A recent article I read got me to thinking…
It mentioned a man named Samuel Studebaker as one of the earliest residents of the area, and the builder of the first saw-mill in South Bend. Of course, anyone from around here would make a certain association when they hear the Studebaker surname mentioned. The part that piqued my interest was when the article said he was no relation to the famous, wagon-making Studebakers that settled here later on.
I wanted to know more about this shadowy Studebaker. Now granted, I’m a bit of a history geek, but I enjoyed looking through “The Studebaker Family in America”, and reading some of the earliest history of St. Joseph County. I was surprised by what I found.
Samuel was an extremely important man in South Bend in the 1830s. He is mentioned in many of the same documents with Alexis Coquillard and Lathrop Taylor, the men credited with the founding of the city. One source claims he helped them lay out the town. He put up $3,000 dollars (and this is 1830 money), to secure South Bend in its current location vs. a rival town further north. His saw mill served as the industrial foundation for later factories such as South Bend Toy and Knoblock Wagonmakers.
Here’s the kicker. By doing a little basic genealogy I found that not only is Samuel related to Clem, Henry, and the rest, he’s closely related! Samuel’s first cousin John (the father of the clan), stopped for a visit with his relatives here in his quest for a better place to settle the family. Samuel was instrumental in getting the Studebakers we all know to come to South Bend. AND, Samuel’s daughter Susan married her second cousin Henry and supplied much of the capital that got the two brothers started in the wagon-making business!
Unfortunately for posterity, Samuel had only daughters, and he died of consumption in 1837 at the age of 42, depriving the writers of South Bend’s history of the opportunity of getting to know him better.
Everything I learned was available through Local & Family History Services. Remember, the family you learn about doesn’t have to be your own.
Susan Studebaker will be making an appearance alongside Abraham Lincoln at the Friends of the Library book sale on Friday, May 3rd and strolling downtown for a few hours afterwards.