LaGrange County History Page  

LaGrange County History

The first white settlement in LaGrange Co. was known as Mongoquinong or Big Squaw Village. The settlement was about 1/2 mile west of Lima and was settled in 1828 by Nathan Fowler who settled on the banks of the Crooked Creek. In 1829 Ica and Moses Rice built a trading house in Lima, paving the way for others to move into the area. Early Lima settlers included Jason Thurston, Benjamin Blair, Jonathon Gradner and William Thrall. At the same time Nehemiah Coldren and Jesse Huntsman started the first settlement in Van Buren Twp. William Miller and Benjamin Jones settled in Greenfield. In 1830 John B. Clark started the first settlement in Springfield Twp.

In 1832 LaGrange was separated from Elkhart County and became LaGrange Co for the first time. Lima and Greenfield townships were organized and the county seat was located in Lima. The first postoffice was located at George Egnew's home on Mongoquinong Prairie. The towns of Wolcottville and Lima were platted. By the end of the year Eden township was created. Within the next four years Springfield, Bloomfield, VanBuren, Newbury, Clearspring, Johnson, Milford and Clay townships were formed.

History of Townships and Towns:

Bloomfield Twp. was settled in 1833 by David Hanson. Within three years 30 families were living in the township. Most of these families cam from New York, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. Most eventually moved further to the west. In 1835 the first sawmill was erected by Daniel Harding. Later Ira W. Brown and Jeremiah Outcalt built steam sawmills on their farms. Joseph Welch was the first cabinet maker in the township and Levi Green was the first carpenter. The first blacksmith was John Hardy, the first shoemaker was Caleb Jewett and Moses J. Hill was the first physician.
In June of 1835 after organizing into a township elections were held at the home of Mr. Hill. Mr. Hill was elected Justice and William Hern was appointed supervisor. In the general elections that followed (in the home of Abel Mattoon) the election board was Solomon Scidmore, Horace Bartine and John Davison. Jacob D. Groves was elected Justice of the Peace, George D. Carl as constable, William Hern Jr as inspector of elections, E.W. Weir and Daniel Carl as overseers of the poor, Joseph Davidson and Alanson N. Dewey as fence viewers and John Davidson, Hiram Babcock and Marvin J. Hill as supervisors.
In 1836 William C. Tillman was employed as surveyor to lay out plots in one section of the township. He named the village Burlington, this was the first village in Bloomfield township. The village of Bloomfield or Hill's Corners was laid out shortly after. This village later became known as Plato. The township's first church was organized in Bethel in 1835 by Rev. Thomas B. Connelly. The entire church membership when it began consisted of Rev. and Mrs. Connelly, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob D. Groves, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Welch and Mary Groves. The Bethel chapel was built in 1852 and was used for several years.

LaGrange, the Town was established in 1836 in the center of the county. The land the town was platted on was originally owned by George F. whitaker and Tehodore Craft, Later Joshua T. Hobbs bought an interest. The first frame structure in the town was a warehouse built by William Wigton. C.B. Holmes soon took over the warehouse for a general store and the first postoffice opened in the building with Mr. Holmes as the first postmaster. In 1843 Herman B.McCoy and William S. Boyd opened a mercantile business, James B. Caldwell and Mr. McCoy started a tannery, D. Martin constructed a sawmill in 1844 and in 1856 William S. Boyd and John Starr built a flour mill. The first church in LaGrange was a Methodist Episcopal society organized by Rev. William J. Forbes. A church was built in 1856 which housed 500. Other churches soon followed, the Presbyterian church was organized by Rev Benjamin Ogden in 1844.

Johnson Township was first occupied in June, 1834 by Peter Lampson and Nelson Nichols. Six months later John Adams settled ther followed soon by many others. The township was laid out in 1837 and their first elections were held in the home of James Campbell in April of that year. Mr. Campbell was elected Justice of the Peace, unfortunately the names of other officers in that first election were lost.
The first trading house, sawmill and dam were built in Johnson Twp. by 1836, before the township was even laid out. The first store opened in 1847 at Wright's Corners by Vaughan and Wildman. In 1837 George Wolcott came to the area and immediately built a sawmill, providing a large number of jobs for the area. A second store was opened in 1849 by Wildman and soon many other merchants came to the area. In 1855 Watson E. Bunce built a foundry in the township.

Wolcottville was settled in 1832 according to local histories. The first two white settlers were reportedly Peter Lamson and Nelson Nichols who came to Wolcottville in 1834 from Medina County, OH. The first land entry made in Johnson Twp was by Mr. Adams who choose land near Adam's lake. Lamson and Nichols were the second and third. Nichols and Lamson returned to Ohio and in Dec. 1834 they returned with Lamson's family and found Henry Nichols and his family. The group found a deserted house and all lived together until their respective homes were built. George Nichols was the next settler in the area. Henry Nichol's daughter, Margaret, was born in Jan. 1836 making her the first white child born in the community. Nelson and Keziah Nichol's son, Fernando was the first white male born in the community (Jan. 1838). The first couple to marry in the area was Jonathan Law and Alma Kent in Aug. 1837.
In 1837 George Wolcott arrived from Connecticut and built a log cabin in what became Wolcottville. His family arrived that fall with Levi Wildman Sr. Wolcott immediately built a sawmill and a grist mill after that. In addition to these enterprises he had a large farm under cultivation, was engaged in merchandising, coopering, blacksmithing and manufacturing potash. He built his first store in 1839. The town was first called Woloctt's Mills but when platted in 1848 the name was changed to Wolcottville. Among other early industries in Wolcottville were a rake factory operated by Alvin Hamlin, a tannery by Anthony Watson, a foundry by E. Buner, a planing mill by Paulus and Yeager, a cooper shop by Mr. Haley and a carriage factory operated by Moon and Rogers. The post office was established in 1848 and the first physician to practice in the area was Dr. Leonard Barber. A log schoolhouse was built in 1839 and used until 1848. The school was built by Mr. Burnes whose daughter taught a summer school. The first teacher was Ovias Wright. The first newspaper was established in 1874 by J.R. Rheubottom. and in 1870 the G. R. & I. Railroad was completed running through Wolcottville.

VanBuren Township was the site of the second village formed in LaGrange Co. also named VanBuren for then President-Elect Martin VanBuren. A few years later the village's name was changed to Scott. During 1837 commissioners ordered a portion of the land set off for VanBuren Township and elections were held in April of that year in the home of Seldon Martin. John Olney was appointed inspector and a Mr. Pierce was elected Justice of the Peace. Again, records of the meeting were lost and other officer's names are not known.
The first road, the Defiance and White Pigeon was surveyed in 1838 and the second road, the Vistula, was surveyed shortly after. The Vistula was to connect Toledo to South Bend. The Belote graveyard was laid out in 1836 and a second cemetary, Mack Settlement, was laid out in the west part of the township at about the same time.

Eden Township was first populated by the Robert Latta family in 1832. Robert, his wife and daughter, Achsah, moved from Ohio to Eden Township after Robert was tipped off by surveyors about the wonderful land there. Robert had been taking medical supplies to his son, Johnson, in the Goshen area at the time. The area was name Haw Patch. Shortly after William McConnell, his wife and children, James, Alexander, Thomas C., William A. and Mary Ann built a log cabin south of the Lattas. The township was organized in 1832 and the first election was held in April of 1833 in the home of John Hostetler. Records for this election have been lost but William McConnell claimed to have been elected as the first Justice of the Peace. The first few years was difficult of these settlers, the land was choked with weeds and birds ate much of the grain before it was harvested. These problems were conquered in the first few years and soon the settlers were reaping profitable harvests from their land.
The first church organized was a Methodist church, meeting in the home of Robert Latta. In 1842 the congregation built a small frame church and named it Eden Chapel. William McConnell organized a Presbyterian church in 1835 and a Baptist church and Methodist Episocopa society were organized between 1840 and 1843. The first Amish Mennonite church was organized in 1854. Eden township was largely farms and stock raising, however two sawmills and a grist mill were built around 1854. A few small stores were set up around the same time. Eden township's first school was built in 1842.

Clearspring Township was part of Eden Township prior to 1837. The first settlers in the township were Anthony Nelson (from Elkhart Co., OH), David Rogers (from Wayne Co., NY), Erastus Nelson and Norman Sessions. In 1835 Mr. Sessions married Minerva Gaines and their first-born child was said to be the first white child born in the township and the first white person to die there. The first grist mill was built by William Dallas in the late 1830s, a few years later he built the first saw mill. In March of 1837 Clearspring was separated from Eden Township and their first election was held in April in the home of Elijah Pixley. The first trustees were Ernestus Schermerhorn, Willard Hervey and Elijah Pixley. Each received an annual salary of $2.25. The first justices were William F. Beavers and Norman Sessions. N.P. Osborn was chosen as the first clerk, receiving $3 a year for his services.
In 1846 Hawley Peck began growing mint and selling the oil from it. The crop soon became a major industry in the area. The first store in the area was opened by the Cummings family just south of Slabtown. Timothy Hudson Jr. opened the second store, a tannery and a sawmill. Three brickyards were opened in the early 1840s, one by Harrison Smith, one by B.F. Ditman and one by Henry J. Ulmer. Roads were built in the township as early as 1835. The first ran through Sycamore Corners and formed part of the Haw Patch or Ligonier Road. The first school was built in 1839 and the first religious group formed the same year. It was a Methodist Episocopal group lead by Rev. James Latta. This group died out when a Methodist Protestant group was formed by Rev. Beardsley. The only settlements in the early Clearspring area was a portion of Topeka (the other part lies in Eden Twp.), Eddy and the village of Emma.

Topeka and Eddy are the only two settlements in Clearspring Twp. Topeka is located on the spot where Slabtown or Haw Patch formerly stood. Because of the location of the dividing line between Cleaspring and Eden Twp Topeka is located in both townships. Topeka was not platted until 1894. The first store (when the area was still Slabtown) was owned by the Cummings family and the second by Timothy Hudson Jr. Hudson also had a tannery and a sawmill. The town was incorporated in 1913 and the first officers were: president, J. W. Priest, councilmen, Mr. Priest, James Gay and Dr. W.O. Hildebrant. E.P. Lombard was the treasurer, A.L. Gerber the secretary and E.P. Wemple the first marshall.

Springfield Township was first settled by John B. Clark in the fall of 1830. Shortly after L.K. Brownell entered a claim on land in the township and built a dam across the Pigeon River. Brownell also started construction on a grist mill, both project were completed in the summer of 1831. The first store here was opened by John O'Ferrell, a native Irishman, and the first postmaster was Arthurs Burrows who also started a hotel in 1833. Between 1836 and 1837 the area population increased rapidly. 1838 saw a poor crop year and many deaths from an epidemic. The township soon rebounded and it's growth continued. Sawmills were built by George Bullmer, Samuel Bradford and William S. Prentiss. Bradford adding machinery to his for carding wool. In 1836 O'Ferrell's store was purchased by Drusus Nichols who added a distillery. Two village residents, Staley and Payne, were coopers and made whiskey barrels and kegs for the distillery. The distillery was destroyed by fire in 1842.
The village of Springfield was laid out in 1842 by Leonard Appleman. The first area church was a Methodist Epicopal society organized in 1838 by Rev. G.M. Boyd. Appleman opened the first storeroom and warehouse in the village.

Lima Township was home to a large part of the Pottawatomie Indian tribe before the first white settlers came in 1828. Early settlers in this part of the county were Benjamin Blair, Nathan Fowler, Jason Thurston, William Thrall and Jonathan Gardner. The settlers and Indians were attracted to the fertile land and beaurtiful lakes in the area. The township was organized in May 1832 and in Oct. 1834 the village of Lima was laid out by Moses and Ica Rice. In 1839 the government removed what was left of the Indian population from this area. Surveyor, John Kromer, laid out the town of Mongoquinong in 1834 on land owned by the Rices. The Rice brothers donated 74 acres of land in consideration of the location of the county seat there. A small portion of this land was laid out as the first cemetary, Riverside. The village of Ontario was laid out in 1837 by Nathan Jenks. Ontario was one of the most thriving villages in the area at that time. Bosting a woolen mill, flour mill, furniture factory, sash, door and blind facotry, cider mill and a sorghum mill it was a mecca to many prospectivie business owners. The first school in the county was built in Lima Township, it was built in 1833. The town of Lima was renamed Howe in 1909.

Newbury Township was rumored to have first been inhabited by the Woodbridge family in 1831. The first land certificate was issued by the government in 1835 for this area. Other early settlers for Newbury Twp. were Elijah West and a Mr. Andrews. These two built a dam and saw mill on Shipshewana Creek. Mr. Andrews died Aug 24, 1835 making his death one of the first among the white settlers. Newbury was not separated from Lima Twp until 1837. The first election was held April 1837 at the home of Truman Wilkinson. Daniel H. Keasy and Elijah West acted as clerks, Amos Davis and James Cotton as judges and Mr. Wilkinson as the inspector. The following officers were elected: Amos Davis, judge; Willard Cotton, constable; Elijah West, overseer of the poor; Franklin Goodenough and George Hilt, road viewers. In 1837 George Lotterer took possesion of land along Shipshewana lake and laid out a village called Georgetown. The village never materialized and Lotterer moved to Kansas about eight years later.
Several religiuos group opened meeting places and in 1844 the first Amish came from Pennsylvania to settle in the area. Villages were established at Pashan and Emma and Shipshewana, which is one of the largest villages in the township was not platted until 1899 (it was incorporated as a town in 1916). The Indians were removed from the area by the government in 1837. Chief Shipshewana was broken-hearted to leave the land. A few years later he and a few of his relatives were granted permission to return to the area. The chief was happy to return but missed his tribe. He died in Newbury Twp in 1841 and legend has it is buried on the banks of Shipshewana lake.

Milford Township was first part of Greenfield Twp. In Sept. 1837 it was organized as a separate township. Jacob Butts claimed to be the first white settler in the area having come there in 1834. William Fitch and Richard Rice came a short time later. Col. Cochran erected the first sawmill in 1836 and the Bartlett brothers opened a tavern the same year. Dr. John W. Dancer was the first physician to settle here. In 1838 the township's first church organized, the Methodist Episcopal society was organized at Mud Corners by Rev. Thomas Cawley. The first school was built at Mud Corners in 1836.

Greenfield Township was one of the first two townships formed in LaGrange Co. William Miller was the first white settler in the area which today makes up Greenfield Twp. He came in 1829. The first sawmill was built in 1834 by Samuel Burnside. The first village was platted in 1836 by John Kromer for Abrahamn K. Brower and Joseph Skeritt. Originally named Lexington the village was renamed about 40 years later to Brighton. The first store in the village was opened by Peter Beisel. The Crandells and Longs opened other stores shortly thereafter.

Clay Township was surveyed in 1829 but was not organized until Sept 1838. The first settlement was around 1835 by John Ryason. The first certificate for land was obtained by Nathan Jenks in 1835. Another certificate was issued soon after to the great statesman Daniel Webster. Webster later sold the land to Senator James R. Bayard. In 1839 there were 13 taxpayers in Clay Twp. The first blacksmith shop was built in 1836 by Eppah Robbins and in 1837 George Wood built the first sawmill later adding a grist mill.

The first public school in LaGrange Co. was built in 1833 about a mile southeast of Lima. John B. Howe was the first teacher. The first enrollment was around 20 students. Mr. Howe was paid around $10 a month for his services. The second term was taught by Frederick Hamilton. The building was not used after 1855, school was taught in private homes or vacant buildings after that. In 1855 Samuel P. Williams, with assistance from the citizens, erected a frame building which was used for a well know seminary for young ladies (see below). LaGrange Collegiate Institute was founded in 1836-1837 by Nathan Jenks. Patterned after the Oberlin Institute of Ohio the school offered a full theolocial course, a preparatory course, a collegiate course, a short course and a thorough course of higher education for young ladies. The first board of trustees were Joshua T. Hobbs, Mills Averill, Nathan Jenks, Elisha Dickinson, Ansel Dickinson, Rev. John J. Shipherd and Thayer H. Codding. The building was erected in Bloomfield Twp. in May 1837. Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Wilson taught in this building during the winter of 1837-38 and again the following year. Additional buildings were erected and completed in 1840. Classes were opened in the fall of 1839 with W.J. Baxter as the principal. The Institute was driven out of business in 1881 by competition from village high schools.

The Young Ladies' Seminary began in 1855. Eliza Dimond, a Mount Holyoke graduate, was in charge of the seminary. She was assisted by Julietta Oaks and Mary A. Sherring. Enrollement ranged from 25 to 60 students who were schooled in art, music, English, Latin and French. The school was sold to the village of Lima in 1862 and was used as a public school for many years.

Howe Military Academy was founded in 1884 funded by a bequest from John Badlam Howe. Enrollment started with four students but grew steadily. Howe is still an outstanding facility today.

Information on this page comes from "1882 History of Lagrange County".

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