Welcome to a county beautifully memorialized in the nostalgic 19th-century song by composer Paul Dresser! The haunting lines are just as appropriate today: “Oh, the moonlight’s fair tonight along the Wabash / from the fields there comes the breath of new-mown hay / from the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming / on the banks of the Wabash far away…”
Founded in 1835, Wabash (2010 pop. 32,888) is not only the Wabash county seat; it is also the largest city in the county, which includes La Fontaine, Lagro, Liberty Mills, North Manchester and Roann.. The French explorers and traders were said to have encountered the Miami Native Americans in the 17th century, and after the American Revolution, the settlement progressed greatly. The French traders originally named it “Ouabache,” of which “Wabash” is the English spelling. The name was derived from the Indian name Wabashike, which was a reference to the white limestone river substructure.
North Manchester (2010 pop. 6,112) is perhaps most well known by Manchester University, which is celebrating its 125th-year anniversary this year. Also, if an older relative is considering downsizing, Timbercrest Senior Living Community (www.timbercrest.org) is a lovely choice with a small-town atmosphere. Cottage Creations Florist & Gift Shop, also in North Manchester, offers same-day delivery with an online order. Owner Mary Ann Swihart who has been in business 30 years was enthusiastic about the town’s recent streetscape that improved the town’s sidewalks.
“Our downtown district is being renovated with a lot of storefronts being redone,” said Swihart, “and it is just a pleasant place to live in.” The 4-day Covered Bridge Festival in September is one of 1853-founded Roann’s biggest claims to fame. Another attraction is the Stockdale Mill (www.stockdalemill.org) which offers tours in-season and is noting its 157 years of existence this year.
Like old buildings? Marvel at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, which was founded in 1836 on the Wabash and Erie Canal in the tiny town of Lagro (2010 pop. 415).
LaFontaine, another quaint town, boasts Madd Maddy’s Family Restaurant & Parlor – stop in and grab a bite! Shake hands with bygone days by visiting the museums, historical buildings, parks and businesses that wear their past proudly. If you’re a history buff, visit the Wabash County Historical Museum, which is 20,000 square feet and loaded with cool stuff, according to Executive Director Mitch Figert.
“There are a lot of Wabash history exhibits, a 32-seat theatre, an art gallery and several family and kid-themed activities, including a large train set built by a set designer who lived in Hollywood and came back to Wabash,” said Figert, adding that “kids enjoy interacting with the train, blowing the whistle or ringing the bell as the train passes through different streets and landscapes.”
The popular Honeywell Center is a big draw for guests and residents alike, featuring quality entertainment such as upcoming concerts (Kenny Rogers, Celtic Tenors, Trace Adkins), various celebrations (American Heritage Craft Show, Kid-O-Rama) and more.
Susie Jones and her husband have been Honeywell series ticket holders for 50 years (what a great record!) and when the family comes to town they all enjoy going to the Eagles Theatre for movies, to the Charley Creek Arts Fest and various other cultural activities and organizations.
“We have wonderful park facilities and opportunities for children like Field of Dreams, which is a park filled with ball diamonds and soccer fields so that our Little League and soccer league can play there,” said Jones, a former elementary school music teacher.
Kathy Bakehorn, an ARC employee, artist (she gets her art supplies from Wood’s Framing & Art) and farmer to bisons, is a longtime cheerleader for her locale: “Wabash is a wonderful city for visitors and residents alike. We have the Honeywell Center that brings in star attractions and a brand-new beautiful state-of-the-art YMCA.”
Unique stores draw out the fire-in-the-belly clothes shoppers, such as those who look to The Francis Shoppe for their needs. Terri Francis-Ahlfeld emphasizes the quality of merchandise, the service, the sales and tailoring in clothing is what makes them stand out from other boutiques.
“When tailoring an item, it does not leave the shop until it fits properly. We carry a variety of merchandise from sportswear to mother-of-the-bride sizes ranging from four to 24, and these are products you cannot find in any other boutique,” said Francis-Alfeld.
Jennifer Long-Dillon, tourism coordinator of www.visitwabashcounty.com (260-563 7171) wouldn’t live anywhere else because, “we have the best community anyone could ask for.
“One of my favorite events in the city is First Friday in downtown Wabash,” said Long-Dillon. “This is a monthly festival that celebrates the community and everyone’s hard work to make our community so unique and a great place to live, work and play! My family joins in on all the activities that are featured. It changes each month so it stays fresh and entertaining to all.”
Like flowers and growing things? Stop at Marelli’s Boutique & Flower Shop.
Co-owner Kelly Winer looks forward to participating in the annual Wabash Cannonball Chili for Charity Chili Cook-off (held this year on Oct. 18) at Paradise Spring Historical Park. The event is said to be, “the largest chili cook-off east of the Mississippi River,” according to the www.visitwabashcounty.com website.
“My family also enjoys the Honeywell pool, YMCA and the state parks where we love camping and events,” said Winer, who grew up in Wabash, which she describes as a “tight-knit community.”
With all the festivals and tons of good eats, one might want to saunter into the NuStart Lifestyle Strategies where Jamie Lindsay, M.D., helps patients get back to good health.
Lindsay grew up in Wabash County, and after her residency in Dallas, persuaded her husband to move back to her childhood town, where she has lived the last six years.
“I have fond memories of my mom taking me to the library (Wabash Carnegie Public Library) and checking out books and renting movies,” said Lindsay, “and now as a mom, I enjoy taking my kids there. “We would play at the city park and then go to Kelly’s Ice Cream parlor. Also, I loved the sense of community from my church, and we attend Emmanuel Freewill Baptist Church.”
Wabash is the proud recipient of a 2014 prestigious Stellar Grant, said Kim Pinkerton, president/CEO of the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce.
“Wabash is this extraordinary gem that is a great mix of big city amenities in this small community,” said Pinkerton. “We have a state-of-the-art performing arts center that draws over 200,000 visitors annually to hear and see top name performers, an upscale boutique hotel one block away, art galleries, restaurants, boutique stores, upscale living spaces, music emporium, massive new YMCA, coffee shops and more all in our historic downtown. However, our most important asset is our people. We not only dream big; we work together to make those dreams a reality.
“We continually leverage resources to enrich the lives of our citizens, and I believe the Stellar judges saw how we work at continuous improvement and are never content with status quo. It makes for a Stellar place to live, work and play.”
Pinkerton, an outdoor lover, enjoys the three preserves, a river, great parks and covered bridges that enable her family to hike, bike, camp, cook out, swim, fish, canoe, go sledding and snowmobiling.
“So many friendly people and places to have fun!” she concluded.