The first settlement made in Perry Township, which also proved to be the first large permanent settlement made in the county, began in 1830, when Levi Perry, Isaiah Dungan and Richard Stone located on Perry's Prairie, named for Levi Perry, the first settler. The location was a fortunate one, possessing many advantages and few, if any, drawbacks. The soil was rich and the absence of trees saved the settlers an immense amount of labor. The brush was easily cut down, and the tough roots which permeated the soil, were conquered by heavy plows, capable of turning over nearly a yard of earth, which were drawn by eight or ten yoke of oxen. Thus the wild and irregular surface was quickly transformed into smooth fields of growing grain. So plentiful were corn and other products that the farmers on Perry's Prairie were soon able to supply the less fortunate settlers in other parts of the county, who "made the pilgrimage to Egypt," as they called it, in search of provisions, which they always obtained, and they called it, in search of provisions, which they always obtained, and were, moreover, treated with generous hospitality whenever they visited the community. It was on Perry's Prairie that the first postoffice in the county was established, and here also selections were made for that first county court and for the first township officers, the first election after the creation of Noble County, being held at the home of John Hostetter, in the northern part of the township.
In 1831 there came in Jacob Wolf, Henry Hostetter, Sr., and his sons, Adam Engle, Jacob Shobe, Joseph Smalley, and Henry miller and their families, together with a few others. Each year after that brought new accessions to the population, and up to 1844 over one hundred persons or families had taken land in the township for more or less permanent settlement, besides others who remained awhile as transitory residents. The White Pigeon road was opened through the township by the state about 1835, and the state also opened and improved other roads, devoting three per cent of the receipts from the safe of land to that purpose. These early roads were in no sense the fine highways that have since been created, but such as they were, they were a great aid to the settlers.
The scenery of the township was picturesque, especially along the banks of the Elkhart River, which abounded with fish, furnishing the pioneers with an additional food supply. Bears were rarely seen, having retreated to the wild pine forests of Michigan, but deer were numerous, and hundreds fell victims to the settler's rifle. One very successful method of hunting them was to float down the river at night in a canoe, with a bright light. The deer, which came down to the river at that time to drink, would stare at the light until shot down. The Indians were very numerous and would exchange venison or furs with the settlers for provisions and whiskey. When unprovided with articles of barter, they would resort to any device to obtain what they wanted without rendering an adequate equivalent. They were not always well treated by the whites, on whose minds were strongly impressed stories of former outrages by the savages. Mrs. Galbreth, who lived in the northern part, had been captured by the Indians in Pennsylvania many years before, had seen her mother and sister cruelly tomahawked and scalped, and had been dragged far off into the wilderness by the savage foes, with whom she remained a prisoner many wretched years, until she finally either managed her escape, or was given up by her captors.
The construction of mills began about 1835, when Adam Engle built and conducted a "corn-cracker" at the northern extremity of Indian Lake. After five or six years the dam was destroyed by some one whose land was flooded by the backwater. Abut 1842 Seymour Moses erected a saw-mill on Elkhart River, two miles northwest of Ligonier. Several years after, he sold it to the Miller brothers, who neglected the property and finally gave up the enterprise. In 1843 Mr. Moses began the construction of a carding-mill, near the site of his saw-mill but, just as it was about completed he died, and the project died with him. An early saw-mill was also conducted at Rochester by the "Iron Works Company.
The village of Rochester was the precursor of the modern city of Ligonier. It was laid out on section 26, township 35, range 8, by the proprietor, Simpson Cummins, in November, 1836. Fifty blocks and fractional blocks were surveyed on the river bank, each full lot comprising eight lots, four lots being donated for school and church purposes. Previously, to the laying out of the plat several houses had already been erected, and afterwards the village grew rapidly. In 1837 there was a good store, and in the same year an iron factory was started and operated by Baldwin and French, and perhaps others, eight or ten teamsters being employed to haul iron ore from "Ore Prairie" in York Township. On the death of the original proprietors Mr. Lee assumed control, and the factory was successfully operated for some years. About 1844 Richmond & Beall started a foundry, for the manufacture of plow castings, pots, kettles, and other articles in common use. By the following year Rochester was a lively and enterprising village of over 100 population. Some years later McConnell & Cummins erected a three-story grist-mill, with three run of stone, which had a long period of activity; and there was also a saw-mill, erected in 1834, which ran intermittently for a number of years. The growth of Ligonier, and other causes, finally brought about the lingering death of Rochester, and its one-time inhabitants sought other and more fruitful fields of enterprise.
Ligonier was laid out and platted in May, 1835, the year before the county was organized, by Isaac Cavin, who owned eighty acres, including the site of the village, and the plat was recorded at the county seat of LaGrange County, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Mr. Cavin had arrived in the locality from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, in 1830. At the land office at Fort Wayne he entered the eighty acres above mentioned, but the original plat laid out by him contained forty acres, which were divided into 110 lots. He, himself, never lived in the village, but resided for fifty years five miles to the northeast of it, during which time he made seventeen trips between Perry Township and his original home in Pennsylvania, two of which were by train, and the others on horseback or by wagon. During his first two years in the township he occupied a small log cabin without either door or window. He died in 1884, having had six children, the only present survivor of whom is John L. Cavin, of Ligonier.
The site on which the village was founded had formerly been used by the Indians as a depositary of animal bones, which had formed a rich mould, giving rise to a great profusion of wild strawberry vines, the fruit of which was utilized by the early settlers. The Elkhart River, then larger than at present, wound through the settlement, and was a favorite of the deer, which came in large numbers to quench their thirty in its limpid waters. Soon after the plat had been laid out, Isaac Spencer, who was the first county clerk, put up a small log building, and opened a store with an assortment of general goods valued at about $1,000, thus becoming the pioneer merchant of the place. Trade was slow, however, and in about two years he left, being succeeded as a merchant by Daniel Stukey, who occupied the same building with a smaller stock. He, too, found the business unprofitable, and gave it up in 1839. The first residence was erected by Ward Bradford, and was occupied by him and his family about 1836. The early growth of the place was slow, and it was a number of years before it could be even denominated as a hamlet. In 1840 there were but two or three families there. In 1845, the population was about 50; in 1850 about 100; in 1855, 300; in 1860, 900; in 1865, 1,100; in 1870, 1,400; in 1875, 1,700; in 1880, about 2,000. At the present time, it is about 2,300, the last forty years having shown a very slow growth. One or two other stores were opened in 1844, one by Henry Treer, of Fort Wayne, and another by Hugh Miller, but each continued in business but a short time, departing in search of more profitable fields. In the same year a black smith shop was started by Allen Beall. It was not until 1852, when it became certain that the Northern Indiana railroad would pass through the town, that a period of prosperity set in, and within five years after that the population and volume of business had quadrupled. A number of the newcomers were Jews, who added greatly to the general prosperity by their shrewd and energetic business methods.
Taylor Vail, who in 1847 had bought the iron foundry at Rochester, moved it to Ligonier, but in 1848 sold out to Jacob Wolf. It was continued by the latter, and by his successors, Mr. Beall, and (probably) George Ulmer & Sons, for about ten years, when the property was destroyed by fire and was not rebuilt. The business done was small, amounting to not more than about $1,200 per annum. A saw-mill, built in 1852, was operated by several parties for a few years without profit. The Fisher Brothers, however, built one about 1856, which was operated successfully for six or eight years. They also built a grist-mill in the vicinity, which furnished the neighborhood with flour for a few years, after which it was abandoned. Another grist-mill was erected by Albert Banta and Joseph Fisher, and after the war Dodge & Randolph built another saw-mill.
The postoffice was established in 1848, and was a continuation of the Good Hope office, the first one established in the county. The Strauss Brothers established what is now the Citizens Bank in 1867, and in 1873 Solomon Mier began a banking business which has grown into the present Mier State Bank. Both are numbered today among the strong financial institutions of the county, while another strong bank is the Farmers & Merchants Trust Company, established in 1906. A Building, Loan & Savings Association was organized in 1874, the charter of which, with the business, passed to a new organization three years later; but the slow growth of the town has confined the operations of all such companies within conservative limits. The shipment of wheat from Ligonier began at an early date, and has responded steadily to the growth of the agricultural interests in the surrounding country.
In 1864, the village having sufficient population for the purpose, the citizens petitioned the commissioners for its incorporation as a town, which was accordingly done. In 1892 Ligonier was incorporated as a city. The present city hall was built in 1913. The losses by fire, which were formerly rather frequent, have been guarded against as far as possible by the establishment of a good volunteer fire department, provided with a chemical engine and other modern apparatus. The department has its quarters in the city hall.
The water-works system owned by the city, was started in 1888, with two duplex pumps, and a somewhat smaller tank, with a low elevation than at present. The water was obtained from an open well, and the tank had a capacity of 60,000 gallons. The plant, which was situated just south of the present site, was abandoned early in 1905, the present building having been constructed and installed with the necessary machinery in the previous summer. The tank now in use has a capacity of 100,000 gallons, with an elevation of 83 feet from the ground to the bottom of the tank. Two boilers, of fifty horse-power each, are used, having an average daily pumping capacity of 110,000 gallons. The full capacity of the plant is, however, one and a half million gallons every twenty-four hours, and the water is pumped to all parts of the city. The pump cost $9,000. The pumping-engine is one of the most economical in the state in the consumption of fuel proportioned to the amount of power given. The present engineer, Jacob F. Fisel, has been on duty for twenty-eight years. One meter man is employed, and also an assistant, who helps both the engineer and meter man.
The electric light system was formerly operated by a private company, who sold it to the Milling Company, by whom it was operated for eight or ten years. It was then taken over, about two or three years ago, by the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company, who are now rendering efficient service. Ligonier has a very complete sewer system, extending over the city. There is brick paving in the vicinity of the city hall building, and three paved roads lead out of town, one for six miles to Cromwell, one of three miles west on the Lincoln Highway, completed in the fall of 1919, and thus closing the gap in the road to Chicago, and one running east three miles, on what is now called the Blazed Trail, to the township line.
Ligonier has several large and prosperous manufacturing plants, among them the Lyon & Greenleaf Company, millers, which was established as the Ligonier Milling Company in the middle '80s, and took its present name several years ago. It turns out an average of 1,000 barrels a day in Ligonier, besides a considerable product from a large mill owned by the company in Wauseon, Ohio. The Ligonier Refrigerator Company is also an old concern, and was originally established as an incubator factory. About five or six years ago the building burned and the concern was then consolidated with the Ligonier Carriage Company. It is engaged chiefly at the present time in the manufacture of refrigerators and ice boxes. The Mier Carriage & Buggy Company was established about thirty years ago. Chicago people have lately become interested in it, and the concern now manufactures automobile bodies principally.
Ligonier is well supplied with fraternal orders and other societies. Excessive drinking habits in early days, before the prohibition of the liquor traffic was thought of, gave rise to such orders as the Good Templars and the Sons of Temperance, which aimed rather at moderation than total abstinence. The Masons and Odd Fellows also established lodges, and are still thriving with good memberships. The Masons have four representative bodies or branches in the city, namely: the Blue Lodge (Ligonier Lodge, No. 185, Free and Accepted Masons); Noble County Chapter, Royal Arch Masons, No. 42; Ligonier Council, No. 59, Royal and Select Masons; and Ligonier Chapter, No. 325, Order of Eastern Star. The Odd Fellows have Excelsior Lodge, No. 267, and Washington Encampment, No. 89, Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Other lodges holding regular meetings are: Ligonier Lodge, No. 11, Knights of the Maccabees; Ligonier Lodge, No. 123, Knights of Pythias; Ligonier Lodge, No. 451, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Ligonier Lodge, No. 1863, Fraternal Order of Eagles; Stansbury Post, No. 125, Grand Army of the Republic, Stansbury Woman's Relief Corps, and Modern Woodmen Camp, No. 4824. Among the leading social and literary clubs are: The Daughters of the American Revolution, which was organized in April, 1905, the charter being dated August 7, that year, and which was founded by Frances Allen Palmer. The present regent is Mrs. Maria Royce Caldwell. The Progress Club, a ladies' club for literary purposes, was organized in 1905, and has since been continued, except that meetings were suspended during the recent participation of the United States in the World war. Mrs. Evanna Smith is now the president. The Century Club, also literary, was organized previous to those above mentioned, and is at present presided over by Elma Culver. These societies, and perhaps at different times, others, have done much to advance local culture.
The Elks Lodge was established about 1898, with from thirty-five to forty charter members, and its early meetings were held in what is now the Hoosier Club room, after which a room over the south Grocery Store, on Cavin Street, was occupied. In 1912 the lodge erected their present fine building on the corner of Main and Third Streets, at a cost of $10,000, the building, ground and furnishings representing a total investment of about $15,000. The lodge has a present membership of about 275. The Masons occupy the third story of a building on the corner of Third and Cavin streets. The Blue Lodge has a membership of about 130; the Chapter, 74; Council, 77. The Council was established in the early '80s; the Eastern Star within recent years. In addition to the lodges already named, there is a flourishing lodge of Rebekahs, the ladies' branch of the Odd Fellows' order, having a large and active membership, and holding regular meetings in Odd Fellows' Hall.
One of the most important and popular institutions of Ligonier is the public library. For some time previous to the construction of the present building, a reading-room was maintained in a room over Wertheimer's seed store on Cavin Street. Books were donated by the King's Daughters, of the Presbyterian Church, and the Queen Esther Society, connected with the Methodist Episcopal Church. The library movement was started by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1907, and aboard of trustees was elected, consisting of W. C. Palmer, Fred H. Green, Mrs. W. H. Bender, Mrs. Jacob Sheets, Mrs. Abbie Draper, and Mrs. F. W. Zimmerman. Will Baum was also a very active worker. A lot had been donated to the city for park purposes some years previously, but not having been used, arrangements were made whereby it was turned over to the board for a library site. Through the munificence of Mr. Carnegie a building costing $10,000, was completed in October, 1908, and in addition to fulfilling its useful purpose, is now one of the ornaments of the city. It contains at present about 5,000 volumes. The reference room was furnished, and the books in it donated by Mrs. Abe Goldsmith and children, in memory of the late Abe Goldsmith, for a number of years one of Ligonier's prominent citizens, and the room is kept up by the family, though the children reside in Detroit, where Mr. Goldsmith died. Among other benefactors of the library have been the King's Daughters, The Queen Esther Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Jewish Ahavath, who gave their entire library, and S. J. Strauss, who donates $100 a year for children's books. The present trustees are: Mrs. Lena W. Stansbury, president; Herbert Sisterhen, vice president; Mrs. Elmer Culver, Miss Alice Vallance, Arthur Kelly and Graham S. Lyon. Mrs. Evanna Smith has been librarian since the building was opened to the public, and during the same period Enoch Golden has been the popular janitor and caretaker.
The Ligonier postoffice is an international money order office, of class 2, with four rural routes. G. D. Gaby is now postmaster. The present mayor of the city is Sol Henoch; clerk, R. E. Jeanneret; treasurer, Orlo Shearer. Information in regard to the newspapers, schools and churches, besides other topics, may be found in the chapters of this volume specially devoted to those subjects.
In June, 1837, Isaac Cavin
laid out a village of sixty lots on section 2, township 35, range
8 east, and named it Washington, but as a community settlement
it failed to materialize; as also did the little village of Hawville,
sometimes called "Buttermilk," except for the more
or less transitory residence of a few families, in former days.
Robert M. Waddell, History of northeast Indiana : LaGrange, Steuben, Noble and DeKalb Counties, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1920, Noble County, pgs. 422-428.