Early Times in Kosciusko
Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

"Our forest life was rough and rude,"
And dangers closed around;
But here among the green old trees
Freedom was sought and found.

The town of Warsaw in its early days was a very different one from what it is today. Running from very near the front door of what is now THE INDIANIAN Steam Printing House to the sign post of the hotel known for many years as the Wright House and now by the name of Temple Block, but originally built by Michael Funk, the father of the family known by that name, who came from Wayne county, Ohio, and covering nearly the entire width of Buffalo street, was a small, nearly round and fairly deep cat-tail swamp, or hole. The reason why it was designated as "the cat-tail swamp" was because the weed known as cat-tails fringed its borders nearly all the way round. Lying as it did at the most prominent corner of the town, this hole wads a great drawback at first to the place. No special effort was made to fill it up for several years. The home of the parents of the writer was in an old-fashioned frame house that stood on the lot now occupied by the Lake City Bank, Reub Williams & Son, B. Q. Morris and J.. W. Curtis, and is now used as a stable on Indiana street, not far from the residence of John N. Runyan. The front of this house abutted the side-walk, and when the fall rains came with freezing weather afterwards, I have put on my skates in the house, stepped out on to the ice and skated right up to the tavern sign-post. I have, too, after heavy rains known it to come up to the saddle-skirts of a man on horseback at its deepest part. While no attempt was made to do away with the hole at first, it became a habit with those who in erecting a new residence, found it necessary to excavate a cellar to haul the dirt to this place and dump it in, so that in course of time there were periods during a dry season when little or no water could be found in the hole, but this was the exception, and not the rule.

The first tavern erected in Warsaw was located either on the lot occupied by Mrs. Enud Webb, or the next one east of it and was built of round tamarack logs procured from the adjacent swamp that was closely covered with this kind of timber, and which was used for many purposes by the first settlers of the town, such as sleepers, joists and rafters for the frame dwellings that followed the first log cabins. The next one was on the corner of Center and Lake streets, diagonally opposite the southwest corner of the public square, then came the one known at first as the Shot Tower on account of its great height, located on the corner of Main and Detroit streets, now owned by Charles F. Morris and occupied by Dr. I. B. Webber, followed by the one already described as having been built by Michael Funk. The present Wright House is also quite an old-timer, having been built originally by Ferdinand Pelton, who first occupied it, followed by the Popham Bros. who changed its name to Popham's Exchange. This house and the one built by Mr. Funk passed through many changes both having been destroyed by fire, the Wright House twice, and both were rebuilt of brick instead of wood as the first were. The Hotel Hays is modern, and its erection remembered by most of the present citizens of the town.

Few people would believe, unless told, that for some time the busiest part of town was in the vicinity of the old Shot Tower Tavern. Straight across Main street north and on the opposite corner was a chair factory operated by a man by the name of Guyselman and strange to say he manufactured only the old split-bottomed chair, the wooden-seated affair having not yet reached this far West. He also built the old time spinning wheel for wool, though I cannot remember that he undertook the smaller flax-spinning wheel, an implement that required no little skill in its construction--at any rate more than the big "wool-spinner." This being a new country then, most of the clothing worn was homemade--flax or tow [unspun flax fiber] being used for summer goods, and wool for the winter. All of this was spun at home and taken to the Monoquet woolen mill to be woven and colored, though very often the housewife herself did both of these, weaving on a home-made loom, and coloring with indigo, logwood, and sometimes using a color of butternut bark made by her own hardworking hands.

Speaking of "butternut" the Confederate soldiers during the civil war carried that name for the reason that some of the Southern States used that color for uniforms for their soldiers, and the bluecoats lost no time in bestowing the epithet on them. What is more, most of the public gatherings of a very early day assembled at or in the immediate vicinity of the Shot tower, but in time a frame court house was erected on the ground now occupied by the Baptist church; a dry goods store located on the Shane corner by Stephen Colms; another west of this one, on the ground where the late Charles W. Thomas did a grocery business and is still occupied for that purpose, but then only a one-story frame. the store was owned and operated by the late James Miller and Mahlon F. Davis, the latter treasurer of the county; then Moon and Cosgrove kept a general store on the corner now occupied by Joe Thorn, while Thralls & Pottenger kept one of the finest furnished drug stores just across the alley where the Haas brothers brick building now stands. Some of the black walnut drawers are still in use in I. D. Webb's drug store and have been ever since they were first made as long ago as 1846, if not earlier, even. In early days the late first known as Samuel E. and Richard Loney, carried on the cabinet-making business in the room now owned by Dr. C. A. Rigdon, opposite the northeast corner of the public square, made all the fine furniture for this store.

The sewing machine had not yet made its appearance, and as a consequence such a thing as a ready made suit of clothes was a thing unknown, and clothing stores, as such, were yet to come. As a consequence, tailor shops were numerous and Warsaw had its full share, for all suits were made from measurements and of course a suit of clothes came pretty high, but on the other hand they were made to last and were at that period worn till they gave out, the changing styles of fashion having no influence whatever on the wearer. In those days a coat collar was a work of art; quilted and often run up at the back of a man's head so high they would push his hat off, and I feel sure there will be those who peruse these sketches who can remember the fine bit of needle-work done by an artistic tailor in the center of the back of a fine coat where the seams radiated and midway between the buttons. I remember that all "jour tailors" took much pride in the skill with which they accomplished this little fragment of needle-work ornament. There were at times a half-dozen tailor shops in Warsaw even when the town was very small and some of them employed a half-dozen or more of skilled workmen. The same thing could be said of boots and shoes.

Until Elias Howe brought out the sewing machine--and it was quite a time after that event too, before a machine that would sew leather came into existence--such a thing was never known as either of them being on sale at the stores; hence the shoemaker was seldom without employment. It was an early custom for the farmer to procure his own leather in advance of the appearance of the shoemaker in his neighborhood who would bring his "kit of tools" with him and room would be made for his bench and the work of shoeing the feet of the entire family would go on until all were supplied. I believe however, that ladies' fine slippers and "prunellas" --the name of a fine shoe--could be had at some of the larger stores, but as they were made in France the prices was so high that a lady could now get a half-dozen pairs of slippers for the price of one those days, hence it is not strange that they never become "all the go," though as a boy, I remember the "prunella" --and the name may mean the particular kind of leather instead of the shoe itself, for aught I know.

Having mentioned the first court house--an ordinary two-story frame building--the first jail should also be included. There was one thing about the latter in which it excelled, and that is the perfect security of the prisoner just as soon as he was lodged in captivity. It stood somewhat to the north and also to the east of the court house that was torn down to make room for the present splendid structure that occupies the public square. It was a two-story building, with an outside stairway, and was far from being a handsome piece of architecture. The foundation was made of hewed oak logs laid tightly together, and each one a foot square. On this foundation was built a hewed log structure, so closely dove-tailed at each corner that there were no cracks between the squared timbers out of which the walls were constructed At the proper height for the ceiling the same course was pursued as with the foundation, and it, too, was made of squared logs pressed tightly together. In the center of this floor--or rather ceiling--was a trap-door of heavy plank, which could be locked with a heavy bar of iron, fixed in a staple at one end and arranged to be fastened to another staple at the opposite end with a padlock. The prisoner was let down through this cubby-hole by using a ladder, which was afterwards drawn up, and the individual found himself in a room that was enclosed with a foot square of solid oak all around, under and over him.

There were narrow, barred windows on two sides for ventilation and light, but we very much doubt whether there is a safer jail in the state than the one built as we have described it. In fact a prisoner could not possibly escape unless with outside assistance and the building stood in such a public place that help from this source would have been discovered. There were sometimes quite a number of prisoners confined within its close quarters from time to time, horse-thieves and counterfeiters, belonging to the gangs heretofore spoken of, being in the majority. The early settlers were not much given to litigation, and as a consequence the docket of the circuit court was seldom crowded with cases, and as a rule lawyers found the legal business a rather precarious one, although members of the bar stood high in the esteem of the people. In the early days a circuit court meant all the term expresses.

I remember when the late Judge James S. Frazer, then a young unmarried man, was prosecuting attorney for the circuit that included Kosciusko, and contained six counties As few terms were held during the year, it usually required a couple of weeks of court in each county. In those days the judge of the circuit, accompanied by a lot of lawyers, journeyed from county-seat to county-seat, and they were usually a joyful set, and had much fun in the evenings after court would adjourn, and there are lawyers still living who could tell some very humorous stories and detail many a joke of the old circuit court days.

The people, too, came to town in quite large numbers during court weeks, and peddlers of various kinds of goods attended court as regular as did the judge and lawyers. Indeed, the peddler of fifty and more years ago was a special character, as he often sold his goods at auction, and was counted on to bring around among the people the newest joke and the latest stories to take the place of the old, oft-repeated ones. He was, therefore, usually surrounded by a large crowd, whether they desired to purchase anything or not, but were ever ready to hear anything out of the usual and the common-place.

Warsaw Daily Times October 26, 1901

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