This plaque sits at an intersection in downtown Shipshewana, at the corner of Main and Morton Streets. But how many of us have ever stopped to read it? It tells the story of how Shipshewana was founded as the result of a Hatfields-and-McCoys-type feud, and the love story that ended it.
We start with two pioneers: Hezekiah Davis and Abraham Summey. Both dreamed of building a town along what is now State Road 5, which runs north and south through present-day Shipshewana. And both had the money and the land to make it happen.
Hezekiah Davis owned 1,400 acres of land on the east side of what is now State Road 5, from north to south for a mile and a half.
His rival, Abraham Summey, owned 500 acres of land across State Road 5 on the west side, from north to south for a mile. I found a picture of Mr. Davis, but none of Mr. Summey, if that gives you an idea of who the eventual victor is going to be…
[picture of Hezekiah Davis from History of Lagrange County - 1882]
So Abraham Summey began laying out a town on a 40-acre piece of land along the west side of the road— picture it where the gas station now stands. Neither of these men was self-effacing – Abraham called his creation “Summey Town.”
Hezekiah Davis began building “Davis Town,” across the road to the east, where most of the downtown shops are now on Harrison Street.
But Davis didn’t want his town anywhere near Summey’s. So he left a 150-foot-wide strip of vacant land on his side of State Road 5, and he allowed nothing to be built there—thus creating a north-south “no man’s land” between the two towns! Picture it where the Blue Gate Restaurant now stands, running north to the grain elevators.
According to the historical information on Shipshewana.org, the rival developments “generated animosity and suspected vandalism on both sides.” I’d like to know more about that!…
What could heal this rift? Nothing short of a Romeo-and-Juliet love story (but with a much happier ending).
Hezekiah’s son, Eugene Davis, fell in love with Abraham’s daughter, Alice Summey, and in 1877 they were married. According to later census records, they had ten children, nine of whom survived childhood.
After that, the tensions between the two sides eased considerably. But there were still two rival towns…. And Davis had an ace up his sleeve.
Davis realized how important transportation was to the development of his town, so in 1888 he paid the whopping sum of $10,000 to bring the railroad through, on the Davis Town side. “Game, set, match,” as they say in tennis!… Davis had beaten the competition.
A town was officially incorporated that year from Davis Town land. At the suggestion of Hezekiah’s wife Sarah, the new town was named “Shipshewana” after the late local Pottawatomie Indian chief. (The Pottawatomies had been driven away years earlier to reservations in Kansas, but that’s another story. You can read about it here.)
Davis having the railroad on his side of the great divide meant the kiss of death for Summey Town… Just a year later, the Summey Town land was annexed into the new town of Shipshewana.
After the death of Hezekiah Davis three years later in 1891, the wide strip of land between the two towns was laid out in lots and sold at auction—the official end of the feud at last, I suppose.