Early days of Elkhart, Indiana
From: Pioneer History of Elkhart County, Indiana
With Sketches and Stories
By: Henry S. K. Bartholomew
Press of the Goshen Printery
Goshen, Indiana 1930

EARLY DAYS OF ELKHART

IT WOULD scarcely be correct to say that the little hamlet on the north side of the Elkhart river which bore the name of Pulaski was the beginning of Elkhart, because the town which was named Elkhart was laid out on the south side of the river. Although Pulaski had a postoffice, it never was more than a small village and in later years became a part of the newer and larger town of Elkhart, which was laid out in 1832 by Dr. Beardsley.

At first the new town did not extend any farther south than Pigeon street (now Lexington avenue) and a short distance north of Jackson street. The business houses were located on Jackson street and on Main street between Jackson and Pigeon. In fact this was as far as the village extended in 1841. E. J. Davis, who located in Elkhart that year, has told something about the town at that time, in a little pamphlet under the title, "Recollections of Early Elkhart." At that time Jackson street was a part of the old Vistula road which traverses the northern tier of counties. A frame tavern, whose landlord's name was Runyon, occupied the site of the present Hotel Bucklen. Across Main street on the other corner was another frame tavern kept by Eli Penwell, Elkhart county's first sheriff. Here the stage coaches which traveled on the old Vistula road from Toledo to Chicago, stopped for a change of horses. These stages also carried the mail. Mr. Davis says that their arrival and departure brought the villagers together for news and gossip the same as did the trains in later days. They were among the important happenings which varied the monotony of village life. Another tavern keeper of those early days was Abner Stilson, who had formerly kept a tavern in Goshen. In 1844 a building was erected on the corner of Second and Jackson streets, called "The American". It was kept by Pressly Thompson. On the peak of this tavern there was a large steel triangle which was struck to call the guests to their meals or to let the people know that something unusual had happened. It was also sounded when the stages arrived. On occasions when there were unusual happenings the villagers would gather about the tavern to hear the news. This triangle was made and put in its place by Robert D. Braden, who had a blacksmith shop.

Grove N. Martin, built a large two story building on the northeast corner of Main and Pigeon streets, intending it for a hotel but it never was used for this purpose. From 1842 on for a number of years it was used for a cooper shop and an extensive business was carried on. After the cooperage business declined the building was moved some distance east of the corner and used for a carriage and wagon shop. Still later it was changed into a livery stable which was conducted by William Hiller and Henry Betts.

Mr. Martin, who had come from New York, bought large tracts of land and quite a number of town lots soon after locating in Elkhart. He also built a dam across the St. Joseph river and operated a saw mill. For a while he had a store. But he branched out too far and paid the usual penalty - failed in business. Before leaving New York he had known Robert Sanford, father of Ex-Sheriff Charles Sanford, who later came to Elkhart and took charge of his business and after some years of litigation, saved a good share of the property. Mr. Martin was the father of Herrick Martin and Mrs. A. P. Simonton.

Among the early day merchants were Philo Morehouse, Samuel Simonton, John Davenport, James and Anthony DeFreese, Thomas Fisher and Samuel S. Strong. Mr. Morehouse became one of the richest men in Elkhart in his day. Before engaging in the mercantile business he had an ashery along the bank of the Elkhart river at the foot of Jefferson street. I n later years he owned considerable railroad stock. He started the first bank in Elkhart, which years afterward was merged with the First National bank. Samuel S. Strong also became quite wealthy. He platted Strong's Riverside addition to the city of Elkhart and gave it his name. In the civil war he was a sutler in the 48th regiment. He set out a great many of the maple trees in the original plat of the city. Thomas Fisher, in addition to merchandising on quite an extensive scale, operated a distillery near the present location of the Main street bridge across the St. Joseph river. That was before distilleries had fallen into disrepute. Many leading citizens followed the business of distilling when Elkhart was young.

One of the prominent figures in Elkhart in early days was Gen. William B. Mitchell, who lived at what is now (1927), 822 West Marion street, the home of F. M. Bullock. Gen. Mitchell set out the pine trees which are still growing on the lot. He surveyed the proposed canal which was expected to be built across the north end of Indiana, and the first railroad built in this part of the state, what is known as the old road branch of the New York Central. In 1842 he was nominated by the Democrats and elected state senator for the district to which Elkhart county then belonged. On the ticket with him was Col. John Jackson, to whom the greater portion of a chapter is devoted elsewhere, and who was elected to the lower house of the legislature. Gen. Mitchell was buried in the old Middlebury street cemetery which, in about 1895, was abandoned to give place to a school building. His remains with all others that could be found were then transferred to Grace Lawn cemetery. One of his granddaughters became the wife of Judge William A. Woods, who served on the Elkhart circuit bench, on the Indiana supreme court, as U. S. district judge and as judge of the U. S. circuit court.

Another well known family was the Simonton family. The head of the family, Samuel Simonton, gave the name to Simonton lake. Among the sons were Abner P., a merchant, David and John. One son graduated from West Point military academy and became a captain in the regular army. Mrs. Edgar F. Tibbetts was a daughter of the elder Simonton.

Dr. Joseph I. Chamberlain, father of Captain Orville T. Chamberlain, came to Elkhart from Leesburg in 1842, and practiced medicine for a quarter of a cen.tury, dying in 1867. Before going to Leesburg, he lived at Milford and was the first postmaster there. He also served for a short time as postmaster of Leesburg. He was educated at Castleton Medical College, Vermont, and came west in the early 30's. In Elkhart he acquired considerable property, at one time owning all of what is now Fieldhouse's Fifth addition to the city. It was then an open field and he pastured people's cows and horses. Besides his medical practice he owned a drug store. In his day he was one of the best known men in Elkhart.

N. F. Broderick and Elijah Beardsley were among the early day justices of the peace. Mr. Broderick was also a school teacher. Mr. Beardsley was a nephew of Dr. Havilah Beardsley, founder of Elkhart. Judging by the entries in his dockets, of which his records filled several, he must have had a great deal of business in his court. In one instance a man was tried before him for murder and acquitted. His cases covered almost every kind of litigation, many of them involving land titles. He is spoken of as a man who dispensed justice impartially. In those days the justice courts were of more importance than they are now and justices had a great many more cases to try. Many of the leading lawyers did not think it below their dignity to appear in cases which were brought before those courts.

Samuel P. Beebe, who had been a probate judge, later served as justice. He was serving in that capacity when E. J. Davis came to Elkhart in 1841. Concerning him Mr. Davis has this to say: "The legal profession was not represented as such, but Samuel P. Beebe, then justice of the peace, did all legal and attorney's work demanded below the higher court, a place he filled with no little credit to himself and to the village; and he did all the work, which shows the fewer the lawyers the fewer the litigants and in that early day people were too few to quarrel, so they arbitrated their differences."

Concerning the first white child born in Elkhart, Mrs. Pancost accords that distinction to John H. Broderick, son of N. F. Broderick, who is mentioned in the chapter on early day teachers. He was born in October, 1835. In an old clipping from the Wakarusa Tribune, mention is made of Mrs. Alice Crawford McClellan, daughter of George Crawford, who was said to be the first white child born in that city. As the Crawfords located there in 1828 and were among the first people in the little hamlet of Pulaski, this claim seems to be a reasonable one. The Crawford family moved to LaPorte county in the late thirties or early forties and it was there that Mrs. McClellan died at the age of eighty four years.


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