Updated: Apr 6
As noted in the 1879 Putnam County Atlas, Manhattan is said to be the oldest village in Washington township, having been laid out in the year 1829, on the National Road, by John M. Coleman and Thomas H. Clark. The first merchant there was said to be Wilson Devore. Dr. Lenox N. Knight was the first practicing physician. Mrs. Judge Clark taught the first school. The first Justice of the Peace at that place was Lloyd Harris.
There was once a swamp north of the Old National Road, and west of the cemetery, that was said to have been the cause of typhoid and malaria. It seems people would cut ice from this swamp, which was typically shallow in depth, in the winter and store in the ice houses for use in the summer. This swamp ice was not at all clean, and since people did not know about the dangers of germs and diseases in the early days, many were said to have gotten sick and some died from this swamp ice. It was said that after people got more knowledgeable about the cause of these diseases, the swamp was drained in the early 1900’s.
It appears that the first tavern/inn, which was probably of logs, may have been operated by Wilson Devore. There was once an inn, or tavern, in Manhattan, owned and operated in the early days by the Isaiah Wright family, then later the Roberts family. The stage coach changed horses at the tavern/inn, with the passengers being offered food and drink, and also a room to sleep if so desired.
According to local historian Mrs. Ruth Hutcheson Craft in a series of articles in the Greencastle Banner-Graphic published in 1974, some tavern owners drank too much of their own whiskey. One innkeeper apparently got drunk regularly, and would crawl home, where he had a board off the fence, so he could get in the yard. Sometimes his wife followed behind giving him frequent whacks on his rear with a board. Once she took advantage of his inebriated state and sewed him up on a sheet and then whipped him. Postage was collected from the recipient of a letter when the mail was delivered. It is said that one man who had received a letter couldn’t pay the postage, so the Postmaster read the letter and told the other man what the message was.
Mrs. Craft indicated that her grandmother Craft told her that she remembered when the stage coaches were running. When the coach got within a mile of Manhattan, the driver would blow a bugle so that the community would be alerted to his arrival. One driver was Mace Wright, whose son Isom Mace Wright married Mrs. Craft’s dad’s sister, Cynthia Hutcheson. (The young couple both died of typhoid fever at the same time, leaving two small children, a girl named Cora and a boy named Arthur. The daughter, Cora, when she was late middle age gave the Greencastle newspaper information given her by her Grandfather Wright.) The old man had been one of the stage drivers who conspired to dump President Van Buren in a mudhole in Plainfield.
The grandfather Wright said that the mudhole was under a large elm tree. This tree later became known as the Van Buren Elm. The stage coach people had the President choose where the driver should go. Van Buren chose the route they had expected, and several men upset the coach in the mud, supposedly to dramatize to the President the sorry state of that much used road. The Van Burn Elm is gone but Plainfield has an elementary school nearby which is named Van Buren School.
Mrs. Craft indicated that her father told her that an old stage coach driver named Wright hanged himself from a tree. The place was marked by a pile of limestone rocks just north of Bob Lewis' barn (about a mile north of Road 40 on the Manhattan-Greencastle road.) It was said that the stones were from the foundation of Wright’s log cabin. There was once another log cabin a short way south of Bob Lewis’ barn.
Be sure to check out wonderful information that has been posted on the Putnamville-Manhattan, Indiana Facebook page. And feel free to add to the posts here if you have additional information and/or corrections.