By Tim Ashley
It is known more often now as simply The Village, but has also been referred to as Wawasee Village. More specifically, The Village refers to the commercial corridor along SR 13 in Syracuse beginning at the Chicago Street stoplight and going south to the town limits.
Others would refer to The Village as anything south of the railroad tracks.
Longtime Syracuse resident Tom Prickett recalls The Village at one time was not in the town limits of Syracuse and “there was nothing there except marshland, water and bulrushes.” He added, “A lot of it is fill.”
According to reports and plats provided by the Kosciusko County Surveyor’s Office, a ditch that flows parallel to SR 13 to the west and flows underneath Bowser Road was originally dug out in 1915. This ditch would have likely drained at least some of the excessive water.
In a book written by historian George Nye in 1942, just before a major project to clean the ditch out, he noted “good land has become so scarce around Wawasee Lake that they have begun to fill in the marshes. They do this by dredging out canals and throwing the dirt on either side to make the lots.”
Information provided by the Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum indicates Tom Socks Sportswear was the first business in The Village in about the mid-1950s, but Prickett said that is not correct. He noted the first building, which is still there, was placed on the southeast corner of the intersection of SR 13 and Chicago Street. Orval Klink, who previously had a grocery store downtown, opened Klink’s Market in the new building.
Klink’s Market opened in its new location during the summer of 1954. Kosciusko County property records show the building was completed in 1954.
At that time, since it was the first business south of the railroad tracks, “people thought he (Klink) was crazy,” Prickett said, and they wondered if the business would succeed after being downtown for quite a while. But it did succeed and Klink’s wife even opened a beauty shop next door.
Plans for the development of The Village began in the 1940s. It should be noted the original route of SR 13 was further to the east and closer to Lake Wawasee. In 1942, the road was rerouted by the state highway department and it would open the door for development.
Newspaper articles from later in the 1940s reported a major reason for businesses moving to The Village was a lack of lots downtown that could be built upon. Space was tighter downtown and the trend at that time was businesses moving away from downtown to the outskirts of town.
Prickett recalled business partners George Lamm and Roscoe Howard were the developers of The Village. In one of Ron Sharp’s series of Syracuse history books, it was noted Lamm and Howard bought 200 acres for development in 1946.
After Klink’s Market opened, several other businesses followed. In addition to Tom Socks Sportswear, Wawasee Village Hardware, among others, also opened in the 1950s in The Village.
Wawasee Bowl, still in business, opened in 1960. In November 1966, Jack Schlotterback leased the motel in The Village, formerly Marley’s Motel. It was known as Wawasee Motel, had 15 units and the units were rented by the week to working men.
Lakeland Youth Center opened in the late 1960s on the former site of Wawasee Lumber Company on the southwest corner of Chicago Street and SR 13. Augsburger’s IGA was another grocery store in The Village.
The Wawasee Heights development began in about 1969. Shelley’s Drive-In was sold in January 1969 by Sheldon McClain to Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Merrill, who changed the name of the drive-in to The Maryann. These are only a few examples.
Not all of the development in The Village was along SR 13, but a considerable amount was. Wawasee Heights, for one example, stretched to the west of SR 13 up to Syracuse-Webster Road.
Wawasee Village likely was named after the nearby Lake Wawasee.
NOTES: Next I will write about a historic house on Syracuse-Webster Road near North Webster. If you have questions, comments or suggestions for future topics I can write about, call me at (574) 658-4111, extension 2306, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.