"In 1842, when I was about 7 1/2 years old, my parents moved from Pennsylvania in a one-horse wagon and passed through Avilla on a 'one-track' road, through trees and brush about where J. D. Sheaffer's mill now stands. There was no timber cut between Swan and John Geiser's farm, now owned by J. W. Heckman. On this farm was a small empty log cabin, of which we took possession about dark. For several nights we slept on the floor, then on pole bedsteads for about six weeks until father could build a cabin, about where the residence of J. P. Haines.
The winter of 1842-43 was the long cold winter so much talked of. This same winter father had one cow and some hogs. He ran out of feed, and to save the stock, father cut trees for them to browse. The hogs and cattle would eat the brush - maple, basswood and elm were the best - and deer would come to browse also. One morning as father arose he saw a large deer browsing at a tree top. He got his gun, made a crack in the door and shot it; it ran about ten rods and fell dead.
Our neighbors in 1842 were F. J. Borck, Samuel Weimer, Peter Weimer, Evan Jones, C. Diehm and N. I. Hill, who resided where B. Shanline now lives, west of town.
The first trees cut in Avilla was in about 1844, which was to clear off the corner just west of S. K. Randall's store for a log schoolhouse, and Dr. Thomas was the first teacher. The first residence built in Avilla was a sort of a cabin and frame built by N. I. Hill. The second was the present Dolan House, also built by Mr. Hill between 1846 and 1848. About this time father "worked out" for 50 cents per day and I, at 10 years old, worked for Evan Jones as 12 1/2 cents per day, and took my pay in flour. The largest flock of deer I remember having seen was nine, which passed through our fields about this time. Father shot at one but could not find that he hit it. A little later my father and I went to Fort Wayne to mill with an ox-team and were gone three days and two nights.
In those days religious services were all held in dwelling houses. The Catholics met for worship at the homes of F. J. Borck and John Geiser; the German Lutherans held services at Samuel Weimer's and C. Diehm's houses. The first church erected was the German Lutheran, built as a log cabin. The second was the Catholic, a frame building which is still standing and is now known as St. Mary's hall.
But I have just thought of another deer story. I believe it is generally known that the deer is one of the wildest of animals. While boys we would dig ginseng, dry it and sell it for 25 cents a pound. (It is now worth $2 a lb.) One late spring day my brothers and I were digging ginseng in the woods, now owned by John Bauhaus Jr., and scared up an old deer. Nearby we found a fawn. We took it out to the road and set it down. It became very tame, ran after us, blatting, followed us home and made a nice pet.
For several years we got our mail at Swan. On letters coming from Pennsylvania unpaid postage would be 25 cents on each letter. About the year 1845 my father, S. P. Haines, Judge Edwin Randall, F. J. Borck, Peter Weimer and N. I. Hill held a meeting, organized a post office and named it "Avilla." N. I. Hill was the first postmaster, S. M. Kline was second Henry Baum third, J. A. Hudson fourth, Mrs. Eliza Swarthout fifth, S. P. Stewart sixth, Aug Vogeding seventh, J. L. Henry eighth.
The Indians had all gone about a year before we arrived here. For several years Kendallville was unnamed and unknown. Lisbon was the best known town in the county, and Rochester, a mile east of Ligonier, was second. The county seat was at Port Mitchell and Augusta before it was located at Albion.
When in 1842 father built his cabin, to make sure of getting it on his own land he set it about 25 rods from the supposed line. He laid the foundation on a cloudy day, missed his reckonings and thus got his cabin set quartering to the southeast instead of to the south.
In 1847 with the help of some interested neighbors, father was induced to build a water power sawmill on land now owned by Fred Borck. We found it very difficult to make and maintain the dam. Being made of clay, it would often break out. Father ran this mill about 8 years and then sold it to myself and elder brother. Three years later my brother died and I then continued the business about 4 years alone. We always had more sawing than we could do, as the mill run only in wet weather. Walnut lumber then sold for $8 to $10 per thousand, poplar, etc., at $6. From all the land we cleared for 8 to 10 years we used the best timber for rails. The balance - walnut, poplar and other good timber - we rolled in heaps and burned.
A word about wolves. While Michael Diehm was hunting cattle in the woods about one-half mile from A. A. VanGorder's he heard wolves howling. He mocked them, found they were coming closer, and Mr. Diehm climbed a tree. The wolves came right to the tree and tried to get at him. He had a gun, but I do not remember why he did not shoot any. Peter Diehm is his brother. Mrs. Hess, his sister, and George Diehm, his son. Perhaps they can explain it better than I. Wolves generally leave their young in hollow logs. At that time there was a bounty of $5 on each scalp, so there were regular wolf hunters. The old she-wolf generally leaves her young early in the morning; then toward evening she howls so loud as to be easily heard three miles. It is a very doleful noise - enough to make one's hair stand up. The young all begin like a lot of pups to answer her, and in this way expose themselves to the hunters. There was nest of them in the creek bottom north of A. A. VanGorder's; hunters exterminated them. Rufus Roth then lived on what is now the farm of Peter Barkes, and as he stepped on a large hollow log one day, an old she-wolf ran out of it. Roth, assisted by his neighbor Gilbert Sherman, there secured five young wolves. Mr. Roth had been too poor to pay his taxes but these scalps brought him $25.
Deer hunting was very common. The deer would pasture on the green wheat fields in the fall. One moonlight evening my uncle, T. J. Smith, climbed a tree on the farm now owned by J. S. Hooper, near the cemetery, and drew his gun up after him with a rope. The deer soon came, and from his position in the tree, Mr. Smith began firing at them. Strangely for deer, they did not scare. He shot until his bullets were gone and then shot away the ramrod. Descending to the ground he discovered three deer lying in the field. Two he had killed with bullets and one with the ramrod.
We were in the country about ten years before the L. S. & M.S. Railroad was built through Sturgis. The grain and seed grown and the flour made on the prairie country and rich lands north, northeast and northwest was almost all teamed through here to Fort Wayne, from whence it was shipped on the Wabash Canal. There was a string of teams on the road almost constantly loaded with grain and flour. It was not uncommon for 15 or 20 teams to put up for the night at our Avilla Hotel for back loads. These teams would haul salt and goods of all kinds for merchants at Lisbon, Kendallville, Tamarack, Wright's Corner, Union Mills or Mongo, LaGrange, Ontario, Lima, Sturgis and other small places. R. S. Haines, Avilla, March 20, 1893."
Avilla News March 23, 1893
Noble Notes: Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. And scratch where it itches.