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100 Years Ago

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Tile Mills

Swander’s Crossing businessmen Hiram Killian and James B. Ludlum established a tile manufacturing plant in the village’s early years. Drainage was key to farming the county’s wet soils. Red clay tile were buried in the fields, with a gridwork of laterals and mains leading to open drainage ditches, such the West Branch of Plum Creek, now Finkenbine Ditch, in Franklin Township.

Installation of tile in the fields--called ditching--picked up pace in the latter part of the 19th century as new agricultural technologies came on line, placing a premium on well-drained land. "The tile factories of this county are all having a boom now. They are not able to supply the demand for tile," reported the Shelby County Democrat (Oct. 1882). "A great many farmers are putting down tile this fall" (SCD, Nov. 3, 1882).

Tile milling was a prime industry in several area villages. Ft. Loramie’s brick and tile making made it "as prosperous as it ever was, perhaps more so" (Memoirs). Montra was described as "once a promising little pioneer center of activity, promoted by the proximity of the Montra Tile yards a mile or so to the south" (Memoirs). William E. Valentine operated the Plattesville tile mill, the only one in Green Township, while William Flinn & Co. operated Houston’s tile factory.

Maplewood’s tile industry was so important that the village first "bore the name of Tileton, from a local industry near by, and came to life when the practice of tile-draining was new" (Memoirs).

"We notice an article in one of the Sidney papers stating that Huffman & Bro. sold 7,000 rods of tile. They want to know who can beat that. Killian & Ludlum sold 14,000 rods of tile and could sell 5,000 more if they had them," boasted the Swanders news correspondent (SCD, Mar. 10, 1882). Was the shame too great for D.F. Huffman who ran this advertisement the same month? "We offer our tile Tileton, for sale on reasonable terms" (SCD, Mar. 1882; 1878-79 Directory of Shelby County).

 Industry segment written in January, 1998 by Jim Sayre


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