Wolcottville a center of commerce,
industry in 1800s
By TARA KITCHEN
WOLCOTTVILLE - The town of Wolcottville
might look small today, but that wasn't always
so. In fact, Wolcottville has its roots in commerce and industry,
and was once the center of business in the LaGrange County area.
Wolcottville was settled in 1832 by two French traders sent
from Fort Wayne by a trading company. A small cabin was built,
then a double log building made of tamarack poles, called the
Later, a dam and sawmill were built near Tamarack House; a
store and a grist mill opened; and the first village in the area
The town wasn't always called Wolcottville. It was once referred
to as Wolcott Mills because of the mills built there by a man
named George Wolcott.
Born in Torrington, Conn., one of 12 children, Wolcott moved
with his family to Tallmadge, Ohio, at age 16. After his father
died, he and his youngest brother cared for the family's farm
until the spring of 1828.
Wanting to get into business himself, Wolcott went to Wadsworth,
Ohio, where he bought on credit 100 acres of untamed land at
$4 per acre and began clearing it. The same year he married Margaret
Hine of Tallmadge, Ohio, and they began married life in a one-room
In Wadsworth, Wolcott signed a job contract to provide planks
for a large bridge. This job provided him with the first of his
money earned as a self-employed businessman.
Wolcott did this for four years, until he bought a saw mill
and began manufacturing fanning mills. However, in 1836 he sold
his possessions at Wadsworth and made arrangements for finding
a home and facilities for water power farther west. He left Wadsworth
in March 1837.
When he came to the area now known as Wolcottville, he was
attracted to the fact that it was at the headwater of the north
branch of the Little Elkhart River, and he chose to settle there.
George Wolcott's influence on the community was evident not
only in the businesses he promoted and built, but in the education
the settlement received.
Although he did not build the first school, Wolcott was very
concerned about the education of the local children. Miss Nancy
Barnes was the first public school teacher in the area. However,
the curriculum was very basic at best, and in 1851 Wolcott wrote
to the National Board of Education in the East to request a Christian
governess-teacher for his own children.
Miss Susan Griggs responded and was hired to teach the one
school-age child in the Wolcott family.
As other families became interested, Griggs began teaching
other children as well. In 1852 Wolcott became inspired to build
the Wolcottville Seminary and a boarding house for out-of-town
students. Student enrollment at one point totaled as high as
15. Basic education was offered as well as Latin, German, French,
painting, and music.
However, when the state authorized secondary schools as part
of the public education program, the seminary began losing its
students and the school closed its doors in 1868.
Wolcott did not live to see the disbanding of his school.
He died March 31, 1857, at the age of 51.
As the industrial age began to reach the community, manufacturing
plants were established, but the community failed to attract
enough companies to locate in Wolcottville to insure continued
growth. Instead, it has become a trading area for large numbers
of seasonal lake dwellers.
Today, Wolcott's headstone can be seen in the town cemetery,
as well as the imposing frame house which he built, a shed and
part of a house which was a portion of the Wolcottville Seminary.