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A Brief History of Middlebury
Old Farm Illustration Early History

"To those who opened up and developed the wonderful resources of Middlebury, the present and coming generations will owe eternal gratitude. They suffered untold privations and inconveniences, labored with unflagging industry and will, receiving only a meager compensation for their toil. They were far distant from their friends and their old homes, and with restricted means of communication with them. The pioneers were sustained with the hope of soon establishing comfortable homes for themselves and their families, and with a noble ambition of conferring on posterity blessings which shall ever be a monument to their memories."

--Chapman's History of Elkhart County, 1881

In prehistoric times, the land of northern Indiana where the town of Middlebury is situated was covered with glaciers. When these melted, a moraine was deposited, accounting for the rich variety of soil and also for the appearance of small lakes.

Most historians believe the prehistoric Indians of the area to have been Mound-builders, and some mounds have been found in Elkhart County. In the earliest days of white exploration, there were mostly Potawatomi Indians, who drove the earlier Miami tribes further south as they migrated from Wisconsin. H.S.K. Bartholomew, in his Pioneer History of Elkhart County, states there were at least three Indian villages in what is now Elkhart County, and one of these known as Aubeenaubee, was at Elkhart Prairie, southeast of Goshen, where the first settlers in Elkhart County encamped in 1828. The first Amish people in Indiana settled in 1841, also at Elkhart Prairie.

The only recorded Indiana village close to Middlebury was in what is now Section 23 of the township, south and east of Middlebury. It was called Indian Gardens, and may be close to the site of the Forest Grove community which preceded Middlebury.

Old Farm IllustrationState Road 13 originated with an old Indian trail. This was part of the route that Eastern settlers, having crossed the lakes to Detroit, used after they disembarked to travel south into Indiana. In the early days, S.R. 13 was called the "Logansport-White Pigeon Road."

When the first settlers arrived in Middlebury in 1832 along this road, they found the Little Elkhart River in a valley edged on the west by gentle hills. There were still a large number of Potawatomi Indians in the area, and some cultivated along the Little Elkhart near the center of the present-day town.

To understand the settlement of the town, one may trace the development of the territory as part of our country's westward expansion.

Indiana was admitted as a state in 1816. Prior to that it was part of the Northwest Territory, first partitioned in 1800. Michigan was set off from Indiana Territory in 1805, and there was a border dispute from 1804 to 1817, until the state line was finally established north of what is now Middlebury.

In 1826, John Scott wrote a small volume, The Indiana Gazeteer describing the existing territories and counties of Indiana at the time. Allen County, part of the Fort Wayne Land District, has one of 56 existing counties. In the legislative session of 1829-30, the county of Elkhart was set off from within Allen County, and divided into townships. This part of the territory was once known as "St. Joseph Country."

Scott wrote of this area in 1826, "Of all the lands acquired by the last treaty, in point of soil and situation, none hold out more alluring prospects to the industrious, than does this point." He pointed out "the unexampled healthiness of climate, and fertility of soil surpassed by none in the government." Scott said, "The country is just opening its eyes on this delightful prospect."

Middlebury Township was organized in March of 1834 as a subdivision of Concord Township, following the opening of the country by the erection of highways and building of schools. At the time the township was comprised of the 1986 townships of Middlebury, York, Jefferson, and Washington.

The population of Middlebury Township almost tripled between 1850 with 171 residents and 1860 with 988. In 1870, there were 882 and by 1880, 1,361 residents.

The first settlers arrived before the township was subdivided, in 1832. One can only try to imagine their delight as these adventurous people discovered the hilliest section of the country, resembling their native Vermont. Enoch Woodbridge is said to be the first settler, and he came from Middlebury, Vermont. He was followed closely by a few more families, including Solomon L. Hixon, who arrived March 4, 1834, from Pennsylvania.

By 1839, there were only twelve families living at the settlement. It is also said in some sources that Stephen W. Remele who came from the same town gave Middlebury its name. John C. Holmes and George A. Buffman who also came from Middlebury, Vermont, were sons-in-law of Mr. Woodbridge and they erected log cabins on the site of the town. Enoch Woodbridge Jr. erected a sawmill in 1833 or 1834. Research has not revealed for certain its site, but the map in the 1874 Elkhart County Atlas suggests it may have been at the site of Stauffer's mill. Cornelius Northup, meanwhile, erected a sawmill near the present-day Middlebury-Shipshewana Road, which soon was converted to a flouring mill. This building was still standing in 1986, making it the oldest existing structure in the town, now the Indiana Popcorn Company.

It was in 1835 or 1836 that John Holmes sold his farm to Mssrs. Brown, Winslow, and Warren, of Niles, Michigan. It was either they or a Mr. Crocker who laid out the town around a central square. The plat of the town was taken to New York, according to Weaver's 1916 Elkhart County history, and many fifty-foot lots were sold for $100 each.

Harvey Corpe settled in Middlebury in the early thirties and owned most of the hills to the south and also to the west, the area known in 1986 as "Highland Hills."

The first school was said to have been held in Solomon Hixon home before the little red frame schoolhouse went up in about 1836 in the northwest part of town. Miss Belinda was probably the first teacher. S.L. Hixon sowed the first wheat in the fall of 1837 between the Little Elkhart and the Michigan line.

Dr. Cornell was the first justice of the peace; later W.T. Hunter, who put up the first frame building, Hunter's Inn, was also a justice of the peace. George S. Sayer was the first merchant; other merchants of the pioneer village were John C. Case, Swan & Earl, who are said to have had the first store, and Charles A. and James S. Dole, who had for a short time a distillery near the Northup mill. Others were Chauncey Hascall and David Mather.

In 1836 the people of the Middlebury settlement paid 50 cents a yard for calico and $5 a barrel for salt. A Mr. Hoyage or a Mr. Hawkins was the first blacksmith, Benjamin G. Evans was a wagonmaker.

The first marriage was solemnized by the Rev. Ira Woodworth, father of Mr. I.B. Woodworth, the first preacher in the area, a Methodist, who arrived in 1834. The marriage was between a Miss Blanchard and Horace Woodridge in 1835 or 1836. The first person to die in the Middlebury settlement was John Moore, a stranger and land explorer who stayed with Mr. Holmes and became ill with malaria. Mr. Stephen W. Remele was the second person to die, before he could see completed the frame house he was preparing to build. His son-in-law Mr. Hixon, then erected the building on his farm. The first children born were those of S.L. Hixon and William T. Bentley, in 1835, but the Hixon infant died three days after birth. Nancy A. Hixon, first wife of S.L. Hixon, was the first Sabbath-school teacher.

Other early settlers were Thomas Evans, Dr. Cephas Dunning, the first physician, Orange Walker from New York, Stephen Durgin, China B. Smith, Samuel Reynolds, a man of genial personality, John Degarmo, and Albert Meade, and Squier Lee, a carpenter who came in 1839 and lived to be 100 years old.

By 1835, there was a desire for a railroad connection. One didn't reach Middlebury until 1888. After that the town changed its completely agricultural identity to include industry. Krider's Nursery was founded and the Eclipse Tank Co., later to become Pioneer Mfg. Co., were born.

Middlebury was incorporated as a town in June 1868 and the first town officers were: Watson Hutchinson, chairman; Thomas Naylor, Thomas Elliott, Christian Stutz, W.F. Hani.

The turn of the century was an exciting time for Middlebury, and there was an energy and excitement about the community which has prevailed to the present day. The population of Middlebury has grown to 572 by 1900; the township figure was 1,692. The population of the town would more than triple by the 1980's, and the township population increase would be almost as great.

 

April 17, 2014


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