The History of Osceola, Indiana
By J. Harold Kiracofe
It is extremely difficult to write a history of Osceola without extending out into Baugo, Penn and Harris Townships and Mishawaka. The lives of these peoples, their interests and going and comings are so interwoven that it is impossible to separate them. I have, accordingly, included much of this material which contributes to this history. The only roads into the northern part of the Northwest Territory and Indiana Territory were the Indian trails which were in use many years before the Europeans came.
The main trail through this area was the old Sauk Trail from Detroit to the mouth of the Chicago River which later became Fort Dearborn. This trail passed a few miles north of Osceola and cross the St. Joseph River near Bertrand, Michigan. A new trail was blazed from southern Ohio to Fort Dearborn during the French and Indian Wars of 1755-1763. This came through Fort Wayne, crossed the Elkhart River at the old Benton Ford, followed the Elkhart River to Elkhart; crossed the St. Joseph River at the Indiana and Michigan Electric Company dam; then proceeded in a northwesterly direction through Cleveland Township on what was known as the Old Fort Wayne Road. Today this path is Bristol Street in Elkhart. This trail crossed into St. Joseph County into Harris Township through the present site of Salem Church, then angled through Clay Township to join the Sauk Trail at Bertrand. Dragoon Trail from Fort Wayne to Fort Dearborn also crossed the Elkhart River at the Benton Ford, but cut off west after the base of foothills south of Osceola to skirt the swamp lands. Legend has it that this road received its name from the British Dragoons which used it in their travels between the two posts. Actually, it was part of an old Potawatomi trail which was in use long before the first white people came. It connected with the St. Joseph-Kankakee River portage and was a popular fur trade route. The vicinity of Osceola also had its Indian population. The Potawatomis lived here with their main village in the low foothills just south of the junction of Apple Road and Inwood Trail.
This was on the farm later purchased by James Curtis. Mr. Curtis cleared this farm and raised his family there. It remained in his family’s possession until the late 1950s and was known as the Indiana Hill Farm for many years. The Curtis family had a profound influence on the Osceola community. A more complete record of the family appears later in this history. There was a trail along the south bank of the St. Joseph River with a trail from the mouth of the Baubaugo (creek) to the village on the Indian Hill Farm. It is quite possible that a part of Apple Road could have been this trail. The Indian name of Baubaugo, meaning ‘devil water’, was appropriate. Baugo Creek (as its known today) was, and still is, subject to sudden risings after heavy rainfall. The white settlers quickly shortened the name to the Baugo or simply ‘Baugo Creek.’ The woods were full of game and the Baugo full of fish.
Indiana statehood was applied for and granted on December 6, 1816. At the time statehood was applied for, the Michigan state line was about two miles south of Osceola as it cut across the county on what is now Johnson Road. Indiana was not satisfied with this an determined to press for a port on the south end of Lake Michigan. When the petition for statehood was presented to Congress, Indiana had set its new boundary on the north ten miles into former Michigan territory. As the state of Michigan had not yet been formed and had no representation in Congress there was no effective opposition and the boundary change was granted. Indiana gained the Calumet district, Michigan City, LaPorte, South Bend, Mishawaka, Osceola and Elkhart. Title to the Indian lands of Penn Township was ceded by the Indians in 1828. This was the first step in opening the land for white settlers. It took over 50 separate treaties to clear all the Indian titles in Indiana. Congress passed the Act of 1829 ordering the lands surveyed and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 cleared the way for white settlement. Land was set aside for the Indiana Indians along the Osage River in Kansas. Many of the Indians lost their lives in this long march to Kansas. There was little transportation provided them with little food and no medical services. Their wigwams and possessions were burned by the U.S. Army so that they would have no incentive to return. This is one of the most embarrassing incidents in the founding of Indiana. Many still don’t speak of it today. The Indiana legislature officially formed Elkhart, St. Joseph and LaPorte counties in the session of 1830 and St. Joseph County was officially organized on August 27, 1830.
The county seat was established as South Bend. At the time the counties were established, the east line of St. Joseph County was set at Range Three which is about the line of Capital Avenue in Mishawaka. At the session of 1832, the Indiana state legislature was petitioned to changed the east line by the representatives from Elkhart County. They did not want the swamp lands to the south and asked that it be added to St. Joseph County. Their petition was granted and the east county line of St. Joseph County was established where it is today.
The First Settlers of Osceola and Eastern St. Joseph County
The first known settlers near Osceola were William and Timothy Moat who arrived in 1829 presumably coming into the territory via the St. Joseph River. By spring 1830, new settlers began to arrive in Penn Township in increasing numbers. Samuel Ireland, one of the first settlers, relates in his “Memories of Penn Township” as follows:
The Pleasant Valley and Willow Creek neighborhoods were favorite spots for settlement, being on the river and the land being what is known as oak openings, easy of cultivation. Another thriving settlement also located on the south side of the river, being known as Moat’s Prairie, after Timothy Moat who first occupied the site. This is now the Eberhart Farm. George West and his son-in-law, Thomas Babcock, located near Osceola, on the bank of the Baugo. William Ireland built a saw mill at Osceola in 1833, damming the Baugo at that point and building a bridge over the Baugo at the same time. This was the first saw mill in this locality. It is now the Bancroft flour mill.(this was located behind the American Legion Hall in Osceola)
The Goshen Road or the Old Fort Wayne Road which runs southwesterly from Osceola was built as a direct result of the tide of immigration flowing in through Fort Wayne to claim new government land. It was the only trading post in the eastern part of the state and, in addition, was the Government Land Office a little later. It was also the residence of the Indian Agent handling affairs for the Indians in the northeast counties.
The Indiana legislature passed and Act in February 1832 stating, “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, that Nathan Coleman of the County of Allen, James Blair of the County of Elkhart and Samuel Martin of the County of St. Joseph, be, and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to make a survey, and locate a state road from Fort Wayne in Allen County by the nearest and best route to South Bend in St. Joseph County, making Goshen in Elkhart County a point.” The job of surveying the new route was given to George Crawford of Elkhart. It was a task of tremendous difficulty. There were many streams, no bridges and only one cabin between Fort Wayne and Benton Ford. The party traveled by oxcart and completed the survey in the fall of 1832. The surveyors came through Osceola in September. Actual construction started in the spring of 1833. A major portion of this road between Osceola and Fort Wayne is now U.S. 33. Vistula Road was surveyed both by the U.S. Army of Engineers and the State of Indiana. The Army Engineers received the necessary authority from Congress in 1832 to survey and map a road from Maumee Bay, Ohio, to the Mississippi River and received an appropriation of $25,000 to do the job. This survey was completed in 1835.
While the matter of Vistula Road was being argued on Capital Hill, the legislature of Indiana realized the value of this project and on January 29, 1833 approved it as follows: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, that Hiram Dayton of St. Joseph County, Allen Tibbets of Elkhart County and Oliver Clappen of Lagrange County, be, and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to survey, mark and locate a road from South Bend in St. Joseph County, by way of the mouth of the Elkhart River, in Elkhart County and the county seat of Lagrange County to the east line of this State, in the direction of Vistula (now Toledo) on the Maumee Bay in the State of Ohio.” The county seat of Lagrange County at that time was Lima (now Howe) and this road is now State Road 120, east of Elkhart. It came east out of South Bend on what is now Lincolnway East following the old Fort Wayne Road survey. It left Lincolnway East in Mishawaka where Vistula Road now leaves U.S. 33. It forded the Baugo at Eagle Point and Stevely’s Point and on into Elkhart on what is now Indiana Avenue. The road was completed as surveyed long before Congress got around to taking action. Traffic was beginning to move on this road in late 1833. A new board of commissioners of St. Joseph County met on May 6, 1832, and ordered the county divided into three townships. The east township was named Penn. It was made up of what is now Penn, Harris, Madison and parts of Clay, Center and Union Townships. This was redivided several times over the passing years until Penn Township, as we know it, was established.
The Establishment of Local Schools in the Osceola Area
Penn Township was divided into 14 school districts in the fall of 1832 and a school system (of sorts) was established. There were few books, no money and few qualified teachers. The first school in the vicinity was built about 1-1/2 miles south of Osceola near the residence of Mr. Rabb at the intersection of Apple and Inwood Road. It was a log schoolhouse set in a little clearing in the woods. It was heated by a large fireplace holding logs eight feet long. Reading, writing and arithmetic were the only subjects taught. Books of any kind were hard to come by and one book might be used by several students. The School Commissioners Record Book No. 1, Page 30, contains the record of the sale of School Section 16 on March 21, 1833. Section 16 is the location of the old part of the town of Osceola. This section was divided into eight-80 acre tracts for easier sale and the price was $1.25 per acre. $25.00 in cash was required at the time of sale with the balance to be secured by note. The purchasers of this school land were: John Williams, Thomas J. Babcock, George W. West, William Ireland, Jacob Byrkit, and James Curtis.
The First Township Election
The first township election was held at the home of Samuel Ireland in the spring of 1833. Samuel Ireland was elected Justice of the Peace and Jacob Harris was elected Roadmaster. These were very important offices in those days. One of the first acts of Mr. Harris was the opening of the road from Mishawaka to the Elkhart County line on the north side of the St. Joseph River. This is now Jefferson Road (Boulevard) and is one of the oldest road in the east end of St. Joseph County. The fist platted town site n the Osceola vicinity was the town of Williamsport. This was a subdivision of section 9 and was recorded on December 13, 1834. This proposed settlement was not a success and the plat was vacated by an order of the County Commissioners in March 1842. The Williamsport area is now part of Stevely’s Addition or Stevely’s Point. Shipping by steamboat was established on the St. Joseph River in 1835. Boats began regular trips from Newburyport (St. Joseph), Michigan to South Bend and on to the St. Joseph Iron Works (Mishawaka) in that year. It was not until the spring of 1844 that steamboats passed Osceola on their way to Elkhart. Early that year a steamer passed Osceola on a Sunday morning and steamed up the St. Joseph River as far as the Main Street bridge at Elkhart. The boat couldn’t go under the bridge since its smokestack was too tall. The boat tied up the bank to wait for daylight. On Monday, the middle span of the Main Street bridge was removed and the steamer proceeded on the an Elkhart warehouse dock. This dock was near the present site of the Clifton House (Hotel Bucklen) on the corner of Main and Jackson Boulevard. This boat was believed to be named the Indiana. Pioneer ingenuity handily solved the smokestack problem by hinging them so they could be easily lowered for low bridges.
Early Postal Mail Delivery
Early mail service furnished this territory consisted of infrequent deliveries which were brought in by horseback over the old Sauk Trail through Edwardsburg or Niles, Michigan. Some mail trickled in through Fort Wayne and brought by the settlers as they came through with their wagons and ox carts. Joseph H. Defrees, an old resident of Elkhart, tells about the Fort Wayne-Niles mail route which was established around 1831. He states:
In the spring of 1831, I think it was, a mail route was established between Fort Wayne and Niles. The mail to be carried over it once in four weeks. In the fall of that year, the post office increased the speed from once in four weeks to once in two weeks. Many of you remember the sound of the old tin horn blown by “Old Hall” as he came winding his way out of the woods with his tandem sorrels, himself astride one and the mail bags with news for the settlements on the other.
Mail for the Osceola settlers was left at Elkhart and brought out by the first settler who called at the post office there. There was probably not a heavy burden of mail for Osceola as there were only a few settlers here. It might be well to remember that Mishawaka was incorporated as a town on February 28, 1833. On that date it boasted a population of not quite 100 people, a large blast furnace owned by the St. Joseph Iron Works, a general store and a tavern. The first boat load of wheat from the farms of early St. Joseph County settlers went down the river in the fall of 1833. The Goshen Express records the mail service of 1837, “Western mail arrives from Niles from South Bend, every Sunday and Wednesday evening, departs every Tuesday and Saturday morning.” The same paper on September 16, 1837 calls attention to the fact that “The Post Office is planning to carry the mail from Fort Wayne to Niles in four horse coaches.” It goes on to say that this is a “grand undertaking” and will assist in opening up new counties to immigrants. This service was established in 1838. The rate of speed in pleasant weather with fairly dry roads average about 8 miles per hour. In the wet seasons 2 or 3 miles an hour was considered good time in some portions of the road. These coaches came out of Elkhart on the Vistula Road (now West Indiana Avenue) and forded the Baugo Creek at Eagle Point continuing on through the woods to Mishawaka.
Early Postal Mail Delivery
The exact source of the name of Osceola is shrouded in mystery. If there was a specific reason for the name, then Mr. Hendricks never revealed it for the record. John A. Hendricks, who recorded the first plat of the Town of Osceola, chose the name probably because the name of Chief Osceola of the Seminole Tribe (in Florida) had been prominent in the local news of the day. His name (Chief Osceola) occurred frequently in the few newspapers reaching the new settlements. There have been those who state that Mr. Hendricks was a personal friend of General Jessup who captured the famous chief by subterfuge. It is very doubtful if Mr. Hendricks knew that the chief was already a prisoner when he christened his new town on November 17, 1837.
News traveled very slowly in those days. In any event, he named his new town Osceola and the name has remained to this day with some distinction. Mr. Hendricks expected the river traffic to do great things for his new settlement. His plat was the present site of Eagle Point in the southwest quarter of Section 9. His plat was an elaborate one. It boasted three mill races connecting the Baugo and St. Joseph River. The Main Street was what is now, as it was then, Vistula Road which forded the Baugo at this point. The plat was not a success and Mr. Hendricks’ dream was voided by an Act of Legislature on January 31, 1842.
The settlers on the north side of the river were not to be outdone. Milton McKnight, an old settler in the Willow Creek district, writes, “The first school was started by the widow of Dr. George W. Fowler, in her little log cabin on the banks of Willow Creek. Among Mrs. Fowler’s first pupils were James McKnight and his two sisters, also Adolphus, John and Sophia Eberhart. In 1837 a small frame school was built on John McKnight’s land. This burned down in 1848 as it had no chimney and the smoke had to find it’s way out through the clapboards on the roof.” William Bancroft came from Castile, Wyoming County, New York in 1837. His father, Isaac Bancroft, was a lineal descendent of one of the Pilgrim fathers. Mr. Bancroft married Emiline Belden. He purchased the old sawmill soon after his arrival. It was only a short time thereafter that he erected a grist mill near the site of the American Legion Post No. 308. This mill was reached by a wooden bridge over the mill race. The capacity of this mill was 25 barrels of four per day and this was delivered to Goshen, Elkhart, Mishawaka and South Bend by horse and wagon and keel boat. The first miller employed by Mr. Bancroft was George Van Note. It was a great event in Osceola when Mr. Van Note left on the long and tedious trip to Chicago to purchase the mill stones for the Bancroft Mill. After the mill was in operation, the ladies of the community would gather at the Bancroft home to sew the bolting cloths. This was the cloth used to separate the flour from the bran and chaff and was the only method known at that time. This bolting cloth was a very fine grade of silk similar to crepe-de-chine and was quite expensive. Mr. Bancroft was successful in his business enterprises and purchased considerable land in the vicinity. Several of the subdivisions of the present town of Osceola were a part of his holdings. He was one of those instrumental in building the first log schoolhouse mentioned in the previous paragraph. He was also one of the advocates of the first Methodist Church just east of Baugo Creek on the old Ft. Wayne Road. This is now the Church of the Brethren. This building was built in 1855 and has been remodeled several times. The mail service was increased as the population and its needs increased. It was recorded that in 1841 the mails were now being carried over the Vistula Road between Detroit, Ft. Wayne and Chicago by stage coach. These arrived at Jackson Street with the present site of the Clifton House as the center. The site was occupied with a frame tavern whose landlord was named Runyon. The opposite northeast corner was also a frame tavern whose landlord was Eli Penwell. This tavern was the stage house where the Detroit and Chicago stage coaches stopped for an exchanged of horses since it was a relay station. The stage arrivals brought out the villagers to the tavern for news and plain curiosity. These stages crossed Baugo Creek at the old ford between Eagle Point (at the current site of Ferrettie/Baugo County Park at the dead-end of Vistula Road and Baugo Bay) and Stevely’s Point.
The Griffitts family came into the new settlement early in 1846. Samuel Griffitts and his wife Ann purchased property in the west one-half of the southeast quarter of section 8 on July 10, 1846. Mr. Griffitts, as did his neighbor George West, did not live long to enjoy his new home. He died in August of 1846. His wife Ann and his brother William served as administrators of his estate. A note in their final report says that they completed the building of a house and stable on the present residence of Carl Ritter on Vistula Road. Mr. Ritter is a lineal descendent of Samuel Griffitts. The street named Griffith Street at Eagle Point should have been named “Griffitts” street, but the surveyor spelled the name incorrectly on the plat of this property and it was never changed. The error was not discovered until street signs were placed there several years later. It remains uncorrected to this day.
Early Railroads in the Osceola Area
The Northern Indiana Railroad was chartered in the late 1840s. It’s president was William Ogden of Chicago. Ogden Avenue in Chicago is named for him. He was also president of Chicago’s first railroad, the Calena and Chicago Union. Almost as soon as it was built, the Northern Indiana came under the control of the Michigan Southern Railroad and the two were consolidated in 1850 as the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana.
In 1869 both of these railroads were absorbed by the Lake Shore Railroad and the combined lines became the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. The purchase of the necessary right-of-way from Osceola to Bristol was handled by Silas Baldwin of Elkhart. He later became active as an employee of the railroad in other capacities. The railroad today uses the same right-of-way which was purchased in 1850. The rails of the Michigan Southern reached the borders of Indiana just west of White Pigeon, Michigan, on August 22, 1851 and crossed into Indiana on the right-of-way of the new Northern Indiana Railroad. The rails were laid through Osceola about September 30, 1851. The track gang laid the last 30 miles form the state line to South Bend in 42 days. This was a record which stood for many years. The engineer in charge was Henry Farnham, a New Englander-builder of canals.
The first through passenger train from Monroe, Michigan to South Bend passed through Osceola after dark on Saturday evening, October 4, 1851. It reached South Bend about 9:00 p.m. following the rail crews as they spiked down the last half mile of track. The train (and crew) were met by a large crowd at the depot. There were bonfires and shooting of the one cannon along with dancing on the depot platform to celebrate the arrival. It was a night of rejoicing. The first train was pulled by the engine named John Stryker, a little 8 wheel, wood burning locomotive. The train had no headlight since those had not yet been invented. Tradition has it that a trainman with a lighted pine limb sat on the pilot-house of the little locomotive to light the way through the woods between Osceola and South Bend with orders to watch closely for the track crews which were still spiking down the rails ahead of the train. There were no crossings to worry about-there weren’t any roads. The second train from the East, a freight train, came through Monday morning, October 6, 1851 pulled by the locomotive “Goshen”, also a small wood-burning engine.
The first depot at Osceola was located where the town park now is (today: close to the intersection of Lincolnway East and Apple Road). The contractor who built it and all the other buildings between Bristol and LaPorte for the Northern Indiana Railroad was Harlow Dodge of Mishawaka. He was the father of Wallace Dodge, the founder of Dodge Manufacturing Company of Mishawaka.
A supply of wood, cut for use in the locomotives, was kept at the Osceola depot for emergency use and trains often stopped to take on a supply before proceeding on to Elkhart. There are rumors that more than one farmer’s new rail fence disappeared when engine crews ran short of fuel for their locomotives and could not make the next railroad wood pile. Wood was contracted for by Judge Stanfield of South Bend who was the first supplier to the new railroad. Farmers would cut it to specification and haul it to the nearest rail spot. It was a cash crop for local farmers. Engineers later were furnished with tokens to use in lieu of cash when emergency wood was needed. They knocked on the nearest farmer’s door, secured what wood was needed and gave him the token which was redeemed in cash as the nearest railroad depot. The system worked.
Expansion of Public Schools
A new school law went into effect in April 1853 which created free schools and provided for the organization of school corporations by civil townships in Indiana. It gave these corporations the right to levy taxes for the building of public schools. As a result of this law the following schools were built in Penn Township: Osecola, Vesey, Russ, Pleasant Valley, Willow Creek, Dutch Island, Sunnydale, Elm Grove, Dixon, Tamarack, Ferrisville, Van Buskirk, Coalbush and Eby schools. All of these were one-room buildings with outside ‘plumbing’.
Early in the 1850s, a new school was built for Osceola and vicinity. This school was built on what is now Lincolnway West almost Grand Avenue. This building was in use for many years and became later known as District Number 5 School. It was moved east on Lincolnway in the main part of Osceola where it was remodeled first for a residence, then a barber shop, used car garage and lastly a plumbing shop. The final location of this building was a few feet west of Henderson’s Barber Shop. The old South School was built on the north side of Inwood Road almost half-way between Apple and Beech Roads. This school was replaced by a newer Vesey School on the same site in the early 1860s. The Vesey School building was moved into Osceola and remodeled as a private residence. It is still in use, the first house east of Apple on the south side of Washington Street. The dividing line between two school districts was a few feet south of the old Wolfe farm now owned by Carma Glosson.
Osceola Area Churches
Prior to the Fall 1851, the Methodists of the community were holding their services in the old north schoolhouse of Baugo Township which was located on the east side of County Line Road (now Ash Road) about 1,500 feet north of what is now U.S. 33. Preaching services were held monthly as this “class” was part of a nine-point circuit served by the circuit riding preacher. He made his appointed rounds by horseback over a territory going east as far as Middlebury, Indiana, and south as far as Tamarack (south of the town of Osceola).
This charge had grown to the point where it was made an independent congregation and separated from control from Mishawaka in September 1851. It was officially entered in Methodist records as the “Banbaugo” charge. This was evidently an error as it is shown several pages and several years later as “Baubaugo” which was the Native American name for Baugo Creek. The name was later shortened to Baugo Charge since the name of Baubaugo was too long for the white settlers. A new church was built in 1855 just over the Elkhart County line on the old Fort Wayne Road. This church still stands and is now occupied by the Osceola Church of the Brethren (no longer at this location). The new church building was known also as Watson’s Chapel as well as showing up on the records as Baugo Chapel. A new parsonage was built near 47th Street in Elkhart County. Reverend Isaac Dean was the first pastor to occupy the new parsonage.
The Establishment of New Roads and New Businesses-1859
Osceola was still surrounded with heavy timber in the swamps south and west of town. There was much game available such as deer, bear, squirrel, turkey, and great flocks of passenger pigeons. A few clearings had been made both south and west of town but travel was mostly by foot or horseback. There is no record of how many settlers in the community were riding the new railroad to Elkhart and Mishawaka for their monthly shopping trips. A new road west to Mishawaka had just been cut through the woods when William Thrall laid out his original plat of the town of Osceola in 1856. This road is now U.S. 33 and is now one of the heavily traveled roads that crisscross the county.
This original plat of Osceola centered around what was then the business district which consisted of the Bancroft Store (Mercantile) which was located at the northeast corner of Apple Road and U.S. 33 (100 Lincolnway East). Part of this building stood for years, but is no longer standing. The other building was the new railroad depot. The Bancroft Mercantile was built shortly after the coming of the railroad. Zelotes Bancroft and his wife set up housekeeping in the rear of this building and it is possible that the local mail might have been first handled there. Mr. Thrall platted another addition south of the railroad shortly after and Osceola started to grow to the south. Osceola and vicinity were served from Mishawaka for medical and undertaking services at this time. The Mishawaka Enterprise of October 29, 1859 advertised a new service by Charles Nerpolsheimer of Mishawaka, “The opening of a new cabinet shop on this date and is ready to serve the public with coffins and a new hearse to attend the internment of the dead.” This same issue contained a pungent little advertisement by Dr. W. W. Butterworth as follows, “All persons having unsettled accounts with me are urgently requested to call and settle them either by cash, dicker or note; if poor, call and get our receipt and square the books; if rich, pay up or give us a note. The highest price will be allowed for corn in payment of debts.”
There was a secret to this. The good doctor was also the Health Officer for the territory and had quite a stable of trusty steeds coming in from Osceola but undoubtedly there was some since he was the leading as well as almost the only physician available. There was always an intense desire for knowledge in Penn Township and Osceola. To further this desire, a literary Lyceum was organized in the late 1850s. Meetings were held in the various school buildings. It finally became known as the Tamarack Lyceum since most of the meetings were finally held as Tamarack School.
The Tamarack School was the only one equipped with the new kerosene lights. All the others were lit with candles. This school was located in the deep woods south of the marsh and near the present site of the Tamarack Church. Topics of the day were discussed as well as plays and books. Local debating teams were formed in each community and the debating often became loud and long. Stories have been told about debaters practicing in the barn while doing their chores. Slavery became the controversial question which finally broke up the Lyceum. It was the subject of many heated arguments and caused dissension between friends and neighbors. There was considerable Southern sympathy evident among the settlers.
The Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad was a real trunk line by the fall of 1859. An item in The Mishawaka Enterprise November 12, 1859 stated, “All of the cars of the company are now in use and some have been borrowed from the Wabash. No less than 48 loaded freight trains passed over the road last week.” Saturday, March 17, 1860 saw the record freight train of 54 cars pass through Osceola. This was the most cars handled by one locomotive up to that time. It must be remembered that this was still a one track line. The locomotives were coal burners and the only brakes on the train were on the tank of the engine. The couplers were the old link and pin and many conductors were working minus fingers as a result. It was a tremendous feat of railroading. The railroad made large inroads on the river traffic and few boats were still operating on the river in 1860.
The dams of the St. Joseph Iron Works at Mishawaka and the Oliver Works at South Bend prevented them from coming up the river. The two firms mentioned had left their locks go into disrepair as the use potential did not justify repair. Nevertheless, the businessmen of Elkhart held an indignation meeting in February 1860 which resulted in sending a delegation to the St. Joseph Iron Works of Mishawaka demanding that the locks be repaired. The company replied that no boats used their locks for 8 years and it would cost $800 to make the repairs. They stated their hope that the Elkhart businessmen would find it in their interest to return home and ship by rail and intimated that this appeared to be an attempt to force the railroad to reduce freight rates. After several threats of repealing charters, the matter was quietly dropped and the steamboat ceased to operate on the St. Joseph River.
The political pot was boiling in 1860 and the Lake Shore Railroad combined with the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana to run a special train for the delegates to the Republican Convention. This train originated at Buffalo, New York, which was the eastern terminal of the Lake Shore and ran through to Chicago. The Michigan Central Railroad ran a rival special over their line from Buffalo. This train came west through St. Thomas, Detroit, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Niles. Both trains were scheduled to leave Buffalo and arrive at Chicago at the same time. All switches on the Lake Shore and its connection, the M.S. and N.I., were spiked for the main line and a flagman was stationed at every road crossing. The engineers had free rein to make the best time possible. The engines were decorated for the event and work stopped on the line until the special safely passed. This train came through Osceola about 5:45 p.m. on May 9, 1860 and arrived in Chicago at 9:15 p.m., nearly 45 minutes ahead of schedule and 15 minutes ahead of its rival on the Michigan Central. The running time was 15 hours and 15 minutes, a record which stood for many years. This was accomplished in spite of two locomotives failures between Toledo and Elkhart. It is quite possible that the man watching the Apple Road crossing was the father of the late William Wolfe, a long time resident of Osceola. Mr. Wolfe’s father was the first section foreman on the new railroad.
This was the Republican Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the President of the United States. The Republican Party held a rally in Osceola on Saturday night, November 7, 1860. The speakers were Mr. Milburn and Mr. Merrifield of Mishawaka. They brought along a military band from Mishawaka which headed up the parade which followed. This was one of those old torch light political parades to warm up the voters. It did. Schuyler Colfax spoke in Mishawaka on Sunday night to a large and receptive audience. Mr. Lincoln was elected and war broke out shortly thereafter. These were exciting times in Osceola and feelings ran high.
There first week of December 1860 was an exciting one for Osceola residents. Fire broke out early in the morning in the old Clifton House at Elkhart and was soon out of control. Elkhart had no firefighting apparatus at that time since it had only been an incorporated town a short time. Philo Morehouse, resident director of the railroad, telegraphed to Mishawaka and obtained a promise of assistance. He dispatched a locomotive, a flat car with a caboose to Mishawaka to pick up their new fire engine “Rescue” and its volunteer crew and rush them to Elkhart. The train crew made a fast run but the fire engine arrive too late to be of much assistance. Osceola residents witnessed that day probably the first time a fire engine went to a fire by rail.
The first Postmaster for the town of Osceola was elected in March 1861. Mr. E. Washburn was the first Postmaster and records show that he had held this position by a previous temporary appointment. The first post office was in a small, two-room dwelling located on the southwest corner of Apple Road and U.S. 33. This building was later moved west to the rear of this lot where Henderson’s Barber Shop now stands and when Doctor Pierce built the present building which now stands at this corner in 1892.
A company of volunteers were raised in Mishawaka and South Bend in April 1861. There were probably several from Osceola in the group of 44 young men who left for service in the Union Army on April 19, 1861. History does not record them in the news of that day. On that same day, the railroad announced that it would carry volunteers free of charge. At that time all military enlistees were sent to Indianapolis by rail. The men went west to Junction, now Otis, Indiana, where they changed to the Monon railroad for the ride to Lafayette. They changed trains again there, going to Indianapolis on the Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroad, part of the New York Central Railroad.
It was a trip of nearly 24 hours with the rail facilities of those days. There were a number of Southern sympathizers in this vicinity and the Editor of The Mishawaka Enterprise of August 10, 1861 reports great public indignation at the so-called “Pease Meeting” held at Jimtown, Indiana. This meeting was reported to have been attended by over 200 people. Feelings ran high for several weeks but evidently nothing serious happened except for a few cases of private fisticuffs which were daily reported in the news with the names of the participants carefully omitted. A patriotic rally was held at the new Baugo Chapel (now the Brethren Church) at County Line Road (Ash Road) on Monday evening, November 4, 1861. Colonel Norman Eddy of South Bend was the speaker of the evening. He was accompanied with a military band. The purpose of this meeting was to stimulate enlistment of young men for the Union Army and to organize the ladies of the community into relief work which consisted of knitting socks and mittens which were sorely needed by the army together with bandages also in short supply. The news report states that the meeting was well attended; the church was crowded and the Colonel gave a rousing speech. It neglects to record the final results but no doubt the little community of Osceola came through and produced its quota of all the desired articles and manpower. It always did and still does.
A smallpox epidemic broke out late in November 1861 at Camp Ellis near Goshen. It soon spread to neighboring districts. There was another army camp near White Pigeon, Michian which was also struck with the disease. Elkhart, Osceola, Mishawaka and South Bend were hit next. Dr. Butterworth of Mishawaka put in a little note in The Mishawaka Enterprise: “Now that the frightful disease is in some of our neighboring towns, it will be almost criminal to neglect vaccinating your children as a sure preventative.” Prevention by inoculation was a new treatment in that day and there is no record of how many took advantage of it for the safety of their children. The Railroad House, a popular hotel for transients and railroad men, located in Elkhart on Main Street was thoroughly quarantined. The railroad workers did not take kindly to the quarantine and would sneak out at every opportunity. Train crews were in short supply and the railroad was probably not too particular as long as the men could move trains. Elkhart city officials finally built a fence around the building at Main and Harrison Streets to keep them in. Strict quarantine measures curbed the spread of the disease in a few months. There is no record of any deaths in the Osceola vicinity, but many were exposed and some were struck by the disease. The Northern Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church met in Ft. Wayne on April 15, 1862. A strong resolution supporting the Union was passed unanimously and was forwarded to President Lincoln. The Methodist Church was split into North and South units shortly thereafter with the Southern unit forming their [an entire page is missing from the original document at this part of the Osceola history]
The community continued to be disturbed by Southern sympathizers and in the March 14, 1863 issue of The Mishawaka Enterprise the Editor indignantly reports, “We are told that Jimtown, the redoubtable Jimtown, was the scene of another ‘Peace Meeting.’ The friends of Jeff Davis with whom the region is pretty badly afflicted, assembled in considerable numbers and were harangued by one O.H. Main, of Elkhart, who has some kind of paper which he told them to sign and then pay him five cents and he would clear them of the draft. About 50 or 60 signed it.” Evidently nothing came of this meeting either as the draft was effective and several were drafted from that vicinity. The O.H. Main mentioned in The Mishawaka Enterprise was a prominent Elkhart attorney with strong sentiments on the war effort. He was the Worshipful Master of the Kane Lodge No. 183, F. & A.M. for several years during this period. There was a definite surge of applicants in this organization with the firing of the first shot at Fort Sumter and Mr. Main’s outspoken opinions might have had something to do with this. There is no mention in the minutes of any such sentiments so this cannot be verified.
A record blizzard struck the community in January 1864. The railroad was paralyzed for nearly a week with several passenger trains stuck in the snow between Elkhart and Chicago. All roads were blocked with drifts as deep as 10 feet in some places. Train crews were instructed to stop and pick up any stranded travelers on the roads close to their tracks and some were so picked up and their lives saved. Some hardy souls did venture out in Osceola in spite of the weather for we find an advertisement in The Enterprise, “Found on the 12th of February between the Curtis sawmill and Osceola, a pocketbook supposed to have been lost during the heavy snow in January. The owner can have same by calling on the undersigned, proving property and paying charges, signed Horace M. Vesey.” Maple syrup and maple sugar was a major industry around Osceola. Mr. G. Vesey and James W. Curtis from south of Osceola, each made over 1,000 pounds of maple sugar and several of their neighbors also reported good runs of syrup. The big blizzard evidently did not keep the maple sap from running. The Vesey families mentioned lived in the vicinity on South Apple Road near where James Menaugh now lives. The Vesey School was built nearby and was named for this family. Henry S. Plumb came to Osceola in 1864. He was married to Miss Alma A. Bancroft a short time after his arrival. Mr. Plumb engaged in the mercantile business in 1870 in the store building still standing on the northeast corner of U.S. 33 and Apple Road. He built a large home to the east of his store building shortly thereafter. This dwelling is still standing. it is 102 Lincolnway East.
Zeletes Bancroft had succeeded his father in the management of the grist and sawmills about this time. He was married on June 1, 1865 to Sarah E. Maston. Seven children were born of this marriage, three of which, Mrs. Jennie Hose, Mrs. Zelia Long and George Bancroft, were raised in the community and were prominent in the life of the community. Some of their descendents are still living in the Osceola area.
Mr. Bancroft was born in Castile, Wyoming County, New York on October 23, 1831. He was educated in the old log schoolhouse which his father had helped to build in the woods south of Osceola. The Spring of 1865 brought a new brick school to the community. This school was built on the site of the present Osceola School. It had two rooms since the school population had increased. It remained in service for over 50 years and was torn down in 1915 to make way for a new building which is still in service and has been in service for over 50 years also.
Later in the same year, the old South School was replaced by the new Vesey School between Apple and Beech Roads. Mary Ellen Curtis was one of the early teachers of this school.
The Fall of 1865 saw the return of the men from Osceola and vicinity who had been serving with the Union Army. As far as we can learn these men were John Collier, William Leonard, Jacob Ocker, Jacob Hose and John Martin. We have been able to secure information on only one of these, Jacob Hose. Jacob Hose was the son of Peter Hose who came from Germany to settle in Penn Township. We do not known the date of Jacob’s birth but do know that he enlisted in Company “D”, 128th Indiana Regular Volunteers. He participated in the battles of Lost Mountain, Tennessee, the Atlanta Campaign, Peach Tree Creek, Buzzard’s Roost and Franklin, Tennessee. He was wounded in the Battle of Franklin and taken to Jefferson Hospital, Indianapolis, Indiana. He was discharged from there as a Sergeant on May 27, 1865. Mr. Hose was married to Sarah J. Akins, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Byrkit) Akin on April 23, 1868. He purchased a farm in Penn Township near Osceola and raised a family of 6 children, Charles, Cora, Flora, William, Grace Belle and James Milo. His son, James Milo Hose is now a resident of Osceola at this date, January 1968. The William Harry Leonard mentioned was the son of John Wesley Leonard and Eliza Jane (Lane) Leonard. He was born January 24, 1846 in a little log cabin on what is now Harrison Road just east of Blackberry Road. He was the father of the late Alma Jane Zeller.
The Osceola community had grown large enough to support a local physician by 1869 and in March Doctor Stephen J. Batchelder opened an office in Osceola for the practice of medicine. He married the widow of James Griffitts shortly thereafter. Neither the marriage or the practice was a success and the good doctor left Osceola for a more lucrative spot. The Lake Shore Railroad absorbed the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad and became the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. The new company commenced immediately to build a new shop facility at Elkhart. The merger became effective on June 1, 1869 and the plans for expansion were announced a few days later.
The heirs of William Bancroft conveyed land to the new railroad for a new depot on June 27, 1871. A new depot was erected on this site in July of that same year. This is the present depot building which is now in use as a warehouse by the Osceola Lumber Company. The new depot became a 24 hour telegraph station for the handling of telegraphed train orders and two operators were regularly assigned working 12 hour shifts. It was the first block station west of Elkhart and was a busy place, day and night and handled a heavy passenger ticket business also. One of the long time employees of the railroad was Thomas Nunn who came to Osceola in 1872.
The graded system of classes was introduced into the Penn Township schools in the Fall of 1879. The entire state adopted it in that year but not every unit put it into immediate use. All were using it by the Fall of 1881. Previous to this time pupils absorbed education as they pleased or as the teacher saw fit. There was no uniform effort to set up grade levels. Needless to say, there was bitter opposition from pupils, teachers, parents and even school authorities. The new ruling stuck with Penn being one of the first in St. Joseph County to adopt its use. Contrary to what the history books tells us, not all Indians left Indiana when the great forced exodus to Kansas took place. There were still a few Indians living along Grapevine Creek and 13 of them voted in the election of 1882. David Lexis and his family were the last to survive. David’s wife was the daughter of John Peashway who, in the 1860s and 1870s, owned a large tract of land in what is now the northwest part of South Bend. Mr. Peashway has a street named for him in that part of South Bend.
Dr. William A. Pierce opened his office in 1882 succeeding Dr. Batchelder. He was born in Burlington, Vermont. He graduated from Morris Classical Institute, then went on to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1879. He first opened an office for medical practice at Middlebury, Indiana, but practiced there only a short time. His office in Osceola was located on the present site of the Osceola Barber Shop. He later built a larger brick office on the location where the Sinclair Oil Company service station now is on Lincon Way East. Dr. Pierce served the community of Osceola for over 20 years.
In the La grippe (flu) epidemic of 1891 it is reported that he kept two drivers and seven horses busy making calls day and night to care for the community’s sick. He erected the building which still stands on the southwest corner of Apple Road and U.S. 33. This building was completed in 1892. The first floor was used as a grocery by the late James W. Mason and later by Harry N. Green. The second floor was used as a lodge hall by the Osceola Lodge of Maccabees, Osceola’s first secret society. It was later used for the telephone switchboard.
Dr. Pierce was a member of the St. Joseph County Medical Society and a loyal member of the Republican Party. He married Louisa White, daughter of William and Emmaline (Belden) Bancroft. Two children were born to them, Harriet E. Pierce and Chauncey M. Pierce. Chauncey Pierce followed in his fathers footsteps and became a medical doctor. He established his practice in Chadron, Nebraska and died there. Harriet married Jesse Flickinger, a conductor on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern and moved to Chicago.
High water caused by a quick February thaw in 1883 caused considerable excitement in Osceola. On February 15, 1883, a huge ice gorge formed against the County Line [Ash Road] bridge over the St. Joseph River. Despite efforts of road crews to dynamite the jam, the old bridge was carried away. There was also considerable speculation about the Bancroft dam in the Baugo which was in serious danger also.
Osceola had grown into a village of 20 homes by 1885. The little town boasted a grist mill, saw mill, post office, a mercantile store and a blacksmith shop. Mr. Baker, the blacksmith, lived in the building which was formerly the old District Five Schoolhouse which had been moved in just west of what is now the Osceola Barber Shop. It had been remodeled into a residence. This was done in 1884 or 1885. The Baker Blacksmith Shop was a two-story barn-like building. The shop building was purchased in 1902 by Al Grise, moved over to Baugo Avenue (Goshen Road) and rebuilt into a residence.
The Mishawaka Enterpriseof February 11, 1887, records one of those events which mark the end of an era in community life which are seldom noted at the time. It reports, “Not for thirty years has the St. Joseph River been as high as it was during the February thaw which prevailed up to Tuesday. The swollen river was a grand sight on Tuesday and Wednesday and was visited by crowds of spectators.” The article goes on to describe the washing out under the headgates of the old North Race and the washing away of the Bostwick Refrigerator Company at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, February 11, 1887. The item concluded the story with, “All along the path of the river is destruction. The Bancroft dam at Osceola (Baugo) and teh dam at Niles were washed away setting February 1887 as the date for ‘all high water stories.’” The Bancroft dam in the Baugo was rebuilt but until then waterpower had been the prime power in the valley. February of 1887 marked the beginning of the end for waterpower. Steam began to come to the forefront and its replacement as a more reliable form of power for local mills.
Nancy (Byrkit) Curtis, wife of James Curtis and one of the really old settlers, died in the old family farm house on January 13, 1890. Her surviving children at that time were Alexander Curtis, Edward Curtis, Frank Curtis, Albert Curtis and Mrs. Alexander Darr.
The Mishawaka Enterprise reports from their Osceola reporter on March 21, 1891, “Mr. P. Becker of Mishawaka is building a new blacksmith shop in our town.” It turned out to be a rather fizzling boom. In that same issue the Enterprise carried another Osceola item of much more far-reaching importance, “Mr. Herb Barnes, an enterprising young man of South Bend, is the brave fellow who captured Miss Carrie Griffith, one of the pretty girls of Osceola. The marriage took place last Thursday and Rev. M.H. Smith tied the knot.” Mr. Barnes later opened two subdivisions in section 9 which became Eagle Point and Barnes Addition to Osceola. His oldest daughter Abbie became a teacher in the Penn Township schools, teaching at Sunny Dale on South Beech Road. His oldest son Charles became the town electrician and served as Town Clerk Treasurer for two terms as well as Scoutmaster of Troop 22 and many over civic activities. His daughter Grace was active all her life in the Osceola Methodist Church, the P.T.A. and many other civic activities. Not the least of her accomplishments was marrying the writer of this history. Early in the Spring of 1891, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railroad began the work of double-tracking the railroad between Elkhart and Chicago. Gavel trains were working around the clock out of the Twin Branch gravel pit. A spur track had been built across the St. Joseph River near where the Lincoln Highway Inn now is to reach the gravel pit. There were several short tracks also installed at Twin Branch for camp cars to house the large numbers of Italian laborers who had been brought over to handle the job. There were telegraph operators on duty around the clock at both Osecola and Twin Branch to handle the necessary train orders. Additional track was laid at Osceola to also handle camp cars for the workers. Many of these laborers spoke little English. Many settled in Elkhart and Mishawaka and their descendents became influential in these communities.