Early Goshen Artists (Goshen, 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


FOR QUITE a number of years Goshen was the residence of an artist whose paintings were of a very high order. Had not ill health in his early days prevented him from going to Europe to study he would no doubt have risen still higher in his profession. He was self taught but he had a natural gift in that direction which he cultivated to the full extent of his opportunity. This was Joseph H. Dille, who was well known in the fifties and sixties, but of whom the present generation knows nothing.

Mr. Dille came to Goshen in the early fifties. Just how many years he lived in this city is not known. In 1858 he married Elizabeth Crane, a daughter of Oliver Crane. He conducted a photograph studio for a while and also painted portraits. After leaving Goshen their whereabouts were not known until 1908, when they were living at Amelia, Ohio, in destitute circumstances. Mr. Dille was then in poor health, but was still engaged, whenever he was able, in the pursuit of his favorite occupation of painting. A number of wealthy Goshen citizens contributed toward a fund which was sent to relieve them in their poverty.

In 1860 Mr. Dille painted a life size portrait of Abraham Lincoln which is now in the court house at Goshen. The Republicans of Goshen had organized a campaign club which they called the Wide Awakes and this portrait was painted for the club to be used as a banner in their processions and to hang in their hall. In a letter written to Wilbur L. Stonex in 1908, Mr. Dille told something of the portrait and why it was painted. He said that the club wished to have a portrait of Lincoln to use as a banner and employed him to paint it. Besides the portrait of Lincoln the painting also contains likenesses of Hannibal Hamlin, the candidate for vice president with Lincoln, and of Henry S. Lane, who was at the same time the Republican candidate for governor of I ndiana. The portrait was painted at banner prices and Mr. Dille received thirty dollars for it.

A number of years ago there was something of a controversy over the ownership of this portrait. Benjamin C. Dodge, a member of the 41st regiment, Indiana Cavalry, when serving as county recorder, had it hanging on the wall in the recorder's office. When Dodge retired from the office he took it to his rooms where it remained until his death in 1897. Dodge was at one time a member of Howell post, G. A. R., but was not a member at the time of his death. After his death John W. Cornell, the post commander, visited the scantily furnished room in which Dodge had lived and found the portrait fastened to the wall at the foot of his bed. The canvas was taken down by Cornell and Gowing and they agreed that the proper place for it was the G. A. R. hall, which was then in the Masonic block on north Main street. Mr. Cornell took it to the hall where it hung for the next five years. In August, 1902, when the post was moving its headquarters to a hall on South Main street, the unframed painting lay rolled up on the sidewalk, with other articles belonging to the post. Mr. Gowing, who was then court baliff, picked it up, carried it to the court house and suggested to the attorneys that they contribute toward a fund to have it framed. This was done and the portrait was hung in the attorneys' room in the court house, where it hung for several years. Afterward it was removed to the judge's office, where it still remains.

When the portrait hung in the attorneys' room, Mr. Gowing, claimed that it belonged to him, saying that Mr. Dodge owed him a board bill at the time of his death and that he took the portrait in payment thereof. The fact is that the portrait was not the property of Mr. Dodge and never had been and it is difficult to understand how Mr. Gowing could rightfully lay claim as payment for a debt an article which did not belong to the debtor. Besides, the attorneys who furnished the money to buy the frame did not furnish it as a contribution to Mr. Gowing but did it in order that the portrait could be properly cared for. At that time there were three members of the old Wide-Awake club still living. These were Judge John H. Baker, who was president of the club; E. R. Kerstetter, first lieutenant of the military organization, and Wesley Crary, who was leader of the club's singers. Mr. Stonex interviewed all three of them, who claimed to be the real owners of the club's property and all three of them gave verbal consent to a transfer of their title to the Elkhart County Historical Society. So, if the surviving members of the old Wide-Awake club had a lawful title to the portrait, as they claimed, the portrait really belongs to the society.

In the same campaign, 1860, Mr. Dille painted a portrait of Stephen A. Douglas, for the Democratic club which they also used as a banner. This was a two thirds length portrait of Douglas alone and the club paid him forty dollars for it. Some time in that campaign Douglas spoke at a night rally at La Porte. The Goshen Democratic club participated in the rally and when they were passing the reviewing stand Douglas stopped them and said, "Boys you have a better portrait of me than one for which I paid $500 in Washington, D. C." About 1904 or 1905, Mr. Dille received a letter from a French artist at Monroe, Michigan, inquiring about the painting, saying it was in his possession. Nothing has ever been heard since then in regard to it. It would be a fine thing if the portrait could be located and brought to Goshen and placed beside the Lincoln portrait, so the distinguished rivals could be seen side by side. In his letter to Mr. Stonex, to which reference has already been made, Mr. Dille mentions some of the men who were in the company of Wide-Awakes. As this portion of the letter will doubtless be interesting to some of the descendants of the people who lived in Goshen at that time it is here reprinted.

"I can think of but few of the members of the old Wide Awake club. I well remember Charles P. Jacobs was one of the stirring speakers who became a prominent lawyer in Indianapolis and died there some years ago; William B. Jacobs, his brother, now in Chicago; Crawford Blaine, who was killed in battle in the great rebellion; Captain Oblinger, who recruited the first military company for the war at Goshen, of which Milo S. Hascall became captain until, I believe, after reaching Indianapolis he was made colonel. I offered my services to Captain Oblinger, but he thought I was unfit physically.

"I remember Ed R. Kerstetter was first lieutenant. You say he is the only surviving military officer of the Wide Awakes. If there, please give him my kind, best regards. I have a negative of him, I made, in lieutenant's uniform that I have kept all these years, with many others of the old citizens."

The fact that Goshen was once the home of so gifted an artist as Mr. Dille and that a daughter of one of its citizens became his wife should be a matter of pride to the people of that city and they should not permit his name to be forgotten.

In 1848 there was an artist in Goshen by the name of Van Sickle. It is not known just how long he remained in the town but it was probably not more than a year or so. He painted several portraits, among them one of Mrs. William A. Thomas and one of her sister, Mrs. Joseph H. DeFreese. The portrait of Mrs. Thomas is in the home of her grand niece, Mrs. George A. Riley, at the corner of Fifth and Washington streets in Goshen, which is also the old W. A. Thomas home. It has been pronounced a very fine piece of art by art critics and Mrs. Riley prizes it, both on account of its intrinsic worth and also because of its being an heirloom. The portrait of Mrs. De Freese is in Chicago.

At a later date Goshen was the home of an artist who acquired a national reputation, T. Dart Walker. He was born in Middlebury, but came to Goshen with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Walker, at an early age. He painted a number of pictures which became widely known, but his reputation was made illustrating for a number of periodicals of national circulation, among them Harper's Weekly, Collier's Weekly and Puck. He died quite young and when in the zenith of his talent.

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