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.
Leesburg is the oldest town in Kosciusko County, and was laid out by Levi Lee, in Aug. 1835, hence the name. The first sale of lots was held in that month, and only one lot was sold on the day of sale. Lot 24 struck off to Doctor Sellick for $11. The Doctor failed to comply with the conditions of sale, and the lot was afterward sold to Metcalfe Beck, who occupied it with a store and a place of residence for nearly 28 years. Leesburg was first a “patch-hazle” area (small shrubs or trees), and a very dense growth stood on the ground which is now covered by buildings; the adjoining prairie was thought too good to be wasted for a town.
Here the first judicial court was held, the first schoolhouse built, the first religious meeting held, the first store operated, the first steam flour mill located, the first Post Office established and the first hotel built. The first road surveyed ran from Goshen in Elkhart County through Milford to Leesburg. In 1848 the first Sunday School was organized.
From 1836 to 1854, Leesburg was the chief business place in the county. Settlers from other localities came to buy the corn raised on the surrounding fertile prairie land and purchase needed goods from the prosperous merchants.
The citizens had high hopes that the town would become the county seat. Other aspirations included the construction of a road beginning at Leesburg, and extending through Oswego to Fort Wayne, and on to Cincinnati, Ohio. Today, a road leading northwest from Fort Wayne is named the Leesburg Road.
When the east-west railroad was built through Warsaw in 1854 Leesburg was diminished in importance as a trading center. In 1876 the north-south railroad came through Leesburg, thus improving the town’s importance as a commercial center. It was also a station on the Winona Electric Interurban Line that provided passenger and freight service from Indianapolis to Goshen.
Leesburg’s decline began from the time the railroad first reached Warsaw. The prairies in early days were called Egypt by the outside settlers, who went there to buy corn and at that time, Leesburg was the mart for the sale of merchandise. In those days settlers on Eel River bought their goods in Leesburg when they came to the prairie for their supply of grain. John R. Blain, M. Beck, M. E. Horan, Jonathan Moon, and Edward Archibald were the established merchants. Leesburg was once thought to be the center of community, and was quaintly termed the “Hitching Post” to which every man would tie his horse.
The Kosciusko County Historical Society is celebrating its 50th year in preserving county history. Help support the Society’s efforts by becoming a member. Send name and address along with $25 for a family membership to KCHS, PO Box 1071, Warsaw, 46581. With your membership comes our quarterly publication, The Thaddeus Magazine, which contains fascinating stories of the county’s history.