I have been taking a look at the marvelous murals done in the summer of 2014 by a group of sign and mural painters known as The Walldogs. This mural, in the Morton Alley area of downtown Shipshewana, says this about W.L. Reifsnider and his harness store: “Reifsnider’s Harness Store, a Full Service Retail Establishment Specializing in High Quality, Fair Priced Tack and Custom Handmade Leather for Both Horse and Rider.”
I did a little digging about the man behind this business.
Records at ancestry.com told me that Wesley R. Reifsnider was born in November 1869 in Ohio, moving later to the Shipshewana area. In 1895 he married local girl Rena Yaeger, and they had a daughter named Marian in 1897. But their story ended sadly; Rena died the same year, so that by the 1900 census, Wesley, age 30 and already a harness maker, was a widower and a boarder in someone else’s home, and his young daughter Marian was not living with him.
By 1910, Wesley was a newlywed. He lived with new wife Gertrude Young Reifsnider in a rented home with her widowed brother-in-law. Wesley was a 39-year-old harness maker.
By 1920, Wesley and Gertrude had an eight-year-old daughter, Roline (called Rose) – and happily, he was reunited with his daughter Marion, now nineteen and a stenographer at the hardware store. They lived in a home he owned with a mortgage on Harrison Street and things were still humming in the harness making business.
By 1930 things had changed. Perhaps the automobile had made harness making less profitable. For whatever reason, the census shows that the Reifsniders (Wesley, Gertrude, and Rose) live in a fine home on Middlebury Street, but he is no longer a harness maker. Ever the entrepreneur, he is now the proprietor of a restaurant, and his wife is the cook.
By the 1940 census, Wesley and Gertrude are still running the restaurant. It was not an easy life; they both had worked 60 hours the previous week, and 52 weeks in 1939. Daughter Rose lives with them, still single at 28, but she has no occupation—for some reason, not helping out her parents at the restaurant.
Wesley Reifsnider died in 1951. He and second wife Gertrude, who outlived him by thirteen years, are buried at Woodland Cemetery, as are his first wife Rena and his daughters Marian and Roline.
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