Roann on the Eel River

Roann, c. 1900

My first introduction with Roann came when I was still in highschool.  I took a round-about way to get to my cousins in Van Buren via Roann-which was a great little village to stumble upon.  The covered bridge welcomed me to the town nestled along the banks of the Eel River.  Another return trip occurred with my two kids, pretty young at the time, when we stumbled on their Covered Bridge Festival.  So it was a real honor when I got the opportunity to work with the good folks in town to place almost the entire community on the National Register.

Roann was originally platted in 1853 by Joseph Beckner.  The small village was a rival to a nearby community also located on the Eel River, about two miles west, named Stockdale.  Stockdale had been settled in 1839 and had a functioning mill on the river.  Beckner, himself an early settler, owned 600 acres of land between the south edge of the Eel River to about one mile south of present day Roann.  He established a tavern along an American Indian trail near the south edge of his property.  A town in the vicinity of Roann had been proposed for some time prior to the plat due to the location of a bridge over the Eel River in the same area.  When the Detroit, Eel River, and Illinois Railroad was projected to come through the area, Beckner seized the opportunity to establish the town on his land between the river and the proposed railroad.  The most valid story on the origins of the name for the community is from the name of a young woman who worked at Beckner’s tavern and Beckner’s daughter.  Both girls’ names were Ann; the worker’s last name was Roe.[1]

The famous covered bridge over the Eel River
Beckner sold the majority of his land in 1853, including the newly platted town of Roann, to Cornelius Halderman who returned to the area he first visited in 1835.  Halderman purchased 520 acres from Beckner and soon established a saw mill on the Eel River and the first store in Roann in 1854-1855; the store was located on the southeast corner of Chippewa and Allen Streets and functioned as a general store.  Halderman also constructed his residence in the town.  Levi Patterson was the first person to buy a lot and build a business in the new town; it was a dry goods store that continued to operate into the 1880s.  Patterson is shown in the 1875 atlas of Roann as a dealer in dry goods and groceries and a resident since 1861.[2]  His building was located near the location of the bank building.  Patterson retired after about 1890 and is listed as “retired” in the 1907-1908 directory at his residence on Washington Street.  A short time after Patterson established his business a blacksmith shop was established by Butler & Armentrout.  John F. Baker constructed his home on the hill on the east side of Chippewa (presumably the location of the town park) and established a cobbler’s shop in 1858.[3]  This was followed by the establishment of the post office in 1860; Baker was appointed Postmaster.[4]  It was not until the construction of the proposed railroad in 1871 that the town of Roann experienced substantial growth which developed it from a pioneer settlement to a railroad era town.

[1] York, pg. 15
[2] 1875 Atlas of Roann, pg. 20A
[3] York, pg. 17
[4] History of Wabash County, 1884. pg. 412


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