A Brief Overview of Elkhart County's History

Many theories and accounts of how Elkhart County got its name have been provided over the years, but the origins of its name have really yet to be verified. One of the most popular theories is the county was named after the Shawnee Indian chief Elkhart, cousin of the famous Chief Tecumseh, and father of princess Mishawaka.

From many accounts, Elkhart County's current boundaries were mainly inhabited by the Potawatomi tribe of Native Americans in the early days of settlement. Some of the earlier know settlers began settling in the Elkhart Prairie around 1829. April 1830, Elkhart County was officially established with its original county seat in Dunlap. After some reorganizing of the county borders, the seat was moved to the center of the county, Goshen.

Elkhart County was founded by immigrants from New England. These immigrants descended from the English Puritans who settled New England in the 1600s. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1821 caused a surge in immigration from New England to what was then the Northwest Territory. The end of the Black Hawk War in 1832 increased the surge of immigration, again coming from New England as a result of overpopulation combined with land shortages in that region. Some of these later settlers were from upstate New York, whose relatives had moved to that region from New England shortly after the American Revolutionary War. New Englanders and New England transplants from upstate New York were the vast majority of Elkhart County's inhabitants during the first several decades of its history. These settlers were primarily members of the Congregational Church though due to the Second Great Awakening many of them had converted to Methodism and some had become Baptists before moving west. The Congregational Church subsequently has gone through many divisions and some factions, including those in Elkhart County, now known as the Church of Christ and the United Church of Christ. As a result of this heritage, most of Elkhart County supported the abolitionist movement before the American Civil War. Elkhart County provided substantial numbers of recruits for the Union Army. During the end of the nineteenth century, Irish and German migrants came to Elkhart County, although most did not come directly from Europe, but had stopped in other areas in the Midwest, such as Ohio.

This is a very small excerpt from a long history of our great county. Do we have your interest? Check out Elkhart County Historical Resources to learn even more about Elkhart County. Also, be sure to visit the knowledgeable staff of the Elkhart County Historical Museum to get a unique and educated perspective on our story.

Text cited from:

  • "A Standard History of Elkhart County, Indiana: An Authentic Narrative of the Past, with Particular Attention to the Modern Era in the Commercial, Industrial, Educational, Civic and Social Development "
  • A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of Elkhart County, Indiana"