of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.
Volume XXII Number 2 May 2005
T. B.Helm in his 1884 History of Wabash County begins his biography of John Comstock saying "The History of Chester Township and of Wabash County would be incomplete without a sketch of the life of the late Hon. John Comstock, who in some respects was the most remarkable man ever having resided here."
The Comstocks immigrated from Austria. John's father, John, was one of three brothers who came to the New World when their lives were threatened in Austria. John's mother was Hope Fisk. John was born in Rhode Island on February 21, 1802 on the Comstock Homestead. He had three brothers, Thomas, William and Ichabod, and two sisters, Ann and Mercy. The father moved to New York and invested in a cotton factory but was conned by his partners, left holding the bag and became bankrupt. Following a series of losses and the death of his wife, he eventually bound out his three younger sons.
When John was sixteen years old he first came to realize that he had been bound out and he left his master at once and went to Lockport, New York. He got work chopping (trees) at $5 an acre, boarding one mile from his work. He got his own breakfast, took his lunch and missed only one day his first winter. In the summer he worked as a farm laborer, chopped the following winter. Although he was able to save some funds, his health declined, and he decided that his only option was to prepare to be a teacher. He arranged to care for some stock in exchange for his board and began to attend school both summer and winter. He walked two miles to and from school and studied during lunch and into the night. He gained admission to high school but there his health weakened again and he spent three months as an invalid. He tried to work again without much success and decided to gather what funds he had and go West.
He reached Bristol, Ohio, with three shillings in his pocket and bought the few things required for teaching school. His first job he received $8 a month and board around the district. He taught both summers and winters for three years and then took a school which was considered the most unmanageable in the area. After some discipline with a birch sprout it became quite a pleasant school and he was there three years until 1828. On New Year's Day, 1826 he married Miss Salena Newhouse of Wayne County, Ohio. Also, the same winter, he bought a quarter section of land near his school house, erected a cabin and began clearing the land. In the spring, to his neighbors surprise, he planting five acres of potatoes. In the fall he sold the potatoes at 50 cents a bushel to the contractors working on the canal and had enough money to make the next payment on his land.
Soon he bought the second quarter section of land and paid for it with the products of it. He went into the business of digging wells working with a nephew. There was little money in circulation and their payment was often in young stock. John's wife took on the care of his share of the animals. In 1835, with John Newhouse, he attended some land sales at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and purchased 80 acres just west of present day Liberty Mills paying $10 an acre. When he returned home, his wife said that if he was going to move West they should move right away. Since his farm was in good condition, he was able to find a buyer at $45 per acre and in the spring of 1836 they made sale, loaded a big wagon with their household goods, requiring two yoke of oxen, his wife drove the single wagon carrying the family. The hired man drove the six cows which supplied them milk for the trip. They were twenty seven days on the trip, making only four or five miles a day crossing the black swamp.
They reached the banks of the Eel River on June 26, 1836 and found that the cabin they thought was on their land was not and was occupied. There was an unfinished cabin on their land and they threw brush to make a temporary roof, put up a blanket for a door and contrived some beds, made a fire on the ground near a corner and moved in. Next they planted some potatoes and had a good crop in the fall
They lived in Pottawatomie Indian territory and one experience in 1836 was rather tense. John was about two miles away making marsh hay when a group of Indian warriors in war paint and somewhat drunk came galloping along. One leader came into the cabin and, seeing bottles of medicine on the shelf, demanded some. Mrs. Comstock refused. He swung his tomahawk over her head and threatened to kill her. She said she would call "white man" and went to the door calling John. He left, mounted his pony and rode away. These men were on their way to a burial of one of their group killed on the way home from Ft. Wayne after receiving their annuity money.
The next year the Comstocks built a double hewed-log cabin with porch between and used one cabin for storage. John also bought forty acres of land, taking a portion of it to lay out in lots for the town of Liberty Mills. Another project during the winter months was to drive out two droves of hogs from further east and sell them to settlers around the area. In the spring of 1938, he with a young nephew drove out a herd of cattle and sold them in the area - even as far as Michigan City. Since the nearest grist mill was then at Waterford requiring a long journey over a blazed trail he soon considered developing his own mill race. He built a sawmill first, in the winter of 1837-38 and a grist mill the following winter. Just as he finished the sawmill, it burned to the ground, but he quickly built another. The grist mill was convenient and superior to most and many settlers brought their grain. As late as 1852 settlers sixty miles away were coming to the Comstock mill.
In 1839 he set up a tannery. Demand grew rapidly and by 1844 he had sixty vats with his brother, Ichabod, in charge.
In 1841 he had a carding machine in operation in a building below the bridge. Later that same year he built a distillery and this was the only enterprise which he came to regret. The original plan was a wise one. Large amounts of corn and rye were used in the distilling process and he planned to use the waste from the process to feed his hogs and cattle. The products of the distillery, however, were not so positive . One rather amusing story is told of one distillery employee who often drank until the morning he came in to find a very dead rat floating in the brew and never drank spirits from that day on. The final blow to John was when his own sons refused to have anything to do with the distillery business. John later called it a dammed business, shut it down and refused to sell the building. It stood until it fell down.
Another unsuccessful venture was sheep raising. He brought a large flock of sheep from the East but they were quickly threatened by wolves. He had to have someone herd them during the day and enclose them in a 12-foot fence at night. So he sold the sheep in small lots to anyone who would buy them. In 1848 he rebuilt the sawmill, putting in a turbine wheel.
Another person claimed a royalty was due and the case went to the U.S. Court at Indianapolis. John supplied proof that the wheel was put in before the plaintiff took out his patent and the case went in his favor. In 1849-50 he built a new and much improved grist mill and moved a carding machine into the former building as well as some improved textile machines which operated until 1866 when the building was destroyed by fire.
John Comstock regularly took leadership in the effort to built more and better roads. He tried several times to organize a group to build a plank road connecting La Gro and Liberty Mills, with a fork to North Manchester but couldn't seem to get cooperation. Next, he tried to get some from Huntington to cooperate to build from that town to Liberty Mills. Finally, in 1851 he got an agreement. At that time La Gro was handling more grain than either Wabash or Huntington. The road was completed in 1854. Later, in 1871, he was a leader in building the Eel River Valley Railroad.
At about 1851 a gang of organized horse thieves, robbers and counterfeiters who were troubling the country from Ohio to Illinois and who plotted to intercept John Comstock when he was carrying money for his payroll or others who had considerable money on their persons at times. In fact, the Comstock store was robbed one night of goods valued at about $1000 but no one knew about it because they thought the secret might make it easier to catch the thieves. Meantime, John Comstock, Thorn brothers (businessmen) and John's son-in-law, John J. Shaubert and his three sons set up a detective force to track the thieves. In less than one year this group had the names of about 200 of the crime ring, some of whom were local persons. Charges sent two horse thieves to State prison, plus a neighbor's son for the store robbery, a minister for planning the burglary and a counterfeiter. In addition, one forfeited his bond and another had a fatal accident just before his trial. Several men in the community settled their affairs and left the area. Persons traveling alone on roads breathed easier for quite a period of time.
Judge Comstock (as he was commonly called) was very active in organizing the Wabash County Fair which opened first in 1852. The Comstocks always exhibited their livestock. John bought cattle from the finest herds to improve his own herd. He bought Shorthorns in Kentucky, New York State and the Province of Quebec until his own herd was the best in the area. Then his annual sales brought large crowds and enabled many in this State to improve their herd. His estate sale included fifty-one cattle which sold for nearly $5000 total.
At one time, Judge Comstock owned 1600 acres of land but he sold it bit by bit as buyers were willing to meet his high prices until about 600 acres were left. In 1869 he sold his mills and the water power in order to spent more time with his fine livestock. For the last ten years this was his only business and it gave him more pleasure than any other. He took an active part in every political campaign. He held several political positions during his lifetime. He left a position as township Judge when he moved to Indiana. Here he became Postmaster, was appointed Commissioner for Northern Wabash County, then Probate Judge 1846-1852, to the State Legislature 1858-1859 and during the War of the Rebellion he loaned money to the State to kept the government going and arm and equip the soldiers of the State.
The Comstocks had seven children. Anna married John J. Shaubert and they moved to Minnesota. Sarah married William Ross who died in 1862; and then married Robert Cason who died in 1880. Thomas married Miss Elizabeth Thorn in 1852, became a Methodist minister and died in 1872. William married Miss Elizabeth Place in 1858, entered the ministry but his health failed and he retired to a farm where he died of consumption in 1875. Henry married Miss Melissa Bender and lived on a farm just south of Liberty Mills. Jane married James Best and lived on a farm east of Liberty Mills. John, Jr. died of pleurisy in 1846. The Comstock family had for several generations been Quakers. In the spring of 1842 Judge Comstock and his wife joined the Methodist Episcopal church and were members until 1846 when the Conference of that church declared against the manufacture and sale of "ardent spirits". After he sold all the equipment from the distillery and refused to sell it he later rejoined that church. Meantime, his wife died in 1878.
Because of his various businesses, Judge Comstock always employed a sizeable group of workers. For about twenty years many local farmers worked at harvesttime to buy winter clothes. He was known to pay fair cash wages. It was said that a needy person was never turned away. So when he became ill there were many expressions of dismay. In the spring of 1879 he suffered a slight stroke but he recovered quickly and seemed to be in good health. However, in September, he complained one day of a pain in his shoulder, had liniment rubbed on it, walked about the farm and visited with his daughter, Anna, who was there. At 4 p.m. while sitting in his chair, talking, his heart failed and his lost consciousness. His family was called and he died in the arms of his grandson, Harry Comstock.
John Comstock was buried on October 3, 1879 in the Greenwood cemetery, carved from his own land; a beautiful hill just west of Liberty Mills between the grave of his wife and his youngest son. Others of the family now lie around them, though it is believed that some stones commemorate persons not actually buried there. The Comstock Homestead stands just east of Highway 13 as one approaches Liberty Mills. John Comstock's significance for the growth of Liberty Mills cannot be questioned. But, as years went by his complete control of the area led some to leave Liberty Mills and move to North Manchester. So while Liberty Mills was the leading town in the early years, as time went on and the price of land in North Manchester was cheaper, Manchester took the lead. When the railroad built a station at North Manchester it was the final step in the growth of that town and the decline of Liberty Mills. Judge Comstock deserves a great deal of respect for many benefits giving by his ideas and his work for the whole area. To quote one historian, "He was a very useful member of the community,"
Remembering West Ward School
by Jack Miller
It was 1926 and we kids were quite excited as we marched out the front entrance of our West Ward grade school. Mr. Rice, of Rice Studios was standing out there behind that big camera perched on top of a tripod. There was confusion for a bit as grades were lined up on the front steps. "Sixth grade and teachers on top step, fifth grade next step down, third and fourth grades next step down, you second graders on your knees and the first graders sit on the bottom row."
Finally Mr. Rice was satisfied that every young face was visible, and then he and the camera hid under a black shawl. With the command, "Hold it!" everyone held their breath. A sigh went up as Mr. Rice's head came out from under that black shawl. "All right," he called out. "You boys on the third row stop that shoving and we will try it again." I was standing on the third row, fifth from the left hand side, next to Lawrence Reed. It must have been Larry Reed. It's hard to remember after 79 years. Anyway, this picture is as clear and sharp as it was that May day so long ago.
The teachers standing in the top center... were everything teachers stood for -- dedicated to seeing that each of us kids would leave that school able to do our reading, writing, and arithmetic. The lady on the left with the gray hair was Martha Winesburg, first and second grade teacher. She taught my dad in the first and second grade, as she did me. What a wonderful patient lady she was. A long overdue tribute was paid to her when, in 1929, the school name was changed to Martha Winesburg.
Nitus Hall was the school principal who taught the sixth grade. He was the law and we spirited boys on the west end of North Manchester understood that. In his office was a wooden paddle about two inches wide. When that connected with the seat of a boy's corduroy pants, the whack could be heard all over the school. The whack wasn't so bad, but returning back to your class with tears in your eyes had everybody staring at you. That was the punishment. How do I know? Well...really.
The teacher standing next to Mr. Hall was Carrie Bard, the terror of all who did not produce in her fifth grade class. I mentioned her name to Jack West the other day (one of those "west end boys") and he shuddered with recalling. Miss Bard was a good teacher and she never let up on me from the slump I had at that time because my parents divorced.
The young teacher next to Miss Bard was Susie Shock who taught third and fourth grade. I was in the fourth grade when Miss Shock replaced Miss Thomas, who had been the third and fourth grade teacher. Poor Miss Shock, fresh out of teacher's college and facing the West End torrent. No --she got along very well with us kids. Probably too nice to us fourth graders, considering what was ahead of us in that fifth grade upstairs.
Okay, many of the faces in that 1926 picture are gone now, but I know some of us are still kicking. Perhaps "shuffling" would describe it better. Hey! Drop The Paper, Wabash, Indiana a line and let us know where you are. We would like to hear from you former students of West Ward School/ Martha Winesburg School/ Maple (Grove) Park School.
Printed in 'the paper' May 3, 2005. Reprinted with permission of Jack Miller
Historical Society meeting
Historical Society members met on May 9, 2005 to hear Edward K Jones, Jr., better known as Pete Jones. Pete taught history at Manchester High School for many years, but as an area historian he currently writes a column for the Wabash Plain Dealer. He is a great storyteller with a wealth of stories from which to choose and will tell one this evening.
This story is about a person from Wabash County, who is unknown today, but who was famous during his lifetime. His name was Ed Howe, born in Wabash County in 1853 or 54. His family moved to Missouri when he was three, but Pete Jones still claims him for Wabash County. Howe's family heritage is uncertain. His father was an itinerant Methodist preacher who also farmed. Ed Howe did not get along well with his father and left home at age fifteen. He became a tramp printer, traveling much of the west moving from job to job.
By age 20 he bought a newspaper in a Colorado town. His newspaper was so unsuccessful that when two of his children died of diphtheria, the competing newspaper owner paid for their burial. Upon moving to Atchison Kansas, he bought another newspaper -- the Atchison Globe. This time he learned the business, became part of the community, and made a success of the newspaper --despite his cantankerous personality. At his death, Howe's son described him as the unhappiest man alive.
Pete Jones became interested in Ed Howe when he read a Saturday Review of Literature article which mentioned three Wabash County people in a single column -- Lloyd Douglas, Gene Stratton Porter, and Ed Howe. At the time, Howe was an excellent reporter who worked the street -- which competing newspaper reporters often did not do at the time. Howe's Atchison Globe circulated in all the states in the Union, and also thirty other countries.
Howe wanted to write a novel, but still didn't have much money. So after work each day, he went home and wrote at his kitchen tale in pencil on a yellow tablet (possibly a Golden Rule tablet made in Marion, Indiana) until late in the evening. He wrote a book called "Story of a Country Town," about his unhappy experiences in a small Missouri town. Pete does not recommend that the audience members read the book, although it was critically acclaimed as being early naturalistic and realistic writing in American Literature. It is a sad story similar to Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street," before that famous book was written.
Howe tried having the book published, but half a dozen publishers declined to print it. This prompted Howe to print it himself, regardless of the tedious hand-set type process. Howe had 1500 copies bound in Kansas City, giving several to friends and also placing copies in bookstores. He sent copies to Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, a well-known critic of the day. Both Twain and Howells liked the book, causing Howe to redistribute the books for wider exposure. The "Story of a Country Town" remained in print until just a few years ago, and might be back in print.
Howe enjoyed running the newspaper, and soon became financially solvent. However, his personal life was less succesful, as his wife divorced him in 1901 and he was periodically estranged from his children.
He began a monthly magazine which enjoyed large circulation, and initiated a "Don't Worry Club." He traveled and freelanced, writing about his experiencies. He became a well-known humorist and frequently had by lines in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1910s and 20s. He bought a house outside of Atchison, named it Potato Hill and became known as the Sage of Potato Hill.
At the 50th anniversary of the Globe in 1927, a Testimonial Dinner was held for Ed Howe, including many famous guests of that time period, such as Bernard Baruch, Ervin S. Cobb, Roy Howard, Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice and Gene Fowler. Rube Goldberg, Walter Winchell, John T. McCutcheon, Fritz Kreisler, Will Hayes and John Philip Sousa also were there.
Pete Jones read a few of Ed Howe's humorous sayings. He also shared a couple of sayings indicating that Howe wasn't always right in his instincts, such as his opinion that Marconi's invention of the wireless would never become helpful; he also predicted failure for the Wright Brothers.
As Howe neared retirement, his townspeople honored him as he stated that the decent way to die was to come home after a hard day at work, go to sleep and never wake up. This basically describes the death of Ed Howe: he went home after work one day in 1937, and died in his sleep. His last book was not quite finished by his death. The newspaper, then managed by his son, praised his journalistic talents, stating that Howe had the ability to be precise with a brevity of expression.
Another successful Wabash County son.
A Freshman's First Day
On the evening of Monday, September the tenth, nineteen hundred seventeen, I first entered the Ladies' Dormitory of Old M.C. as an inmate thereof. My parents brought me hither, led me safely to the room which was to be my home; goodbyes were spoken, and - I was alone. A stranger in a strange land was I.
Where shall I go? What shall I do? These questions were uppermost in my mind. Finally I decided to stay in my room until it would become necessary to stray abroad. I was in mortal fear of wandering into some forbidden realm, or getting lost in the vast wilderness of new sights about me.
For lack of something better to do I set about unpacking my trunk and mechanically putting my room in order. Then I sat in the darkest, dingiest corner of my room and cried in my wretchedness - why, oh, why, had I come? Why had my father brought me here? Why could I not return to my mother and never return here?
Then horror of horrors! The clanging of a mighty bell burst in upon me and startled me in my misery. What could it be? I dare not stay in my room longer. I must go somewhere. So I arose and started down the hall, but just as I was regaining my composure, I turned in the hallway and - came upon a mighty band of persons whom I have never seen before! Shrinking aside to one side of the hall, I turned to run back to my room. But lo, the space behind me was filled! Strange girls poured forth from every door and surrounded me.
There was no way of retreat, I had to follow the crowd, withersoever they would lead me. Through halls, down steps, through another hall and then into a large room they forced me. Here new objects of fright were forced upon me. More strangers - hundreds, I thought - and each was finding a seat at a supper table!
Surrendering to the inevitable, I grabbed the nearest seat. In agony I watched each action of my neighbors and tried to copy each act for the eyes of all were upon me.
Finally the dreadful meal was over. I was at liberty. Stumbling up the steps and through the halls, I hastened to my lonely room and locked the door. I sank to the floor, thankful for one thing - my first day at M. C. was past. Then, though it was but six o'clock, I went to bed, to dream sweet dreams of Mother and Home, Sweet Home. --
Six Months Later
"The Spring term begins tomorrow!" I could scarcely realize that six months age I had gone to M. C. with feelings of dread. Now I could scarcely wait till the conductor would come through the car and shout: "North Manchester! " Would there be any new students? Would any old faces be missing? Would any of my friends be at the station to meet me? Long before the depot came in sight I had my belongings together and was sitting forward on the edge of my seat ready to spring to the platform.
"Sure enough, there are the girls!?" I said aloud as I caught sight of my two particular friends on the platform, waving handkerchiefs to me even before the train stopped. The next moment, in my eagerness to greet the girls, I nearly fell over the brakeman who was politely offering to help me down the steps. We embraced each other with as much fervor as if our parting with each other had been a year ago instead of less than a week. "Oh, girls, who are the new students? What do they do? Are many of the old ones gone? Who has Room - since those girls left" Why are you sniffing and the corners of that box of mine. It has no goodies in it?" The questions poured out in a flood, no one giving me or expecting any answers.
Sending our baggage ahead with the taxicab, we merrily set off at a rapid pace, for the college. By the time we had reached the campus I knew all that had happened at M. C. in my absence, while they in turn had heard all the particular details of my visit at home.
On the campus we met many of the old students and all seemed happy in their college home. Hurrying to my room I quickly threw off my wraps and combed my hair in preparation for supper. While my one friend perched on the foot rail of the bed told me of the edifying sermon she had heard on Sunday, the other sat on the table and chattered away over the new romances that had arisen since my departure.
Suddenly there fell upon our ears the melodious peals of the College bell. " The supper bell," I cried. "Oh, I'm so eager to go down and see everybody. Come, let's go down early. I just must see the new and old girls. I wonder when we will get our new seats at the tables." Giving my hair a final twist which really did it more harm than good, I took the girls by the arm and skipped down the hall to the waiting room.
Then ensued, for me, a happy time. How glad I was, to see the girls once more. As we entered the dining hall, I hastened to my place and glanced over the assembly. What a fine "homely" family this College family was, and how I did love to be here! "Well, just see," I laughed. "We have molasses for supper. What a treat, after having nothing at home but maple syrup." "yes" replied the friend next to me,. " and we also have a Grand Review." Now a "grand review" is a soup composed of corn, peas, beans, gravy, and all the vegetables left over from the meals of the past few days; it is very appetizing and delicious.
The meal was passed midst jokes and laughter, then ensued a mighty rush for the post office. Oh, the delight of an M C. student when a letter arrives from home! How the others do envy that happy person who receives it! There is certainly "joy in the camp" when one hears from friends at home.
The evening flew as though on wings; soon Bible Society was over, lessons were studied and bedtime was near. But to go to bed? No, we must first celebrate the new term with a "feed", and although the feed itself was small, yet a merrier time was never enjoyed by happier girls, than that late hour was enjoyed by us.
But merry making can not always last, and as we suddenly realized that time had swiftly flown, and that one must have sleep, hasty goodnights were spoken and the girls slipped merrily to their rooms, while I turned out my light and climbed into bed. "Oh, what a good time I have had," I sighed, "but I always do here. How I do love the girls. I certainly had a find time at home but..
Viola C. Neher Copied from the 1918 Aurora