KOSCIUSKO COUNTY —In January of 1966 the Kosciusko County Historical Society was formed. One hundred sixty-five persons attended the first meeting held at the courthouse. From that beginning fifty years ago, the society has grown to nearly 500 members and has become the caretaker of the Old County Jail (now a museum), the Chinworth Bridge (Greenway Trailhead), and the Pound Store in Oswego (oldest commercial building in county). But the society does not only preserve historical sites, they also are the caretakers of the official county records, and business, family, and personal histories.
It is hard to imagine how difficult it was for the early settlers to carve Warsaw out of the swamp lands and marshes that dominated the area. When Warsaw, originally known as Redbrush because of the large thickets of redbrush in the area, was founded it was said to be an island for there was a tamarack swamp all over the lowlands just east of Detroit Street. In fact Center Lake, Pike Lake and Winona Lake were joined by swampland. The lands throughout the county had to be ditched in order to make the area habitable. Ditching was done by guess and grade through the water level method, which was satisfactory if not many hills were encountered and the ditch was not too long. Most ditches were open and called four-foot-average ditches. Tile for the ditches were made at various places. Packerton was the site of one tile mill. The tile was covered with at least 30 inches of soil to prevent their freezing, and the fall was a tenth grade; one foot to a thousand or 5.2 feet to the mile.
George McCarter was County Surveyor for many years. He leveled many ditches, profiled them and made reports to the County Commissioners. Caleb Hughes, Marsh Parks, and Asbury Cook were a few of the men he had as viewers. It was a viewer’s duty to look the land over carefully and see how many acres each farm of the vicinity had coming into the ditch. Then they would decide what each farm should be assessed. This was a big job for a large ditch like the Dausman or Joseph Armey Ditch, are both about 8 to 10 miles long.
Ditch viewers would go out into the country in their horse and buggy, put up at somebody’s house, get their dinner there for twenty-five cents, and really make a social time out of their work. Sometimes they would stay in the vicinity night and day until the land view was finished. They carried a map and one man served as clerk making a record of the findings.
The work was difficult for there was much brush to cut and there were low holes to ditch through, and the marshes were full of snakes. The only way that sea level elevations ever reached Kosciusko County was through the surveying of the railroads. Each railroad has a benchmark somewhere in Warsaw and in the other towns that the railroad goes through. Warsaw is about 826 feet above the mean level of the ocean.
John Chapman, one of the earliest settlers, named Kosciusko County after Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Revolutionary War hero. He prepared the bill that fixed the boundaries of the county, and secured its passage. He chose the name Warsaw for the town.
There had been much turmoil over where the county seat should be located. Leesburg, Oswego, Monoquet and Warsaw were all rival applicants for the honor of being the capital of Kosciusko County. People were so divided upon the subject that the commissioners passed a resolution deciding that the county seat should be located in the center of the county, and as the center lies in the lake that abutted the corporation limits of Warsaw on the north, the name “Center” was given to the lake and Warsaw became the county seat.
The Historical Society’s 50th anniversary event, Passport to Kosciusko County, is a free activity for the whole family. Pick up your passport at the Old Jail Museum or any library in the county then go on an adventure of discovery as you navigate our county finding historic sites, enjoying festivals, and participating in events. After you have enjoyed at least 50 items (there are more than 90 in the passport) bring your passport into the Old Jail Museum to be entered into a drawing for prizes. Three winners will be awarded when the State torch is in Warsaw Sept. 29.