According to local folklore and a statue near town hall, the city of Mishawaka is named after the beautiful young daughter of a Shawnee chief. Grey Wolf, the chief of the Potawatomi people, wanted to marry Mishawaka, but she refused, leading to a war between the Shawnee and the Potawatomi. This legend probably originated with romantic-minded settlers in the 19th century, not in historical fact.
I wasn’t born in Mishawaka. I lived nearby. My earliest memories of downtown Mishawaka are of the printing shop that made t-shirts. When I was 16 and got into a car accident, I had to figure out how to find the auto repair shop there. When I was 17, a Mishawaka dental surgeon took out my wisdom teeth.
When I was in college, the mother of one of my best friends had a small tea shop inside a downtown Mishawaka antique shop. I have a few pleasant memories of browsing the antiques, pausing for tea sandwiches and Italian sodas. The antique shop is gone now.
In my early 20s, my fiancé introduced me to Battell Park. I was overwhelmed by the loveliness of the rock garden. It was built during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration – relief work sponsored by the government to put some of the many, many unemployed people in that era to productive use. With local stones and mortar, they created a miniature house that hides the pump, pumping falling water into a blue-green pool, under a bridge, and over the rocks before it joins the St. Joseph River.
I fell in love with Battell Park. My fiancé and I became wife and husband under Battell’s band shell on a hot morning in July 2002. Our wedding party and guests lined up to file down the stone-and-concrete stair case and throw wishing stones into the river with their best wishes for us and our marriage.
In March of 2002 we’d bought a historic, but run-down, home in Mishawaka, less than half a mile from Battell Park. Our new home was built in 1913. It had once been the farm house for a flower farm that sold its plants to commercial florists. The greenhouses and flowers were no longer there, but we still had a florist as a next-door neighbor. The florist shop is gone now.
Our walks took us through the rock garden almost every day, weather permitting. Mishawaka was beautiful in the spring and summer, then through the fall, and even in the winter. No amount of snowfall could bury the monument to those Indiana residents who’d been killed in the U.S. Civil War. It was starkly beautiful even in the dead of winter. I wasn’t born in Mishawaka, but now I am of it.
Erin O’Rordan is from Mishawaka, IN, USA. She’s 39 and she’s a freelance writer who enjoys reading, competing in trivia contests, making crafts, and kayaking on the river outside her home.