Oswego: The Little Town That Once Strove For Prominence

Dr.Terry White                                                                                                                                              Grace College Journalism teacher 

OSWEGO — Oswego, the little unincorporated village on the southwestern tip of Lake Tippecanoe in Plain Township, once vied competitively with Leesburg and Warsaw to become the county seat of Kosciusko County. Warsaw won, but as one of the oldest and most colorful towns in the developing county, Oswego still attracted plenty of settlers, tradesmen and families.

Situated on the site of a former Musquabuck Indian village, Oswego was named for Oswego, N.Y., and originally was laid out in 1837 by three men named Willard, Barbee and French. Barbee and French owned a large tract of land to the east of the village, and they opened the first store—a building now owned by the Kosciusko County Historical Society and known as the Pound Store. French was in charge of the store and also was appointed Indian agent and was charged with removal of Indians from the area to their new homes west of the Mississippi. Dr. Francis Willard was a physician who had a large practice and was well and favorably known throughout the county. Barbee was among the wealthy men of the times and was known for his business acumen.

Early on, Oswego was a pleasant and prosperous business village. The first flour mills in the county were built by the Willard, Barbee and French trio. In order to secure enough water to run the mill, a large dam was built across Grassy Creek, about two miles from Oswego, just below the outlet of Barbee Lake. This raised the surface of the lake by about 3 feet, and the water was conducted by a millrace. The mill was the first and only flour mill in the county for several years.

Oswego had a tannery run by a Mr. McCaffery, a foundry conducted by Christopher Smith, a hattery, an ashery and several other business enterprises. Samuel Roberts carried on a tailoring business in Oswego. Fielding Drake, noted boot and shoe maker, at one time furnished footwear for the citizens of Oswego. The Warsaw newspaper noted that Oswego, “enjoyed at one time a degree of commercial prosperity, and gave promise of becoming a town of importance.” It reported, however, that in 1849 a score of the town’s best citizens moved to California, “withdrawing their capital and patronage from the village, and from that time dates its decline.”

The first Presbyterian church in Plain Township was organized in Leesburg in 1839, but since a large majority of the members lived nearer to Oswego, it was decided to erect the church building at Oswego. Although it flourished initially, the oncoming Civil War created diversity of opinion among the members. Greatly weakened, the church eventually ceased to have Sunday services. The building stood vacant and unused for about 15 years, until it was sold and the organization abandoned.

Two groups, the Advents and the Universalists, made attempts to create congregations and places of worship in Oswego but neither succeeded. The Oswego Baptist Church, however, was organized in the winter of 1839 with 12 members and has continued to hold services continuously to today. In its first 10 years it helped plant four other churches in Wolf Lake, at the west end of Turkey Creek Prairie, in Syracuse and in Washington Township. The first Sunday school was organized in 1865 and, throughout its history, it has had nearly 35 pastors. Today the congregation is pastored by Dr. Ron Manahan, former president of Grace College & Seminary.

A group that split off from First Baptist Church began meeting in April 1954. Taking the name Calvary Baptist Church, it first met in the home of Mrs. & Mrs. George VanCuren, with an attendance of 49. The group grew and purchased the site of the former Oswego school, breaking ground for the present church building on June 1, 1954. A newer sanctuary was dedicated in April 1966.

The signature building in Oswego is the Pound Store, which was built in 1838 and is the oldest commercial building in the county. In an article in Thaddeus magazine, former Oswego resident Helen Rhinehart described it as, “On the outside, the store was either painted white or not painted at all, and was topped by a metal roof. Inside the floor was made of thick planks of well-worn wood, and cans of things like peas and beans were stacked high on shelves along both walls. There was a glass counter along the east side that held all sorts of things. In the back was a walk-in cooler that held big cylinders of cheese, bologna, fruit and certain kinds of vegetables.”

Built in 1838, the store stayed open under a succession of operators all the way until 1948. The store is named for John F. Pound, who began running it around 1880 and operated it for approximately 40 years. Pound was also the Plain Township trustee, taught school, farmed and served for many years as Oswego’s postmaster. Born near Dayton, Ohio, in 1852, John Pound moved to Kosciusko County with his parents. He died in 1921 at age 69.

The building was always referred to as the Pound Store because the Pound family retained ownership of the building and rented it to whoever ran the grocery. It was deeded to the historical society in 1967 by Pound’s son, Harold, and his wife, Flossa. In the early 1990s, the society restored the old store building.

 

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