My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Five: Wolfe Grain Company

The Walldogs mural on the Wolfe Grain company was easier to write about than some of the other murals; it is one of two that have a mini-biography right in the mural!  This one reads like this:  “Edward A Wolfe was born January 20th, 1890 on an 85 acre farm at CR675 & SR120.  Ed was the youngest of 7 children and died 80 years later, after achieving much during his lifetime.  He was a strong backbone in the community with his grain elevator business (now Hubbard Milling), served as the Bank President of the Shipshewana State Bank for 25 years, and served as an Indiana State Senator.”  The large mural is found near the site of Hubbard Milling, on Main Street.

The painting shows him in his later years, along with his grain operation in Shipshewana, most of which stands today.  Edward’s World War One draft card tells us that, at age 27, he was medium height and build, with light brown eyes and light-colored hair.  (He gives his birth date as January 25th, not January 20th.)  He gives his occupation as “grain dealer” with the firm Wolfe & Bevington.

There is a biography of Edward Wolfe in the book History of Northeast Indiana, which was written a few years later, in 1920, by Ira Ford.  It says that Wolfe & Bevington operate two grain elevators in Shipshewana and that “the members of the firm are men of sterling character and considerable business experience.”  It says that Edward’s parents were born in Wurtemberg, Germany and came to America after their marriage—settling first in Ohio and then coming to Indiana in 1880.  They later moved to southern Michigan, where Edward’s father was killed by a lightning strike in 1896.  This would have made Edward, the youngest, only six years old at the time.

Edward and a brother came to Shipshewana in 1913 and bought a grain elevator.  Edward married Miss Norma Bevington in November of that year.  Soon after that, Mr. Frank Bevington, Edward’s father-in-law, bought a half interest in Edward’s grain business.  By 1920 Edward was the locally elected Justice of the Peace and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In World War One, the biography goes on to say, “Mr. Wolfe proved true and loyal.”  He enlisted in the Motor Transport Corps and trained at four different army camps—but before he could be sent overseas, the armistice was signed and the war was over.

The 1930 census shows Edward and Norma living on Morton Street in a home valued at $4000—more than twice as much as any of the neighbors’ homes, excepting Hewlitt Davis, president of the bank, whose home is valued at $3500.  No children are listed in the census records for the couple.

The 1940 census shows Edward and Norma’s house as valued at $3000—effects of the Great Depression?  It tells us that Edward finished two years of high school and his wife, the 8th grade.  It also says that he worked 64 hours the previous week and 52 weeks the previous year.  Not exactly the “idle rich”!

Edward died in 1969.  His widow, Norma, had the Wolfe Community Building in Shipshewana built and dedicated it to the town in memory of her husband.  The building houses the Town Clerk and Town Manager, and the City Council Chamber—and on its front is another Walldogs Mural, “Sunthimers Building,” which I will write about in another post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Four: The Davis Hotel

This Walldogs mural is found, appropriately enough, on an exterior wall of the Davis Mercantile Building.  The old building, which included the Davis Hotel and the Davis Mercantile, burned down in 2004 and was replaced by the new Davis Mercantile, part of which is seen here.

I wrote more about this building in a previous blog, found here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Three: Hezekiah Davis

One of the sixteen Walldog murals in Shipshewana depicts Hezekiah Davis.  The mural is found downtown in Morton Alley.  Who was Hezekiah Davis?  The name “Davis” seems to be everywhere in the town, even today.

The mural itself gives us some clues.  He was born in 1825 and died in 1891.  It says, “He ran the first reaper, harvester, binder, and feed mill in Newberry (sp) Township.  He owned a large farm and orchard.  Then sold the latest buggies, wagons, & farm equipment from his hardware store.”  But Hezekiah’s influence was so much more than that.

According to the 1920 book The History of Northeast Indiana, Hezekiah came to Lagrange County, Indiana with his parents when he was twelve.  He bought a farm there in 1851, and by the time of his death forty years later, he owned 1,400 acres of farmland.  He founded the town of Shipshewana in 1888.  In 1889 he founded the Bank of Shipshewana, which he ran until his death two years later.  (After that time, his wife Sarah ran it with son Hewlitt, until Hewlitt reorganized it in 1907 as the Farmer’s State Bank.)  He was also a county commissioner and built two churches.  It was said that “The principles of the Republican party found a strong advocate in Hezekiah Davis.”

The abovementioned book said that “He became a man of importance not just because of [his] business capacity, but on account of his sterling traits of character, which led him to use his wealth in furthering many worthy enterprises, and when bearing the responsibilities of public office, to labor conscientiously for the public welfare.” 

In the 1870 census, Hezekiah is 44 and lives with his wife and five children.  He is listed as a farmer.  Hezekiah’s land is valued at $58,750—an incredible amount of money in those days, and equivalent to around $1,066,000 of farmland in today’s dollars.

But Hezekiah was human, too, as evidenced by information found on the Shipshewana town website (  In the early days of the Shipshewana area’s settlement, Hezekiah owned all the land on the east side of what is now State Road 5, for a mile and a half from north to south.  His rival, Abraham Summey, owned the land across State Road 5 on the west side, from north and south for a mile. 

Both Summey and Davis wanted to found a town and begin to sell lots.  But the two men argued about where the main road should be, so Summey began laying out a town on the west side, and Davis laid out a town on the east side, in one of his 40-acre fields.

Summey’s first buildings were built along State Road 5, facing east.  But Davis, who named his town “Davis Town,” left a 150-foot wide strip of land vacant on his side of State Road 5, and he allowed nothing to be built there—thus creating a wide “no man’s land” between the two competing towns.  After the death of Davis in 1891, according to the website, the wide strip of land between the two towns was laid out in lots and sold at auction, and thus the feud ended.

Hezekiah Davis married Sarah Reynolds in 1851 and they had seven children.  Hezekiah died when the youngest, Hewlitt, was only six years old.  Hezekiah and Sarah are buried at Keightley Cemetery.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Two: The Pumpkin Vine Railroad

Second in my series on the murals done by the Shipshewana Walldogs last summer is this mural, found on the back side of the D’Vine Gallery shop on Depot Street.  (Drive into the parking lot and look around back.)  It depicts the LS&MS Railway (Lake Shore & Michigan Southern) train line known as the “Pumpkin Vine Railroad” because of its twists and turns.

The line was built before the town; in fact, the railroad was the reason for the town.  After the tracks were laid in 1888 for a railroad running east and north from Goshen to Middlebury, then onwards through northeast Indiana into Sturgis and finally Findley, Michigan, the town of Shipshewana—as it later came to be known—soon sprung up.  Traffic on the Pumpkin Vine was brisk; in the first month (November 1888), over 1,900 passengers were transported.  The depot in Shipshewana still stands, known today as the Gallarina Arts shop on Depot Street.

The LS&MS operated the Pumpkin Vine Railroad from Goshen, Indiana through Shipshewana to Findley, Michigan until 1914, when it was merged with about five other railroads into the New York Central Railroad Company.  By 1928, the train no longer carried mail, and by 1931 it didn’t carry passengers—but business was brisk enough to justify its continued operation.  Not so by 1960, when the portion of the line from Shipshewana north to Sturgis, Michigan was abandoned.  By 1975 or so, the entire Pumpkin Vine line ceased operations due to low profits and deteriorating facilities.

But this wasn’t the end.  There were still two more chapters to be added to the Pumpkin Vine story.

In July 1980, the Lakeshore Historical Railroad Foundation started to offer rail excursions from Middlebury to Shipshewana on Sundays.  The restored steam engine pulled five Rock Island commuter cars along the seven miles between the towns.  I wish I could have ridden that train!  Sadly, profits were low, and the excursions were discontinued in November of that year, and the tracks were removed and sold for scrap in 1982.

But that’s not the end of the story.  An organization called "Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail" purchased the abandoned railroad corridor in 1993.  Years later, after much legal wrangling and persuasion of local farmers and other landowners, plans came together for a “rails to trails” type bike trail along the old railroad route.  Ownership of the property was transferred to local park departments for trail construction and management.

Today, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail stretches sixteen miles from Goshen northeast through Middlebury to Shipshewana, almost entirely “off road.”  The Shipshewana-to-Middlebury portion was completed in 2012, and it is a delight.  Now bikers and walkers, both Amish and “English,” have a safe and scenic way to travel the seven miles between Shipshewana and Middlebury.  My husband and I have spent many happy hours on the trail, which is especially beautiful in the fall.  

I wrote more about the trail in this blog post.  A printable brochure about the trail can be found here.  

Note:  I am indebted to the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail website ( for much of the information used in this post.