Van Buren Township is in the northeast corner of Madison County and contains 25 square miles. It was named in honor of President Martin Van Buren, our eighth president.
The township was formally organized March 6, 1837, only two days after Van Buren was inaugurated, making it the only township in Madison County named for a president that acquired its name during the president’s term of office.
Monroe Township was named for President James Monroe 11 years after he left office. Jackson Township was named for President Andrew Jackson, who took office March 4, 1829, by which time it is believed, as the records no longer exist, the township was already organized.
There is uncertainty as to the first settler. It is believed that about 1830 Jacob Davis, John and Hiram Palmer and Thomas Gordon all arrived from Virginia and settled just north of Summitville’s present-day located. Others soon followed.
Among the early settlers in the vicinity of what later became Summitville were Thomas Cartwright and his son, William T., in the fall of 1835. Thomas kept a tavern on the proposed canal route just south of there.
By 1839, there was considerable travel over the Indianapolis & Fort Wayne State Road (Fort Wayne Trace), resulting in further settlement along its route.
The township is unique in that, in all its history, it has contained only one town, Summitville, which was called by several names, including Wrinkle and Skipperville. According to some old-timers, the town once was called “Wrinkle” because of its diminutive size.
Skipperville was only a nickname and was used in derision. One of the older residents remembered an incident that occurred in the early life of the village that explains the origin of the name “Skipperville.”
Two weary travelers were passing through the village and, being hungry, bought some cheese and crackers at one of the small stores. The cheese proved to be over-ripe and inhabited by germs that had long passed the microscopic stage. The crackers were stale and musty, and the travelers were forced to journey on with appetites unappeased and hearts filled with resentment.
They accosted everyone they met with: “If you want skipper cheese, if you please, go to Skipperville on the hill.”
Although no records have been found to substantiate the claim, it is believed that years ago the name Summit Village was first suggested but was shortened to Summitville.
When the surveyors marked the line of the old Indianapolis & Fort Wayne State Road, long before any settlement was made where Summitville now stands, they marked that point as the highest ground between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.
Later, the name Skipperville not being very dignified or euphonious, was changed to Summitville, which corresponded to the report of the surveyors. A logical choice.
With increased travelers on the Fort Wayne Trace, another early settler named Samuel Fennimore made an addition to his cabin in 1839 to attract passersby. He opened a hotel and tavern to provide meals and lodging.
Clearly, Summitville owes its early existence to the presence of the Fort Wayne Trace.
In December, this column will explore more about the early history of Summitville.