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.”