The Irish, the Elephant and Wabash County IN

wabash indiana

Wabash, Indiana is a charming river town. The Wabash River flows through the town as well as the surrounding area. I was on a hosted trip, along with my cousin Carrie Steinweg. She has a blog, Chicago Foodie Sisters.

The beautiful stained-glass windows in the Sanctuary!

Our residence for the next two days was The Sanctuary. This building is an amazing former renovated 1903 Gothic Style Church. Today the church serves as an Overnight Event Hub.

On a previous visit in 2017, I stayed at the lovely Herrold On Hill Bed and Breakfast. I just learned the B&B has changed ownership.

At the Sanctuary, the stained-glass windows are astounding. Carrie and I were impressed with the full kitchen, vaulted ceilings, and lovely lines. This is popular for weddings, and I could see it as a girl’s getaway as well!

Largo, Indiana.

For dinner, we met up with Jennifer Long-Dillon of Visit Wabash County. She met us at the 950 Speakeasy Bistro. The Speakeasy is a bar and eatery along the banks of the Wabash River. Located in Largo, the town is named after a Miami Chief!

The food, location and story behind The Speakeasy make this a favorite place. Next door is a great little air BNB to stay in as well!

Operated by the Gillespie Family, the 959 Speakeasy and Bistro offers Lagro-inspired cocktails and dishes. The building was once a row house along the Wabash and Erie Canal. Today Speakeasy Bistro is one of several locations under the Lagro Canal Foundation. The foundation is working restoring buildings to renovate Lagro. During our visit, we took a trolley tour. We were able to see the impressive progress the foundation is making! We even had a chance to meet Suzanne Crouch the Lt. Governor of Indiana. She also was out visiting the progress the foundation had made!

We were amazed to get to see Suzanne Crouch the Lt. Governor of Indiana visiting in Lagro while we were there.
Carrie and I had great fun riding on the Wabash Trolley!

The tour was the Historic Highlights trolley tour. They have several other Trolley Tours throughout the year as well.

Food at the Speakeasy was amazing! Carrie and I loved the Charcuterie plate. Filled with meats and cheeses, the highlight was the wonderful blueberry bourbon jam. We loved Ed’s Cheese bread, shared Cranberry salad and the yummy Canal Pizza!

The Canal and the Irish story!

I was fascinated by the Wabash and Erie Canal. It provided traders access from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The Wabash and Erie canal was over 460 miles long. It was the longest canal ever built in North America, and the second-longest canal in the world. The Wabash and Erie Indiana website said, “In Indiana, the Canal was built mostly by Irish immigrants using shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, and the horse-drawn slip-scoop. By 1837, there were 1,000 laborers employed on the state’s canal system. Accidents, fever, cholera, fights, and snakebite exacted a heavy toll on the workforce, many of whom were buried as they fell on the towpath.”

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Lagro

Many of these immigrants were working in Largo. On the Largo Community page, they say both German and Irish immigrants were approached to work on the canal. Young men there with no family and not much to do Jennifer said, resorted once to violence. The Wabash County Historical Museum in Wabash has information that “the Irish Riot” took place on July 12, 1835. On the Largo website they state, “It was said that while building a section of the canal near Lagro, Indiana, a great riot broke out between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants. It was so big that the State Milita had to be brought in to settle it.”

End of the Canal

The Canal was prospering during the 1850’s. Population in Wabash County’s population grew from 2,750 in 1840 to 12,500 in 1850. It again increased to 21,305 by 1870. The canal was used less, by 1874 the last canal boat was seen on the river. The railroad replaced the hand dug canals. For the town of Largo though, many immigrants stayed. There is a brass plaque in front St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Lagro that shares, “…Many Irish bought land and stayed as permanent residents using their religious and cultural interests to build Lagro…”

The story of the Elephant!

Elephants abound in Wabash, Indiana due to the story of Modoc!

One of my favorite history stories from our visit is of Modoc the elephant! While dining at the beautiful ballroom in the Eagles Theatre, TJ Honeycut from the Wabash History Museum, told us the story of Terrell Jacobs the Lion King, and the runaway elephants! Terrell Jacobs was born in Wabash, Indiana and literally ran away to join the circus. He became one of the greatest animal trainers of all time.

Modoc and her debut.

TJ shared that on November 11, 1942, the Great American Circus came to Wabash to stage a fundraising event for Wabash High School. Terrell Jacobs brought his elephant act with his three Indian elephants, Empress, Judy and Modoc.  Barking dogs scared the elephants causing them to break away and rampage through town! Judy and Empress wandered the nearby neighborhood, but Modoc bolted toward the downtown area. She busted into the Bradley Brothers Drug Store, as a woman, Chauncey Kessler, “wearing a fur coat” entered, attracted by the scent of roasted peanuts.

Poster of Terrill Jacobs at the history museum!

The former Bradley Drug Store is now Modoc’s Coffee . According to theirwebpage, Modoc “chased Chauncey Kessler, who wore a long muskrat coat, through the 42-inch door on Miami Street and using her long trunk rolled Mrs. Kessler onto the floor…”

The frightened pharmacy clerk Helen Myers hid behind the soda fountain. Modoc knocked over the peanut roaster and ate her fill of peanuts then she smashed through the back door, frame and all, of the New Bradley Building onto Market Street.

One of the fun elephant statues.

While Judy and Empress were caught quickly, Modoc was loose for five days. A circus trainer from the Carolina’s lured here with 28 loaves and bread and elephant “mumbo jumbo” into a trailer. Downtown there are several elephant statues paying tribute to the incident. The Wabash County Historical Museum also has information as well!

Other fun stops.

There is much to see and do Wabash County, like the beautiful Eagles Theater which is now Honeywell property. Formerly owned by the Eagles Club, this historic theater now has two active theaters, classrooms and more. The Historic Trolley Tour also took us to a home being restored by Indiana Landmarks and we learned about the great work they are doing in the area to preserve and restore historic buildings. Then there is the Abe Lincoln statue and the courthouse with the electricity story!

Honest Abe is everywhere!

We had a great dinner at Market Street Grill. Then we attended the very first ever Mixology Class in Wabash put on by Mary and her son Logan at the lovely Gallery 64. They will soon by opening Moon Dog a new restaurant close to the Visitor’s Center.

I will long remember the canal, the elephant and the light through the Sanctuary’s stained-glass windows when I think of beautiful Wabash Indiana, and Wabash County. Visit soon, there is lots to see. On my next visit, I plan on including a stop at the Stockdale Mill!

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