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 North Manchester, Indiana

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North Manchester

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Source: NMHS Newsletter May 2001

Excerpt from Tales of a Hoosier Village

By William E. Billings


Preface notes to the book, by the author:

Dedicated to the Home Folks of a Thousand and More Like Towns or Villages from which Our Country Draws the Energy, Initiative, and Common Sense to Meet the Ever Changing Conditions of Life of Today.

Stories of Real Life, with No "Hells" or "Damns," and in Which the Characters Do Not Stop in the Middle of Each Paragraph to "Light a Cigarette" or to "Mix a Drink."

Names Used in These Sketches are Naturally Fictitious, With the Exception of Those of Persons Well Known in Public Life.

Birth of a Hoosier Village Chapter 1, pp. 4-12

It was a lazy, hazy October day in 1834, the time of year when the Hoosier State is at its best, the Golden Rod in full bloom, and the Paw Paws ready for eating. It was nearing evening, and the sun was slipping behind a fringe of trees, modestly seeking seclusion in its preparations for the night.

Peter Ogan, hardy pioneer, with his wife, Mary, no less brave or hardy, stood on the bank of the Kenapocomoco, looking down at the waters as they murmured and whispered on their easy going way to the Big River. Half way down a clear running spring broke through the river bank, its sparkling water trickling down to join the slower moving river.

"Here's where we make our home," said Ogan, and Mary, who had uncomplainingly accompanied him on many a wild search for the End of the Rainbow, answered: "It holds good promise." And so a Hoosier Village was born.

The Ogans had driven over a dimly marked Indian trail from the Place of the Big Treaty, looking for a spot they might call home. They had crossed the Kenapocomoco river half a mile above, over a bed of gravel where the water was shallow, and had driven westward on the high ground along the river bank. Here to them seemed the Land of Promise. There was good water, and the woods promised plenty of


game. What more could they ask? Their scanty belongings were in a wagon, drawn by a pair of tired looking horses, so home to them might be easily where they stopped.

Before night a couple of trees fell to Ogan's axe, and it was not many days until there was a "clearin," and all was in readiness for a "house raisin." By that time others had arrived, looking for homes. One was Martin Swank, then a boy of fourteen, who with his father had come from Ohio. It was this Martin Swank, who seventy years after told me of this "raisin," proud that boy though he was he had had the honor of "taking up one corner" of the one room cabin.

Ogan was a planner of big things, but was possessed of an "itchy heel" that had driven him to move on again and again before his dreams could realize fulfillment. He had cut the pathway through the woods by which the supplies and the officials made their way to the Paradise Springs Treaty Ground in the fall of 1826. For the eight years since then he had followed the will o' the wisp of promise, the next field always seeming to hold prospects of a brighter future. And so they had come to another location, looking and hoping.

He and Mary were alone in their settlement for the first winter, but the next summer brought back some of the prospectors who had "looked" the fall before, Martin Swank and his parents being among them. There were the Simontons, Harters, Stricklers, Willises, Thorns, Krishers and Fannins.

Towns were being started all around, and Ogan could finally see promise of a reality of his dream. The honor of being the "Proprietor of a Town" was tempting, so in the fall of 1836 he called in a surveyor, and a part of the little more than a hundred acres he had purchased of the Government was platted into town lots.

As I. A. Tomlinson, the surveyor, put the last lines on the sketch of streets and alleys, he asked of the already proud parents, "What shall we christen the child?"

What moved Ogan, though Irish and red headed, to say: "The child shall be called Manchester," has never been explained. Mary nodded her willing approval, and so Manchester it was until "North" was added by the Postal Department to distinguish it from a Manchester down in the hills of Southern Indiana. And so it remains as North

[Continued on Page Eight] Page Seven

Manchester, though the Manchester away down near the Ohio river has long since lost its post office, its few remaining cross roads residents being served by rural route from Aurora.

Ogan's plat was recorded at the County Seat in January of 1837. With a vision and foresight that was hardly to be expected in his day, Ogan planned a town with wide and roomy streets, six streets being laid out a hundred feet wide. Avaricious lot owners, in the horse and buggy days, prevailed upon unwise town officials to narrow three of these streets to sixty-six feet. Forgetting this unwise act as best we may, we still point with pride to the three streets that remain a hundred feet wide, that are the admiration of our visitors, and the envy of our more unfortunate neighbors.

It is a far cry back to the evening when Peter Ogan and his good wife, Mary, stood by the Kenapocomoco and visioned a home. There have been trials and tribulations. The Ogans stayed but a few years, departing for newer fields, still looking for the End of the Rainbow. Five times our people have responded to the call to arms to fight in wars only one of which could be in any way called of our making. Some have gone from us for important tasks in the Big Outside World. Others have stayed to do equally important work at home, while a few have "just gone," or have "just stayed." The wildest fancies of those dreamers who that October evening in 1834 stood by the Kenapocomoco river could not have visioned our town as it is today, enjoying comforts and conveniences then unknown and undreamed.

Today our Town or Village is not much different from hundreds of other towns, some bigger, some not so big, but all with the often long delayed hope of growing bigger. We have lots of good folks, and a fair sprinkling of other people. We have our little differences which we sometimes settle, and our disappointments which we sometimes live down, but like most of other towns we can occasionally "point with pride."

Births, deaths, marriages, sometimes a divorce, successes, failures and just staying "as you were" make up the round of events. It is like many another town that may fade or flourish with the caprice of fortune. The people are all folks who have hoped, sometimes almost lost faith, but finally have hoped again.

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Day in, day out it has gone along its way. The basic doings are all pretty much the same, with a change of actors for the various parts, and the very occasional relief of new and unexpected details. The path from the cradle to the grave has as many turns, twists and hurdles as can be found in the biggest of the cities, or the smallest of the villages.

Not many of our folks know or understand much about Albert Einstein's Law of Relativity, yet relatively the happenings of Our Town are fully as important to us home folks as are the doings in the cosmopolitan centers of the world to the big city folks. Humanity in thought, ideal and action is just the same in calico and denim as in silk and broadcloth. Our Town can have just as much fun on a fifty cent ice cream and peanut spree as our more sophisticated neighbors can get out of a thousand dollar champagne dinner, and with no headaches to follow.

Pete Smith, who with his ancient fliver, hauls the freight from the railway station, and who after the one train a day has departed, hauls coal and takes away ashes, is fully as proud of his work well done as is the Mr. Smythington Sylvester, who owns the transfer system in the hundred thousand metropolis some miles away.

Nor can the elegant Mrs. Smythington Sylvester of that metropolis have more inward satisfaction because of the thousand dollar dinner she served to the aspired and the aspiring, or of her full length picture in the photogravure section of the Big Town Herald than does Mrs. Pete Smith over the Sunday dinner of which Our Town paper said she "delightfully entertained the Rev. Samuel Longtalk, Mrs. Longtalk, and her brother, Jim Snodgrass." Our little comings and goings are as important to us as is a trip to the Orient by the Ronald Kensingtons. Even the whitewashing of Bill Jones' wood house is with us an event worthy of mention.

We have our little successes that are remembered; we have our failures, sometimes big, that we try to forget. It is in the memories of our few successes as they stand out on the canvas of the past that we find much of our pleasure and satisfaction, as well as the inspiration to push forward to more successes. That is what makes memory worth while. Most of us would be slow to turn back to Memory's Lane if the hardships, the days of sadness, and the hours of disappointment stood

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out as distinctly as do the memories of our pleasures and our hours of happiness.

Personal and community memories are very much alike. The times we won the spelling matches; when our school beat the pupils of the Milltown school in the central examination; when our candidate for sheriff won over the fellow from a distant part of the county; when our Silver Cornet Band won first place and honors over the County Seat Band; the day our baseball huskies took a big score from the brag Peruvian team, all are remembered with pride and pleasure, forgetting the many, many times other folks had the lead, and we were left to drink the bitter dregs of defeat. For more than thirty years we have rejoiced in the memory of our school Basketball Team getting into the State Finals, but have long ago forgotten the gloom and sadness of the defeat that came with the second from the last game.

Away back in the early days there was a bitter rivalry between the folks of Our Town and the residents of Freedom, half a dozen miles to the east. Freedom was a little older than Our Town, the official plat having been filed with the county recorder a few days earlier. At one time it had the chance of being the metropolis and trading center for our section, but the greed of one man who was determined that he, and he alone, should control its business turned enough people our way to soon outclass it in population and business prospects.

It was in an unguarded moment that one of our too talkative boosters, with good intentions but poor judgment, spoke of Freedom as a "Jimson Weed Town." As a matter of fact Jimson Weeds were pretty plentiful in Freedom, but it was poor policy for us to tell them about it. It would have been better to have kept quiet; to have let her people nurse along that sure mark of neglect. But the words were spoken, and the loyal sons of Freedom were soon up on their toes. However they had the discretion to believe that Silence was Golden, that actions would speak more effectively than words.

That fall the Freedom folks gathered all of the abundant crop of Jimson Weed seed that the town could produce. In the dead of night they came to Our Town, scattering the seed plentifully in every place where it looked like a Jimson Weed would thrive, going home to let Nature take its course. Next year the crop of Jimson Weed was short

Page Ten

in Freedom, but we had plenty for that year, and for many years to come.

Despite the fight we had to put up to get rid of those Jimson Weeds, Our Town continued to grow. We can point with pride to the United States Census Records which show for us an increase in population for each decade. Once our record was saved by a very narrow margin. On the morning of the last day our census enumerator found he was short by seven of the record of ten years before. Going to the circus ground he found seventeen of the "Hi Rube" show followers who were as much at home one place as any other, and who had not been listed by any other enumerator. That put us ten to the good, saving our face, and giving us solid ground upon which to boast a "continuous and healthy growth."

Note: North Manchester had a population of 3,170 in 1940, but as this is being written in 1949 it has well over four thousand. It is the largest Village in the Hoosier State, and among the larger Villages of the country. Home folks seem to prefer it as a Big Village rather than as a Small City. A few months ago a vote was taken on the proposition of taking on city incorporation. The Villagers outvoted the Cityites by four to one.