October 6 2009
Wakarusa was famous as the home of several RV manufacturers. Since last year, many of the manufacturers have gone out of business leaving Wakarusa with a high unemployment rate. The unemployment rate in the whole area exceeds 20 percent.
Wakarusa is also the home of the Wakarusa Dime Store, which is the home of the Wakarusa world famous jellybeans. The jellybeans are not manufactured there, but by a company that only makes the beans for the dime store. These are the best jellybeans in the world. We did buy a few bags for ourselves and maybe a Christmas gift or two.
The town is very clean and well kept. The bricks on the sidewalks are polished and preserved. I did not take a picture but the businesses in town each take a light post and decorate it. This time of the year, it is a Halloween theme
Wakarusa is located on the west side of Elkhart County, and was formed in 1836. The Township grew rapidly as settlers came west to this new area to clear the thick forest and start farming. Before the settlers had time to think about starting a village, in 1849 the "Mt. Olive" mail station was opened in Harvey Bly's log cabin located three and a half miles north of the present Wakarusa. It is probably that Bly's strong religious views influenced the naming this station Mt. Olive. The "post office" was surely just a "box" for each township family. Regardless however crude these were, it was surely better than going to Goshen or Elkhart's post offices when a notice was published in the newspaper stating a letter arrived for a person. Mt Olive was hardly the beginning of a village.
The influx of settlers created the need for a commercial center. Elkhart and Goshen were simply too far away to take care of the farming actives. In 1852 "Salem" was laidout at the present corners of County Road 40 (Waterford Street) and 3 (Elkhart Street). This village owes it’s start to three young farmers who saw the need for it, and plotted the corners of their farms to form it. In just a few years almost all the lots were sold. Most lot prices ranged from $11 to $70.
The post office was relocated to Salem, but kept it original Mt. Olive name. The first merchants were Thomas Inks and Jackson Woolverton who started a dry goods store. Inks also built the first house. Since there was a Salem in southern part of the state, the name was changed in 1859 to Wakarusa. The Mt. Olive post office name was changed to Wakarusa on March 15, 1860.
A stave and heading factory was built in 1862 Loucks, Werntz & Co. built a saw and planing mill in 1866. In 1875 the newspaper was started. In 1881 there were two wagon and carriage factories, two harness shops, two drug stores, two dry good stores, one hardware and implement store, one furniture store, one grist mill, two blacksmith shops, one meat market, one hotel, one millinery store, one barber shop, one saloon, two physicians, one veterinary surgeon existed in the thriving town (History of Elkhart County, 1881). The population was around 400.
Wakarusa tried hard to get a railroad to their town. It was not until December 1892 the Wabash Railroad delivered its first freight. The first train passed through on April 30. 1893. This was well after the first train arrived in Elkhart in September 1851. The Wabash made Wakarusa a real town. Included is a picture of the old railway station.
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