Paradise Spring Historical Park Board
Greg Moore, President
Ron Moore, Vice President
Deanna Unger, Secretary
Jim Widner, Treasurer
Bob Gillespie, Investments
Dr. Robert Mattern
Paradise Spring, Inc. is the recipient of an Educational Endowment Trust which was given by Melba Johnson Custer in memory of her parents, Henry & Annetta Johnson. Because of her foresight, educational programming is possible at Paradise Spring Historical Park.
Paradise Spring Historical Park includes a beautiful ¾ mile handicap accessible paved walking path at the east end of Market Street in downtown Wabash bordered on the south by the Wabash River. The path is part of the much longer Wabash River Trail which will eventually run from Lagro, Indiana, into Wabash following the Wabash River. The trail weaves between historic log cabins that were recreated in the late 1980s to commemorate the site of the October 1826 Treaty of Mississinewa (Paradise Spring), a treaty between the Potawatomi and Miami Indian Nations and representatives of the United States government including Indiana Governor James B. Ray, Michigan Governor Lewis Cass, and Captain John Tipton.
The treaty signing opened the Northern Indiana and Michigan up for settlement and commerce. Through it, the tribes gave up their rights to more than 500,000 acres of land. Called Kincomiong Spring or “Running Water Place” by the native americans in the area, after the signing of the treaty, the area of today’s park was known as “Treaty Grounds.”
In the years after the treaty signing, the grounds were sometimes called “New Comers’ Headquarters.” New settlers lived in the cabins that remained after the treaty signing until they could construct their new homes. The Council House, a replica of which can be found at the park today, served as the post office. In this building, annual allotment payments were made to the Miami Chiefs, elections were held here, and it even acted as a schoolhouse for a time.
The treaty signing and subsequent settlement of the area led to advancements in transportation in the area. In 1837 the Wabash and Erie Canal came through Wabash and was followed by the railroad soon after in 1856. In 1872, the first Railroad shops were built at the Treaty Grounds which later became the home to the Big Four Railway Yards. The Big Four was made up of the Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis railroads. The shops provided access to maintenance and repair for steam engines. At one time, the railroad was the largest employer in the City of Wabash.
During the 1900s, the Wabash River was rich with many species of mussels. The shells were harvested and used for food, tool making, and as buttons which were made at the local button factory. Shanties populated the area and barges were constructed on the river for ease of harvesting the shells. The development of plastic after World War II led to a fall off of mussel harvesting.
In 1902 a beautiful depot was built at the far west end of what is now Paradise Springs Historical Park. The natural spring on the grounds supplied water to the drinking fountains inside the train station. The natural spring has dried up but there is a stone marker made of Indiana Limestone in its place. Sadly it was torn down in 1966 after sitting empty for many years. The railroad shops closed in 1925 and passenger service to Wabash by train ended in 1950.
From 1900 to 1938, Wabash could also boast to have an Interurban Electric line running through the town. As its track, it used the abandoned canal tow path.
The City of Wabash purchased the Paradise Springs area in 1987. City employees and volunteers spent countless hours cleaning up and clearing out the areas to make it a park. In 1996, Paradise Spring Historical Park officially became part of the Wabash Park Department. However, programming for the park and maintenance of the cabins is still overseen by the Paradise Springs Historical Park board of directors.
In addition to the written signs on buildings and throughout the park, QR codes have been added to further explain the history of Paradise Spring. If you follow the lower loop of the trail, there is a River Overlook and the path also connects to the 1 mile Wabash River Walk. Today the park is home to festivals and concerts, the annual Charity for Chili Cook-off, a place for family reunions and countless other visitors. Come enjoy the history of Wabash or just enjoy a leisure walk through a beautiful park.
In 2013, the Paradise Spring board received an educational endowment from the Melba Johnson Custer Trust. The income from this endowment is designated to provide Educational Programming for Paradise Spring Historical Park. Specifically, this trust is setup to provide “...educational programming on the site of Paradise Spring Historical Park, open to the general public, diffusing knowledge of Indiana history, and particularly that of Wabash County and its surrounding area.”
Today, in addition to enjoying a walk or run on the paved pathways visitors may learn more about the history of the area using QR codes that are located on signage throughout the park.