My 5th great-grandfather, Nathan Hawkins (b. 1782), is largely known for the log cabin he built in Richmond, Indiana to protect his family during the War of 1812; after the war, the Hawkins family donated the cabin to their local meeting house, and it was converted into a one-room schoolhouse that still stands today. Nathan is also known, though, as the first wagon maker of Wayne Co., Indiana.
In the 1970s, the local newspaper ran a series entitled, “Our History Scrapbook” in which historians, genealogists and journalists contributed entries on the history of the town of Richmond. My ancestors were among the “founding families,” and they feature in a number of these weekly articles (a genealogy gold mine!). I’ve pieced together the story of Nathan Hawkins and his carpentry business from these articles in the Palladium-Item:
“What probably is the oldest farm wagon in the country is reposing in a shed south of the city. It is the property of Henry Roberts and was built by Nathan Hawkins, of Webster, for Mr. Roberts’ father more than ninety years ago.
The wheels were originally very high and equipped with narrow rims and tires, but they have been cut down and given broad steel tires. The spokes, hubs and axles are just as good today as they were when first fashioned out of Wayne County white oak almost a century ago.
Mr. Roberts’ grandfather, Thomas Roberts, when he came to Wayne County from North Carolina, brought with him an old wagon with wooden skeins. Jonathan Roberts, the son, used it for many years, and then wanting something stronger hired Nathan Hawkins, his brother-in-law, who was a carpenter, to build a wagon.
Hawkins had never built a wagon, but he made the attempt. The first time it was used four horses were hitched to it to haul half a cord of green wood to the cabin home. That the wagon was able to stand up under this load was a revelation to the early settlers, who had never seen such a heavy load hauled without breaking a wagon.
The wagon was passed on down to Henry Roberts, who cut down the spokes and used it to haul logs. It is now standing in a dry shed, and is used to mount a portable gasoline engine. Mr. Roberts intends to have it placed in the log cabin in Glen Miller park as a relic of pioneer days in Wayne County.”
Another article picks up the story here: “The wagon was used on a Wayne County farm for 50 years. Hawkins was not only a skilled but also a conscientious workman. He would bury timber for hubs on a bayou of Noland’s Fork Creek for two years to season the wood. Then he would turn the hubs himself so they would measure up to his standards.
Hawkins and his son moved to Carmel where they established the first carriage factory in that part of the state. Settlers in the Whitewater and Miami valleys, knowing the quality of Hawkins’ work, kept him busy at his trade as long as he lived near Webster.”
In 1916, descendants of the Hawkins and Roberts families donated the wagon to the Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond; the wagon was reassembled and given a place in the museum’s collection of vehicles, and it was featured in a number of parades. By 1973, though, the wagon was missing: “Whoever removed the wagon probably did not recognize its historical importance…after its disappearance, city officials assisted in a search for it, but were unable to learn who had removed it.” I wish, of course, that the Hawkins wagon was still in the museum today, but at least I have a photo (and the story to go with it).