The Wabash and Erie Canal through Huntington, Indiana

Make SelectionSide trip to visit with the Mahon Brothers

Port Mahon

Samuel Mahon was a polished and courteous captain of a canal packet, and with his brothers was interested in the founding of the village of Mahon, on the canal a couple of miles South of Roanoke, in Jackson township. The Mahon brothers were Monroe, Archibald and William Mahon. Several of the family operated canal boats at different times. Just when the brothers settled in Jackson Township is uncertain, but early records of an election held in the township in 1842 mentions their names.

1853 Plat map of Port MahonPlat books in the Recorders office show that Archibald Mahon platted the town site of Mahon in 1853. Stores, shops, a hotel, mills, distillery, saloons and many dwelling houses served to constitute a busy trade center and shipping point known to business circles in far distant states.

But when the canal died, Port Mahon slowly vanished. Old 24 passes over what was once Main street, the scene of spirited horse races and other contests, which drew throngs of people from as far away as Toledo and St. Louis.
Huntington Herald Press, Aug. 7, 1925 Mahon & Packet had endorsement

Tom told me of various forms of recreation and pastimes that he cannot forget. Among these were horse races, some of them on the tow path, others on the highway that formed one of the streets of the village. In one of the races, Dan Mulrine of Roanoke, was riding a great runner, but the horse was crowded over and struck a snubbing post used for tying up boats. Dan's face was mashed and his hip broken, but he lived for many years after the mishap. Tom laughed heartily at remembering the time his own father was thrown in a race. Tom said: ":That time the race was on the public road through Mahon. The road was lined with people and something was done in the crowd that frightened the horse my father was riding. It shied and sent the old man rolling through the crowd like a tumble weed in the wind. Jake Fordyce bent over him and said: "Oh Pat! Are you hurt?" My father opened his eyes, looked at Jake, groaned awfully and answered: "Divil the hurt! I'm kilt entirely."
Huntington Herald, January 9, 1926 - Tom Cunningham tells about early days in Mahon history.

Another of the Mahon brothers was Archibald. His name appears on the old plat of Mahon as "proprietor of the town." The plat is on record in the courthouse. It was acknowledged before Samuel Dougherty, a justice of the peace, on June 20, 1853. The drawing shows a large open public square surrounded by lots, streets and alleys. It also shows the canal and Little river as well as a space near the river designated as "Cheapside." Main street is mentioned as running at an angle of nineteen degrees east of the magnetic meridian. It shows Hanna street, State street, Mill street, Durbin street, etc. One street is described as being parallel and "perpendicular" to State street. I always knew there were some hills back of Mahon, but was not aware that any of the streets were "perpendicular."
Huntington Herald - Jan 2, 1926 - F.S. Bash article

Mahon, near the present town of Roanoke, was typical of the small boom towns on the canal line. At one time supporting a sawmill, and became a shipping center. Mahon was also the home of an Indian whose favorite feat included riding a pony across the canal at the lock. He rode the animal across a narrow piece of timber, with the water 15 feet below him when the lock was empty after the passage of a canal boat.
The Marion Chronicle Tribune, March 1982 - Canal Fever cut through Indiana.

Taking-on suppliesAlfred A. Hobbel was one of the early business men of the town of the city (Mahon) and was a proprietor of a grain warehouse on Warren street on the banks of the canal.

Louis Hitzfield and wife were natives of Germany. When first landing in Huntington county, they lived at Mahon where they established a still. Later they came to Huntington in 1853. For a time, Mr. Hitzfield operated a saw mill near the canal, not far from First and Tipton. He was elected Justice of the peace, and was re-elected repeatedly.
Huntington Herald Press, Aug. 7, 1925 Mahon & Packet had endorsement.

Active preparations are going on for the erection of a large steam Flouring Mill at Mahon, in this county. Such an enterprise will prove advantageous and remunerative to the people in that region.
Indiana Herald. Wed. Jul. 11, 1855. p2 col. 3

Water from a spring here at Mahon, which had been piped to the canal and into a tank provided for it, was the best water supply between Toledo and Lafayette. All canal boats stopped here for water.
Ghost towns of Huntington County. Doris M. Chambers. 1971.

Mahon was greatly favored with a never-failing supply of excellent spring water, or more properly, a flowing well, which was carried to the canal by a lead pipe through which a constant stream of water flowed about an inch and a fourth in diameter, falling a couple of feet into a large wooden tank, all being covered by a substantial frame building. This was said to be the finest available water, and most convenient of access for boats and packets, between Toledo and Lafayette. They never failed to avail themselves of the privilege of replenishing their reservoirs for culinary and beverage purposes while trading there.
Morning Times. Sun. Aug. 22 1909. p 6 col 3. Mahon history by Henry C. Silver

Pat Sullivan had a saloon. Part of his residence was used as a hotel. Philaster Smith owned a grocery and saloon combined Boone Tubbell had a general store over near the railroad depot The Landis sawmill at Mahon was where John Shipley was killed in an accident....
Huntington Herald. January 9, 1926. F.S. Bash article. Interview with Tom Cunningham.

There were in the village (Mahon) about twelve or fifteen houses, all or practically all owned and occupied by Irish families. A good many of the men were employed as section hands on the Wabash Railroad. The original families had come there and built the town when the railroad was built.
The Saga of a Hoosier Village . E. W. Wasmuth

Mahon had a rival for supremacy in Roanoke, which seemed to be the more fortunate in securing industries, such as saw mills, woolen mills, etc., and the Seminary, which then bid fair to become the foremost institution of learning in the State.

Another very important condition which was always considered almost indispensable to the success of canal towns was the lock near which Roanoke was located. Business property was valued according to its close proximity to those locks. This was for catching the boatmen's trade. Boatmen were always in a hurry to get to their destination points on schedule, and as they were compelled to stop while going through a lock about a half an hour this delay gave the cook or captain ample opportunity to replenish their supplies and also to sample the "wet goods" without making any extra stops.

Mahon had no canal lock. All of these conditions were adverse to the village that was at one and the same time a better town than Huntington, and had a more promising future.

Mahon and Lagro were the most important commercial towns between Delphi and Fort Wayne for a number of years. But on the abandonment of the canal the more enterprising element left for larger and better towns and this once promising village's demise was very rapid.
The coming of the Wabash railroad was looked upon as a great boomer and further growth of the place was expected, as it was skipping Roanoke by a mile or more and coming within less than half the distance of Mahon. But this, like many other seeming advantages of the past, proved a detriment instead of an advantage by ruining the canal which was the major part of its support. During the canal's prosperous period, freight boats were scarcely ever out of sight of a given point. The crews were large consumers of the farmer's products and Mahon became a favorite place for replenishing their stock of produce.
Morning Times. Sun. Aug. 22 1909. p 6 col 3. Mahon history by Henry C. Silver

The late Alex D'Long, founder of the Herald, wooed and won his better half, a Miss Morgan, in the village of Mahon in the year 1848. She is the sister of our former fellow townsman Samuel Morgan, now residing in Kansas, and formerly a merchant in Mahon. In about 1860 he disposed of his stock there and embarked on business in Huntington.
Morning Times. Sun. Aug. 22 1909. p 6 col 2. Mahon history by Henry C. Silver

Mr. J.H. Sabine has recently opened a splendid stock of goods at Mahon, in this county. His goods were selected with care, and are well adapted to the wants of the people in that region, and he sells them cheap - we'll vouch for that. The public will find him a gentleman, and it will also be advantageous for them to call on him before purchasing elsewhere. Drop in and see him.
Indiana Herald. Wed. May 20, 1857. p2 col. 2

As I recall the Mahon of my youth, the village went strong for games, sports, races, contests and amusements...... I shall here mention one attraction that drew well for a season or two. It was a cross Shropshire ram of enormous size that had been tantalized and encouraged to fight anything from a sawbuck to a human being. The animal belonged to Emanual Erb, who lived on the side of the hill in the outskirts of the village. It was a sport for the Mahoners to watch a young man enter the ring and spar with the sullen buck for points until the animal became furious and kept its opponent moving so lively that his wind would finally give out and force him to climb the fence.
Huntington Herald. Jan. 2, 1926. F.S. Bash article

The writers first recollection of Mahon dates back to an age of four years when I was promised, on conditions of being a good boy, a new and first pair of boots. As the frosts of fall became harder and more frequent, the boots were frequently alluded-to until one morning when my parents were going to Mahon to do some shopping, I was called to have my measure taken for the new boots which were to be purchased that day. I will remember at about the noon hour of crawling to the highest point of a stake and rider fence which I held down to near night when I spied the team coming into sight. I hustled down, and ran to meet them at a race horse speed, and oh! my! when I was taken into the wagon and shown the boots how happy I was.

There were not only horse racing but cock fights, boxing matches and rat killing exhibitions, said Tom. I asked him to explain a rat-killing tournament. "Well, you remember way back when there was such a craze for rat terriers. For a while the whole country was more interested in rat terriers than in any other breed of dogs. The se exhibitions were held to decide whose dog could kill the greatest number of rats in so many seconds by the watch. 'Pon my word men would enter dogs from all along the line between Toledo and St. Louis. I mean they would be on hands from many distant towns. The crowds would reach five hundred.

The Mahon folks would dig pits with smooth straight sides, then advertise to pay boys for all the rats they could catch. These were kept until the number was sufficient for all purposes. Prizes were given for the dog killing the most rats. There was lively betting, too, large sums being staked on some dogs. A certain number of rats were put in the pit and the dog turned loose. Competition was keen and excitement ran high. Oh, it always made a great day for Mahon.
Huntington Herald. January 9, 1926. F.S. Bash article. Interview with Tom Cunningham.

One more sorrowful episode in the dark history of the village where Tom Cunningham was raised must conclude the interview. It is one of Tom's outstanding recollections. He stated that two of Mahon's residents were Mag Howard and Ellen Bishop. Their husbands were in the war. Mag had a little son about ten, and Ellen was the mother of a daughter some elder, probably eleven or twelve. The children were bright and much admired by neighborhood folk. It was whispered that the mothers were not as faithful in the care over the children as was befitting doted mothers. One evening a dance was given over east across the river. Mag and Ellen said they wanted to attend, yet they would probably not get to go on account of the children. When the girl and boy grew sleepy they were put in bed, then given the slip by the mothers who went to the dance.

No one ever knew just how circumstances conspired to bring about the sickening fate of little Johnny Howard and the Bishop girl, but Tom knows the sequel to it all. A while after midnight, when the dance was over, Mag and Ellen left for home, each in the company of a male escort. In going to the dance, the two women had gone around by the bridge to cross the river, but when returning home, decided to take the straight cut and cross the ice, although they said it was not any too strong. At the river they found the ice broken on the opposite side. The moon was bright and two little hands were found holding to the edge of the ice and were frozen fast.

The women and men called for help. A big crowd soon collected. Two little bodies were finally dragged out of the water and were found to be the children of Mag and Ellen. The supposition was that Johnny Howard and little Ellen Bishop woke up in the night and were frightened at finding themselves deserted. They must have resolved to dress and go in search of their mothers, whom they heard telling about wanting to attend the ball. They tried to cross the thin ice but it broke and both went down to their death.

After the burial of the little innocents, indignation among the Irish mothers of Mahon reached the boiling point. A crowd formed, went to the Howard-Bishop home, threw all household effects out in the street and gave the women due warning to load up and leave town within an hour or be overtaken with a terrible retribution at the hands of neighbors. And they went.
Huntington Herald. January 9, 1926. F.S. Bash article. Interview with Tom Cunningham.

As boats began to become fewer and constructing railroad employees had left the section, Mahon's business dwindled almost to insignificance, and when the canal ceased to be a water thoroughfare, Mahon as a commercial village ended its career.
Morning Times. Sun. Aug. 22 1909. p 6 col 3. Mahon history by Henry C. Silver

This page last updated 12/02/07 09:35 AM