Town History

Written for the Historical Society
By The Center for History

The Miami Native Americans were the first known residents in the Manchester area. Then, in 1750 the Potawatomi tribe immigrated southward to the Kenapocomoco (Eel) River. Pierish, the Potawatomi chief built his village just north of where the current Manchester College football field exists.
Thereafter, in 1834, Richard Helvey settled at the site where the Native American village had been; in 1841, he built a log tavern on Walnut and Main Street. Peter Ogan arrived in North Manchester in 1834 and built the town's first home, a dual log cabin near 125 East Main Street.
The Harter family first appeared in North Manchester with the arrival of Joseph Harter in the fall of 1836. His son, Eli, built the second home in the town on North Walnut Street. Thereafter settling, Eli and his wife had their first child, Phoebe Harter, on October 27, 1836; she was the first Caucasian child born in town.
Peter Ogan, acting as the town's proprietor filed for recording the "Original Plat of Manchester" on February 13, 1837. This Plat stretched from Elm to Wayne Street and from the Eel River to Fourth Street. This marks the official beginning of the town's recorded history.

The first economic development in North Manchester was marked by the sales of "a general stock of goods" stored in Peter Ogan's double log cabin. This merchandise was hauled in from Lagro by the Barlow Brothers (J.B. Harter, 1914). The first merchandise store in Manchester was built by Asa Beauchamp in 1838; It was a two story hewed log building at the northeast corner of Walnut and Main Streets. Store goods were purchased from Richmond, Indiana and hauled in by teams of horses. Subsequently, Beauchamp sold the building to Maurice Place in 1841. Place relocated the building and promptly opened a subscription school. Later that year, Beauchamp tired of ownership of the now-empty lot and sold the property to Richard Helvey. Helvey erected a large L-shaped log tavern to be opened as a drugstore. John W. Williams was the druggist clerk at the Helvey tavern; he later opened the Williams drug store in 1872. Eventually, Thomas Purdy purchased the Helvey property in 1863 and he remodeled the tavern to be the "American House." In 1883, the building burned to the ground and was replaced by the current Ulrey Block on the corner in 1889.

The DeWitt High Wheel Auto Buggy was manufactured at 901 West Main Street. Virgil and Mary DeWitt built the factory and thereafter completed the first automobile in 1909. The buggies were precise copies of those manufactured in Auburn by the Kiblinger Company. In April 1910, a fire started on the second story and ultimately gutted the building. Seven completed or nearly completed autos were destroyed. The factory was not replaced because high wheel buggies had been replaced by automobiles with air pressure tires. The only known original DeWitt buggy was discovered in Ottawa, Illinois. By 1985, twelve reproductions had been assembled by a new DeWitt Motor Co.; one of the reproductions was donated to the North Manchester Historical Society.

The 1834 Plat of Manchester was renamed North Manchester in 1836 when William Willis was appointed by the government as the first postmaster. In 1874, North Manchester was incorporated and "officially" named North Manchester because the Chester Township School burned down and a public school was clearly needed and secondly, the North was added to the name because another "Manchester" already existed. The National Census taken in 1876 found the town's population to be approximately 1,600 citizens; the 2000 census shows the population to be 6,260.

Initial railroad transport in North Manchester began in 1872. The two rail lines, the Big Four, running north-south, and the Pennsylvania, running northeast-southwest, created a flourishing town. Previously the Mile Trace Road, a 20-mile plank road that provided access to the Wabash and Erie Canals, was the main mode of transportation of goods for the town. This road caused the town's population to increase from 400 to approximately 1600.

Maurice Place and his son, Isaac, operated one of the three Underground Railroad Stations that passed through Wabash County (circa 1844-1848). Maurice and Isaac kept their station as inconspicuous as possible in order to avoid confrontations with the professional slave hunters. Their ten-acre Place property supported the secret station. The sparsely settled countryside and the Place's superior knowledge of the alternative trails gave Maurice a good reputation for an outstanding operation in the Underground Railroad. It was reported that not a single fugitive was overtaken after having left the North Manchester station.

The Roanoke Classical Seminary, which was opened as a public school in 1862 by Frederick Reefy, was transferred ownership to the United Brethren Church in 1878 as a private school. The church appointed Reverend David Howe as Headmaster in 1884. David Howe, funded by the town of North Manchester, relocated the Roanoke Classical Seminary to North Manchester in 1889; he renamed the seminary and became the owner of North Manchester College. In 1895, Reverend Howe released his ownership and the town of North Manchester acquired ownership of North Manchester College. Previously, the Town had funded the college property in 1889. Members of the German Baptist Brethren Church (later called the Church of the Brethren) promptly negotiated with the town to "take charge" of the college. The transition was sponsored by the German Baptist Brethren Church, but funded by the town. The Church appointed a College Board of Trustees. Later that year, the Board changed the name to Manchester College. In 1901, the college's first president, Eugene Crouch was appointed when he offered to raise funds to combat the college debt; his conditions included the request that the Board of Trustees deed the College to the German Baptist Brethren Church. Ownership was conveyed on May 6, 1902.

Thomas R. Marshall (1854-1925), governor of Indiana (1909-1913) and Vice President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Lloyd C. Douglas, author and pastor of the Lutheran Church
J. Raymond Schutz, lecturer
Otho Winger, President of Manchester College (1911-1941)
Andrew W. Cordier, history professor (1923-1944), co-founder of the United Nations (1925-1945), President of Columbia University (1968-1970)
James Peabody, furniture (1902-1984), Peabody Retirement Community
W.E. Billings, editor (1900-1936)
Grace Von Studiford, opera singer
Frazier Hunt, author

Historic Downtown, Peabody Retirement Community, Timbercrest Retirement Home, Manchester College, North Manchester Public Library, Community Pool, Warvel Park, Halderman Cemetary Park, Oaklawn Cemetery, Harter's Grove, Town Life Center, old dam sites on the Eel River, Thomas Marshall's birth home, Victorian homes, Hospitality House, Center for History, the North Manchester Covered Bridge.

Prepared by Meredith Runner
Edited by Hilary Andersen
North Manchester Center for History 2005

For more information, please contact the North Manchester Center for History. Email [email protected] or call 982-0672.

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North Manchester, IN 46962
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