South Whitley, Indiana, and the Collamer Dam

The Collamer Dam at Collamer, Indiana (just west of South Whitley, Indiana)

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I grew up in South Whitley, Indiana, a small, rural, farming community about 25 miles west of Fort Wayne, on State Road 14. Although South Whitley is a small community of only about 1200 people, it is home to several well-known entities. The following are two companies and one indivudal who call South Whitley their home – either in the past or present:

  • Fox Products, one of the world’s leaders in the making of oboes and bassoons; its products are used in orchestras throughout the world.
  • Whitley Manufacturing, a local company that builds modular buildings, modular schools and classrooms, modular banks, modular offices, and modular dormitories.
  • Janie Fricke, a South Whitley native and 1966 graduate of South Whitley High School. Janie was two-time winner of the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982 and 1983. She also won the Academy of Country Music Female Vocalist of the Year in 1984.

If you wander just three or so miles west of South Whitley either by driving Indiana State Road 14 or by taking a more leisurely drive on a rural backroad known as the “River Road”, you will come to one of my favorite childhood places – the Collamer Dam.

The Collamer Dam is located in Collamer, Indiana, and, like so many other dams in our early history, was constructed to provide water power for a gristmill. Collamer was once a thriving town with a gristmill, a sawmill, two general stores, a drug store, a boot and shoe store, a grade school, a Christian Church, a physician, and a post office.

As a youngster, I remember going into one of the few businesses remaining, the general store located on the southwest corner of the main intersection in Collamer. But sadly, like so many other smaller communities, Collamer is no longer home to businesses but only modest homes that line the intersection for a few thousand feet in all directions.

I still stop at Collamer every chance I get to gaze at the waters of the Eel River as they flow and bubble over the dam on their southwestern journey through cornfields, wooded riverbanks, and small Hoosier towns to join the Wabash River at Logansport. The Dam still stands, a little worse for the wear as it ages, but that only makes me feel closer to it as I age as well.

Perhaps it is that early love of the Eel River and the Collamer Dam that ultimately persuaded me to buy an old historic home located on the St. Marys River in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My favorite part of my day begins when I look out my front window or walk out onto my front porch, and there, just across Thieme Drive, is the St. Marys – “my river.”

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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18 Responses to South Whitley, Indiana, and the Collamer Dam

  1. Mary Black says:

    My Grandfather Ivan Roberto Godwin was the miller at this gristmill at Collamer dam in the late 1800’s. He had been widowed and left with 3 children, Mary, John and Rena after his first wife Mary passed away in about 1894 or 1895. He felt called to the ministry and became a Methodist Minister I believe in about 1896. He married my grandmother, Laura Elvira Meeks Godwin in January, 1896, and my mother, Edith Louise Godwin Greenwood was born in October 1896 in the little town of Roann.. In the 1930’s a dn 1940’s we had annual family reunions at the cemetary in South Whitley and the park at Collamer Dam on the Eel River. They were wonderful happy times. I am sorry the mill is no longer there, but the memories will always be with me.
    Mary Greenwood Black.

  2. Mary:

    Thank you for the wonderful history. I have loved rivers my whole life, and I always found an affinity with the Collamer Dam and the Eel Rive in that location.

    When I was younger, I would drive out there every chance I got just to sit by the dam and relax. I remember going to family reunions at the pavilion and having such a great time at the park. I also loved the well with the drinking fountain.

    My grandparents on may father’s side lived in South Whitley their entire lives. My Dad was raised there, and, after he married my Mom, they bought a grocery store. We had the G & G Market for 30 years.

    My brother and sister-in-law still live in South Whitley. I don’t get back there much anymore, but I do miss it.

    I now have a home of my own that I bought in the historic West Central neighborhood in Fort Wayne. And, staying true to my love of rivers, I am just across Thieme Drive from the St. Mary’s River.

  3. Nate Smith says:

    I enjoyed your blog about collamer.I ma the grandson of the Smiths who last ran the store.I wanted to let you know that i bought the house and store about 4 years ago.I have the house restored and currently rent it to my daughter.i have the stores first floor(the second story was torn down around 1973)almost redone.I have the floor lighting and trim and it will basically be done.I have a 360 video of the store,which my father Danny took with his 8 milimeter just days before grandma closed it down.if you would like i could email it to you.also i have lots of history on the store and Collamer
    thanks nate smith

  4. Brent Reed says:

    Hi Charlotte,
    I was just talking to Clint and he said you may have some info about the old South Whitley grist mill. I have one of the old grinding stones and would love to know some more history of it.

  5. Brent:

    I don’t have any information handy, but I will do some research. Also, check out the post just above yours. It is from Nate Smith whose grandparents ran the old grocery store. He has a website, and he might have some info.

    How did you ever get hold of a grinding stone? What a wonderful thing to have.

  6. Charlotte. Please help Brent if you can. He loves the history as much as you!

  7. Amy Smith Wagner says:

    Hi Charlotte,
    I too have fond memories of the Collamer damm and the Eel River.
    I have a painting of what the mill looked like many years ago. Mac Bechtold had my Aunt Edna Michael paint it for Art at some point. When Mac and Art gave up their home she had it sent to me. I guess Mac had found a photo and had Aunt Edna paint it from there. Of course it has her trademark bird in a tree.
    I was searching for information on the Alumni since I moved again since the last one and found this. Fun! Amy

  8. Katherine says:

    I loved this story.

    My grandfather, who raised me until the age of 13, grew up in South Whitley, Indiana from 1934 to 1948 in a big white house on a hill next to the nickel plate railroad. He loved that place, and I loved the stories he told about his home.

  9. As a young girl in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I loved jumping on my bike and riding to Collamer, we’d pack a lunch and eat by the dam. I loved that little town or whatever it was back then. I still love going to the dam whenever I get back. I remember having get togethers at the pavillion, I think the girl scouts used the building at times. To me, it was a place of peace and tranquillity. Karen (Slater) Mansfield, Fort Wayne, IN.

  10. Terry Winterrowd says:

    Well I too have great memories of Collamer. It was my grandparents on my mother’s side who ran the Collamer Store. I lived there for a couple of years when times were rough for my mother. One of the great memories is when a couple of boys and I decided to play Marines and jumped off the bridge to the sandbar(about 15 feet). Grateful we didn’t break anything. I also remember stocking the shelves in the store, scraping the meat block and watching home movies on a sheet in back of the store by Danny Smith(Nate’s dad). Great Memories.

  11. Hi Karen:

    One of the things I remember was your younger sister, Cynthia, and me, walking to Collamer one summer day when we were probably 12 or 13 years old. We told my Grandma Weybright that we were just going for a walk and would be back soon. I guess at that age, one doesn’t realize how long it takes to walk to Collamer.

    We took the old railroad track – I think it must have taken us several hours – long enough to worry everyone to death. But we survived it – a little worse for the stress we caused.

    I am always so happy to see that the old trees – or most of them – are still standing on the River Road side. It really is such a peaceful and tranquil place.

  12. Hi Terry:

    I am so glad to hear from all of you who remember Collamer. I miss the good, old-fashioned grocery stores. I did a post some time ago when the IGA on Lima Road closed. It just couldn’t compete with the big-box retailers.

    My brother sent me some old pictures – I need to put them into the blog. The prices were unbelievable – 5 cents for many things.

    Nate Smith (from above) is giving a presentation on Jacob Willits, whose father ran the store from 1866-1876. I have it in my calendar and plan on going.

    • Hi Charolotte,
      My aunt told me
      your parents used To run the G & G supermarket in South Whitley.
      Understandably, you miss the old fashioned stores.
      My aunt worked for the Gruewells in the bakery “Derelys Winterrowd”,She was a real nice lady.
      My other Aunt is Barb Keel, I think she worked for your parents awhile, maybe.
      She also ran the pizza shop next door for awhile.
      My other Aunt is Monas Murphy, I don’t know if you know her or not.
      Did your parents know the Fishers, who ran the Tunker Store, way back when?

  13. Avonna Winterrowd Spencer says:

    I have wonderful memories of Collamer and my grandmother Ida Smith. Like my brother Terry, I lived with grams, but longer than Terry. Also our younger brother Jan, lived with her(for company). I moved in with her after her husband Charles died. Charles’ brother lived directly across the street from the store and from the time I knew them, grew flowers for commercial sale. My grandmother had a wonderful sense of humor. Every year she would order 50 lbs. of sugar so the Goff brothers down the road could make home-make wine! She always joked about the “feds” coming after her! She kept all of her monthly bills and receipts in empty cigar boxes–and as long as I remember, she never made a profit on the store! She had “charge” slips for many of the people around. She had people save their oil from changing oil in there cars so she could oil the wood floors once a year. That smell brings back the memories! She also had a player piano that played rolls–our favorite was the William Tell Overture. And oh yeah, Lawrence Welk show was a “must”! 🙂

    • darrel smith says:

      You probably don’t remember me, I am Darrel Smith, your grandmother’s grandson
      Your mother was Dareles, and my father was Danny

  14. Nate Smith says:

    I am inviting all of you to check out the stores website.I would love to see any photos of the store.I will be uploading app 30 photos on as soon as i get watermarks put on.Unfortunatley some people are copywirting these photos so I must do this.Anyway please click the contact us button.I would love to have a Collamer store weekend so all of you could come in and see the store and share pics.I have an original DX pump and sign inside.!
    Nate

  15. Thank you everybody for the Great reading about Collamer.
    Does any body have any memories of Tunker, Indiana ( a hop & a Skip from Collamer, or vice-versa )
    I remember a few people, from there.
    Did anybody else know Leroy Fisher & his family ,who ran the General Store in the 1960’s.
    there were great people, ocasionally giving us kids “free candy”
    What a treat that was ,especially .the long buuble gum sticks,
    I think they were called “BIG Daddy’s” and they cost a nickel.

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