The First Settlers of Osceola and Eastern St. Joseph County
The first known settlers near Osceola were William and Timothy Moat who arrived in 1829 presumably coming into the territory via the St. Joseph River. By spring 1830, new settlers began to arrive in Penn Township in increasing numbers. Samuel Ireland, one of the first settlers, relates in his “Memories of Penn Township” as follows:
The Pleasant Valley and Willow Creek neighborhoods were favorite spots for settlement, being on the river and the land being what is known as oak openings, easy of cultivation. Another thriving settlement also located on the south side of the river, being known as Moat’s Prairie, after Timothy Moat who first occupied the site. This is now the Eberhart Farm. George West and his son-in-law, Thomas Babcock, located near Osceola, on the bank of the Baugo. William Ireland built a saw mill at Osceola in 1833, damming the Baugo at that point and building a bridge over the Baugo at the same time. This was the first saw mill in this locality. It is now the Bancroft flour mill.(this was located behind the American Legion Hall in Osceola)
The Goshen Road or the Old Fort Wayne Road which runs southwesterly from Osceola was built as a direct result of the tide of immigration flowing in through Fort Wayne to claim new government land. It was the only trading post in the eastern part of the state and, in addition, was the Government Land Office a little later. It was also the residence of the Indian Agent handling affairs for the Indians in the northeast counties.
The Indiana legislature passed an Act in February 1832 stating, “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, that Nathan Coleman of the County of Allen, James Blair of the County of Elkhart and Samuel Martin of the County of St. Joseph, be, and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to make a survey, and locate a state road from Fort Wayne in Allen County by the nearest and best route to South Bend in St. Joseph County, making Goshen in Elkhart County a point.”
The job of surveying the new route was given to George Crawford of Elkhart. It was a task of tremendous difficulty. There were many streams, no bridges and only one cabin between Fort Wayne and Benton Ford. The party traveled by oxcart and completed the survey in the fall of 1832. The surveyors came through Osceola in September. Actual construction started in the spring of 1833. A major portion of this road between Osceola and Fort Wayne is now U.S. 33. Vistula Road was surveyed both by the U.S. Army of Engineers and the State of Indiana. The Army Engineers received the necessary authority from Congress in 1832 to survey and map a road from Maumee Bay, Ohio, to the Mississippi River and received an appropriation of $25,000 to do the job. This survey was completed in 1835.
While the matter of Vistula Road was being argued on Capital Hill, the legislature of Indiana realized the value of this project and on January 29, 1833 approved it as follows:
“Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, that Hiram Dayton of St. Joseph County, Allen Tibbets of Elkhart County and Oliver Clappen of Lagrange County, be, and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to survey, mark and locate a road from South Bend in St. Joseph County, by way of the mouth of the Elkhart River, in Elkhart County and the county seat of Lagrange County to the east line of this State, in the direction of Vistula (now Toledo) on the Maumee Bay in the State of Ohio.”
The county seat of Lagrange County at that time was Lima (now Howe) and this road is now State Road 120, east of Elkhart. It came east out of South Bend on what is now Lincolnway East following the old Fort Wayne Road survey. It left Lincolnway East in Mishawaka where Vistula Road now leaves U.S. 33. It forded the Baugo at Eagle Point and Stevely’s Point and on into Elkhart on what is now Indiana Avenue. The road was completed as surveyed long before Congress got around to taking action. Traffic was beginning to move on this road in late 1833. A new board of commissioners of St. Joseph County met on May 6, 1832, and ordered the county divided into three townships. The east township was named Penn. It was made up of what is now Penn, Harris, Madison and parts of Clay, Center and Union Townships. This was redivided several times over the passing years until Penn Township, as we know it, was established.
The Origin of the Town Name “Osceola”
The exact source of the name of Osceola is shrouded in mystery. If there was a specific reason for the name, then Mr. Hendricks never revealed it for the record.
John A. Hendricks, who recorded the first plat of the Town of Osceola, chose the name probably because the name of Chief Osceola of the Seminole Tribe (in Florida) had been prominent in the local news of the day. His name (Chief Osceola) occurred frequently in the few newspapers reaching the new settlements.
There have been those who state that Mr. Hendricks was a personal friend of General Jessup who captured the famous chief by subterfuge. It is very doubtful if Mr. Hendricks knew that the chief was already a prisoner when he christened his new town on November 17, 1837. News traveled very slowly in those days. In any event, he named his new town Osceola and the name has remained to this day with some distinction.
A more complete history of Osceola and the surrounding area can be found HERE thanks to the History Museum or at historymuseumsb.org/.
*Provided with permission from the The History Museum (September 15, 2014)