The Goshen Millrace was the brainchild of businessman Cephas Hawks Jr., the owner of a mill in Waterford. He came up with the idea in 1860, but the Civil War delayed his plans. Work did not begin on the millrace until March 20, 1867. Hawks and seven other investors raised $100,000 to construct the canal, with one of the members contributing teams of horses and labor in place of cash. The canal was excavated by around 40 men, using said teams of horses and plows. Work was finished on Oct. 28, 1868, the same year that Goshen elected its first mayor, Henry D. Wilson.
During the excavation, a mastodon tusk and skeleton were unearthed, according to “Goshen: The First 150 Years,” a sesquicentennial book published by The Goshen News in 1981, and available in the Goshen Public Library. This source also mentions that the tusk and skeleton were displayed for a period of time in the First National Bank. This bit of information piqued my interest, but I have not yet been able to find any photographic evidence of this archeological prize. I’d love to hear from anyone who can offer more clues as to the veracity of this story or evidence of the mastodon remains and their location.
Northern Indiana was once mastodon country. The Elkhart County Museum’s 23,000-year-old mastodon tusk was unearthed in Elkhart County in 1988, but Liz Haeuptle, curator of collections at the Elkhart
County Museum in Bristol, located information about a group of mastodon skeletons from Indiana in the Smithsonian Institute, donated in 1915, two from Northern Indiana specifically. Val Collins, who took an interest in my hunt for the millrace mastodon, noted that the mascot of the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Dons is a baby “mastodont” from Angola (Indiana, that is). The university also owns an adult skeleton. The display information for this mastodont, a word for mastodon-like creatures, notes that many mastodon remains have been found in Northern Indiana in swamps, bogs and stream-deposited sand and gravel, perhaps fitting the description of the millrace environs.
While I was unable to unearth evidence of the millrace mastodon at the Goshen Historical Society, Dale Garber, a volunteer at the museum, introduced me to a more recent specimen in the museum’s basement, donated by a local farmer in the 1980s. From the photograph of this mastodon bone, which includes Dale’s hand for scale, you can see that mastodon skeletons take up a lot of room. I can imagine that a bank or a local museum would be only too happy to pass on such a specimen to a university or a larger museum after its novelty had worn off.
Like the mastodon, the Goshen Millrace was almost obsolete before it was completed. Technology was developing rapidly in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, and by the late 1860s, steam power was coming into vogue. Most factories switched to steam power in the 1880s, and then to electric by the turn of the century. The purpose of the millrace had been to increase industry in Goshen by creating access to water for companies in need of waterpower. After the completion of the millrace in October 1867, the Goshen Milling Company moved from Waterford to Goshen, and the Hawks family and their related businesses continued to be the main industrial users of its water power. The Goshen Milling Company was the last business to use water power—until 1917. It also owned the canal.
Today’s use of the canal for recreational purposes has slowly evolved as the ownership of the canal changed hands several times, and the city began its ongoing relationship with the site one journalist called “ a mixture of scenic beauty and possible problems.” More of this history will emerge in future blog posts.
For now, put on your waders and venture out for a walk in mastodon territory as the spring thaw begins.