Thursday, May 01, 2008

Whitley County - A Place Some Ancestors Called Home

My grandmother, Hazlette Brubaker, was born in Lorain County, Ohio but her parents were born in Whitley County, Indiana. All four of her grandparents were either born in the county or came here as young children with their parents. Seven out of eight great-grandparents came to Whitley County as young adults; the eighth great-grandparent lived in Huntington County, which borders Whitley on the south. Of her sixteen great-great-grandparents, nine lived in Whitley County. In addition, three 3rd great-grandparents also lived in the county.

In 1823, the county of Allen was created in the relatively young state of Indiana. Within that territory was the land that would, in 1838, become Whitley County. Four years previous, it had been put under the jurisdiction of Huntington County. All of that area was once the domain of the Miami Indians. The earliest white settlers came to the area about 1827 and by 1838, the population had grown sufficiently enough to be allowed to govern themselves. The first tax assessment, made in 1838, included the names of 136 men. How many women and children were living here at that time is not known. By 1840, the number of households had grown by 60% as shown by the Federal Census that year, which listed 219 households, and the total population of 1,237 for the county, which was comprised of 338 square miles. To say that it was sparsely populated would be an understatement!

It was in August of 1838 that the first of my ancestors came to Whitley County. These were the Goodrich and Joslin families and they purchased land in the northwest portion of the county. About 1843, Grandma Jones came to Columbia City. With her were her parents, Conrad and Mary (Swigart) Helms, and several brothers (you can read about the brothers in the post on Hell's Half Acre). They settled in Columbia Township. Also coming to Columbia Township at about the same time were Henry and Anna Robison. And William Hamilton Dunfee. His parents, James and Sophia (Hazlett) Dunfee would follow a few years later though they lived in Jefferson Township on the eastern side of the county, bordering Allen county. By 1850 the population of the county had reached 5,190.

In 1851, eight year old William Brubaker came with his step-father and mother, George and Sarah (Foster) Parkison. The next year, Conrad and Indiana (Sisley) Stem arrived on the scene as did their daughter, Malissa, and her husband Jacob Wise. They lived in Thorncreek township, north of Columbia City. In addition to my grandmother's ancestors, my grandfather and his parents, Henry and Susie Phend, moved to Columbia City about 1898. In 1900, there were 17,328 people living in the county. As of 2000, the population was 30,707 which was predominantly white (98.37%). Native Americans constituted 0.36% while 0.19% were African Americans and 0.18% were Asian.

Of the actual homes of my ancestors, their physical houses, the only one that remains that I am aware of is the Brubaker home at the Goose Lake Farm. The old Scott School that my grandmother and her siblings attended is still standing, though abandoned long ago and now used for storage.

Whitley County has been, and still is for the most part, an agricultural community. There is some industry, mostly in Columbia City and along U.S. Hwy 30 which runs east-west through the center of the county. The other major highway is U. S. 33 which cuts through Churubusco in the northeast corner of the county connecting Fort Wayne with Goshen.

The landscape is nothing spectacular though it is quite pleasant. Rolling hills and flatlands, fields of corn and soybeans, along with lots of trees, wooded areas and a few lakes. I don't think there is a lot of tourism, other than people passing through on their way to someplace else. There are historical markers which note some events and people of the past, but there is really nothing to see at most of the markers, other than fields or trees.

Perhaps the most impressive landmark of the county is the courthouse in Columbia City, which was designed by Brentwood S. Tolan, of Fort Wayne. It was built about 1890 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The surrounding town square was added to the register in 1987.


Janice said...


The courthouse building is quite an amazing piece of workmanship. Is it still being used as the courthouse facility?


Becky Wiseman said...

Janice - Yep. It is actually the "court" house now - the only office besides the judges and courtrooms still in the building is the County Clerk's Office (i.e. Clerk of Courts). There was a new county building built several years ago that houses the Recorder's Office, Health Department, County Archives, and some other county offices.

The new building is very nice but doesn't have the character of the old courthouse. When you walk up the stairs to the second floor you have to be careful of the "grooves" worn by the thousands and thousands of people who have walked up those steps before you - and those stairs are made of Indiana Limestone. Takes a lot of walking to wear a groove in them there steps!

Steve Danko said...


You've made me homesick for the midwest (he says, wiping a tear from his face). Your description of Whitley County sounds a lot like the part of Nebraska I lived in for nearly 8 years.