The Reminiscences of Al Cuffel
Written by Virginia Zuck
Al Cuffel of South Buffalo Street is the only man now living who participated in the clearing of the land for Spring Fountain Park which later became the present town of Winona Lake. He celebrated his 90th birthday last February.
He remembers the site when it was just a stretch of pasture, woods and swamp, full of briars, and cattails, muskrats and rattle snakes. Cuffel worked for more than 30 years at Winona, first for J. F.(Fred) and his brothers, Christian and Edward, who developed the place as a summer resort, and in later years for the Winona assembly.
Recently Cuffel spent several hours with the Times Union reporter reminiscing about the changes that have come in his lifetime. As he talked he displayed a priceless collection of old photographs showing scenes in the park iand friends and acquaintances, living and dead. He related little incidents, still clear in his memory, about the subject of each picture.
A favorite and well-loved figure in this community, Cuffel has been confined to his bed the past several weeks. Sometimes he is strong enough to sit up in his wheel chair for a little while, but he is no longer able to make his customary excursions to the business district, where established on a sunny corner out of the wind, he was a familiar sight to everyone. Generally beside him were his pet dogs, which he had found as homeless strays and to whom he gave this security, affection and training they had never had before.
As a result of his present confinement, Cuffel says he is getting rather lonely and "down in the mouth" in spite of the efforts of his family to keep him in a cheerful mood. He misses the wonderful long palavers he used to have and the multitude of friends passing his wheel chair. Many of the people he has known since their childhood. He has watched them grow up, marry, and become parents and perhaps even grandparents.
It is irksome not to be able to walk with crutches as he was formally able to do, but arthritis has made that exercise too painful an indulgence. Then, too, he is apt to become faint and dizzy after only a slight exertion. He is willing to admit he says, that he might be "wearing out".
He hasn't lost a peppery sense of humor though, and as he looked back on the past, his comments were pithy and unbiased. He is a man who loves life and people, especially children, and seems to judge the world kindly and tolerantly.
A logical reason
He chuckled as he said, "Guess the reason I'm so tough is because I was born on the "devils backbone" south of Warsaw. My full name is Allen Richmond Cuffel and my parents were Reason and Nancy Cuffel who were of Pennsylvania Dutch stock. Probably my last name was spelled with a K originally.
"We moved to Warsaw in 1862 when I was a year old and lived where the Kroger store is now. My father, a one-armed man, bought pigs and fattened them for market. They used to run freely all over the courthouse square.
"I had a little schooling at the school located where the Union Tool Building is now, but I didn't like studying much and youngsters weren't obligated to attend school in those days.
I played a lot and got into devilment. One of my pals was Frank Gear, who died not long ago. We like to skate, swim and fight and raised the devil generally.
"One of our favorite places was a swimming hole on the Presley Boydston farm owned by Mrs. Willodean Kincaide. The creek made a dandy little pool, just right for kids not big enough to swim in one of the lakes in Warsaw. Trouble was, Mr. Boydston kept chasing us out. Finally he lined the bottom with a lot of big stones, thinking that would discourage us. It didn't though. We made a game of diving for them, pulling them out and arranging them in pyramids or other designs quite far from the creek bed. Guess we were quite a trial to the man."
In to Warsaw
The Cuffel family moved to the Oram house across from the Warsaw post office. Al remembers one time he'd been shut in his room upstairs to think over some misdemeanor or other. He climbed out on the roof of the lean-to and slid to the ground and freedom-but he got a licking when he came home for supper.
The Cincinnati, Wabash and Michigan railroad, predecessor to the Big Four, had a line from Goshen to Warsaw at the time. The trains turned around on a turntable here at the end of the line. This was from August, 1870 until May 1876, when the tracks were completed south to Anderson.
Young Al played at the depot often, rather envying the two children, Lance and Renie Ludy, who actually lived in the building. Their mother, a widow, rented the house from Uncle Sam Loney. Their parlor and another room had been converted into a waiting room and ticket office for the C. W. and M. passengers. The house was beside the tracks where the Pure Oil gas station is now, on East Center and Hickory streets.
Warsaw's local transportation system, owned by Dr. Jacob Boss and Billy Williams, consisted of streetcars pulled by mules.
Dr. Boss, prominent physician of the town and father of Mrs. W. F. Maish, of South High Street, was one of the largest landowners in the county. He held title to much of the area that is east Warsaw now. When the old burial grounds on West Winona Avenue, where huge gas storage tanks stand today, seemed unsuitable as a permanent cemetery, Dr. Boss gave the city 30 acres for a new cemetery, reserving a plot under a towering tree for his own resting place. He was the first person to be buried at Oakwood.
Cuffel remembers that the doctor willed to his son, Julius a large section of land extending from Eagle (Winona) Lake to road 30 and beyond. Julius Boss lived across the road and east of McDonald hospital. In those days the steep hill was called Boss hill instead of White's hill.
J. F. Arrives
About 1877, when Al Cuffel was 16 years old, John F. (Fred) Beyer moved to Warsaw from Goshen. Beyer was head of a wholesale produce company which he and his brother developed from a mere financial shoestring into a vast enterprise.
Originally trained as a blacksmith's apprentice in his native Germany, he and his brother, Albert, came to Indiana in 1869, joining a fairly large group of German families who had settled at Goshen. At first Fred worked for a barrel maker in the town and then for the Freese produce firm which operated in Goshen and Nappanee. It is remembered that he sang in the choir of the German Methodist church, located in the same structure now occupied by the Church of God at Goshen.
Those were the days of heavy immigration from Europe to this country. Young people and families coming to Indiana from Hesse-Cassel (later Prussia) often wore identification tags bearing the name of William Fluegel, Sr. of Goshen. A cabinetmaker by trade he assisted many German people in locating their relatives, finding jobs, and getting settled in the new land. Fluegel, the grandfather of Miss Olive Fluegel and Mrs. John Hammond, of Winona Lake, recounted many a time the worry he had when Christian and Edward Beyer came to join their brothers at Goshen. Edward got off the train by mistake at Kendallville.
After a happy reunion, the two newcomers teamed up with Fred who had started his own business of building up collection routes for eggs, poultry and butter. His original capital was $5000, his equipment, two wagons. The Beyers company, it is said, first specialized in supplying fresh products to hotels and steamship companies in the east.
The brother, Albert, went on to study for the ministry and served as a beloved leader of several churches, mainly in the west.
A treasured story in the Beyer family goes like this: one day Fred and his wife, Anna, were riding in a wagon along the road to Pierceton. As they came to Eagle lake (so named, presumably, because it's original outline suggested the bird with winds widespread) Papa Beyer pointed to the peaceful countryside and said, "Someday that place will be a beautiful summer resort."
In 1881, Fred, Christian and Edward Beyer bought the land from Julius Boss. At one spot where a fine spring flowed they built a creamery. It is now the site of the Boyer factory, near the Pennsylvania road track.
Many residents of the community remember the familiar Beyer produce wagons, each pulled by two, four, or even six fine draft horses. As the interest of the company expanded, the Beyers employed more and more workers. Among them was young Al Cuffel.
Warsaw Times Union June 30, 1951
The Reminiscences of Al Cuffel
Written by Virginia Zuck
As he grew up Al Cuffel tried his hand at various jobs, for awhile he was a member of the "C" train crew, that did maintenance work for the Pennsylvania Railroad in this section. He discovered that he had a special liking for carpentry and seemed to have a real knack for making things of wood.
On May 15, 1885, when he was 24 years old, he started a new job under Fred Beyer. His first assignment was to wall in a spring on the hillside overlooking Eagle Lake. Miss Leah Power, children's librarian in Warsaw, has a picture showing the countryside as it looked about that time. The old Pierceton wagon road angled up Chestnut Hill past a rail fence and a big oak tree stood like a sentinel at the edge of the Lake.
Cuffel says the very first building he put up for Beyer was an ice house near the water. He did various kinds of work and seemed handy at all of them.
"I remember one particular day" he recalls, "when I had to lead a flock of about 1500 ducks and geese down to the lake where they had a refreshing swim. Then I had to coax them back again into a long barn nearby."
Cuffel's employers had decided to convert their new tract of land into a big amusement park and summer resort. A man named Henry Deeds, who operated a restaurant and rented the rooms above to vacationers, was bought out and preparations for the resort project got underway immediately.
Cuffel said, "We started right away to build a road along the lake, starting near the entrance and extending it way back into the wilderness. We grubbed out hundreds of stumps and dug out part of the hillside to make the grounds for the new hotel which was located astride the wagon road. The new Pierceton road was shifted to the east and became the present Kings Highway."
Lumber for the new structure was unloaded from flat cars on a siding near the present Boyer factory. The hotel went up quite fast. When it was finished and named the Eagle lake hotel, it was one of the most elegant resort hostelries in this part of the country. Impressively large, it was topped with an observation tower rising above the third floor rooms.
The guests took their ease on the wide verandas, enjoying the lake view and cooling breezes and watching the beautiful spring-fed fountain that gave its name to the whole park.
Al Cuffel helped to build the fountain. The spot where it was located is now a circular flower bed. The Eagle lake hotel became the main section of the present-day Winona hotel operated by the Assembly.
Cuffel said: "In those early days the hotel grounds had pretty pathways of brown and yellow sand arranged in strips. They led to the fountain, the flower beds and other points of interest on the grounds. We found the sand around the tree roots when we grubbed out the stumps in clearing the land."
Something especially gratifying to Al Cuffel as he has grown older is the sight of the huge willow trees he planted more than 60 years ago. Now one of the most beautiful features of the town, he remembers they were just slender whips when he set them out. He also planted scores of maple trees no bigger around than his wrist. In the fall the maples, flaming torches of gold and red on the hillside and along the streets, give Winona a vivid beauty.
The park booms
By the time Spring Fountain park was only a few years old it was one of the most popular places of its kind in Northern Indiana. East of the railroad tracks were a roller coaster and other fun features. Beyond that lay a golf course.
Cuffel recalls the trouble the men had in clearing the island for a race track and other features. It was a swampy haven for muskrats and rattle snakes. One day, vividly remembered, they killed 22 rattlers.
The workmen built a half mile race track over the marsh, filling in holes with muck. The track was a spring track so-called because its soft turf was resilient and easy on the horses. It was higher at one end then the other and followed the approximate course of auditorium and administration boulevards. The grandstand was where the Jay Shue home is now. Harness racers brought their pacers and trotters here regularly as they traveled the local circuits.
Piece by piece
In later years the old stock barns and stables, buildings of the race track days, were cut into house size units and moved to various lots bought by residents for summer cottages. These buildings are long since gone, but once in a while someone points out a kitchen or lean-to, here and there, that was built with lumber from the original barns.
Big country fairs were held on the island for a few summers. Part of the present Inn hotel was the poultry and livestock exhibition building. This spring when the old porch was ripped off the Inn the old poultry sign on the face of the building was disclosed. In 1897 the building was bought by the Winona Assembly and remodeled, making a 230 room hotel.
In the earliest Spring Fountain days square dances were held at Winona on an open platform build near the entrance. Bill Schade's father, Chris Schade, and a fellow named Joe Rabbit, rented it from the Beyers for $25. Then they arranged for an excursion party of German people from Fort Wayne. Cuffel remembers their gaiety as they did their native dances guided by a caller who directed them in German. The two Beyer employees cleared $75 for their ingenuity. Later the Beyer brothers built a hall where square dances were held regularly. Now the main part of the administration building, Cuffel claims he attended many a dance there. As the years passed the building housed agricultural exhibits for the Beyers.
Nickel a thrill
Not far from the Eagle lake hotel was the switchback railroad. High on a trestle were two sets of tracks. Each passenger paid a nickel for a thrill as the cars swooped up and down the dips. At the end where a man stopped the car, one stepped out and into the adjacent car and returned to the original starting place. The motive force was gravity.
Another feature was the miniature steam railroad which ran on narrow tracks from the entrance back to Kosciusko lodge, making a circle in a little house at the end of the line. A roundhouse for servicing the engine was located just south of the Inn hotel. The little train puffed out a good deal of smoke and people began to grumble that it was a nuisance.
Finally it was sold. Phil Laurien, of Winona Lake, declares that up until five or six years ago the very same engine was still giving faithful service in Triers amusement park in Fort Wayne. Hap Breaks remembers that for many years, the first cars of the miniature railroad lay rusting in a discarded heap not far from where Grover Sims later built a handsome residence of stone just off Kings Highway.
Recalling John Bond
Al Cuffel recalled that there lived at the edge of town an extraordinary inventive man named John Bond. Short and plump, he had been a blacksmith until suffering of back injury. His workshop at the back of the house where A. O. Shull lives now attracted youngsters of the community.
Bond made all sorts of things, stamping out from blank metal the parts for finely constructed little engines suitable for popcorn vending and peanut roasting machines. He tinkered constantly, made sturdy sleds for children, built carpet-weaving looms, and rigged up a Rube Goldberg contraction that pumped water into his house.
This second miniature railroad at Winona was powered by a gas engine built by Bond. It was one of the earliest gas engine seen in this part. He made the locomotive and all the cars, which had metal wheels shaped to the original narrow gauge tracks. The train ran probably until 1907.
Many people remember the car John Bond built for himself. He called it his "Whickerbill." Shaped in front like a buckboard wagon, its wheels were cut down from steel cultivator wheels. Bond steered it with a handle lever and cranked it under the seat. He could make about ten miles an hour in it and frequently traveled as far as Rochester. The not-so-old-timers smile when they recall how the Whickerbill went clankety-clank over the brick-paved streets of Warsaw.
A look around
Bond seems to have left vivid memories of his kindness and interest in the youngsters of his time. They used to go out to his home on clear nights to look through the telescope for which he had ground the lenses himself. The small fry were fascinated by his numerous clocks too-sometimes there seemed to be as many as 20 of them, all ticking away together in his workshop. John Bond's grave is in Oakwood Cemetery, marked by a big boulder, bearing his name.
Warsaw Times Union July 2, 1951
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