We continue this month to write about the Orchard Grove Community, its early settlers, and their activities.
Mr. and Mrs. Adna Vandercar came in 1846, driving a covered wagon pulled by a yoke of oxen. On their way to Indiana, they cooked along the road and slept in their wagons. After arriving, pioneer Vandercar cradled wheat, mowed and raked hay for Henry Sanger, and worked for other farmers of the Orchard Grove area, including Charles Kenney. Vandercar saved enough money to buy land from the government and build a log house at Kenney's Corner just west of the General Store.
Building a log house was a community effort as all the neighbors would come to help with the construction after the family had the logs prepared and ready. The women would bring potluck dinner and a busy and joyous time was had.
In 1850, DeForest Warner lived in the Vandercar cabin until he built his own near the general store that later was known as Kenney's Store.
The Vandercar's daughter, Stella Wallace, was born in 1853 and died in 1944. Her daughters were Bertha (Kenney) and Addie (Brownell). Mrs. Fred E. Ebert, Nelda Childress and Cecil Kenney were her grandchildren.
At the age of 76, Mrs. Wallace wrote that she and her two daughters, as well as her three great grandchildren were all raised on the same farm (the Ebert farm), and that all attended the same school "Good Ole Orchard Grove."
The first school house at Orchard Grove was on the road due west of the Orchard Grove Cemetery, on what is now Grant Street. This early school was on the west side of the road, facing east. School sessions were four months in the winter and three months in the summer, with as many as sixty-six students crowded at the planks fastened to the walls for desks, with boards for seats.
In 1898 a new school was built on the east side of the road and faced north toward an old road that once crossed the field from Orchard Grove Cemetery. The school building was also used for church services, Sunday school, and for Grange meetings as well as other community activities.
According to T.H. Ball's book, "Sunday Schools of Lake, 1891," the Methodist Sabbath School at Orchard Grove began in 1843. Charles Kenney opened a school at his house with 8 or 9 children about 1842. Kenney also conducted a school in the log schoolhouse east of the cemetery at Plum Grove at about the same time. This Sunday school, however, was not kept up and became the Orchard Grove class of 1843.
In 1890 the Sabbath School superintendent was George Ragon; assistant superintendent was Lester Wallace; treasurer and librarian was Mrs. Stella Vandercar Wallace; and secretary was Miss Addie Wallace, Mrs. Anna Davis, Miss Minnie Ebert and Miss Grace Ebert. The student roster included family names of Ragon, Craft, Davis, Kenney, Hill, Spalding, Ebert, McNay, Wallace, Cottril, Fuller and Norton.
A friend to all the early settlers in the community was the blacksmith. He fixed wheels, shoed horses, and repaired machinery and equipment. He was a necessity to the area.
In 1855 Peter Wemple and his wife Adelia Van Slyke Wemple purchased 40 acres north of present State Rd. 2, near Orchard Grove, on Robinson's Prairie. On this land he opened a blacksmith shop. One of his sons, Edwin, also became a blacksmith and another son, Jesse, became a wheelwright. The daughters of Peter and Adelia Wemple were Mrs. Wilbur Doty and Mrs. Charles Dillabaugh.
After Peter Wemple died, his widow Adelia, later married Fred A Ewer. Their son was Fred Colfax Ewer. Fred C. was the father of Beatrice Ewer Horner, Cedar Lake historian. Fred also became a blacksmith as well a teacher. His brother Harry became a machinist and the engineer of the Spring Run Threshing Crew.
In a story written by Mrs. Bessie Kenney, we found that a steam engine and thresher was owned by the Orchard Grove community and used for threshing oats, wheat and clover. The engine moved from farm to farm, each farmer furnishing a man or more in proportion to their acreage. There was a water wagon, steam engine and Rumley separator.
It usually required three or four men experienced in keeping machinery in running order. Harvey Dahl, Harry Ewer, Cordie Kenney and Charles Baldwin were some of these experts. Their day began at 4 a.m. so that the engine would be in full steam when the farmers arrived. The ladies would assist the host wife in preparing and serving food for the hungry threshing gang.
The Orchard Grove Cheese Factory started in 1878 by Warren, Carter & Co., owned and operated later by G.W. Handley and Jeremiah Kenney, was then sold to Frank Tilton, son-in-law of Jeremiah Kenney, and operated by him for a few years. Frank Tilton's daughter, Fern Tilton Vandercar, tells us that the cheese factory was west of the present store at Orchard Grove, and was near a steam powered grist mill. The building was later moved back to the farm lot and used for a barn.
Frank Tilton and wife Effie Kenney Tilton, were parents of Guy Tilton, married to Ida Kimmet; Fay Tilton, married to Lulu Vandercar; Ralph Tilton, married to Iris Wells; Galdys Tilton married to Dewey Childress; Fern Tilton married to George Vandercar, and Phebe Tilton married to Keith Dinwiddie.
One of the best known landmarks of Orchard Grove is the Orchard Grove Cemetery, situated on a hill just south of State Road 2 on State Road 55, the road to Shelby. Some of the ground for this burial place was donated to the community by Phoebe Kenney's father, James Woodruff. In his 1872 History of Lake County, Rev. Timothy Ball wrote that it was a "well kept cemetery."
Lowell Reduction Company was owned by Carl Kenney, Sr., and was situated north of State Road 2 near the present Grange Hall. The road leading to the site is the dividing line between Cedar Creek township and Eagle Creek township. The business of making fertilizer operated during the 1920's. One of the buildings is now a small home near the present store at Orchard Grove.
In a story written in 1905 by Melvin Halsted, founder of Lowell, are these words, "Out of twenty or thirty families who were living on the old state roads at the time (pioneer days) between Sherburnville and Hebron, there is but one man and his wife left on the road, Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Kenney, who live about three miles east of Lowell."
Many of the families of Orchard Grove and the surrounding areas belong to Indian Trail Grange. In earlier days, meetings were held in school buildings, and now the organization has its own building on State Road 2. It is a busy place for meetings and community affairs.
In front of the Grange building is a plaque marking the location of the homestead of Jeremiah M. and Phebe Woodruff Kenney, 1838. Kenney was the first Grange deputy in northwest Indiana and was master of the Plum Grove Grange.
The Orchard Grove community should be proud or their pioneer ancestors.
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