My growing up years were spent in South Whitley, Indiana, a small, rural, farming community snuggled in the southwest corner of Whitley County, Indiana. Just to the southwest of South Whitley and closer to the edge of the county was another even smaller community – Collamer, Indiana. Both communities appear as those tiny dots on maps, but within those “dots” reside many of my life’s memories.
One of my favorite memories was and always will be of Collamer and the Collamer Dam. My dad and mom took my brother and me on our first visits to Collamer – usually on a short drive on a Sunday. Our family had a grocery business in South Whitley, and mom and dad worked a lot. But, once in a while they would take a break and take us on an excursion into the countryside.
Those sporadic, yet much-anticipated visits to Collamer sometimes included a cookout at an old brick fireplace that someone had built on the south bank of the Eel River near the dam. Riddled with decay and damaged by time, the fireplace long ago collapsed and slowly faded into memory; its iron grates falling to the ground and its bricks disappearing over the years – perhaps carried away by passers-by for mementos.
We would play on the cement abutment near the dam and then climb down the short slope to bring us as close to the dam and the Eel River as possible without falling in. Several fallen trees provided seating where we sat and watched the river. I loved gazing at the sparkling, sun-filtered waters of the Eel River as it plunged over the dam, sometimes interrupted by an errant log here and there cutting through the curtain of water as it flowed on its way toward Liberty Mills.
We would always stop at the covered drinking well – constructed of field stone – on the side road heading into the park area. Mom and dad would park the car, and we would jump out and head down the steps into the well – a tiny haven in the heat of summer – a cool, shaded spot from which to sip cold, clear water. The well sat at the entrance to the small park area, and we would finish our drinks and then head into the park.
We would dally along the small sections of what remained of the old grist mill. The huge structure was gone, but its legacy could still be seen in a couple of locks that remained. A small foot bridge traversed the tiny stream flowing through the park, and we would stop and gaze into the waters below. At the end of our visits, we would head back to South Whitley – to anxiously await another Sunday and another visit to Collamer!
Hiking to Collamer
As I grew older, the typical school-age activities took away from my thoughts of Collamer and the Dam. But, one summer, mom and dad took a short day trip and left my brother and me in the care of my Grandma Weybright. I was probably about 12. Grandma was old, and I had learned that I could ask for about anything without having to worry about Grandma saying no.
One afternoon, I asked Grandma if I could visit one of my friends, Cynthia. Cynthia lived close – of course in a small town, everyone is near by – so Grandma said yes. Leaving my brother to his own devices – I didn’t want him tagging along with us – I walked over to Cynthia’s house. Somewhere in our giggling and talking we decided we wanted to walk to Collamer. We had no idea of how far it was or how long it would take us; we just knew we loved Collamer and the Dam. We both thought it was a great idea!
We traipsed back over to Grandma’s house and Grandma said yes. To this day, I am not sure if I told her our fully-thought-out plan, if we even had one. I am sure I left out the part about walking all the way to Collamer and just told her we were going to take a short walk in that direction.
Walking and chatting, Cynthia and I headed out on State Road 14, which ran west out of South Whitley toward Collamer. We knew which direction to take; we just weren’t sure at what point in our walk we would find Collamer and the Dam. When we saw the tracks that cut through the farmland near the edge of Collamer, we gave a huge sigh of relief; we knew we were getting close since those tracks turned into the trestle that crossed the Eel River at Collamer.
We tramped into Collamer, tired and wishing we were back home yet elated that we had actually made it! We headed toward the old truss bridge which we knew would take us over the Eel River, past the Collamer Dam and onto what was and still is known as the River Road. We anxiously turned our steps toward South Whitley; our return journey had begun, but we knew we were only halfway. We were exhausted, and now we were worried. We had been gone for much longer than I had told Grandma, and we were scared of what would await us when we finally got home.
While we were gone, mom and dad had returned late in the afternoon, and Grandma couldn’t tell them where we had gone other than for a walk. By that time Cynthia and I had been gone for several hours, and everyone was frightened about what could have happened to us. My poor Grandma had turned frantic when we didn’t return, and mom and dad’s return compounded her panic.
Mom and dad called our town policeman, and he had mom and dad follow him in their car as they looked for us along the roads out of South Whitley toward Collamer. I am sure they all expected the worst!
We were probably still about a mile out of South Whitley on the River Road when the police found us! Rather than give us a tongue-lashing at that point, they loaded us into the car, and we headed home. Cynthia and I were so happy and so relieved to see them, we didn’t care what happened. But, we did make most of our walk to Collamer and back, a little worse for the wear. And, a lot worse for the fear of what we had done.
Poor Grandma! She tried to tell mom and dad she didn’t give us permission to walk to Collamer, and I am sure mom and dad believed her because they knew me and how determined I could be at times. But looking back into my memory bank, this will always be one of my most treasured memories of Collamer and the Dam. Last year, at our 46th class reunion, Cynthia was there; we hugged each other, laughed, and almost at the same time said, “Remember our walk to Collamer?”