By Harold Allison
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — I continue our look at some of Indiana’s lesser known rivers with one of the many rather large streams found in the northern section of our state. This is the Salamonie River. This is the Miami Indian name for the spring wildflower, the bloodroot, which can be found growing along this river in wooded areas.
The Salamonie River begins near the Indiana-Ohio border just south of the hamlet of Salamonia. From its headwaters, the Salamonie flows northward to its confluence with the Wabash River near the village of Lagro.
Just upstream from the Wabash is Salamonie Reservoir, formed by the construction of a 6,100-foot-long, 133-foot-tall dam across the Salamonie River. This 2,665-acrea lake completed in 1966 is part of an 11,636-area property that offers a variety of recreation opportunities, and is well worth a visit.
There are five boat ramps around Lake Salamonie and two more on the Salamonie River below the massive dam. One can fish, hunt in season, camp, swim or just enjoy the scenery along this lovely body of water.
Noted as a world class bird watching site, Salamonie has two wetlands, Switchgrass Marsh and Majenica Marsh, that attract many of the birds found in this area.
Southweast of the lake are the towns of Warren and Montpelier. These towns, as well as Portland further up the Salamonie, were in an area where the first commercial gas well in Indiana was drilled in 1886. This led to a big natural gas boom much like today in the sections of the United States that was an economic bonanza to a number of towns in the region.
Montpelier was one of the towns impacted by the gas boom. The manufacture of glass was very important, as well as other industries that used the natural gas to produce its products. The town became known as the “Zinnia City” for all these flowers that were planted in its town parks.
Portland, another town on the Salamonie, also boomed during the “gas craze” as it came to be known. It was here that the first well was drilled.
To show how the supply of cheap gas impacted this area, the population of Portland increased from 500 to over 3,000 in just a few months.
It seems all good things must finally come to an end. When the gas began to run out, many of the factories that needed gas moved to other locations or went out of business.
Portland has several claims to fame other than the first gas well. It was the birthplace of Elwood Haynes, the designer of one of the first automobiles. Later in his life he moved to Kokomo and became a leader in the new automotive industry.
Another claim to fame, this one a rather tragic one, Portland was the home of John J. Williams. At the start of the Civil War he enlisted in the 34th Indiana Infantry Regiment and served with distinction during this terrible war. In the last battle of the war, a rather minor fight at Palmetto Ranch, Texas, on May 13, 1865, Williams was killed. He is listed as the last soldier that died in the Civil War.
South of Portland is College Corner, a small hamlet that was the location of Liber College, founded in 1853. All went well at Liber until a black student was accepted into the school. This caused a major uproar that led to the administration of the college becoming involved in a bitter dispute that led to the founding of a rival school that became known as the Farmers Academy.
Due to loss of funding, Liber was forced to close its doors. All over a black man wanting to get a proper education. Sad to say we have not learned from the mistakes of the past.
The Salamonie River is a pretty, rather tranquil stream that passes through a region that saw a period of boom and bust due to natural gas that has still not fully recovered from its reliance upon one source of energy. Perhaps this should be another lesson we should learn from the past. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.