Friday, November 20, 2009

William Hannah, Elnora Pioneer

Next year, in 2010, the town that I will always be proud to call home will celebrate its 125th anniversary of being named “Elnora.” Prior to that, as many of those familiar with Elnora’s history are aware, it was once known as “Owl Town.” Many of my ancestors, the Johnsons, Renchs, and especially the Hannahs, played major parts in the formation of our wonderful little piece of God’s Country, and I’d like to share a portion of this heritage with the readers of the Elnora Post.

Perhaps the most well-known of my Elnora ancestors was William Hannah (1846 – 1940), my great grandfather who died four years before I was born. He was a major figure in the town’s history, and was well respected by everyone who knew him. Below is the reprint of an article that originally appeared in the old Elnora Tribune and was reprinted in the Washington Democrat in 1938:

William Hannah Relates Many Happenings of Long Ago in Daviess County
By Frank Quilliam

The following story appeared in a recent issue of the Elnora Tribune. The story dates back almost a century and reads as follows:

There are yet a few nonagenarians living in Daviess County, and William Hannah is one of them. He was born in the broad White River bottom, west of Elnora, in 1846. His parents came to Indiana in an early day and settled in Elmore Township. His father was a native of “sunny” Tennessee, while his mother was born in “the famous bluegrass state,” Kentucky.

For many years he was a venerable merchant of Elnora. He retired from the grocery business about five years ago. His sunset days are being spent with his daughter, Mrs. James (Alice Hannah) Rench of southwestern Elmore Township.

“Back in 1840 and for many years thereafter, Elnora was called Owl Town. This small settlement was situated on the Owl Prairie and contained about a half a dozen log cabins. This vast prairie stretched out in all directions and consisted of several thousand acres of rich marsh land, which was low and swampy. This prairie was said to have derived its name from the Indiana Chief Owl, who frequented the place. The whole country was covered with timber and deer and many other wild animals roamed in the forest.”

“Ace Helphenstine was the first postmaster of the little village and James Stalcup was the first mail carrier. Citizens of Owl Town received mail twice a week. It was carried on the back of a horse. Later when the (Wabash and) Erie Canal was dug, the mail was routed over the canal. This was almost a half century before the E. & I. Railroad was built. The railroad today is known as the Big Four.”

“The coldest weather ever recorded in Indiana was New Year’s Day, 1864. It was 30 degrees below zero. Early settlers often call it the ‘cold Saturday’ as New Year’s Day fell on Saturday that year. The weather, prior to the Arctic blizzard, was warm and the drop in temperature was very sudden.”

Mr. Hannah vividly recalls this severe cold wave and said that on New Year’s night, Andrew Baker froze to death while enroute to a lighted cabin. Neighbors went to search for him the next morning. Following his tracks in the snow, they came upon his lifeless body, frozen to death. Today Andrew Baker’s ashes sleep in the Weaver Cemetery in Elmore Township.

Elnora Editor Note – When we came here in 1893 to give Elnora their first Tribune, “Uncle Bill” Hannah was one of Elnora’s staunch business men and one of our first subscribers and advertisers. Someday, we will write a more detailed story of his life to add to this fine story written by Mr. Quilliam.

Footnote: Mr. Hannah died two years later at the age of 94 years, and the follow-up article was never written.

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