 but not through North Manchester until later, 1871. Southerners, seeking runaway slaves, had to ride horseback into this country. Later Civil War recruiting officers and procurement agents came here, still on horseback, from Fort Wayne, Peru, and Logansport. Following the Civil War and later the coming of the railroads, there was great expansion. By 1876, the Centennial Year, the country was alive with activity and movement in all directions. Business expansion, with salesmen from New York and the other mercantile centers, brought many strangers to our two local hotels, the American House (which stood on the northeast corner of Main and Walnut and covered the quarter block) and the Grimes House (which later became the Sheller Hotel), and each had large street-level “sample” rooms for displaying merchandise for sale to area merchants.
The world seemed to be making a track to our door: William Jennings Bryan and Robert G. Ingersol, politicians and great orators, spoke here. Theatrical troupes, medicine shows, and Wild West shows appeared here.
Besides Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, persons who became celebrities lived in our town. Frazier Hunt, famous war correspondent in World War I, author and lecturer, grew up here in the 1890’s. Lloyd Douglas, the novelist, was pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church from 1903 to 1905. Grace Van Studdiford, the light opera star, was a hometown girl and often visited her parents here. The Redpath Chautauqua arrived by train for a number of years around the first World War, with prominent political figures, such as V. Steffanson, the Arctic explorer; Alice Neilson, the opera star; and Bohumir Kryl, the band master.
Theodore Dreiser, the novelist, and Franklin Booth, the artist, passed by, and Gene Stratton Porter drove over from the Limberlost in her automobile. Charles Evans Hughes campaigned here by train against Woodrow Wilson.
Numerous prominent people were friends of Otho Winger, president of Manchester College for over 25 years and they came to speak to college students and towns-people.
Prior to World War II, Arthur Morgan, the builder of the of the Tennessee Valley Authority which revolutionized the South, was here, as was Carl Sandburg, many other travelers, musicians, and Shakespearian companies.
The Second World War reduced our visitors notably leaving politicians and propagandist speakers, among whom was Clarence Streit, advocating “Union Now with Britain.” General Carlos Romulo spoke here and returned in 1944. Percy Grainger, the famous musician and composer, appeared with our orchestra.
Richard Nixon attended the National Plowing Contest in Urbana in 1953 and visited us also. In a few years many others, Charles Laughton, Henry Hull, Dennis King, Raymond Massey, Fred Waring and Duke Ellington and Peter Nero and his entourage brought luster to the coal state. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke here January 15, 1957, took the night plane at Fort Wayne and few back to New York. The Manchester College Artist-Lecture series became the chief source of speakers, orchestra, and players and provided the best in the country: Dr. Ralph Bunch, Vance Packard, Ralph Nader, Carl Rowan, Eric Sevareid, Sen Barry Goldwater, Captain Jacques Cousteau, and Buckminster Fuller among them.
Martin Luther King was in North Manchester in the spring of 1964, a time of much anxiety. An earlier visit had been canceled.
So, imagine if you can the panoply that has “passed by here” and more to come.
Our special thanks to Mr. Nolan Walker for providing listings of the Artist-Lecture series. Editor