1882 COUNTIES OF
LaGRANGE and NOBLE INDIANA HISTORICAL and BIOGRAPHICAL
Chicago F.A. Battey and Company Publishers 1882
VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP
By: R. H. Rerick
Van Buren Township-
Features-Incidents of Early Settlement-
Catalogue of Pioneers-Village of Marion- Industrial Growth-Village
of Van Buren-
The Dwight and Barnes Tragedy- Learning and Religion
Van Buren, was named by the founder of the
second village of the county in honor of the then President-elect,
was "admited into the Union" in 1837. Van Buren is the northwest township
of the county, bounded by the Michigan line on the north and Elkhart County
on the west, and comprises a variety of lands- level, fine farming
land in the east, and in the west a beautiful country, which in part
compensates for a little lack in suitability for the
farmer, by affording, in its rolling hills and beautiful lakes, a refreshing
relief from the monotony of sandy prairies.
The township is well watered by Pigeon River,
flowing through the middle, and its tributaries: Crooked Creek to the north,
and Shipshewana, Muddy and Buck Runs at the south. Pigeon River supplies
a valuable water-power, which was early utilized, and in such capacity
that surveys were made at an early day to discover
if it could be navigable as an outlet for this region to the lakes.
But the development of railroads soon discouraged that project. The most
important lakes are on the boundary lines- on the Elkhart line: East Lake
and Stone Lake, the latter interesting as the most beautiful of the county
and as the scene of a sadly romantic tragedy. One-half
mile from this place lies Fish Lake, about a mile in length, on the
State line. These lakes are rendered very
attractive by the unbroken sweep of sandy beach surrounding them, and
the picturesqueness of the enclosing hills. They are a part of a group
which includes Klinger's Lake, a well-known resort on the Lake Shore Railway,
further to the north across the line in Michigan. A very large part
of the land at the first settlement was in marshes, and though this area
has been much reduced, perhaps one-eighth of the land is marsh. The "Big
Marsh" includes most of this territory. At the January session of the Commissioners,
in 1837, it was ordered that all the county
north of Township 36, and west of the center line of Section 9, be
set off as Van Buren Township, and John Olney appointed Inspector,
and an election set for the first Monday in April for Justice of the Peace,
at the house of Seldon Martin. This first election, at the site
of the village of Van Buren, called out some thirty voters, but the records
are not to be found, and it is only remembered that one Pierce was
the first Justice. The next incumbent was Jesse Harding.
The first comers, as far as known, were Jesse
Huntsman, who took possession of the only piece of prairie land in
the township in 1829, before the land was on the market, and Nehemiah
Coldren, who in the same year built the first log house, near the bridge
over Crooked Creek. Coldren entered land later in Greenfield. But
first settlement was made east of the village, on land then well timbered,
but remarkably clear from underbrush, owing to the fires started by the
Indians. Here the grass grew luxuriantly, which was as near as could be
had to milk in the absence of kine, and the trees were full of wild honey.
The land was open to purchase in 1831, at the land office in Fort Wayne,
and in this year Ami Lawrence, Obadiah Lawrence, Nathaniel
Callahan and Asa Olney went from Lima to Fort Wayne on
foot, following the Indian trail, to enter farms. Soon after, "Uncle"
Asa Olney made the same trip alone, in a three days' journey. He remembers
distinctly some incidents of this tramp through the forests. The prairie
wolves were numerous then, and their noise, as they cracked the bones of
their evening meal, made no agreeable serenade as he tried to sleep. One
night, during his solitary journey, a party of Pottawatomies held a war
dance and jubilee near the place at which he was resting, over the body
enemy which they had given a quick pass to the happy hunting grounds.
Olney was called on to serve on a jury at Goshen before the seperation
of LaGrange from Elkhart County. As an instance of the ways and the
means of the pioneers: Mr. Olney, who entered at first but eighty
acres, enlarged his farm considerably by the proceeds of a two-acre patch
of turnips, and a half acre of melons. The new sandy land produced wonderful
vines. Melons of thirty pounds were ordinary, and pumpkins frequently
reached the comfortable weight of 100 pounds. The vegetables found a good
market at White Pigeon and Constantine, Mich. This earliest party of
settlers was composed of Nathaniel Callahan, with his family,
one of whom, Ami, still lives in the township
(other sons died, Almon, in 1846, and Mills, in May,
1881); Obadiah Lawrence, who died in 1852; his
brother, Ami Lawrence (died 1839), whose daughter Annie
was the wife of the elder Callahan; Asa Olney, brother-in-law
of Nathaniel Callahan, who, with his wife, is still living in the
township; and his brother John Olney, whose sons, Jackson
and William are still on the homestead. They were all from Washington
County, Ohio, and settled within two miles east of VanBuren, at what might
be called the Crooked Creek Settlement. In
the spring of 1831, John Cook, an Englishman, entered land in
Section 17, where his son William still resides. Cook soon
succumbed to pioneer hardship, and died in August 1831. His was the first
death among the settlers.
At the other portal of existence, the first events which the chronicler
can discover were the births of a brother of Ami Callahan, who died
at the age of one year; of Sylvanus Olney, born February 20, 1832,
who died here July 10, 1879, and Huldah Lawrence, December 25, 1832.
The pioneers, in the custom, since become quite
popular and romantic, of a matrimonial journey to Michigan, were Hiram
Harding, of Lima, and Miss Lola Callahan, who were married at
White Pigeon. Then, however, that was the nearest place where the legal
sanction could be found. Since then, a great many lovers, without the necessity,
have made White Pigeon their Gretna Green. Another early wedding was that
of Alfred Martin, of
VanBuren, and Ellen Hubson, of White Pigeon. In 1833, the neighborhood
was increased by the settlement of Tyler Fleming and John
and David Cowan. Philip Munger, who died about 1842, and
Munger, who lived until the last decade, were the newcomers of the
In June, 1835, Peter and Nicholas
I. Sixby entered lands in Section 10 and 14. Solomon Whitney
in the Crooked Creek neighborhood in 1836, and Robert Scott,
who, however, died after a year's residence. These were families of this
neighborhood for several years. Among later comers was, in 1843, Arby
Crane, who afterward removed to Lima and LaGrange. His son, Samuel
D. Crane, became County Superintendent. When the settlement began to
increase after the "sickly season," it was in such a rapid manner as to
defy the chronicler. The first burial-place of the neighborhood was on
land, in Section17, where members of the
Callahan family, Philip Munger and Robert Scott
were buried. The earliest public ground was in Section 20,
on the White Pigeon road. On the lands of Berry and John
Cook, in addition to these, there were private
The first road to be surveyed was through this
settlement- the Defiance & White Pigeon road- of which
Judges Newton and Seeley were viewers, and John Kromer,
surveyor. The first county road in the township was laid out in 1838, joining
the Defiance road, between Sections 17 and 20 in the east. The second State
road passed through the center of the township, and is called the Vistula
road, as it was intended to connect
"Vistula on the Maumee"- now Toledo- with South Bend. Thomas P.
Bulla and John Kromer surveyed the
road in 1835. There were settlements along the line of this road south
of the river, before the survey. John
Belote and his son Elmer were here in October 1834, and
built a house on the present Belote farm next year. The father was
from Western New York, where he had been a member of an independent company
of horse in the war of 1812. He was one of the first Trustees, and
held that place for several years. He died August 20,
1857, at the age of sixty-two. Elmer Belote, a steadfast bachelor,
is still a well-known citizen, and has served
the county for two terms as Coroner. His brother, James S. Belote,
died in 1865. In the winter of 1834-35, the Belotes built a log
bridge across the river on their land, which endured seven or eight years.
Before that a canoe had been used as a makeshift for a ferry at this point,
and travelers on the other side, with good voices, were
promptly served. A substantial bridge now spans the stream at this
point, and also the Sidener bridge at another old crossing, a mile
below. William Tharp, in Section 30, and Jacob Butt, who
died here, in 1868, aged seventy-two, came in at the same time as the Belotes.
In 1835, Nicholas Sidener, of Clearfield County, Ohio, came to his
present farm in Section 30, and with him, his brother, Samuel Sidener,
who afterward removed. Samuel Berry lived in this vicinity. George
Turnbull, who, with Ami Whitney, was chosen Constable in September,
1837, were in the neighborhood, and Edward Robbins and one Nobles.
These were probably all
the earliest settlers here, and of them only Nicholas Sidener
and Elmer Belote are still residents at the writing
of this history.
A burial-place in Section 30, on the Vistula
road, known as Belote Graveyard was opened in 1836, and is
the last resting-place of the following old settlers: Mrs. John
Fowler died 1851, aged fifty-one; Sylvanus Olney; Peter Fox,
died 1859, aged fifty; Jacob Butt, John Belote, James
S. Belote and Elisha Tharp.
On Vistula road, upon the present farm of
L. Newman, a village was laid out in June, 1836, by Francis Rhoads,
Isaac Buckley and Eppah Robbins, who were then the owners
of the land. The village was named Marion and a tavern was erected by the
owner of the plat, and a store started by James Belote and
By the vigorous efforts of the projectors of Marion, quite a "huddle"
was built up, but it soon became evident that it could never grow up to
the paper, and the owners of the lots joined in a petition to have the
village resolved into wheat fields, and thus Marion disappeared forever.
Fowler lived in the place for a
short time. He was the owner of a distillery near Buck Creek. Best
another of the residents. A saw-mill was built by Harding & Johnson
on Buck Creek in 1836 and run for several years.
The western portion of the township began to
receive settlers about 1836. In November of this year, Peter L. Keightley,
brother of John Keightley, of Newbury, a native of Lincolnshire,
England, came into the township and occupied his land in Section 22. Mr.
Keightley used to take liberties ordinary in the old country with the
letter"h." Not far from his place there was a tree in the road with
the letter L cut upon it, which was a
well-known land-mark, and it is still told that Mr. Keightley's
manner of directing travelers to "go to the heL," and so on, would frequently
cause a misunderstanding. Mr. Keightley is still an honored resident
of the neighborhood where he has spent so much of his life.
About 1837, there settled west of Van Buren,
Moak, whose son Peter now lives near the State line. Other settlers,
west of the river, up to 1840, were Robert and John Marshall,
Englishmen, Bower, George
W. Ferguson, Garel Osborne, John Sallier (who
made the first clearing in the southwest, and died before 1840), and several
on the Vistula road near the county line, including Widow Dodd,
Mack, whose sons are still upon the old farm; and at Stone Lake, William
Davis, a friendly Quaker who is kindly remembered.
The first burial-ground in this vicinity was
near the county line, in what was called the Mack settlement. The
first interment was of Josiah Remington, at which the
sermon was preached by a young minister, John P. Jones, since prominent
in county and State history.
Charles Dwight, with his wife and child,
came to the quarter section which he now resides upon, March 9, 1841. Mr
Dwight in his early days was a boatman upon the Erie Canal in New York.
He is a member of the seventh generation in America of this distinguished
family. His later life has been saddened by the tragedy of which an account
is given elsewhere, in which his youngest daughter was the victim. In 1843,
settled near the county line, and Aaron Freeman, still a prominent
citizen of the township, came upon his farm in the same year.
Crooked Creek curves down into Indiana, inclosing
with a lake to the north a fertile territory called "The Island."
This land was held by speculators at first, and one of the earliest actual
settlements upon it was by John Dalton in 1840. Mr. Dalton
had been with his brother James in White Pigeon since 1836, where
he had come from Rochester, N.Y. In 1850, he bought the Van Buren Mills,
and has since resided in the village, where he has
a comfortable residence. Mr. Dalton, starting with little of
this world's goods, has amassed a considerable
About 1850, a settlement was started in the
southwest corner called New Pennsylvania. John L. Rhoads, Jacob
Mehl and John Foster were the earliest settlers, but all have
removed. They were all Pennsylvanians.
The schoolhouse on this section now bears the name of the settlement.
Klingaman made the latest original entry of land, taking the southeast
quarter of this section in May, 1848.
About the year 1840, the population began to
increase rapidly, and as a consequence the prices of provisions began a
considerable rise. This was possible, however, and the prices do not seem
extravagant at this time. In 1834, wheat drawn to Constantine, Mich., brought
only 35 cents, and corn 18 cents, but in 1836 the prices were doubled.
Before the VanBuren Mills were built, about a week would be consumed in
going to mill, and farmers
often preferred to grind a small grist in a common coffee-mill. It
was delicate work raising wheat then. About one-sixth of it was apt to
be smutty, and the cereal had to be washed and spread out to dry upon the
upper chamber floors. Farmers of the early day hardly dreamed of
the wholesale methods of modern agriculture.
Volunteer transcription by Pati Blowers May. Material for transcription
gathered by Barbara Henderson.
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