The Wabash and Erie Canal through Huntington, Indiana

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Passing through Huntington, we learned that our best route would be up the tow-path of the canal, which would have been excellent traveling , had it not been made almost impassable by a recent rain. We found the county to consist of heavily timbered, low, level, wet land, and was made more gloomy in appearance by the continuous rainfall in the afternoon.
History of Wabash County. 1884. p. 106

Main Street Roanoke, 1870In 1853, a boat landed at the lock of the Wabash & Erie canal about 50 yards southwest of the present interurban station in Roanoke. This boat came from Bethlaham, Ohio. It took on a family consisting of a father, mother, one sister and two brothers, the younger brother and the author of this sketch then being nine years old.

The boat came by way of Cleveland, where all the goods were transported on a like steamer for Toledo where another transfer was made. The steamer left Cleveland at twilight and landed at Toledo at nearly dawn. In those days, and for a long time thereafter all travel across the lake was dry by night--why this was so I never learned. At Toledo our goods were transferred to a horse powered canal boat and we started on the last leg of our journey and one week after embarkation at Bethlaham we landed at our destination. Other parties of the family started on a heavy laden wagon and made the trip in just the same time that our party did in spite of the more rapid transit across the lake by steamer.

Roanoke wagon builderThe condition of the country from Fort Wayne to Roanoke was so incredibly stamped on my youthful mind that it can never be erased. The beautiful farms, fields and homes that you now behold as you travel along the Little River Valley was then a dismal swamp, consisting of black mire, stagnant water, old logs, trees, mosquitoes, snakes, frogs and ague germs. I doubt if the swamps of the Nile can produce a more God-forsaken and desolate stretch than was the Little River Valley, now scarcely more than a creek, in those days and yet, it would seem that in the creation it was designed that even this most despised portion of Indiana should donate their share of sustenance to the hardy race of early pioneers. For here, wild geese, ducks and other water fowl swarmed in innumerable flocks, the river swarmed with fish.

Downtown Roanoke at the turn of the centuryIn building the canal, which was done through our section during the years of 1834 to 1837, the survey was made near the edge of the water and near high land. The dirt which was taken from the ditch with shovel, pick and wheelbarrow was thrown on the water on the lower side, thus forming a levee that held back the water and served as a towpath on which the horses traveled while pulling the boats laden with goods destined for the inhabitants of the far west. These boats were the only means by which our meager crops could be transported to eastern markets and a great source of convenience it proved to be, although somewhat slow. When we landed at Roanoke, or what was better known then as the "lock", we found a thriving village of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty people. The town like the city of Rome was situated midst its seven hills, all densely covered with a luxuriant growth of mammoth forest trees-oak, ash, walnut, hickory, beech, elm and maple and various other kinds, in the fruits of which the settlers were fully, as if more interested than in their meager corn crops, for the fattening of their hogs depending largely on a bountiful crop of the various varieties of nuts, the most important of which was the acorn and the beech nut.

Main Street Roanoke during winterThe town was inhabited by a sturdy variety of families from the east who had emigrated westward to find cheaper lands and homes. Many of whom we recall, Marten Bash and Aunt Katy who conducted a dry goods and grocery store, Ruban Ebersole, the druggist at the locks who daily issued out quinine to those afflicted with plague. At one time it was said that there were but two families in town who did not have from one to many cases of the dread disease. Daniel Welsh had a small grocery store on the east side of the lock. His consisted mostly of the boat crews and Indians. T.V. and Frank Horton, who gave much of their time to land speculation and later built a factory for manufacturing of all kinds of woolen goods and for the time being did a thriving business.

Mr. Grim succeeded Mr. Minich as trustee of Jackson Township. Louis Mellinger occupied a log cabin and was the town ax handle maker and coon hunter. William Christy was a blacksmith and occupied the lot where the oil that at one time he invented a supply station is located. Thomas Hackett, farmer, sawmill operator and first justice of the peace of Jackson Township, live a short distance west of town, and later added a corn grinder to his mill.

Mr. Eaton, grandfather of Gary Rose, was also a sawmill operator. He built his mill near where LLoyd Waid's residence now stands, where he continued in business for a number of years. Mr Viberg, a very eccentric character of German birth, who was proprietor of the farm now owned by M.V. Richards, I think held a patent for the land issued to him by the government.

Canal Inn - RoanokeMr. Rockwell, who lived on Posey Hill, had his marvelous genius and skill as an artist. A sample of this may yet be seen in the IOOF desk, and was also a genius at invention. It was said of him...flying machine and when completed, took it to a high elevation, adjusted it to his body and leaped into the air, but instead of soaring off into space as he hoped to, he came rather suddenly and abruptly in contact with his mother earth below. His injuries were not serious and in explanation of the failure he said the mishap was no fault of his invention, but that he had forgotten to operate the machinery!

Calep Eldrid, one of the good citizens and a maker of tinware, had a small shop on the east side of Commercial street and made all kinds of tinware, as ready made goods of this kind were not on the market. Later on he moved to Ligonier, a thriving town in Noble county, here he embarked in the drug and soon became postmaster. Drs. Brown, Hettler, and Health were the practicing physicians of the town and a wide circle of the country around......
Roanoke History Dr. S. Koontz. Roanoke Review, 1921

Dickey Lock location
Among the earliest comers to the place were a number of canal employees, and about the year 1847 a man by the name of Bilby opened a small store in a little frame building that stood near the lock on the east bank of the canal. Lemuel G. Jones in 1848, purchased the building, and for about three years thereafter, carried on a fairly successful mercantile business. His principal customers being those who ran boats on the canal. Prior to engaging in merchandising, Mr. Jones erected a sawmill at the lock, and a couple of years later, built a large flouring-mill on the same spot, which began operations in the fall of 1848. The mill received its motive power from the waters of the canal, and for a number of years was the largest and most successful enterprise of the kind in Huntington County.
History of Huntington County - 1887. Huntington Library

The citizens of Roanoke, in this County, are making preparations for celebrating the approaching anniversary of American Independence in splendid style. A free dinner will be served up on the occasion by the hospitable citizens of that place. They invite" all the world and the rest of mankind" to be there.

We spent an hour or two in this place on the 4th, and were pleased to notice the spirit of goaheadtivness (sic) manifested by its citizens. Several fine buildings have been erected the present season, and others are on the way. The second story of one of them has been fitted up for a Town Hall, and is a credit to the place. The Company who owns the Farmers' store are putting up a spacious store house near the canal. Altogether, Roanoke seems to be moving forward.
Indiana Herald. Wed July 11, 1855. p2 col. 3

Roanoke from the air. Air time courtesy of Bon VondereauWhen John Stopher was about one year old his family moved to Roanoke. In an interview, he made the following remarks: "At that time the Old Wabash & Erie Canal was being dug and the locks were then in the process of construction. The one at Roanoke was called Dickey's lock. From that place to Fort Wayne, a distance of 16 miles, was called the Sixteen mile Level and was the longest level on the entire canal. This was also called the Summit Level. The lock at Fort Wayne was called East Lock and was near the end of what is now Walton Ave. (now Anthony Blvd.). A feeder emptied near this place; another feeder situated where Robinson Park used to stand emptied into the canal in the West end of Fort Wayne. From the outlet of this feeder the water ran both ways; thus it was called the Summit Level.
.John Stopher: Canal builder. Indiana Waterways. Oct. 1983

Remnants of culvert 36, in Cow CreekIt was the winter of 1963 that D. Wayne Henricks spent much of his time on a labor of love. From walnut, swamp elm and poplar timbers salvaged from the Dicke lock of the historical Wabash and Erie canal, Henricks hand-crafted six inch momentos in the shape of canal boat steering oars.

Henricks fashioned 1,000, and intended to make another 1,000, but according to his wife Mildred, he didn't get the second set done. Six of the canal momentos were framed in shadow boxes also made from timber from Dicke lock. Of the six shadow boxes, Mildred can account for the whereabouts of two. One is in her possession, and the other was taken to Washington.

While the Canal is gone, it is not forgotten!In the first place, the timbers might still be hidden in the hazy historical past had it not been for Indiana & Michigan Electric Company. As Mrs. Henricks relates it, "I&M was digging with scoops and came across this wooden structure. Everyone in Roanoke was excited. They called me - I'm a history nut - because they thought I might know what it was, and I said they'd hit Dicke lock. I&M was just pulling the timbers out and burning them." "With the discovery the timbers weren't just any old pieces of wood, some of the townspeople, the Henricks included, put in for a share of them. The town Marshall" Mrs. Henricks said, "helped us load up some of the logs, and we took them to the sawmill."
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette July 6, 1971

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