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 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter, May 1995

Early Highways of Commerce

Information for the following article was taken from Helm's History of Wabash County published in 1884 as well as from a Journal article.

After Manchester had been located and a regular trading post established, every year brought new families to the settlement in considerable numbers, and by the year 1844 all the available Government land in the vicinity of Eel River was taken up by actual settlers. There were no roads or other public highways, if we except the Indian "trails" leading from Eel River to Logansport, and from Eel River to Fort Wayne. Families newly arrived would cut their way through the timber to the lands which they had selected for homes, and in a short time these paths would again become overgrown and traces of them lost. These were the first roads; but they served only a temporary purpose and never became public highways.

Scarcely more interest is now manifested in a prospective railroad than was evinced when it was noised about that the settlement on Eel River was to be connected with LaGro, on the Wabash, by a public highway. The initiatory steps in this matter were taken some time in 1838 or 1839. A road for a mail route was to be opened through the woods from LaGro to Liberty Mills.

Volunteers started from opposite end of the proposed route, and taking the section lines for their guide, cut away the timber on each side of the road, until the party advancing southward from Liberty Mills and Manchester met the party working northward from LaGro, and the road was open and ready for travel. The principal object in opening this road was to make a highway for the transportation of the mail, which was carried on horseback from LaGro to Liberty Mills. It was called the "Mail Trace," and was long known by that name.

In earlier times, all the surplus products of this locality were taken by wagon to LaGro, which town enjoyed the advantage of being located upon the Wabash & Erie Canal, the great commercial thoroughfare of its time. ""It was a hard day's drive" says the JOURNAL'S correspondent, "to take twenty bushels of wheat to La Gro (a distance of twelve miles); but the increasing demands of trade made better means of intercourse with commercial centers a prime necessity, and the consequence was a plank road was built to LaGro about the year 1850, which so much facilitated the transportation of commercial products, that one team could do the work of four under the old state of affairs. Great as was this improvement at the time, with the opening of railroad communication it sank into insignificance, and today is practically abandoned as a commercial highway between the two towns."


EARLY ROADS

“The Mail Trace” in Weesner, History of Wabash County, 376:

After North Manchester and Liberty Mills had been located and the two settlements commenced to vie with each other in the founding of mills and business houses, the fame of the Eel River country in that part of the county began to draw a steady stream of new comers. The necessity for decent highways of travel thus became apparent. If we except the Indian trails leading from Eel River to Logansport and Fort Wayne, there were no roads penetrating that region from the Valley of the Wabash prior to the late ‘30s.

Largely through the exertions of Mr. Comstock, in 1838 and 1839, a road for a mail route was opened through the woods from the big “canal town,” La Gro, to Liberty Mills and North Manchester. A party from La Gro worked north, and others from the northern towns worked southward, and so the road, crude though it was, came to be. The principal object in opening it was to make a highway for the transportation of mail from La Gro to Liberty Mills. It was long called the Mail Trace, although it was generally used by travelers cutting across from the Wabash to the Eel River Valley.

 

“Plank Road Between La Gro and North Manchester” in Weesner, History of Wabash County, 228:

A more important line was the La Gro & North Manchester Plank Road covering the twelve miles between these important points. In the early ‘50s, when it completed, La Gro was one of the busiest places on the Wabash & Erie Canal. It was recognized as a commercial center for the shipment of farm products and offered, through the agency of the plank road, more than ordinary facilities to North Manchester, Liberty Mills and vicinity for safe and convenient trade exchanges. This was a great improvement over the old dirt road between the two places. As stated years afterward by a North Manchester newspaper man: “It was a hard day’s drive to take twenty bushels of wheat to La Gro; but the increasing demands of trade made better means of intercourse with commercial centers a prime necessity, and the consequence was a plank road built to La Gro, about the year 1850, which so facilitated the transportation of commercial products that one team could do the work of four under the old state of affairs.”

 

“Liberty Mills and Huntington Joined” in Weesner, History of Wabash County, 229:

Largely through the enterprise of Judge Comstock, a substantial plank road was built between Liberty Mills and Huntington in 1850-51. It was called the Huntington & Liberty Mills Plank Road and opened up quite a territory for the products of the Comstock mills—flour, saw, woolen, etc. The controlling company was capitalized at $25,000, most of the stock being taken in Huntington County. The road continued to successful operation for many years, and the major portion of its bed was finally appropriated by the Huntington & Liberty Mills Gravel Road Company.



Source: North Manchester Journal, April 26, 1888

Tuesday last John C. Summerland, David T. Krisher and Eli Lautzenhiser, appointed to view a certain piece of road known as the Liberty Mills and Huntington plank road across section 26, Chester township, and report the feasibility or otherwise of vacating the same, petitioned for by Jacob Ruse and others, made their report advising the closing of the same.