After visiting the Frederick Garver neighborhood on August 12, I headed as straight west as possible. My destination was a place once known as the Tamarack House, on the south edge of LaGrange County, near Wolcottville.
By the way, there is a community of beardless Amish on the east side of Goshen. Except they may be Mennnonites, not Amish. The men are all clean shaven, but there are the usual horse-drawn buggies, similar to others in this part of the world. I wish I knew more about how that came to be, and what their relationship to other Mennonite and/or Amish communities in the area is.
There was a lot of buggy traffic coming and going on both the east and west sides of Goshen this Sunday afternoon. Drivers always have a friendly wave for me on my bicycle, except when it’s a young man out with his girlfriend.
At one point where the county road was none too wide, a big pickup truck just had to squeeze between me and an oncoming Amish buggy carrying a young family, leaving a cloud of exhaust as it accelerated away from me. The young father and I waved to each other after it passed, but I could tell he and his family didn’t appreciate the close encounter with that pickup any more than I did.
If I recall correctly, this happened near the Elkhart-LaGrange county border.
Something I just now learned from the LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce web site: The population of LaGrange is 37 percent Amish. The county’s Amish population is the 3rd largest in the U.S., presumably measured on a per-county basis. Well, I knew there were Amish people almost everywhere you go in LaGrange County, but I would not have guessed they made up that high a percentage of the total population.
I took a good, long lunch break in Topeka. My usual travels from Topeka take me to the David Rodgers county park, which is one of my favorite places in the area, and on the Haw Patch road to LaGrange. The Haw Patch road is a pleasant one for riding. It doesn’t follow the section lines, but twists and rolls gently.
One mental photo from several years ago on that road is of encountering a young Amish father on a Saturday afternoon. He was teaching a son, probably around 11 years old, how to handle a team of horses. The team wasn’t hitched up to a wagon or anything — the boy with reins in hand was walking behind the team, and the father was walking behind him giving him quiet instructions, carrying a baby in his arms. It was a perfect picture.
But this time I headed straight west from Topeka, which took me on a road I had not been on before. The road departs from its straight line to make its way between a few lakes, and then there were no more Amish to be seen for a few miles.
The 1882 county history of LaGrange and Noble counties says this:
The facts seem to be about as follows: As early as 1833, and perhaps 1832, the trading-house of Comparet & Bowrie, or Comparet & Cuttieaur, at Fort Wayne, sent to the Tamarack one or more Frenchmen to open a trading station with the Indians. A small cabin was at first built, but later a double log building designed for a hotel was erected, in which the traders had a small stock of goods, including whisky, which they sold to the Indians, who often came there in great numbers. A man named Runeaux was one of these traders. He is said to have been a brother-in-law of Comparet. After his death, which occured quite early, his widow (Comparet’s sister) conducted the tavern for the Fort Wayne firm. This tavern was built of tamarack poles, six or eight inches in diameter, and was known far and near as the “Tamarack House”. In July, 1836, Burris & Durand, or Burris & Hitchcock, built a dam and saw-mill just south of the Tamarack House.
This house seemd to be at approximately the right place, but I wasn’t sure. There was a small cemetery behind it. I knocked on the door — a radio was playing but nobody came to the door. It was obviously a very old house, despite the newer siding. The foundation looks like a stone foundation over which a modern layer of concrete has been poured. I took some photos, then headed south down the road and came to a stream passing under the road through culverts. There was no sawmill there now, but that location fit the description perfectly.
I rode back to the house for more photos. Across the road from the above-pictured house was another, newer home. I stopped and asked there if people in the area knew anything about an old trading post at this site. The man did not, but did mention that the old house across the street used to be a bar, he thought. He said his parents lived there and were not home now, but said it would be fine for me to go visit the cemetery behind the house.
I wish I knew how old that house was, but I’ll bet it was standing there in 1882 when the county history was written. So it’s a link to the past, as a likely successor to whatever building was here in the 1830s.