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Helm's History




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Source: NMHS Newsletter Aug 1994

Wabash County History- Chester Township

Materials in this issue are taken from History of Wabash County Indiana 1884
T. B Helm Author & Editor. Everything in this issue comes from the section on Chester Township which was prepared by Mr. L. H. Newton.

Chester Township is situated in the northeast corner of Wabash County and comprises an area of about sixty-six square miles. Kosciusko County bounds it on the north. Whitley and Huntington Counties on the east, Lagro Township on the South, and Paw Paw and Pleasant Townships on the west. . . .
In the southeast portion of the township, a large tract of land was returned by the surveyors as "swamp land" and for many years was passed by ... by those in search of homes, under the belief that it was comparatively worthless; but after the more eligible tracts had been taken up, this locality was settled by an industrious, energetic colony, mostly of German birth, who, by a system of artificial drainage, have transformed the "Bear Swamp" into a beautiful and fertile region.

Eel River is the principal water-course of the township. Entering at the
north part, it flows in a southwesterly direction, passing on its way the
towns of Liberty Mills and North Manchester .... Its confluent streams inthis township are Simonton Creek in the northern part, and Pony Creek, which flows from the southeast part, joining the river near Manchester. Bear Grass Creek has its source in the southern portion of the township, and, flowing west, forms a confluence with the river in Pleasant Township.

Pony Creek perpetuates by its name a legend of the early days, though in
later years it almost lost its identity in the name "Ogan's Creek," which was attached to it in memory of the man who built the first mill upon its banks,and as a kind of compromise it now bears both names -- "Ogan's Creek" extending from Manchester for several miles up stream, and "Pony Creek" being recognized as the correct name from that point to the source. The legend runs to the effect that in the very early years, when there were but few white settlers in this portion of Indiana, and the lands of Chester Township were still roamed by their original possessors - the Miamis - a band of white desperadoes organized under the leadership of one Wicks, to steal the poniesof the Indians. Their plan was successful for awhile but in the end the band was dispersed, and their leader, it is supposed, met the well-merited reward of his crime.

Knowing of a place to which the ponies were attracted by luxuriant
vegetation, they constructed a trap,... from which it was next to impossible for the animals to escape after once entering, and after securing them the robbers would seclude them in a pen constructed for that purpose ... until they could dispose of them. The outlaws, it is said, had their headquarters in a hut on the farm (later owned by Lewis Dailey in Section 20). Within a few years, however, the pioneers, good and law-abiding citizens, began to make this an unfavorable locality for such nefarious proceedings, and to add to the discomfiture of the gang, the Indians finally discovered their mode of operation, and on several occasions pursued them very closely, though it is believed they never came upon them.

By a treaty with the Miami Indians the lands south of Eel River passed to thepossession of the U.S. Government and were made subject to entry by settlers in 1828 or 1829. Capitalists, with an eye to the future appreciation in values, entered large tracts of these public lands at the nominal price established by the Government ($l.25 per acre). and held them unimproved until the demand of later years would enable them to realize a handsome profit upon their investment. These men, while their names are coupled with the earliest dates on the record of entries, were never settlers, and as a matter of fact retarded the settlement of the township to some extent.

Persons in search of land would visit this locality, and, upon finding the
tracts they desired already entered, they would purchase and locate where
land was still to be obtained at the government price. Thus, while there
were a few who settled in the township prior to 1836, the majority of
pioneers came after that date.

Probably the first white settler within the present limits of the township was a man by the name of Brewer who came in December, 1833, and located near the present site of North Manchester. He remained here during that winter, but in the following spring removed to Wabash, where, it is said, he kept a boarding house for the accommodation of the workmen on the Wabash & Erie Canal, then under construction.

The real settlement of the township began with the advent of Col. Richard
Helvy, in March, 1834. His was a lonely life, notwithstanding the fact
that his family was with him in his isolated home. He had no neighbors but the Indians and wolves, with either or both of whom he would have parted without regret had his own inclinations been consulted. And as far as his eye could reach, a dense growth of timber confronted him, reaching almost to the very door of his little cabin.

In September, 1834, he was joined by a neighbor, James Abbott, whose name is quite as prominently linked with the settlement and improvement of the township as that of its first settler. Not a great distance intervened between their respective locations. Col. Helvy located on the bank of Eel River about a mile northeast of North Manchester, and Mr. Abbott located on the same stream about two miles above the present site of Liberty Mills. In that period of sparsely settled neighborhoods these few miles were thought little of, and the Helvys and Abbotts were intimate friends as well as "near neighbors". Together they undertook the task of hewing out farms from the surrounding wilderness, and for years afterward they were hand-in-hand in the public improvements of the

Col. Helvy was a native of Virginia, but removed to Indiana at an early day,
locating near Indianapolis. In 1831 or 1832, he removed to La Gro in Wabash County and was engaged in agricultural pursuits at that point until his removal to Chester Township. Here he cleared and improved a large farm of more than a hundred acres, and for a number of years was devoted to its cultivation. In later year, however, he removed to North Manchester and kept hotel on the corner of Main and Walnut streets. He died at a ripe old age, having lived to see the forest transformed into a thriving farming community, and to witness the many changes and improvements that followed in the tread of the pioneer army.

James Abbott was a native of South Carolina, and a man whose early life
developed within him those qualities of self reliance and energy which are so essentially a part of the "make up" of the true pioneer. Left an orphan at a tender age, he was bound out to a slave-holder, from whom he afterward escaped, on account of severe treatment, and made his way to North Carolina.

From that time he knew he must depend upon himself alone, and through various vicissitudes he fought his way to manhood. About the year 1800, he removed to Ohio, and was subsequently a soldier under Gen. Wayne in his campaigns against the Indians. In August, 1834 he came to Wabash County, and entered a tract of land on Eel River, upon which he located. Here he cleared and improved a large farm to the cultivation ofwhich he gave his attention for many years. He died in 1867 at the age of
ninety- one years.

Before the close of 1834 two other settlers, with their families, joined in
the work of improvement, and both were prominently identified with the
history of the township. These were John and Peter Ogan. The former located on the south side of Eel River, not far from North Manchester and erected a rude corn mill on the bank of the creek which bears his name. Peter Ogan settled within the corporate limits of North Manchester. He erected a flouring and saw mill on the bank of Eel River and was engaged in various enterprises during the period of his residence in this community. In later years, however, he sold his interests here and removed to another locality.

Early in 1835, John Simonton came to unite his fortunes with those of the
little colony in the woods. Pushing his way up Eel River in a boat that
contained himself, his family and his household goods, he disembarked andproceeded to the place which he had settled for a home. He cleared and
improved a large farm, and was long identified with the history of the
township. Henry Strickler came in February, 1836, and located on the south bank of Eel River about a mile below North Manchester. He cleared and improved a fine farm, and lived to a ripe old age.

In September, 1836, Joseph Harter came from Montgomery County, Ohio, and located within the corporate limits of North Manchester. He purchased alarge tract of land, comprising several hundred acres. Upon that portion of it lying along the river, and within thirty yards of the later Strauss and
Shock Flouring Mill, he erected a little grist mill in 1839. Mr. Harter was
a prominent citizen, and up to the time of his death was conspicuously
identified with the material interests of the township. His sons, Jacob and Joseph B. were later representatives of the mercantile interests of the town.

Mr. Harter was followed, in the fall of 1836, by his son, Eli Harter, Daniel Swank and Michael Knoop. Eli Harter located in North Manchester, and erected the second house in the town. Daniel Swank located about two and a half miles north of North Manchester, where he cleared a farm, and was engaged in its cultivation until his decease. Mr. Knoop located near the line of Kosciusko County, in the northeast quarter of Section 20, and cultivated his farm until death. He was a prominent and highly respected citizen, and was identified with many of the improvements of his day.
During the years of 1837 and 1838, immigration progressed rapidly, and many new families joined the settlement. Among this number were William Willis, Asa Beauchamp, William Thorn and Mahlon Grame, all of whom settled in North Manchester and were associated with the early mercantile interest of the town. William Bickel and Michael Kircher located southwest of North Manchester, and Rudolph Krisher about a mile south. Anthony Clever came about the same time, and cleared a farm south of town, but in later years returned to his former home in Pennsylvania.

Allan Halderman came in 1838 and settled on a tract of land adjoining the
town of North Manchester on the east, and Abram R. Switzer came in the same year and located in North Manchester where he established the first cabinet shop in the town. Gabriel Swihart came in 1839 and located two miles north of town where he cleared and improved a farm. He served one term as Representative in the Legislature of Indiana and was a prominent citizen. He died in Kosciusko County.

While North Manchester and its immediate vicinity were being rapidly settle, a similar colonization was taking place about two miles up the river. The land upon which the town of Liberty Mills now stands was purchased by James Abbott, who shortly afterward sold that portion of his estate to a Mr. McBride, it being stipulated that Mr. McBride should erect therein a grist mill. In 1836 John Comstock came to the township, and McBride sold the land to him, transferring with it the obligation which he had failed to fulfill.

Perhaps none of the early settlers of the township were more widely known or more prominently identified with its interests than Mr. Comstock. He was a man of great enterprise and fine business qualifications and the history of Liberty Mills and its various interests bear the impress of his identity. He was at one time the proprietor of a saw mill, a grist mill, a distillery, store, carding mill, giving his personal attention to each, and at the sametime serving as President of the North Manchester & LaGro Plank Road. The saw mill was erected in 1837, with the view of sawing and preparing the timber for the framing of the fouring mill which was erected the following year. About ten years later, he erected the woolen or carding mill, five rods south of the present race bridge and about the year 1839 erected the distillery. Of these enterprises more will be said in another part of this chapter.

In 1837 Mr. Comstock laid out the town of Liberty Mills and upon one of the lots he erected a frame house in which he placed a stock of general
merchandise and was engaged in mercantile pursuits until 1861. During his life he was identified with nearly all of the public improvements and was frequently chosen to fill positions of honor and trust. In 1846 he was
elected Probate Judge and in 1858 was the Representative from this county in the State Legislature. About the year 1855 he introduced the first herd of short-horn cattle into the county and in the years that followed was activelyengaged in the breeding of fine stock. At his death $5000 were realized from the sale of his herd at public vendue, from which an idea of their superiority may be gained. Mr. Comstock came to the township when its entire population was perhaps not more than half a dozen families. But he lived to see it grow into a populous and wealthy community and died in a good old age.

Among his neighbors who came shortly after the date of his own arrival, were John W. Stephens and Lewis J. Long. Mr. Stephens was the first Justice ofthe Peace elected in the township and Mr. Long served later in that capacity holding the office by repeated elections for well-nigh forty years. Bryant Fannin was also among the settlers of 1837, and Maurice Place, Isaac Place, John W. Williams and Clark Williams came in the same year.

The settlement of the southern and southeastern portions of the township
began at a later date from the fact that much of the land in those localities was owned by speculators and it was not until after the Government land remaining unsold had all been taken up that these lands began to find purchasers. Among the first who located in this portion of the township was Andrew Freshour, who came in 1840 or 41. Shortly afterward Mr. Hoffman settled near him and Peter Wright located in Section 27 in 1845. In 1847, Jacob Misener located in Section 27 and during the next two years came William Ensley, John Shippen, John Hogan, John Bush, Rankin Hoover, Peter Honius, William Honius, Samuel Mowrer Jacob Wright and others. Curtis Pauling located on a farm in1853 but had been a citizen of the township for ten years engaged in mercantile pursuits in North Manchester.

Among the early settlers locating in the "Bear Swamp" and its vicinity prior to 1836 were Caleb Antrim and George Dillon. In October, 1837 came Jesse Jenks; also Fleming and James Ayers and their widowed mother; Thomas Gilmore, too, at the same time settled on Section 18. Soon thereafter came Michael Burk, who located about one mile east of the Jenks settlement and in 1838 Payton Daniels located about two miles south of said settlement. Jonathon Hamilton and Stephen Jenks came together in 1840. Following these came Alfred and Enos Hornady who about 1841 located respectively on Sections 19 and 25.

Samuel Ridgley came about two years later and Cornelius Wilson came about1849. Nathan Hiland, Henry Howenstein, Hiram Filson, Enoch Harter and Lewis Harter came during 1850 and 51. Jacob Scheerer came in the fall of 1854, andlocated in Section 30 and Frederick Rickert came in the same season and located on the land adjoining Scheerer on the north. John Burkhart, Frederick Walter, Mr. Fishley and Xavier Sell came during the late fall of 1854, while Justus Gemmer and others came in 1855.

Thus within a period of but little more than twenty years the settlement which began along the banks of Eel River had become diffused over sixty-six square miles of territory, and in every quarter of the township was heard the ring of the pioneer's ax mingled with the sounds of the giant trees as they fell to give place to the cleared fields that everywhere blossomed in the heart of the wilderness. Game of all descriptions still ran wild in the forests and venison was the most popular meat on the daily bill of fare. So plentiful were the deer at that time that the problem of meat was not a serious one to a good marksman. Wolves made night hideous by their howls, to such an extent that the settlers were often robbed of their much needed rest. A war of extermination was decided upon and, at first, carried on singly. But afterward concerted action was taken and the settlers from miles around would join in a wolf hunt and surround a swamp or other known rendezvous of the marauders, sending in men and hounds to "beat the bush" and scare the game from its lair. It was pretty sure to run within range of a trusty rife in the hands of a deadly foe, and by frequent repetitions of this sport the settlers were ultimately rid of their disagreeable neighbors and their sheep and pigs slept undisturbed. At one of the hunts in 1849, seven wolves were killed in one afternoon.
To be continued....

Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1994

Wabash County History- Chester Township

Continued from August 94
Materials in this issue are taken from History of Wabash County Indiana 1884
T. B Helm Author & Editor. Everything in this issue comes from the section on Chester Township which was prepared by Mr. L. H. Newton.

During the first twenty years succeeding the period at which the settlement of this township began, great changes took place in the general aspect of the country and important public improvements were instituted and carried out. The nearest grist mill was forty miles distant on Turkey Creek, in Elkhart County, and to this point the first settlers were compelled to carry their grain to have it ground into flour or meal. It was probably in the year 1837 that John Ogan erected a little mill on the bank of Oga n's Creek, but it was a small affair and in all its appointments it was primitive in the extreme. He did not attempt to make flour, and his mill did not rise above the dignity of a "corn cracker." Still, while it was the only mill in this region, it served a very useful purpose In 1839, Joseph Harter erected near the later site of the Strauss & Shock Mill, the first flouring mill in the neighborhood. Originally it had but two run of buhrs, one for wheat and the other for corn, while the corn buhrs were simply large boulders...taken from the river and dressed down. In 1843, however, Mr. Harter remodeled his mill, increasing its capacity, and making it equal to the best mills of that period. Saw mills were among the industries early established, and filled an important place in the community. The first was erected about the year 1838 by Peter Ogan, very near the later site of the Clapp & Jacobs Saw Mill, in the south part of Manchester, and on the bank of Eel River. Some time subsequently, Mr. Ogan added a ru n of buhrs and conducted a limited gristmill trade. In later years, after several changes of ownership, this mill was purchased by J.B. & J. Harter and soon afterward ceased to exist. Damages were entailed upon surrounding property by the dam at this mill k, and it was purchased by the brothers Harter with the express intention of abating the nuisance peaceably. Another saw mill was that built in 1839 by Anthony Clever at the mouth of a small creek about half a mile west of John Heeter's residence. At Liberty Mills some time in 1837, John Comstock erected a saw mill, and at this place sawed and dressed the lumber for a large flouring mill which he erected at that point in the following year. A carding mill and distillery soon followed and the incipient town of Liberty Mills began to wear a look of industry and importance. The flouring mill drew its trade from a Sradius of sixty miles around and enjoyed a lucrative share of the public patronage. GIn 1850, Mr. Comstock erected a new mill building, removing the carding machinery to the former flouring mill building, and conducting a profitable trade in the carding of wool for his neighbors within a circuit of forty miles or more. Latterly, however, the woolen mill was destroyed by fire and was never rebuilt. The flouri ng mill stands about twenty rods south of the building originally erected for that purpose. Until 1866 Mr. Comstock continued to operate it, but in that year sold it to C. T. Banks and Co. The distillery was erected in 1839 and, in the language of one of the sons of the proprietor, "it was a flourishing and damnable enterprise." He would send his sons with wagon loads of whisky to surrounding towns as far as Mishawaka, Warsaw, and other pla ces. As the boys grew up, however, each begged to be released from all connection with the distillery and its products, a request which was promptly granted. Gradually, Mr. Comstock became impressed with the idea that the traffic was of questionable prop riety, and said: "I will let that distillery rot!" He had repeated offers for it, and could have sold it to splendid advantage; but to all these propositions his answer was a decided negative. So the distillery remained inoperative until, in the natural course of events, it crumbled to decay.