History of Wabash, Indiana (Part 1)
From: History of Wabash County, Indiana
Compiles under the Editorial Supervison of
Clarkson W. Weesner
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York 1914


The City of Wabash, the county's seat of justice and its commercial and industrial metropolis, was eighty years of age in April, 1914; still young as a city of the Ohio Valley, but substantial, cultured and beautiful, and yearly developing into a greater municipality. Its site on the Wabash River is striking from the viewpoint of picturesqueness, and favorable to the best hygienic conditions.


The business and manufacturing districts stretch away on comparatively level ground from the river and canal, while toward both the north and the south the resident sections cover bold and healthful highlands. The rise is especially abrupt and striking north of the Wabash, which embraces the main portion of the city.

The streets of the city are broad and well kept; its residences tasteful, without being gaudy; its stores substantial and attractive in appearance, and its manufacturing plants large and expanding. Wabash as a city, with its prosperous looking citizens, has the inevitable appearance of a municipality which is not founded on a "boom," or a special class of manufactures, but has been developed normally and solidly, and has fairly distributed its profits and its prosperity among all classes of its residents.


After sixteen years of existence as a town, Wabash had a population of 964, and in 1860 these figures had been increased to 1,504. From 1870 and 1875, the growth of the city showed a high percentage - its population being 2,881 in the former year, against 4,000 in the latter. It was during this period that the old Wabash & Erie Canal was abandoned as a means of transportation and commercial exchange, a north and south railroad having been added to the city's facilities in that line. The early '70s marked the commencement of the railroad era and the growth of diversified manufactures. The banks were increasing in number and financial resources, and modern Wabash really was founded. In 1890 it had a population of 5,105; in 1900, 8,618; in 1910, 8,687.

As will be seen by reference to the chapter on transportation, this well to do community of 9,000 people has also since that period become thoroughly supplied with intimate avenues of communication With all parts of the state and nation through fine systems of interurban lines. Some of the main facts leading to this laudable development as a municipality and a commercial, industrial and financial center, are given as follows:


The Town of Wabash was laid off in the spring of 1834 by Col. Hugh Hanna. The original plat is situated on the north bank of the Wabash River, about ninety miles northeast of Indianapolis, being the site of the Treaty Grounds and Paradise Springs where the treaty with the Pottawatomies and Miamis was held in 1826, the treaty being signed on the 16th and 23d days of October of that year. This ground is now occupied by the shops of the Big Four Railroad. The streets running north and south were named after the counties lying east and west, commencing with Allen, Huntington, Wabash, Miami, Cass and Carroll. The original plat contains 233 lots, and since then ninety nine additions and subdivisions have been made to the City of Wabash. The first sale of lots was on the fourth day of May, 1834.

The first settlers in the town were George Shepherd, Col. William Steele, Allen W. Smith, Alpheus Blackman, Jacob D. Cassatt, John Smith, Zara Sutherland, Michael Duffey, Andrew Murphy, Dr. J. R. Cox, Col. Hugh Hanna, David Cassatt, Dr. Isaac Finley, Dr James Hackleman and James W. Wilson.

The first lot cleared and enclosed was 22, which was improved by Colonel Steele and Allen W. Smith. George Shepherd built the first house, which was on lot 63, and Colonel Steele built the second one on lot 22. These were built in May, 1834. Alpheus Blackman made a kiln of brick in 1834, and Doctor Finley built a small brick house in the fall of that year on lot 54, and which was located where the Spiker Block now stands. Colonel Steele and Colonel Hanna built houses of the same kiln of brick.


Only a few days after George Shepherd had moved into his log cabin his first child was born, being the first white child born in the original limits of the Town of Wabash. Many have been under the impression that J. Warren Hanna, son of Col. Hugh Hanna was the first white child born in the town, but on September 11, 1879, when he signed the constitution of the Old Settlers Organization, he gave the date of his birth as June 2, 1838, some four years after the town had been laid out, and with the number of families then living in the town, it is fair to suppose that there were several children born before that date.

On the 20th of May, 1835, the commissioners appointed for that purpose by the Legislature in an Act of January 22, 1835, located the county seat at Wabash.


Colonel Steele opened the first provision store and Colonel Hanna the first drygoods store. In the summer or fall of 1834 the first tavern was opened by Andrew Murphy on lot 37. From this time forward the town improved rapidly.


In early times calico sold for a shilling a yard and it took eight yards to make a dress. Merchants gave 3 cents a dozen for eggs, and as there was no shipping facilities the supply often exceeded the demand and many bushels were emptied into the canal Since these early times calico has sold as high as thirty five and forty seven cents a yard, and eggs have reached the fabulous price of from three to seven cents a piece.


On the 16th day of January, 1849, Hon. Jacob D. Cassatt, then representative in the Lower House of the General Assembly, secured the passage of a bill incorporating Wabash, and at the election held on the first Monday in April of that year the following gentlemen were selected as the board of trustees for the first year: Daniel M. Cox, Tobias Beck, Allen W. Smith, Alexander Jackson and John lams. The board organized by the election of Daniel M. Cox as president, and the appointment of John L. Knight, clerk; William O. Ross, treasurer; Albert Pawling, marshal; Erastus Bingham, supervisor; and Henry B. Olin, assessor. The first allowance by this board was made to Albert Pawling "in the sum of twenty eight cents for candles and nails furnished."

The report of the first assessment, for which Mr. Olin, the assessor, was allowed $1.50, was as follows: Real estate, $43,430; improvements, $40,475; personal property, $48,470; total taxables, $141,385; total number of polls, 161; total number of dogs. 3, owned by Peter King, William Black and James D. Conner. This was all the four legged dogs scheduled.


The second incorporation of the town was by an election held at the courthouse on Monday, July 24, 1854, for choice of one trustee for each of the five districts, or wards, into which the town had been divided by the commissioners. This second town corporation continued in existence until March, 1866, when it was ascertained that there was a population in the town of 2,868 persons, and an election, as provided by law, was ordered to be held on Monday, March 26. 1866. to determine whether the town should be incorporated as a city. It was so determined, and on the 9th of April, 1866, an election was held to select the officers of the incoming city government, which resulted in the choice of Joseph H. Matlock for mayor; William Bell, marshal; Fred Bouse, street commissioner; Lewis B. Davis, treasurer; and James M. Amoss, clerk.

Councilmen for the First Ward, Joseph Mackey and William Steele, Jr.; Second Ward, John D. Miles and Josiah S. Daugherty; Third Ward, Levi Rose and Archibald Kennedy. The first regular meeting of the new officers was held on Wednesday, April 11, 1866.


The following persons have been elected mayors and served the city government from the date of its organization to the present time: Joseph H. Matlock, 1866-68; Warren G. Sayre, 1868-76; Clarkson W. Weesner, 1876-78; Charles S. Parrish, 1878-82; Clarence W. Stephenson, 1882-88; Henry C. Pettit, 1888-90; Michael R. Crabill, 1890-92; Horace D. Banister, 1892-94; James E McHenry, 1894-1902; Jesse D. Williams, 1902-04; Joseph W. Murphy, 1904-10; Dr. James W. Wilson, 1910.


The old courthouse and the roof of the building near it in which were located the public offices were burned April 14, 1870. The county commissioners then bought what was known as the new Presbyterian Church, located across the street from the public square, and this was occupied as a courthouse until the present substantial and modern structure was erected in 1878-79. The first term of the Wabash Circuit Court to be held in this new building commenced in September, 1879. Hon. John U. Pettit and Hon. Lyman Walker, who succeeded him October 22, 1879, being the presiding judges.


The municipal home of Wabash is the fine city hall at the southeast corner of Wabash and Main streets; a substantial two story structure surmounted by a tower, with the first story of stone and the second, of red brick.

The present site of the city hall was purchased under authority of an ordinance passed March 18, 1878, during the mayoralty of Clark W. Weesner. The cost was $1,400. Seven years passed before the structure was completed.

At a meeting of the city council held on the evening of Monday, April 28, 1883, plans were presented and adopted for the erection of a city building on the lot mentioned. On May 14th, the contract for its construction was awarded to F. A. Grant of Wabash; the contract price was $13,850. C. W. Stephenson was mayor at that time.

The city hall was over two years in the building, being turned over complete to the municipality on June 22, 1885. The building stands 60 to 89 feet on the ground, the first floor being mainly occupied by accommodations for the fire and police departments. On the second floor is the mayor's office, and rooms for the city clerk, treasurer, engineer, etc. To the rear of these a corridor extends across the entire floor. Beyond this is the council chamber, a conveniently arranged hall, 52 by 57 feet in dimensions.

The front of the city hall is in excellent taste, all the windows being arched with stone cappings. Ornamental stone work also surrounds the base of the Mansard roof, which is surmounted by an iron bell tower on which is a flagstaff. The words "City Hall, 1883," are displayed across the front under the roof.


The postoffice, or Uncle Sam's Home in Wabash, is a handsome building, rather Grecian in its style of architecture. It was erected in 1912, at a cost of $75,453.23, and is thoroughly adapted to the purposes for which it was designed.


Soon after Wabash was organized as a city, in April, 1866, a small volunteer fire company was organized. It was composed of such a few members that there were scarcely enough to operate the tiny hand engine which had been purchased as a protection against fire. At a later date a hook and ladder company was formed and a steam. engine purchased, with sufficient hose and hosecarts for both the north and south sides of the city.

The city constructed sixteen fire cisterns, so located as to command the entire area of the several sections into which the municipal area was divided for fire purposes. Each had a capacity of from five hundred to eight hundred barrels.

The efficiency of the department was much strengthened and protection against fire made far more certain, when the city waterworks were completed in 1887. About one hundred hydrants were thus added to the means of water supply in ease of fire. This number has since been more than doubled, with a vastly increased force furnished by the new powerhouse of the waterworks.

If it were not for this fact, the fire department of Wabash City would be inadequate for the city's requirements. It must also be remembered that all the large manufactories have special provisions to guard against the damage of their properties by fire.

With the foregoing in mind, the showing made by the Wabash Fire Department may be considered with equanimity. As stated, the headquarters of the department are at the city hall, wherein are housed the steam fire engine, one hook and ladder wagon, one hose reel, one hose truck, two teams and 3,500 feet of hose. The working force consists of the chief and seven salaried members, and their territory covers the north side

The force for the south side consists of eight volunteer members, and the apparatus for that section of the city comprises one hose reel, and one ladder wagon.


The construction of Wabash's fine system of waterworks was begun in September, 1886, under plans furnished by Clarence Delafield, one of the most prominent mechanical engineers in the United States. On June 19th of the following year they were completed at a cost of $130,000. Mr. Delafield supervised the construction of the works himself and in no instance was an attempt made at small economy at the expense of ultimate efficiency.

As completed, they constituted a telling illustration of the practical merits of the Holly system, combining both direct and standpipe pressure. The standpipe pressure alone was seventy pounds to the square inch, sufficient to throw water to the top of the hat factory, the highest point in the city. When to this was added the direct pressure obtainable, the citizens of Wabash felt that adequate protection against fire was assured.

The pumping station was located about a mile from the courthouse on the Wabash and La Fontaine turnpike, the supply of water being drawn from a series of flowing wells situated in a broad ravine about half a mile from the powerhouse. The artesian wells then in operation averaged about fifty feet in depth, those of much deeper bore having been sunk within comparatively recent years. The standpipe into which the water is forced from the pumping station is 100 feet high and has a capacity of 360,000 gallons. It is kept filled to within ten feet of the top.

As the water flows through iron tubing and empties into underground reservoirs, it is guaranteed to be both cold and pure. This no doubt accounts for the low death rate among the children of Wabash of school age. This conservation of the public health is further attained by the erection of numerous drinking fountains in the business districts of the city. Consequently, the water supply system of the City of Wabash performs the two important public duties of protecting both the lives and property of its people.

Wabash has one of the best systems of waterworks of any city of its size in the country. The old works, situated near the present paper mill, were completed in June, 1887, and served the public for more than a dozen years. The old system, at the height of its usefulness embraced about ten miles of pipes and 100 fire hydrants.


The original waterworks system was operated by S. R. Bullock & Company, of New York, until 1900. It was then sold to the First National Bank of New York, which, at the same time, bought out the old Wabash Electric Light Company. On January 1, 1901, the interests of the two were combined under the name of the Wabash Water and Light Company. At that time was built the new waterworks powerhouse south of the river, at the Big Four Bridge, and in 1904 the new management rebuilt and completely modernized the electric plant. The First National Bank of New York continued as owner and manager of the local water and electric service until November, 1912, when the United Service Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania, assumed control.

The system now embraces thirty two miles of mains and 245 hydrants. The plant has a pumping capacity of 2,000,000 gallons daily, the supply coming from fourteen artesian wells varying in depth from forty five to eight hundred ninety feet. The water goes to more than one thousand residences, and virtually to every factory in the city with the exception of the great paper mills which have their own system of artesian wells. The city water is pumped to an underground reservoir and is then distributed to consumers, never seeing daylight or microbes until it is tapped in house or factory. It is examined four times a year by the state board of health, and has always passed unquestioned muster.


Most of the streets and stores and many of the factories and residences of the city are lighted by electricity. The electric plant also furnished about two thousand horsepower to factories and other establishments. Since 1901, T. W. McNamee, who was formerly identified with the old Wabash Electric Light Company, has been secretary, treasurer and active manager of the Wabash Water and Light Company. His predecessor was W. S. Still, who was the local superintendent of the system from its establishment until the year named.


In the matter of street lighting by electricity, Wabash made a record which brought the city into cosmopolitan notice. It was the first municipality to test, adopt and put into successful operation the Brush system of electric lighting.

During the winter of 1879-80 the city council began to canvass various methods in vogue for the lighting of public thoroughfares. While thus engaged the promoters of the Brush Light offered a public test to prove the superiority of their illuminating agent. Finally March 31, 1880, was fixed upon as the day of trial.

At the appointed time, 8 o'clock P. M., in the presence of a large number of representatives of the press from different sections of the state, with other visitors, citizens and city officials, the grand test was made. One who was present, and a close, accurate observer, thus describes it: "At 8'clock the ringing of the Court House bell announced that the exhibition was about to commence. Standing on the street in front of the Plain Dealer office, we hurriedly looked around to measure the general darkness as best we could. The city, to say the least, presented a gloomy, uninviting appearance, showing an abundance of room for more light. Suddenly from the towering dome of the Court House burst a flood of light which, under ordinary circumstances would have caused a shout of rejoicing from the thousands who had been crowding and jostling each other in the deep darkness of the evening No shout, however, or token of joy disturbed the deep silence which suddenly settled upon the vast crowd that had gathered thus far and near to witness the consummation of a singular enterprise in which Wabash was the first city in all this wide world to move.

"The people, almost with bated breath, stood overwhelmed with awe, as if in the presence of the supernatural. The strange, weird light, exceeded in power only by the sun yet mild as moonlight, rendered the Court House square as light as midday. While we contemplated the new wonder in modern science, we could but think how our electricians had got it on Ben Franklin. He brought down the lightning from the heavens on a kite string and bottled it, just to show, presumably, how smart he was. Brush and Edison take a steam engine, belt it to a huge electro magnetic. machine, manufacture lightning and use it to light cities and hamlets, thus benefiting mankind and blessing posterity.

"After thus meditating and somewhat soliloquizing upon the occasional improvements made by young Americans over the ways and means that obtained in 'our grandfathers' days, we took a stroll along one of the streets to observe the efficiency of the light in the outskirts. At a distance of one square we could very distinctly read nonpareil print. At a distance of two squares we could read brevier print; at four squares, ordinary displayed advertising, such as may be seen in the display lines of an advertisement in a county newspaper. We could also readily ascertain the time of night from the watch, the hands being visible without any strain upon the eyes. When we left Wabash, we remained upon a platform of the train to note the power of the light from a greater distance. At from three to four miles we could easily distinguish the face of our watch held at a reasonable distance from the eye. Indeed, the distance at which the effects of the light are appreciable is almost incredible.

"From the flagstaff of the Court House four lamps, of the general design in use, are suspended, a plain glass globe surrounding the carbon points to protect them from snow and ice, the whole covered with a shield or roof of galvanized iron. From these lamps the spectator will notice two ordinary telegraph size copper wires leading down over the roof and down the west side of the building to the basement, where stands the Brush Dynamo Electric Machine that generates the current of electricity that flows through the wires to the carbons, between which it flashes with the brilliancy of lightning. The leaping of this current from one carbon pencil to the other produces the light, and the space thus made brilliant is termed the voltaic arc. This dynamo machine occupies a space of four feet in length and two in width and will last for years. It is practically indestructible, all its wheels revolving in the air. It requires no chemicals, and generates the most powerful electricity.

"The cost of the Brush Light machinery complete, exclusive of the engine, is $1,800. If two additional lamps were desired, there would be an additional cost of $120. If the city purchased the engine, $600 more would be required. Total cost, $2,550. The cost per night (ten hours) per lamp, outside the expense of fuel and engine tender, is estimated at 15 cents. It is believed that the entire expense for light, including fuel, engine driver and carbon points, would not exceed $2.50 per night, or about $9,000 per year."

The following is a copy of the contract under which the City of Wabash tried and accepted the light: "The Common Council of the city of Wabash agree to purchase one Brush electric machine, arranged for four lights on one circuit, four Brush electric lamps, four hangers, 100 feet of copper wire No. 8. This order is given with the understanding that when properly operated, according to instructions, it will give four good, powerful, lights, and will work in a practical manner. It is guaranteed by said company that these four lights will light an area one mile in diameter sufficiently to enable people to get around at the farthest point, and that nearer the court house will increase in brilliancy as the distance is decreased. At the farthest point above indicated, it is by said company guaranteed that the light will be as great as that of a gas burner of usual street size at 100 feet distance, and will be equal to the light of a street lamp 100 feet away at any given point, within said distance of 2,640 feet from the light "

Public tests and continued use of the Brush apparatus satisfied the city, and the system was not abandoned for several years, or until the expansion of the business district made it necessary to more evenly distribute the illumination of the city streets.


The completion of the first waterworks marked the virtual beginning of what may be called the natural gas era, which flourished locally about a dozen years. The cheapness of the supply, before its exhaustion from its widespread use, had the effect of stimulating the industries of the city and of retarding all efforts to generally introduce manufactured gas.

In 1887 the Howe Natural Gas Company of Indiana commenced active operations in the gas belt south of Wabash County, and a few years afterward their interests were taken over by the Logansport & Wabash Valley Gas Company. The field headquarters of the system were located seventeen miles southwest of Wabash, with the natural gas plants located at Somerset, Herbst and Mier, Grant County

The company named controlled sixteen sections, or 10,240 acres of land, which, with the exception of a small strip in Jackson Township, Miami County, was included in the townships of Richland, Sims, Franklin and Pleasant, Grant County. At the field headquarters mentioned was a substantial station house, a telephone exchange, and all the necessary appliances for regulating the gas pressure and making repairs along the line. The office in Wabash was in telephonic communication with these headquarters, thus enabling the company, with the assistance of its portable telephone service, to locate and repair any break within a few minutes after it had been reported. Thus Wabash received fully as good service as Marion, Anderson, Kokomo and other places which were located in the natural gas field.

In the early period of the natural gas era the local plant was operated by the Wabash Fuel Company, its interests being purchased by the Logansport & Wabash Valley Gas Company, also known as the Dietrich syndicate. The low rates heretofore extended to local factories were maintained, and the field supply was increased by at least fifty per cent as a result of the consolidation. At the same time the Dietrich syndicate purchased the artificial gas works, G. S. Courtier being retained as superintendent. The other local officers of the consolidated company were Clarence Henley, manager, and M. S. Howe, superintendent.

When the Logansport & Wabash Valley gas people came into control of the Wabash plant they greatly improved its physical equipment, replacing its old regulator with a modern one and building six additional reducing stations. It was this company which induced the great Diamond Paper Mill to locate at Wabash, a contract being made by which the gas company agreed to furnish the mill with any required supply at a nominal price. At the time Mr. Barber, of Diamond match fame, was connected with the paper mill enterprise, and he estimated that if the mill were required to use coal as fuel the annual cost of the same would reach $50,000. Under its contract with the paper mill the Logansport Wabash Valley Gas Company received but $5,600 for the gas it annually furnished that plant, or $44,000 less than the coal fuel bill of the paper mill would have been.


Although the natural gas supply is now a thing of the past, it had its good day. The system upon which Wabash depended embraced twenty two miles of main line seventeen miles of 8 inch pipe and five miles of 6 inch pipe, as well as a 4 inch belt line encircling the company's thirty wells. Add to the miles of mains, the ten or twelve miles required to supply gas to the farming communities, and the consumers of Wabash and Grant counties were furnished with a finely equipped system comprising about thirty five miles of piping. As long as the supply held out, there was no better company in Indiana than the Logansport & Wabash Valley.


With the collapse of the natural gas supply in the early 1900's, the interests of artificial gas revived. Since then the Northern Indiana Gas Company has obtained control of the local plant. A modern holder was commenced in the winter of 1905-06, with a capacity of 100,000 cubic feet, and householders began to get their manufactured supply in May, 1906. Some 1,800 consumers now use this means of illumination and heat, so that, with electrical appliances and all, Wabash has her wants in such fields well supplied, despite the retreat of natural gas to parts unknown.

[Continued in History of Wabash, Indiana Part 2 and the biography of Clarkson W. Weesner.

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