History of Swan Township, Noble County, Indiana

Swan Township, located in Noble County, Indiana, was first settled in 1833 by George Rickard, who established his home and a small tavern known as the “Buck-Horse Tavern.” Following Rickard, other settlers, such as Conrad Cramer and the Shelner brothers, arrived, contributing to the township’s early development. The settlers were hospitable, assisting newcomers with building cabins and establishing farms. The township’s early economy relied on agriculture, with settlers raising crops like potatoes, corn, and wheat, and hunting local wildlife for food. Over time, the community grew, with the establishment of sawmills, stores, and a post office. The village of Swan was laid out in 1870 and saw moderate growth, while LaOtto, another village in the township, developed later but eventually surpassed Swan in population and prosperity. Early elections, community structures, and the advent of infrastructure like roads and mills reflect the gradual but steady development of Swan Township.

Swan Township Map, 1893
Swan Township Map, 1893

The first settler in Swan Township, according to early records, was George Rickard, a native of New York State, who appeared in the autumn of 1833 and built a small beech-log cabin on a tract of eighty acres in the northern part where he resided with his wife and several children. As travel had already set in along the Lima road, he turned his cabin, small as it was, into a place of accommodation and entertainment, and it was generally known as the “Buck-Horse Tavern.” In June 1834, Conrad Cramer entered eighty acres of land adjoining the tract of Rickard and moved in with his family. He also was from the Empire State. The next settlers were probably James and Charles Shelner and Daniel Tousley, in 1834; then, within the next two or three years, Jonas and John Strous, Samuel Barkwell, Charles Salsbury, Mr. Flagg, Hiram King, Alexander Gifford, the Broughtons, Oliver and Stanberry Wright, Hiram Parker, three or four of the Fulks (who settled in the southwestern part), Oliver L. Perry and others. From that time until 1844, the principal settlers who arrived were Weston Ackley, J.L. Blowers, Hamilton Badger, John C. Billings, Conrad Bricker, Dexter Brooks, Russell Clapp, Samuel Carothers, Nicholas Cooper, M.P. Dickerson, F. Tilton, Samuel Frances, William Gregg, Samuel Huff, Henry Haskins, Wm. Errickson, Charles Law, John Latta, Joseph Richards, Henry Timmerman, Aaron, Alva, and Josiah Wood, James Luther, Lewis and Erastus Warner, Jared and John Weeks, Edward and Lewis Walburn, and James Willitts.

The people were very hospitable to new arrivals, assisting them in the erection of their cabins, and in other ways. The woods soon became full of wild hogs, which the settlers shot for food, and as there was plenty of other wild game, meat, as a rule, was easily procured. The first crops planted were usually potatoes, corn, pumpkins, and wheat. Much fine timber was sacrificed, the trees being cut down and the logs burned to make room for the farms. Flax was also raised to furnish material for clothing made by the women. Sheep were soon introduced and thrived well, though it was necessary to protect them from the wolves which were then numerous in the timber. Occasionally a bear was trapped or shot, but this animal soon disappeared; the deer remained longer and venison was a common article of food with all the pioneer settlers. The earliest arrivals located along the Mongoquinong road, which had been laid out previously on an old Indian trail, and which served as an artery to float the products raised in the township, and give comparatively easy communication with Fort Wayne, which was for years the principal market for all Northern Indiana. The scarcity of money caused a recognized scale of barter to be established, which often differed greatly from the cash prices, always to the disadvantage of the settler who had not the cash. But in time money became more plentiful and conditions improved.

In 1837 occurred the first township election, at the residence of George Rickard, who had been appointed inspector. Only six qualified voters were present, in addition to several people not entitled to vote. Two or three officers were elected, but as no returns were made, the election proved invalid. Notwithstanding this, the election in the spring of 1838 was conducted in the same manner, but John Fulk who had been elected road inspector, consented to serve and did. In 1839 the election was held at the cabin of Mr. Badger, and Jonas Strous was elected Justice of the Peace. The occasion was one of disorder, resulting in several fights as some of the canal men from Green Township came over and insisted on voting without any right to do so and as a consequence Mr. Strous had to try a number of cases of assault and battery. Joseph Exler and Ann Cramer were the first couple married in the township, and the first death was that of the mother of Hiram Parker, occurring in 1837.

For some years after the first settlement Swan Township was without a grist-mill, although there were two “Corn-crackers” distant about eight or ten miles, one at Port Mitchell and the other on the Goshen road about two miles southeast of Wolf Lake. Consequently, flour and meal were brought from Fort Wayne when the weather and condition of the road permitted the journey. Saw-mills, however, were soon built, one, which was probably the first, being erected near the center of the township on Black Creek by Mr. Mendenhall. About the same time another was built by Hiram King, on an outlet of Cramer’s Lake in the northern part. A Mr. Bruce also put up an early saw-mill, which for some reason or other had but a brief existence of about a year. About 1850 the Plank Road Company erected a fine steam saw-mill near the Village of Swan. This mill passed through a number of hands and had a long and successful career.

The first store in Swan Township was opened about the year 1844 by Hiram King, at his residence in the northern part. A few years later he was appointed postmaster, though the office was at the residence of Mr. Clapp. Hiram Cramer succeeded Mr. King as merchant, buying the latter’s stock, but opening his store about 1 1/2 miles east. He in turn became postmaster and held the office, with an interregnum of six months, for over thirty years. Another early store was conducted for a brief period by a Mr. Ogden on the State road in the northern part.

The village of Swan was laid out in July 1870, by Samuel Broughton, Orville Broughton, and Franklin Hilkert, and contained seventy-eight lots between the railroad and plank road. The location had been selected as a site for a residence and store as early as 1856 by Ephraim Cramer who had noticed that the old plank road saw-mill was quite extensively frequented by workmen and settlers. In 1861 his store burned, but he erected a better one of brick and continued in business for many years. Robert Taylor opened a second store in Swan in 1872, and he and Mr. Cramer were in time succeeded by other merchants. In 1874 Mr. Taylor and Allen Willetts who were then in partnership, built a grist-mill, costing about $7,000, which they operated successfully manufacturing excellent flour. Soon after the completion of the railroad, F.S. Surick of Fort Wayne, put up a stave factory for oil barrels, but after manufacturing about 200,000 staves he failed, his failure causing a loss of $1,000 to Mr. Cramer who had bought staves for him, receiving checks in payment. A few other industries have flourished at various times in Swan, but the village has not grown, its present population being about fifty. There is one store.

The Village of LaOtto started a little later than Swan, but has exceeded it in population and prosperity. A steam saw-mill was built on the site during the winter of 1871-2 by David Simon, and was operated until about 1873. In the spring of 1872, Martin Belger erected a blacksmith shop, into which John Miller moved with his family, and on the same day – April 5th Abraham Zern moved into a shoe shop which had been built a short time before. In the preceding October, David Voorhees, Martin Belger, David Simon, Solomon Simon and Jonathan Simon had laid 101 lots at the junction of the two railroads and had christened the place Simonsville. The railroad company, however, called the station Grand Rapids Crossing; but this name was found cumbersome, and in September 1875, at the suggestion of the Rev. B.F. Stultz, backed by a petition of freeholders, the village received its present name of LaOtto which the postal authorities have condensed to LaOtto.

Mr. Kinzie was appointed postmaster in the autumn of 1872. A bedstead factory was started at an early date, but Mr. Miller erected the second saw-mill, after the one built by Mr. Simon was discontinued in 1873. The first store was opened, it is thought, in September 1872, the proprietors being Kinzie and Bonbrake, and since then there have been quite a number of other merchants, either in succession or doing business contemporaneously. At various times formerly brick and tile manufacture was pursued. The village has now a population of about 300, which has for its convenience an elevator, stores and wagon shop. The post office has one rural route.

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