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 (www.shipshewana.org). 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.
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