Our Rivers' Story
? ? ?Elkhart's early development as an industrial city can be attributed to its proximity to several waterways. Before the advent of electric power, the early industry pioneers harnessed the power of the river flow to provide the energy to their machinery. By using a system called "Hydraulics" the mills would open gates to the headrace allowing water to flow into penstocks which housed turbines.. The turbine's fins were opened allowing water to pass through the fins to an opening below the turbine. The flow of the escaping water caused the fins to turn the turbine shaft which produced the power. The water then emptied into a tailrace which flowed downstream back into the St. Joseph River.
? ? ?To the right is an illustration of one of Elkhart's major hydraulic industrial sites, the Elkhart Hydraulics. This site, which is unrecognizable today, encompassed the present day sites of Lundquist-Bicentennial Park and Easy Shopping Place (see inset map). Established in 1866 with the damming of the St. Joseph River, the Elkhart Hydraulic Company excavated several raceways south of the river. Soon several manufacturing companies sprouted up, producing paper, starch, knitted products, and one notable musical instrument company, C.G. Conn.
? ? ?Unfortunately, the hydraulics were prone to flooding and as was common in those days, the wooden structures were virtually destroyed by fire. In 1907 the hydraulics were purchased by the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company. They soon reconstructed the dam with concrete and began producing another source of power, electricity.
? ? ?To this day, the Hydro Electric Plant continues to produce electricity from the river's powerful waterflow.
(Illustration with inset map)The Site of the Elkhart Hydraulics