Taverns of Pioneer Days, Elkhart County, 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


AMONG THE institutions, if such they may be called, which did service to the first settlers on their way to new homes and to those who were traveling farther west were the old time taverns. These were scattered along the route, some of them in the villages and others in the open country or alongside the roads which had been cut through the forests. Those in the villages and towns were often somewhat pretentious while the forest taverns were generally of a very primitive character. Some of them were only double log cabins which afforded room for two or three travelers to sleep. Others were larger and furnished fairly good accommodations for the traveling public. The bill of fare did not provide a great variety, but there was usually a goodly supply of whatever was to be had. No efforts were spared to make the stranger comfortable and to provide for his wants to the extent of the resources which were available. As many of the early travelers came on foot or horseback at first, comparatively little room either in the house or stable was needed to accommodate them. A little later after wagon roads had been cut through and movers came it became necessary to make provision for whole families, sometimes several at a time and oftentimes both tavern and stable were taxed to their utmost capacity. It also became necessary to provide pens for the stock which the travelers brought with them to their new home. It was by no means an infrequent occurrence to find all of the beds occupied before all of the guests were provided for. Then it became necessary to utilize the floor for a sleeping place. If the travelers had in their wagons any robes, blankets, quilts or anything else which could be utilized either to lie on or for covering, those articles were brought in and made to do service. The lodgers would prepare their beds as best they could and lie down with feet toward the fireplace to enjoy their night's repose. In the towns the inn keeper was frequently an important personage. When a traveler either rode or drove up, he was on hand to greet the stranger and make him feel at home. His horse was sent to the stable and he was seated by the fireplace in the bar room where he could rest from his journey. When a family or several travelers came in a wagon the same attention was shown to all of them and the team received due care. Oftentimes these hostelries were taxed to the utmost, as were the taverns along the road. In those instances utter strangers had to share the same bed and all had to be satisfied to put up with such accommodations as could be provided for them. Very often several of the villagers would drop in during the evening for a chat with the travelers and to hear whatever news they might be able to bring from their former homes.

One of the first taverns built in the county was that of Matthew Boyd, who came in 1828 and settled at Benton. He built his tavern on the south side of the river opposite the site of the present village and near the old ford which was only a few feet below the bridge. His hotel business evidently was not as profitable as he could have wished and he devoted some of his time to farming and also operated a ferry. George Kinnison is authority for the statement that when the water in the Elkhart river was low, so that the people could use the ford, Boyd would go down the river some distance and fell trees into the stream, by this means raising the water so that travelers would be compelled to patronize his ferry. The late John W. Irwin described Boyd as a tall, well built, muscular man of rather commanding presence, one of those individuals who enjoy living at the edge of civilization. Mr. Irwin also said that he was inclined to engage in disputes with his neighbors and sometimes when he was getting the worst of it would enforce his arguments by physical force, in those instances usually coming off victorious. He lived to quite an advanced age dying in 1868.

Several miles farther northwest, on Elkhart prairie, was the Wilkinson tavern which obtained considerable notoriety in its day. Some rather gruesome tales were told concerning that hostelry, some individuals claiming that certain travelers who were supposed to have money with them were never heard of after stopping there.

In a record of his personal recollections describing the journey of his father's family from Fairfield county, Ohio, to Elkhart county, the late Aaron Work referred to both of these taverns and also to a pioneer farm house where they stayed over night. As his account is not very lengthy it will be given in his own words :

"The evening before we arrived at our destination the wagons drove into Benton. The big wagon hauled up before Boyd's tavern, Uncle Robert on the saddle horse driving the four-horse team. Mr. Boyd came out with a chair for the ladies to step down on in alighting from the wagon. Uncle said, 'Wait a minute, I want to see how things look inside?' He came out in a minute, sprang into the saddle and drove on. The next tavern was Wilkinsons. Mr. Wilkinson came out and said to Uncle Robert, 'Drive right in, drive right in."No', Uncle said, 'I want to know how much it is going to cost first."Well, how many are in the company?' Uncle told the number of men, women and children, the number of horses, cattle and sheep. Mr. Wilkinson figured it up, so much. 'No sir,' Uncle said, 'We can't pay it. We'll drive on home before we'll pay a bill like that,' cracked his whip and drove on.

"The next place they stopped was Samuel Stutsman's. It was then after dark. Mr. Stutsman owned at that time the farm owned more recently by the late Levi Smith, who bought it from David Stucky and moved from near Elkhart. The farm was one of the best in the edge of Elkhart prairie. Mr. Stutsman had plenty of barn room and feed and shelter for the stock, and plenty of house room for the weary, hungry movers. He granted cordially the request for lodging and the bill the next morning was merely nominal."

Among Goshen's earliest taverns was the one which was conducted by James Cook and located on the northeast corner of Fifth and Market streets (Lincoln Avenue). That was a popular hotel in its day and was well patronized by the traveling public. There was another tavern on Main street not far from the site of the old Masonic block, but the writer has been unable to learn the name of its proprietor.

Abner Stilson conducted a tavern several years at the corner of Main street and Lincoln avenue. Here the commissioners' court held its sessions from May, 1832 until August, 1833, when the court house was ready for occupancy. Mr. Stilson was quite a prominent figure in the little town for a number of years. At the time of the scare over the Sauk war he was sent to Indianapolis to petition the governor to send troops for the protection of the new settlement. Afterward he located in Elkhart where he engaged in the same business which he had followed in Goshen.

The Pierce tavern was also located on that same corner. Whether it was the same building as that used by Stilson or not, the writer does not know. At the rear end of the lot on the site of the Hawks-Kauffman hardware store was a barn which belonged to the tavern. Both buildings burned in 1854. For quite a number of years this tavern had been one of the popular hostelries of northern Indiana and had a large patronage. It was fully as much to the little town as the Alderman is to the city today. It was conducted by Henry Pierce and his wife. who after Mr. Pierce's death became Mrs. DeFreese. Dr. A. C. Jackson, who boarded there, said that no more appetizing meals were ever served than those prepared by Mrs. Pierce, who was assisted by Catharine Ferguson, afterward Mrs. Tom Miller. Writing for the Goshen Democrat in 1900 Dr. Jackson said : "Fifty years ago the elite were wont to meet in the Pierce hall and dance to the sweet music of Hull and Arnold's band, as gay and happy a set as ever tripped a toe."

About the same time that the Pierce tavern burned Major John W Violett, who settled on Elkhart prairie in the spring of 1829 and who was in 1830 elected the first county recorder, built the Violett house on the site where the Alderman now stands. The hotel was completed in 1855 and remained unchanged until 1881 when it was bought by Gen. Milo S. Hascall, remodeled and given the name Hotel Hascall. The old Violett House was one of the noted places of the town, afterward city, during its existence under that name. Many of the country's great men were entertained there, as it was the stopping place for all of the speakers of the several political parties for many years. Among those who were entertained there may be mentioned Thomas A. Hendricks, James R. Doolittle, Lyman Trumbull, Joseph E. McDonald, Schuyler Colfax, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Julian, and David Turpie.

One block north of the Violett house on the northwest corner of Pike and Main streets was the Tremont house, afterward called the Empire house. One of its proprietors was Isaac Middlesworth, who afterward operated the old Bonneville mill. The building was a frame building and in the early eighties the several parts were converted into three dwellings. One of these is still standing on the south side of east Pike street.

The old Julian house was another frame hotel on the east side of Main street, just south of Clinton street. It was conducted for many years by Russell Morton, who was a well known character in Goshen forty years ago, but is now almost forgotten.

Patterson's tavern was one of the early day taverns and was located in York township four miles northeast of Middlebury on the Middlebury, and White Pigeon road. Sometimes it was called the half-way house because it was half way between those two towns. When the north-eastern part of the county was settled many of the settlers came from the east via Detroit and from there to White Pigeon. For those settlers who came into Elkhart county as well as for others who traveled in this direction the old half-way house proved to be a convenient stopping place. It was owned and operated by a man named Patterson, hence its name.

Jacob Ellis, father of Joel and John Ellis, who located on Two-Mile Plain in 1831, kept a tavern called the Wayside Inn for several years. His place accommodated the east and west travel for several years before Elkhart taverns began to attract patronage.

Some of the old Elkhart taverns are mentioned in the chapter on "Early Days of Elkhart."

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